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The Invincible Armada


Fierce contests between Catholics and Protestants.--Philip's
cruelty.--Effects of war.--Napoleon and Xerxes.--March of
improvement.--Spanish armadas.--The Low Countries.--Their situation
and condition.--Embassage from the Low Countries.--Their
proposition.--Elizabeth's decision.--Leicester and Drake.--Leicester
sets out for the Low Countries.--His reception.--Leicester's
elation.--Elizabeth's displeasure.--Drake's success.--His deeds of
cruelty.--Drake's expedition in 1577.--Execution of Doughty.--Straits
of Magellan.--Drake plunders the Spaniards.--Chase of the
Cacofogo.--Drake captures her.--Drake's escape by going round the
world.--Character of Drake.--Philip demands the treasure.--Alarming
news.--Elizabeth's navy.--Drake's expedition against the
Spaniards.--His bold stroke.--Exasperation of Philip.--His
preparations.--Elizabeth's preparations.--The army and
navy.--Elizabeth reviews the troops.--Her speech.--Elizabeth's
energy.--Approach of the armada.--A grand spectacle.--A singular
fight.--Defeat of the armada.--A remnant escapes.

Thirty years of Queen Elizabeth's reign passed away. During all this
time the murderous contests between the Catholic governments of France
and Spain and their Protestant subjects went on with terrible energy.
Philip of Spain was the great leader and head of the Catholic powers,
and he prosecuted his work of exterminating heresy with the sternest and
most merciless determination. Obstinate and protracted wars, cruel
tortures, and imprisonments and executions without number, marked his

Notwithstanding all this, however, strange as it may seem, the country
increased in population, wealth, and prosperity. It is, after all, but a
very small proportion of fifty millions of people which the most cruel
monster of a tyrant can kill, even if he devotes himself fully to the
work. The natural deaths among the vast population within the reach of
Philip's power amounted, probably, to two millions every year; and if
he destroyed ten thousand every year, it was only adding one death by
violence to two hundred produced by accidents, disasters, or age.
Dreadful as are the atrocities of persecution and war, and vast and
incalculable as are the encroachments on human happiness which they
produce, we are often led to overrate their relative importance,
compared with the aggregate value of the interests and pursuits which
are left unharmed by them, by not sufficiently appreciating the enormous
extent and magnitude of these interests and pursuits in such communities
as England, France, and Spain.

Sometimes, it is true, the operations of military heroes have been on
such a prodigious scale as to make very serious inroads on the
population of the greatest states. Napoleon for instance, on one
occasion took five hundred thousand men out of France for his expedition
to Russia. The campaign destroyed nearly all of them. It was only a very
insignificant fraction of the vast army that ever returned. By this
transaction, Napoleon thus just about doubled the annual mortality in
France at a single blow. Xerxes enjoys the glory of having destroyed
about a million of men--and these, not enemies, but countrymen,
followers, and friends--in the same way, on a single expedition. Such
vast results, however, were not attained in the conflicts which marked
the reigns of Elizabeth and Philip of Spain. Notwithstanding the
long-protracted international wars, and dreadful civil commotions of the
period, the world went on increasing in wealth and population, and all
the arts and improvements of life made very rapid progress. America had
been discovered, and the way to the East Indies had been opened to
European ships, and the Spaniards, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the
English, and the French, had fleets of merchant vessels and ships of war
in every sea. The Spaniards, particularly, had acquired great
possessions in America, which contained very rich mines of gold and
silver, and there was a particular kind of vessels called galleons,
which went regularly once a year, under a strong convoy, to bring home
the treasure. They used to call these fleets armada, which is the
Spanish word denoting an armed squadron. Nations at war with Spain
always made great efforts to intercept and seize these ships on their
homeward voyages, when, being laden with gold and silver, they became
prizes of the highest value.

Things were in this state about the year 1585, when Queen Elizabeth
received a proposition from the Continent of Europe which threw her into
great perplexity. Among the other dominions of Philip of Spain, there
were certain states situated in the broad tract of low, level land which
lies northeast of France, and which constitutes, at the present day, the
countries of Holland and Belgium. This territory was then divided into
several provinces, which were called, usually, the Low Countries, on
account of the low and level situation of the land. In fact, there are
vast tracts of land bordering the shore, which lie so low that dikes
have to be built to keep out the sea. In these cases, there are lines of
windmills, of great size and power, all along the coast, whose vast
wings are always slowly revolving, to pump out the water which
percolates through the dikes, or which flows from the water-courses
after showers of rain.

