The Armada Leaving

Armada II

The total English force was just over 150,000. This force was split into three groups with one group stationed for the defense of the capital, one for the personal defense of the queen, and the third was to guard the south and east as the place most likely to be selected by the enemy for landing. Beacons were prepared to be lighted at the first landing of the enemy on English soil, which being lit would notify the rest of the troops at what point to converge.

The English fleet that sailed to oppose the Armada consisted of thirty-four ships of small tonnage carrying 6,000 men. Besides these, the city of London provided thirty ships. In all the port towns, merchant vessels were converted into warships, bringing the total to possibly as many as 150 vessels, with a crew of 14,000. Though the total number of vessels nearly matched that of the Spanish, the figures on paper give a far more favorable appearance than is warranted. The English fleet was, in comparison to the Spanish fleet, but a collection of six or eight oared boats along with a few slightly larger vessels.

This force was divided into two squadrons: one, under Lord Howard, high admiral of England, consisting of seventeen ships which were to cruise the Channel and there wait for the arrival of the Armada. The second squadron, under Hawkins, consisting of fifteen ships, was stationed at Dunkirk to intercept Parma should he attempt to cross with his fleet from Flanders. Sir Francis Drake, in his ship the Revenge, had a following of about thirty privateers. After the war broke out, the fleet was further increased by ships belonging to the nobility and the merchants, hastily armed and sent to sea; though the brunt of the fight, it was foreseen, must fall on the queen’s ships.

England’s inferior army was simply militia, insufficiently drilled, poorly armed, and, except in spirit, could not compare in any way with the soldiers of Spain who had been seasoned on the field of battle. The Spanish army alone was deemed more than sufficient to conquer England; and how easy would the conquest become when that Armada should be joined by the mighty force under Parma, the flower of the Spanish army! England, with her long line of coast, her unfortified town, and her four millions of population, including many thousands of Roman Catholics ready to rise in insurrection as soon as the invader had made good his landing, was at that hour in supreme peril. It was not England alone whose existence was in question. Its success or failure was the standing or falling of Protestantism. Should Philip succeed in his enterprise, Spain would replace England as the teacher and guide of the nations. Some idea of the consequence of such an outcome may be seen by contrasting the political, religious, social, and moral conditions over the centuries since of Latin America with those of Protestant North America.

For some time after the ships of the Armada had been collected in Lisbon, ready to sail, they were unable to move, waiting for favorable weather. When the wind finally shifted, the proud galleons spread their canvas and began their voyage toward England. For three days—May 28-30, 1588—galleon followed galleon, till it seemed the ocean must surely be filled with them. It was a breathtaking sight, as with sails spread to the breeze and banners and streamers gaily unfurled, it made its way along the coast of Spain. The twelve principal ships of the Armada bound on this holy enterprise had been baptized with the names of the twelve apostles. On board the St. Peter was Don Martin Allacon, administrator and vicar-general of the holy office of the Inquisition; and along with him were 200 barefooted friars and Dominicans. Though the guns of the Armada were to begin the conquest of heretical England, the spiritual arms of the Fathers were to complete it.

Santa Cruz

Just as the Armada was about to sail, the Marquis Santa Cruz, who had been appointed to the chief command, died. He had been thirty years in Philip’s service and was beyond doubt the most capable sea captain Spain had. Another had to be found to fill the place of the "Iron-Marquis," and the duke of Medina Sidonia was selected for the job. The main recommendation of Medina Sidonia was his vast wealth. The "Golden Duke" was there simply to provide the armament; the real head of the expedition was to be the duke of Parma, Philip’s commander in the Netherlands and the ablest of his generals. As soon as the Armada should arrive off Calais, the duke was to cross from Flanders and, uniting his numerous army with the vast fleet, they would then descend like a cloud upon the shore of England.

