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

izabeth'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.