The Low Countries were very unwilling to submit to the tyrannical
government which Philip exercised over them. The inhabitants were
generally Protestants, and Philip persecuted them cruelly. They were, in
consequence of this, continually rebelling against his authority, and
Elizabeth secretly aided them in these struggles, though she would not
openly assist them, as she did not wish to provoke Philip to open war.
She wished them success, however, for she knew very well that if Philip
could once subdue his Protestant subjects at home, he would immediately
turn his attention to England, and perhaps undertake to depose
Elizabeth, and place some Catholic prince or princess upon the throne in
her stead.

Things were in this state in 1585, when the confederate provinces of the
Low Countries sent an embassage to Elizabeth, offering her the
government of the country as sovereign queen, if she would openly
espouse their cause and protect them from Philip's power. This
proposition called for very serious and anxious consideration. Elizabeth
felt very desirous to make this addition to her dominions on its own
account, and besides, she saw at once that such an acquisition would
give her a great advantage in her future contests with Philip, if actual
war must come. But then, on the other hand, by accepting the
proposition, war must necessarily be brought on at once. Philip would,
in fact, consider her espousing the cause of his rebellious subjects as
an actual declaration of war on her part, so that making such a league
with these countries would plunge her at once into hostilities with the
greatest and most extended power on the globe. Elizabeth was very
unwilling thus to precipitate the contest; but then, on the other hand,
she wished very much to avoid the danger that threatened, of Philip's
first subduing his own dominions, and then advancing to the invasion of
England with his undivided strength. She finally concluded not to accept
the sovereignty of the countries, but to make a league, offensive and
defensive, with the governments, and to send out a fleet and an army to
aid them. This, as she had expected, brought on a general war.

The queen commissioned Leicester to take command of the forces which
were to proceed to Holland and the Netherlands; she also equipped a
fleet, and placed it under the command of Sir Francis Drake, a very
celebrated naval captain, to proceed across the Atlantic and attack the
Spanish possessions on the American shores. Leicester was extremely
elated with his appointment, and set off on his expedition with great
pomp and parade. He had not generally, during his life, held stations of
any great trust or responsibility. The queen had conferred upon him high
titles and vast estates, but she had confided all real power to far
more capable and trustworthy hands. She thought however, perhaps, that
Leicester would answer for her allies; so she gave him his commission
and sent him forth, charging him, with many injunctions, as he went
away, to be discreet and faithful, and to do nothing which should
compromise, in any way, her interests or honor.

It will, perhaps, be recollected that Leicester's wife had been, before
her marriage with him, the wife of a nobleman named the Earl of Essex.
She had a son, who, at his father's death, succeeded to the title. This
young Essex accompanied Leicester on this occasion. His subsequent
adventures, which were romantic and extraordinary, will be narrated in
the next chapter.

The people of the Netherlands, being extremely desirous to please
Elizabeth, their new ally, thought that they could not honor the great
general she had sent them too highly. They received him with most
magnificent military parades, and passed a vote in their assembly
investing him with absolute authority as head of the government, thus
putting him, in fact, in the very position which Elizabeth had herself
declined receiving. Leicester was extremely pleased and elated with
these honors. He was king all but in name. He provided himself with a
noble life-guard, in imitation of royalty, and assumed all the state and
airs of a monarch. Things went on so very prosperously with him for a
short time, until he was one day thunderstruck by the appearance at his
palace of a nobleman from the queen's court, named Heneage, who brought
him a letter from Elizabeth which was in substance as follows:

"How foolishly, and with what contempt of my authority, I
think you have acted, the messenger I now send to you will
explain. I little imagined that a man whom I had raised from
the dust, and treated with so much favor, would have
forgotten all his obligations, and acted in such a manner. I
command you now to put yourself entirely under the direction
of this messenger, to do in all things precisely as he
requires, upon pain of further peril."

Leicester humbled himself immediately under this rebuke, sent home most
ample apologies and prayers for forgiveness, and, after a time,
gradually recovered the favor of the queen. He soon, however, became
very unpopular in the Netherlands. Grievous complaints were made
against him, and he was at length recalled.

