The Spanish Armadas by Winston Graham
In the end the invaders left Cadiz, for disease was spreading again and they had great quantities of booty to carry away. At the last, through a misunderstanding, most of the churches were fired and the city left in utter ruin. It was a fitting overplus revenge for the burning of one small church in Cornwall. On the way home the English landed at Faro, sacked the town and made off with the library belonging to Bishop Osorius. This became part of the Bodleian Library at Oxford.
They missed, however, by a matter of two days the great West Indian convoys which reached Lisbon safely in late July.
The shock to Spanish pride and Spanish finance by this invasion was enormous. Drake’s raid in 1587 was puny by comparison. They had lost the whole of the treasure-flota, plus one hundred and twenty thousand ducats in ransom money; four of the fine new Apostles (San Felipe and San Tomas sunk, the San Andrea and the San Mateo captured and taken to England), five Biscayans, four Levanters, two galleasses, three galleyzabras, and three Italian ships laden with stores and artillery for the Low Countries, plus a host of small ships. It was an Armada in itself. As a result of this defeat and the financial loss entailed, Philip had to default on the payment of the whole of the bills of the Archduke Albert in the Netherlands: about one and a half million ducats; and on his own loans he offered only 45 per cent payment. Banks and commercial houses went into liquidation and there was a panic on the exchanges.
But its effect on the King’s health was remarkable. He had been seriously ill again at Easter, but the news of the shattering defeat at Cadiz was like a shower of cold water on him. He began to move more quickly, his red-rimmed eyes grew bright and alert, his capacity for work returned.
In his reaction to the loss of Cadiz, as in so much, he reflected the feelings of the Spanish people. They were tired of war, lethargic, financially impoverished, disunited; but the events of Cadiz galvanized them and brought them together again with one common purpose. Money flowed in from the Church, from the Cortes, even from the provincial towns. The court, the petty noblemen who proliferated throughout Spain, the clergy, the peasants, all were demanding that now, at whatever cost, the Second Armada must sail. Whatever the cost in money and lives, Cadiz must be avenged.
The Second Armada
The man chosen to command the new Armada was Don Martin de Padilla Manrique, Adelantado Mayor of Castile, Count of Santa Gadea and Knight of the Order of Alcantara; in fact the man the Duke of Medina Sidonia had suggested should take his place in 1588.
At least ten years older than Medina Sidonia, Padilla had had a long and continuous experience of war, having received his baptism as a junior officer at St Quentin in 1557. Nine years later he was made commander of four galleys of Sicily, and the next year led eight hundred sailors against the Moors of Granada. In the great battle of Lepanto in 1571, ‘the new Salamis’, he sank four Turkish ships. In 1585 he was Captain General of the galleys of Spain, but did not take part in the Armada of ’88, possibly for the reasons already stated. In 1589 he was concerned in the defence of Lisbon against Drake and Norris. In 1591 he captured three English and twenty Dutch vessels in the Gulf of Almeria, east of Malaga, and had generally been the scourge of Anglo-Dutch trade in the Mediterranean.
This hardy and experienced fighter, now about fifty-six, was appointed Primer General de la Armada del Oceano and instructed to lead a fleet against England that year. He protested – as most admirals appointed by Philip seemed doomed to protest – for the fleet was far from ready and the great blow struck at Cadiz had seriously weakened its fighting power. Nor can it have been easy to have followed in Medina Sidonia’s wake, knowing in full the disaster of ’88 and the obloquy heaped on the Duke’s head. Any captain facing the same enemy in the same waters would be doubly concerned to avoid a similar catastrophe.