The Armada was three weeks at sea. The huge ships, so disproportioned to the small sails, made windward progress wearisomely slow. They floated well enough upon a calm sea, but as they were about to open the Bay of Biscay, the sky began to be overcast, and dark clouds came rolling up from the southwest. The swell of the Atlantic grew into mountainous billows, tumbling around those towering structures whose bulk only exposed them all the more to the buffeting of the great waves and furious winds. The Armada was scattered by the gale. As the weather moderated, the ships reassembled and again began to move toward England. A second and more severe storm soon burst upon them. The waves, dashing against the lofty turrets sent a spout of white water up their sides and high into midair, while the racing waves, coursing across the low bulwarks amidships, threatened every moment to engulf the galleons. One of the greatest of them went down with all on board, and another two were driven to the coast of France.

The storm subsiding, the Armada once more gathered itself together, and on July 29, it entered the Channel. The next day England had her first sight of the long expected enemy. Instantly the beacon fires were kindled, announcing that the Spanish had arrived. On the afternoon of July 30, the Armada could be seen from the high ground above Plymouth Harbor, advancing slowly from the southwest in the form of a crescent, the two horns of which were seven miles apart. As one massive hull after another came out of the blue distance, it was seen that rumor of its size had not been exaggerated in the least. On his great galleon, the St. Martin, in his shot-proof fortress stood Medina Sidonia, casting proud glances around him.

The night that followed was a night long to be remembered in England, as another and yet another hilltop lighted its fires in the darkness and the ever-extending line of light flashed the news of the Armada’s arrival from the shores of the Channel across all of England and Scotland. In this moment when the destiny of England hung in the balances, the hearts of men were drawn together by the sense of a common terror. All controversies were forgotten in one absorbing interest; and the cry of the nation went up to God that He would place His protection over England and not suffer her to be destroyed.

Meanwhile, the harbor of Plymouth was in a fever of excitement. The moment the news arrived that the Armada had been sighted, Howard, Drake, and Hawkins began their preparations; and the rest of the night was spent in preparing the ships for sea. By morning, sixty ships had been towed out of the harbor. Their numbers were little more than a third of those of the Armada, and their inferiority in size was even greater; but manned by patriotic crews, they hoisted sail and went forth to meet the enemy. On the afternoon of the same day, the two fleets came in sight of each other. The wind was blowing from the southwest, bringing with it a drizzling rain and choppy seas. The waves of the Atlantic came tumbling into the Channel; and the galleons of Spain, with their heavy ordnance and their numerous squadrons, rolled uneasily and clumsily. The English ships, of smaller size and handled by expert seamen, bore finely up before the breeze, taking a close survey of the Spanish fleet, and then, standing off to windward, became invisible in the haze. The Spaniards knew that the English fleet was in the vicinity, but the darkness did not permit battle to be joined that night.

Sir Charles Howard

Sunday, morning, July 31, witnessed the first encounter between the great navy of Spain and the little fleet of England. Medina Sidonia gave the signal for an engagement; but to his surprise, he found that the ability of accepting or declining battle lay entirely with the English. Howard’s ships were stationed to the windward and the sluggish Spanish galleons could not close with them. The English vessels, however, which were light and skillfully handled, would run up to the Armada, pour a broadside into it, and then as swiftly retreat beyond the reach of the Spanish guns. Sailing right into the wind, they defied pursuit. This was a method of fighting most frustrating to the Spanish, but they were unable to change it. All day the Armada moved slowly up-channel before the westerly breeze; and the English fleet hanging upon its rear, continued to fire into it, now a single shot, and again, a whole broadside. This action was repeated over and over again. The Spanish guns, seeking to return the fire, found that their shots, fired from lofty decks, passed over the English ships, falling harmlessly into the sea beyond them. It was in vain that the Spanish admiral raised the flag of battle, for the wind and the sea would not permit him to lie to. His nimble foe would not come within reach, unless it might be for a moment to send a cannonball through the side of some of his galleons and then make off, laughing to scorn the ungainly efforts of this bulky pursuer to overtake him. As yet there had been no loss of either ship or man on the part of the English.

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