Drake was more successful. He was a bold, undaunted, and energetic
seaman, but unprincipled and merciless. He manned and equipped his
fleet, and set sail toward the Spanish possessions in America. He
attacked the colonies, sacked the towns, plundered the inhabitants,
intercepted the ships, and searched them for silver and gold. In a word,
he did exactly what pirates are hung for doing, and execrated afterward
by all mankind. But, as Queen Elizabeth gave him permission to perform
these exploits, he has always been applauded by mankind as a hero. We
would not be understood as denying that there is any difference between
burning and plundering innocent towns and robbing ships, whether there
is or is not a governmental permission to commit these crimes. There
certainly is a difference. It only seems to us surprising that there
should be so great a difference as is made by the general estimation of

Drake, in fact, had acquired a great and honorable celebrity for such
deeds before this time, by a similar expedition, several years before,
in which he had been driven to make the circumnavigation of the globe.
England and Spain were then nominally at peace, and the expedition was
really in pursuit of prizes and plunder.

Drake took five vessels with him on this his first expedition, but they
were all very small. The largest was only a vessel of one hundred tons,
while the ships which are now built are often of three thousand. With
this little fleet Drake set sail boldly, and crossed the Atlantic, being
fifty-five days out of sight of land. He arrived at last on the coast of
South America, and then turned his course southward, toward the Straits
of Magellan. Two of his vessels, he found, were so small as to be of
very little service; so he shipped the men on board the others, and
turned the two adrift. When he got well into the southern seas, he
charged his chief mate, whose name was Doughty, with some offense
against the discipline of his little fleet, and had him condemned to
death. He was executed at the Straits of Magellan--beheaded. Before he
died, the unhappy convict had the sacrament administered to him, Drake
himself partaking of it with him. It was said, and believed at the time,
that the charge against Doughty was only a pretense, and that the real
cause of his death was that Leicester had agreed with Drake to kill him
when far away, on account of his having assisted, with others, in
spreading the reports that Leicester had murdered the Earl of Essex, the
former husband of his wife.

The little squadron passed through the Straits of Magellan, and then
encountered a dreadful storm, which separated the ships, and drove them
several hundred miles to the westward, over the then boundless and
trackless waters of the Pacific Ocean. Drake himself afterward recovered
the shore with his own ship alone, and moved northward. He found Spanish
ships and Spanish merchants every where, who, not dreaming of the
presence of an English enemy in those distant seas, were entirely
secure; and they fell, one after another, a very easy prey. The very
extraordinary story is told of his finding, in one place, a Spaniard
asleep upon the shore, waiting, perhaps, for a boat, with thirty bars of
silver by his side, of great weight and value, which Drake and his men
seized and carried off, without so much as waking the owner. In one
harbor which he entered he found three ships, from which the seamen had
all gone ashore, leaving the vessels completely unguarded, so entirely
unconscious were they of any danger near. Drake broke into the cabins
of these ships, and found fifty or sixty wedges of pure silver there, of
twenty pounds each. In this way, as he passed along the coast, he
collected an immense treasure in silver and gold, both coin and bullion,
without having to strike a blow for it. At last he heard of a very rich
ship, called the Cacofogo, which had recently sailed for Panama, to
which place they were taking the treasure, in order that it might be
transported across the isthmus, and so taken home to Spain; for, before
Drake's voyage, scarcely a single vessel had ever passed round Cape
Horn. The ships which he had plundered had been all built upon the
coast, by Spaniards who had come across the country at the Isthmus of
Darien, and were to be used only to transport the treasure northward,
where it could be taken across to the Gulf of Mexico.

Drake gave chase to the Cacofogo. At last he came near enough to fire
into her, and one of his first shots cut away her foremast and disabled
her. He soon captured the ship, and he found immense riches on board.
Besides pearls and precious stones of great value, there were eighty
pounds of gold, thirteen chests of silver coin, and silver enough in
bars "to ballast a ship."

Drake's vessel was now richly laden with treasures, but in the mean time
the news of his plunderings had gone across the Continent, and some
Spanish ships of war had gone south to intercept him at the Straits of
Magellan on his return. In this dilemma, the adventurous sailor
conceived of the sublime idea of avoiding them by going round the
world to get home. He pushed boldly forward, therefore, across the
Pacific Ocean to the East Indies, thence through the Indian Ocean to the
Cape of Good Hope, and, after three years from the time he left England,
he returned to it safely again, his ship loaded with the plundered
silver and gold.