Of course in some ways circumstances had altered much for the better. The Spanish galleon was a greatly improved fighting vessel; many of them were recently built and most of their captains were of a new generation and spoiling for a chance to wipe out the stain of their predecessors’ defeat. Nor, with Blavet and Calais in Spanish hands at either end of the Channel, was there any risk of a similar kind of disaster. True, Archduke Albert, between the two fires of a resurgent Netherlands and a hostile France, could hardly commit his army to an invasion of England as Parma could have done. But although Philip knew that Henry had entered into an agreement with Elizabeth that neither should make peace with Spain without the other, there were signs that Henry was wavering. If he could be detached …
And England itself still appeared to be militarily undefended – just as she had been in 1588: militia, trained bands, raw farmhands brandishing pikes, gentlemen on horseback with swords but no armour. The professional regiments of England were quite different; no one could fail to respect them; the reports of Parma, Mansfeld, Fuentes, and Albert were plain to read, and Philip was not so foolish as to disregard them. But nearly all England’s professional soldiers were in the Netherlands or Brittany. England lay unguarded except for her navy. For instance Falmouth: as fine a natural harbour as you could find in the world, yet little better defended than Penzance where Don Carlos de Amesquita had landed with such success. The renegade, Richard Burley, reported to the King that for the defence of Pendennis Castle at the entrance to Falmouth harbour the Captain, John Killigrew, had only himself, a deputy captain, a master gunner, two other gunners and a porter, and the ‘trained’ bands of Buddek to call on in need. And, by way of arms, some old cannon, two lasts of powder and forty muskets.
It was a great temptation; but all through 1596 Philip had been beset by letters from Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, appealing for his help in saving Catholic Ireland from the English. Tyrone was a master of diplomatic intrigue and quite brilliant at playing friend to both sides; but in 1595 he was forced into open rebellion, and by 1596 his need of Spanish help was urgent. Not only had he and O’Donnell and Maguire and MacWilliam Burke written repeatedly and separately to Philip begging for an army to help them to preserve the Catholic faith; but when none came Tyrone and O’Donnell sent a joint letter to Prince Philip asking him to intercede on their behalf with his father. They asked that the King might be persuaded to help ‘this most excellent and just cause, that of assisting Catholic liberty and of freeing the country from the rod of tyrannical evil, and that, with the help of the Divine Majesty, he may win for Christ an infinite number of souls, snatching them from the jaws of hell, and may wholly destroy or compel to return to reason the ministers of satanic fury and the impious disturbers of the Christian state.’
It was an appeal that was difficult to ignore. Two Spanish officers had brought back a precise statement of what Tyrone wanted. He had men, already far more than the English; but most were untrained and nearly all lacked arms. A stiffening of Spanish troops would set the country aflame.
One can picture the long sessions of the night during which this matter was debated by the Junta de Noche in Philip’s simple study in the Escorial. The flickering candles, the windows open to the soft September night, the old King crouched behind his desk fingering his crucifix, one foot up on the stool to ease his gout; his close advisers seated in stiff wooden armchairs around the desk, two or three personal secretaries hovering in the shadows, the crackle of parchment, the scratch of quill, the dry murmur of responsible voices, a shaft or two of moonlight, colder than the candles, falling on the blue Talavera tiles.
In that room, after much weighing of the risks and opportunities, the decision was made that this time the Second Armada should indeed sail to Ireland. It was not an unwise decision, if the Armada had to sail that year at all; for the maximum embarrassment would be caused to the Protestant cause at the minimum risk. It was unlikely that there would be a fleet action of any sort, so if the fleet sailed in an incomplete condition the consequences need not be so serious. Troops and supplies the Irish wanted. A single voyage of the fleet to Sligo or Galway would carry a sufficient army with all provisions for
So with remarkable speed for those days a scratch armada was assembled in San Lucar and in Lisbon and made ready to sail in October. It was to consist of over one hundred ships, with some thirty galleons including the remaining eight ‘Apostles’; and picked regiments of soldiers were withdrawn from Flanders and Spain to man it. The number sailing was nine thousand Spanish and three thousand Portuguese, and it was arranged that more soldiers should join it from Brittany. New galleons were being built in most of the Biscay ports, but these would not be ready in time. Pedro de Valdes, newly released from his long exile in England, where he said there was much war-weariness and desire for peace, requested that he might go as vice-admiral, but this post, not unnaturally, was refused him. Only de Bertendona and Arumburu of the former officers were given important commands.
