The Armada


Armada IV


Thankful was the terrified Medina Sidonia when night fell, giving him a few hours respite; but with morning his dangers and anxieties returned as he found himself between two great perils. On the windward of him was the English fleet. Behind him was that belt of muddy water of the Dutch coast, which, if he struck was lost. With every passing moment the helpless Armada was drawing nearer to those terrible shoals. Suddenly the wind shifted to the east, and the change rescued, at least for the moment, the Spanish galleons on the very brink of destruction.

The English fleet, having lost the advantage of the wind, stood off; and the Spanish admiral, relieved of their presence, assembled his officers to deliberate on the course to be taken. The question to be decided was: Should they return to their anchorage off Calais or go back to Spain by way of the Orkneys? To return to Calais involved a second battle with the English; and were this to take place, the officers were of the opinion that for the Armada, there would be no tomorrow. The alternative of returning to Spain in battered ships, passing without pilots through unknown and dangerous seas, was a solution nearly as formidable; nevertheless, it was the lesser of the two evils to which their choice was limited, and it was the one adopted.

No sooner had the change of wind rescued the Spanish from the destruction which seemed to await them than it shifted once more and, settling in the southwest, blew with ever increasing intensity. The mostly rudderless ships could do nothing but drift before the rising storm into the northern seas. Drake followed them for a day or two without firing a gun, having spent his supply of ammunition; but just the sight of his ships was enough for the terrified Spaniards and they fled.

Spreading the sail to the rising gale, the Armada bore northward. Drake had been uneasy, fearing that the Spaniards might seek refuge in Scotland; but when he saw this danger pass and the Armada speed away toward the shore of Norway, he resolved to return before famine should set in among his crews.

No sooner did Drake turn back from the fleeing foe than the tempest took up the pursuit. Suddenly a furious gale burst out, and the last the English saw of the Armada was the vanishing forms of their retreating galleons as they entered the cloud of storm and became lost in the blackness of the northern night.

Carried on the tempest’s wings around Cape Wrath, they were next launched amid the perils of the Hebrides. The rollers of the Atlantic hoisted them, dashing them against the cliffs or flinging them on the shelving shore. Their crews, too worn with toil and want to swim ashore, were drowned in the surf and littered the beaches with their corpses. The winds drove the survivors farther south until they reached the west coast of Ireland.

There came a day’s calm; hunger and thirst were raging on board the ships; their store of water was entirely spent. Seeking to relieve their desperate situation, the Spaniards sent some boats on shore to beg supplies. They prayed piteously, willing to pay any amount of money but were unable to obtain any. The natives knew that the Spaniards had lost the day and should they comfort and assist the enemies of Elizabeth, they would be held answerable.

The storm then returned in all its former violence and raged for eleven days. During that time, galleon after galleon came on shore, scattering its drowned crews by hundreds upon the beach.

The sea was not the only enemy these wretched men had to dread. The Irish, though of the same religion as the Spaniards, were more pitiless than the waves. As the Spaniards crawled through the surf up the beaches, the Irish slaughtered them for the sake of their velvets, their gold brocades, and their rich chains. In addition, prompted by the fear that the Spaniards might be joined by the Irish and lead them in revolt, the English garrisons in Ireland had received orders to execute all who fell into their hands. It was calculated that in the month of September alone, 8,000Spaniards perished between the Giant’s Causeway and Blosket Sound, 1,100 were executed by the government officers, and 3,000 were murdered by the Irish. The rest were drowned. The tragedy, witnessed of old on the shores of the Red Sea, had repeated itself, with wider horrors, on the coast of Ireland.

Galleons left

The few galleons that escaped the waves and rocks crept back home, one by one. The terrible tragedy was too great to be disclosed all at once. When the terrible facts became fully known, the nation was shocked. There was scarcely a noble family in all of Spain which had not lost one or more of its members. Of the 30,000 who had sailed in the Armada, scarcely 10,000 ever returned; and these returned, in almost every instance, to pine and die. The Duke of Medina Sidonia, the commander in chief, was almost the only one of the nobles who outlived the catastrophe; but his head was bowed in shame. Envying the fate of those who had perished, he buried himself from the eyes of his countrymen in his countryseat.

The sorrowful Philip was deeply wounded from a quarter from which he looked for sympathy and help. Pope Sixtus had promised a contribution of a million crowns toward the expenses of the Armada; but when he saw the outcome, he refused to pay a single ducat. In vain Philip urged that the Pope had not only encouraged him, but had instigated the attempt. The expedition had been undertaken in the sacred cause of the Church, and that the loss ought to be borne mutually. To his entreaties, Sixtus was deaf.

The Armada was the mightiest effort, by force of arms, ever put forth by the Roman Catholic powers against Protestantism; and it proved the turning point in the great war between Rome and the Reformation. Spain was never after what she had been before the failure of that expedition. It said in effect to her, "Remove the diadem; put off the crown."

Almost all of the military genius and the naval skill enrolled in the service of Spain were lost in that ill-fated expedition. The financial loss could not be reckoned at less than six million ducats, but that was nothing compared with the loss of Spain’s prestige. The catastrophe stripped her naked. Her position and that of the Protestant powers were to a large extent reversed—England and the Netherlands rose, and Spain fell.

The tragedy of the Armada was a great sermon, the text of which was that the ordinary course of events had been interrupted; the heavens had been bowed, and the Great Judge had descended upon the scene, working out a marvelous deliverance for England. While dismay reined within the popish kingdoms, the Protestant states joined in a chorus of thanksgiving.

The destruction of the Armada drew England together. The nation seemed to realize that if it did not draw together in the work of the Reformation, all of the various factions would fall prey to a common enemy. The years that followed were years of prosperity and added to the glory of England. Unfortunately, however, Elizabeth appreciated the Reformation less for the freedom it gave to the conscience than for freeing her throne. One of her chief aims was to reconcile the English Catholics leading her to dread the complete separation of the Church of England from Rome. She loved splendor in worship and finding the Puritans to be an intolerable nuisance, exercised great intolerance toward them.

Elizabeth has been called great, but her greatness lay largely in the greatness of those she surrounded herself with. The Reformation had set England on the road to greatness; and as the head of state, Elizabeth was lifted up along with it.

Elizabeth died in March of 1603. When it became apparent that she would soon breathe her last, the Catholic interests took steps to see that none would take her place who were not deeply attached to Roman Catholicism. James VI, the king of Scotland, whose Protestantism was open to question, was anxious to obtain the throne. He received warnings from Elizabeth and her counselors that unless his Protestant interests were above suspicion, he would never be accepted by England. In 1600 he gave strong assurances that he would maintain the profession of the gospel. This strong assurance doubtless quieted the fears of the English statesmen; but at the same time, it awakened the fears of the Roman Catholics.

The conspirators who had seen their hopes dashed by such a strong statement, appealed to Pope Clement VIII to use his influence to bar Jame’s ascent to the throne. Clement was not hard to be persuaded in the matter and sent two bulls—one addressed to the Roman clergy, the other to the nobility and laity. Both bulls were of similar tenor and urged that no one should be allowed to ascend the throne who had not only sworn to tolerate the Roman Catholic faith but who would, to the utmost of his power, uphold and advance it.

When Elizabeth died, the Catholic faction immediately dispatched a messenger to the court of Spain, seeking Philip’s interposition on their behalf. The memory of the Armada was still fresh in Philip’s mind. The loss that he had sustained, as well as the blow that the national spirit had received, was too great to allow him to do anything but wish them well.

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