As soon as he arrived in the Thames, the whole world flocked to see the
little ship that had performed all these wonders. The vessel was drawn
up alongside the land, and a bridge made to it, and, after the treasure
was taken out, it was given up, for some time, to banquetings and
celebrations of every kind. The queen took possession of all the
treasure, saying that Philip might demand it, and she be forced to make
restitution, for it must be remembered that all this took place several
years before the war. She, however, treated the successful sailor with
every mark of consideration and honor; she went herself on board his
ship, and partook of an entertainment there, conferring the honor of
knighthood, at the same time, on the admiral, so that "Sir Francis
Drake" was thenceforth his proper title.

If the facts already stated do not give sufficient indications of the
kind of character which in those days made a naval hero, one other
circumstance may be added. At one time during this voyage, a Spaniard,
whose ship Drake had spared, made him a present of a beautiful negro
girl. Drake kept her on board his ship for a time, and then sent her
ashore on some island that he was passing, and inhumanly abandoned her
there, to become a mother among strangers, utterly friendless and alone.
It must be added, however, in justice to the rude men among whom this
wild buccaneer lived, that, though they praised all his other deeds of
violence and wrong, this atrocious cruelty was condemned. It had the
effect, even in those days, of tarnishing his fame.

Philip did claim the money, but Elizabeth found plenty of good excuses
for not paying it over to him.

This celebrated expedition occupied more than three years. Going round
the world is a long journey. The arrival of the ship in London took
place in 1581, four years before the war actually broke out between
England and Spain, which was in 1585; and it was in consequence of the
great celebrity which Drake had acquired in this and similar excursions,
that when at last hostilities commenced, he was put in command of the
naval preparations. It was not long before it was found that his
services were likely to be required near home, for rumors began to find
their way to England that Philip was preparing a great fleet for the
actual invasion of England. The news put the whole country into a state
of great alarm.

The reader, in order to understand fully the grounds for this alarm,
must remember that in those days Spain was the mistress of the ocean,
and not England herself. Spain possessed the distant colonies and the
foreign commerce, and built and armed the great ships, while England had
comparatively few ships, and those which she had were small. To meet the
formidable preparations which the Spaniards were making, Elizabeth
equipped only four ships. To these however, the merchants of London
added twenty or thirty more, of various sizes, which they furnished on
condition of having a share in the plunder which they hoped would be
secured. The whole fleet was put under Drake's command.

Robbers and murderers, whether those that operate upon the sea or on the
land, are generally courageous, and Drake's former success had made him
feel doubly confident and strong. Philip had collected a considerable
fleet of ships in Cadiz, which is a strong sea-port in the southeastern
part of Spain, on the Mediterranean Sea, and others were assembling in
all the ports and bays along the shore, wherever they could be built or
purchased. They were to rendezvous finally at Cadiz. Drake pushed boldly
forward, and, to the astonishment of the world, forced his way into the
harbor, through a squadron of galleys stationed there to protect the
entrance, and burned, sunk, and destroyed more than a hundred ships
which had been collected there. The whole work was done, and the little
English fleet was off again, before the Spaniards could recover from
their astonishment. Drake then sailed along the coast, seizing and
destroying all the ships he could find. He next pushed to sea a little
way, and had the good fortune to intercept and capture a richly-laden
ship of very large size, called a carrack, which was coming home from
the East Indies. He then went back to England in triumph. He said he had
been "singeing the whiskers" of the King of Spain.

The booty was divided among the London merchants, as had been agreed
upon. Philip was exasperated and enraged beyond expression at this
unexpected destruction of armaments which had cost him so much time and
money to prepare. His spirit was irritated and aroused by the disaster,
not quelled; and he immediately began to renew his preparations, making
them now on a still vaster scale than before. The amount of damage which
Drake effected was, therefore, after all, of no greater benefit to
England than putting back the invasion for about a year.

At length, in the summer of 1588, the preparations for the sailing of
the great armada, which was to dethrone Elizabeth and bring back the
English nation again under the dominion of some papal prince, and put
down, finally, the cause of Protestantism in Europe, were complete.
Elizabeth herself, and the English people, in the mean time, had not
been idle. The whole kingdom had been for months filled with enthusiasm
to prepare for meeting the foe. Armies were levied and fleets raised.
Every maritime town furnished ships; and rich noblemen, in many cases,
built or purchased vessels with their own funds, and sent them forward
ready for the battle, as their contribution toward the means of defense.
A large part of the force thus raised was stationed at Plymouth, which
is the first great sea-port which presents itself on the English coast
in sailing up the Channel. The remainder of it was stationed at the
other end of the Channel, near the Straits of Dover, for it was feared
that, in addition to the vast armament which Philip was to bring from
Spain, he would raise another fleet in the Netherlands, which would, of
course, approach the shores of England from the German Ocean.