Even for this, the smallest of the three main armadas, the preparations were immense, the provisioning a mountainous achievement of the Spanish commissariat. A list of provisions shipped – published by the Spanish Ministry in October – includes 12,837 barrels of biscuits, 696 skins of wine, 1,498 barrels of salt pork, 1,031 barrels of fish, 6,082 barrels of cheese, 2,858 barrels of vegetables, 2,900 barrels of oil, 850 barrels of vinegar, 2,274 barrels of water, 631 barrels of rice; this apart from the requirements of war such as 1,200 barrels of powder, 30,000 cannon balls, 1,300 bullets, 700 cables, 200 wheels, and 50 wagons.
In England, which had as excellent a spy system as Spain, news of the coming reprisal was soon received. For all the striking success of the capture of Cadiz, the financial gain to England – as against the loss to Spain – had been small, and Elizabeth had been bitterly disappointed, for she too desperately needed the money for survival. So the fleet had once again been laid up at Chatham, the soldiers disbanded; Vere had been sent back to the Netherlands with the crack regiments, and England again lay relatively undefended. Nor were Pedro de Valdes’s reports of war-weariness so wide of the mark. From 1594 onwards had been years of great rainfall in England, with corn rotting in the fields and grain at famine prices. ‘Our July is like to February,’ people said. In Devon in midsummer 1596 wheat was nine shillings a bushel, which one might multiply forty times to arrive at a modern equivalent. Although there was undiminished loyalty to the Queen and great pride in such adventures as that at Cadiz, this was matched by wide discontent throughout the country over the conditions of day to day living, with dispossessed farmers, ruined smallholders, and crime and vagabondage everywhere. Areas of the country were becoming waste land for lack of cultivation, villages were emptying and falling into ruin, beggars were crowding into the coastal towns. Justices of the Peace were urged to go back and live in their country houses and to care for the poor of their own parishes; but they themselves were hard hit by the double subsidies imposed by parliament, by having to pay for the musters and trained bands of their parishes, by trying to enforce unenforceable laws in dealing with desperate and starving men.
But once more the cumbersome and hideously expensive processes of mobilization had to be gone through to try to avert the threatened invasion. Two thousand veteran soldiers bound for Picardy under Sir Thomas Baskerville were halted at Dover, Sir Samuel Bagnal was posted to defend the Isle of Wight, Ralegh hastened down to Cornwall, ten of the best of the bigger warships were recommissioned, and relays of dispatch boats were kept at sea to give warning of the enemy’s approach.
The problem was, as in 1588, that no one knew where the blow would fall. At a council-of-war summoned by the Queen, Essex said he expected the Spaniards once again to attempt the Isle of Wight or the Margate coast. Lord Burghley thought they would attack Falmouth. Willoughby thought it would be Ireland, Lord North thought the Isle of Wight, Sir William Knollys said Plymouth, Ralegh said the Thames, Carew agreed with Essex. So all through a wild November the country was on the alert. The weather at times was so bad that even the screen of scouting vessels could not get out of port, and they the most weatherly of ships.
In fact by then, though no one knew it, the danger for that year was past. On the 24th October the Adelantado had set sail from Lisbon with his unfinished but still formidable Armada. In vain he had protested to the King that the season was already too late: no ships in those days, not even the English, made war in November. It was inviting disaster. But the King would brook no delay so the fleet sailed, and four days out disaster duly struck. Off the north Portuguese coast a storm, violent even for that month of storms, blew in from the west. It was worse than anything in 1588, and in a matter of days the Armada was destroyed. Seven galleons were wrecked between Finisterre and Santander, and twenty-five armed merchant ships and forty other vessels. Three thousand men were drowned, among them many Irish, Catholic English, friars and Jesuit priests.
It was the end of the King’s hopes, of Spain’s hopes, and indeed of Tyrone’s hopes, for another year. The Protestant God was still looking after the heretics.
