The Great Armada

“Britannia needs no bulwarks,
   No towers along the steep,
Her march is o’er the mountain wave,
   Her home is on the deep.”
   —Campbell, Ye Mariners of England.

And now began that great sea-fight which was to determine whether Popery and despotism, or Protestantism and freedom, were the law which God had appointed for the half of Europe, and the whole of future America. It is a twelve days’ epic, worthy, as I said in the beginning of this book, not of dull prose, but of the thunder-roll of Homer’s verse: but having to tell it, I must do my best, rather using, where I can, the words of contemporary authors than my own.

“The Lord High Admirall of England, sending a pinnace before, called the Defiance, denounced war by discharging her ordnance; and presently approaching with in musquet-shot, with much thundering out of his own ship, called the Arkroyall (alias the Triumph), first set upon the admirall’s, as he thought, of the Spaniards (but it was Alfonso de Leon’s ship. Soon after, Drake, Hawkins, and Frobisher played stoutly with their ordnance on the hindmost squadron, which was commanded by Recalde.” The Spaniards soon discover the superior “nimbleness of the English ships;” and Recalde’s squadron, finding that they are getting more than they give, in spite of his endeavors, hurry forward to join the rest of the fleet. Medina the Admiral, finding his ships scattering fast, gathers them into a half-moon; and the Armada tries to keep solemn way forward, like a stately herd of buffaloes, who march on across the prairie, disdaining to notice the wolves which snarl around their track. But in vain. These are no wolves, but cunning hunters, swiftly horsed, and keenly armed, and who will “shamefully shuffle” (to use Drake’s own expression) that vast herd from the Lizard to Portland, from Portland to Calais Roads; and who, even in this short two hours’ fight, have made many a Spaniard question the boasted invincibleness of this Armada.

One of the four great galliasses is already riddled with shot, to the great disarrangement of her “pulpits, chapels,” and friars therein assistant. The fleet has to close round her, or Drake and Hawkins will sink her; in effecting which manoeuvre, the “principal galleon of Seville,” in which are Pedro de Valdez and a host of blue-blooded Dons, runs foul of her neighbor, carries away her foremast, and is, in spite of Spanish chivalry, left to her fate. This does not look like victory, certainly. But courage! though Valdez be left behind, “our Lady,” and the saints, and the bull Caena Domini (dictated by one whom I dare not name here), are with them still, and it were blasphemous to doubt. But in the meanwhile, if they have fared no better than this against a third of the Plymouth fleet, how will they fare when those forty belated ships, which are already whitening the blue between them and the Mewstone, enter the scene to play their part? So ends the first day; not an English ship, hardly a man, is hurt. It has destroyed for ever, in English minds, the prestige of boastful Spain. It has justified utterly the policy which the good Lord Howard had adopted by Raleigh’s and Drake’s advice, of keeping up a running fight, instead of “clapping ships together without consideration,” in which case, says Raleigh, “he had been lost, if he had not been better advised than a great many malignant fools were, who found fault with his demeanor.”

Be that as it may, so ends the first day, in which Amyas and the other Bideford ships have been right busy for two hours, knocking holes in a huge galleon, which carries on her poop a maiden with a wheel, and bears the name of Sta. Catharina. She had a coat of arms on the flag at her sprit, probably those of the commandant of soldiers; but they were shot away early in the fight, so Amyas cannot tell whether they were De Soto’ s or not. Nevertheless, there is plenty of time for private revenge; and Amyas, called off at last by the admiral’s signal, goes to bed and sleeps soundly.

But ere he has been in his hammock an hour, he is awakened by Cary’s coming down to ask for orders.

“We were to follow Drake’s lantern, Amyas; but where it is, I can’t see, unless he has been taken up aloft there among the stars for a new Drakium Sidus.”

Amyas turns out grumbling: but no lantern is to be seen; only a sudden explosion and a great fire on board some Spaniard, which is gradually got under, while they have to lie-to the whole night long, with nearly the whole fleet.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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