Besides the fleets, a large army was raised. Twenty thousand men were
distributed along the southern shores of England in such positions as to
be most easily concentrated at any point where the armada might attempt
to land and about as many more were marched down the Thames, and
encamped near the mouth of the river, to guard that access. This
encampment was at a place on the northern bank of the river, just above
its mouth. Leicester, strange as it may seem, was put in command of this
army. The queen, however, herself, went to visit this encampment, and
reviewed the troops in person. She rode to and fro on horseback along
the lines, armed like a warrior. At least she had a corslet of polished
steel over her magnificent dress, and bore a general's truncheon, a
richly-ornamented staff used as a badge of command. She had a helmet,
too, with a white plume. This, however she did not wear. A page bore it,
following her, while she rode, attended by Leicester and the other
generals, all mounted on horses and splendidly caparisoned, from rank to
rank, animating the men to the highest enthusiasm by her courageous
bearing, her look of confidence, and her smiles.

She made an address to the soldiers. She said that she had been warned
by some of her ministers of the danger of trusting herself to the power
of such an armed multitude, for these forces were not regularly enlisted
troops, but volunteers from among the citizens, who had suddenly left
the ordinary avocations and pursuits of life to defend their country in
this emergency. She had, however, she said, no such apprehensions of
danger. She could trust herself without fear to the courage and fidelity
of her subjects, as she had always, during all her reign, considered her
greatest strength and safeguard as consisting in their loyalty and good
will. For herself, she had come to the camp, she assured them, not for
the sake of empty pageantry and parade, but to take her share with them
in the dangers, and toils, and terrors of the actual battle. If Philip
should land, they would find their queen in the hottest of the conflict,
fighting by their sides. "I have," said she, "I know, only the body of a
weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart of a king; and I am ready
for my God, my kingdom, and my people, to have that body laid down, even
in the dust. If the battle comes, therefore, I shall myself be in the
midst and front of it, to live or die with you."

These were, thus far, but words, it is true, and how far Elizabeth would
have vindicated their sincerity, if the entrance of the armada into the
Thames had put her to the test, we can not now know. Sir Francis Drake
saved her from the trial. One morning a small vessel came into the
harbor at Plymouth, where the English fleet was lying, with the news
that the armada was coming up the Channel under full sail. The anchors
of the fleet were immediately raised, and great exertions made to get it
out of the harbor, which was difficult, as the wind at the time was
blowing directly in. The squadron got out at last, as night was coming
on. The next morning the armada hove in sight, advancing from the
westward up the Channel, in a vast crescent, which extended for seven
miles from north to south, and seemed to sweep the whole sea.

It was a magnificent spectacle, and it was the ushering in of that far
grander spectacle still, of which the English Channel was the scene for
the ten days which followed, during which the enormous naval structures
of the armada, as they slowly made their way along, were followed, and
fired upon, and harassed by the smaller, and lighter, and more active
vessels of their English foes. The unwieldy monsters pressed on,
surrounded and worried by their nimbler enemies like hawks driven by
kingfishers through the sky. Day after day this most extraordinary
contest, half flight and half battle continued, every promontory on the
shores covered all the time with spectators, who listened to the distant
booming of the guns, and watched the smokes which arose from the
cannonading and the conflagrations. One great galleon after another fell
a prey. Some were burned, some taken as prizes, some driven ashore;
and finally, one dark night, the English sent a fleet of fire-ships, all
in flames, into the midst of the anchorage to which the Spaniards had
retired, which scattered them in terror and dismay, and completed the
discomfiture of the squadron.

The result was, that by the time the invincible armada had made its way
through the Channel, and had passed the Straits of Dover, it was so
dispersed, and shattered, and broken, that its commanders, far from
feeling any disposition to sail up the Thames, were only anxious to make
good their escape from their indefatigable and tormenting foes. They did
not dare, in attempting to make this escape, to return through the
Channel, so they pushed northward into the German Ocean. Their only
course for getting back to Spain again was to pass round the northern
side of England, among the cold and stormy seas that are rolling in
continually among the ragged rocks and gloomy islands which darken the
ocean there. At last a miserable remnant of the fleet--less than
half--made their way back to Spain again.

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