As 1597 dawned it became clear that both countries, though weary and impoverished by the long war, were building up for a final trial of strength. The destruction of the Second Armada had not in any way weakened Philip’s resolution, nor, for that matter, that of his ministers and intimates. The Adelantado himself saw this year as the one in which the errors and shortcomings of last year should be repaired. In the spring the Third Armada would begin to assemble in Lisbon and in Coruña and this time it would all be ordered differently. Early in the year an expert pilot was dispatched in a vessel trading under the French flag to make a new and full survey of the English coast. When completed the report filled eighteen sheets of parchment and covered all the most useful harbours from Liverpool in the north-west, through Chester, Milford Haven and Bristol, right round the coast to Scarborough, Newcastle and Berwick in the north-east.
Liverpool is described as ‘a good harbour after entering within, broad and deep, but the entry is dangerous and to be approached by soundings; it is encircled by sand banks. There are many Catholics in this region … The mouth of the harbour at low water has six fathoms and four within. There is room for 300 ships. The land is inhabited but there is no fortress there. There is water, meat, bread, an abundant countryside and everything is priced cheaply.’
North of Milford Haven ‘is a bad coastline, and on this account every year many of those fishing for herring are lost. Milford is the finest port in England; sixteen fathoms at the mouth and within there are seven or eight fathoms … There is no fortress and but one tower at the entrance. On the right side it usually has two pieces of artillery, but these cannot prevent an entry. It is six leagues to the head of the river. There is an open village, with water, meat and grain in abundance. There are many Catholics and the people are the natural enemies of the English and do not speak their language.’
The document was sent to Philip, who consulted with his ministers but for the present kept his own counsel. He had ideas for the Third Armada as definite as for the First, for he had not forgotten the outstanding success of the galleys at Mousehole and Penzance. So that part of the pilots’ report which privately he must have studied most closely ran as follows:
From Cape Lizard to Falmouth is eight leagues. At the fourth league care must be paid to the rocks which are called Manacles, which are on the shore side. On the left side before entering Falmouth there is a harbour called Helford. At low water there is six foot at the mouth and at high tide twenty-four feet; within at low water there is four fathoms. The harbour has room for 200 ships. The port is a haven for the corsairs and robbers of England, for there is not any fortress to restrain them. In the middle of Falmouth harbour there is a rock named Falmouth which can be passed on one side or the other. There are four fathoms at the mouth at low water, and, within, it is eighteen fathoms. It will hold any number of ships. At the two points of th
Queen Elizabeth was now sixty-four – and a vigorous and healthy sixty-four at that. Paul Hentzer, a foreign traveller in England, writes of a visit he paid to her that year at Greenwich. He was met at the door of the hall by a gentleman ‘dressed in velvet, with a gold chain, whose office was to introduce people to the Queen’. In the hall were a large number of people, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London, most of the Privy Counsellors, and officers of the Crown and other gentlemen. When the Queen came in she was attended by ‘Barons, Earls, Knights of the Garter, all richly dressed and bareheaded, followed by the Lord High Chancellor of England with two other gentlemen, one carrying the royal sceptre, the other the sword of state in a red scabbard studded with fleur-de-lys’. The Queen, he says, was ‘very majestic, her face oblong, fair but wrinkled, her eyes small, jet black and pleasant, her nose a little hooked, her lips narrow, her teeth black’. She had two pearls in her ears, an auburn wig set with a small crown, her bosom was uncovered, as was the English fashion with all ladies until they married, she was of medium height, her hands slender, her fingers long. She was ‘dressed in white silk bordered with pearls the size of beans, with a mantle of black silk shot with silver threads, her train was long and borne by a marchioness’. She spoke very graciously as she went along, in English, French and Italian. ‘Whoever she speaks to is kneeling, unless she raises them up. Sometimes she pulls off her glove as a special favour for her hand to be kissed; then it is seen to be sparkling with rings and jewels.’ Wherever she turned her face they fell on their knees, saying: ‘God save the Queen!’ To which she replied: ‘I thank you, my good people.’
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