THE SPANISH ARMADA
N Englishman living in Lisbon hastened home to England
and demanded audience with the queen.
"Your Majesty," said he, "King Philip is making great
preparations for some warlike enterprise. In the
Lisbon harbor are twenty galleons and forty other
vessels. Men from Italy and Germany are coming in by
hundreds. What can this mean but an attack upon
Two months later came a message to the queen from her
spies in Spain:—
"Soldiers are coming every day, and vast quantities of
wine, grain, biscuit, bacon, oil, vinegar, barley meal,
and salted meats are being laid in besides powder and
cannon." A ship that had recently sailed from Lisbon
was captured, and both captain and men were tortured on
the rack that more might be learned of the doings
 of Philip. All told the same story, that he was
planning an invasion of England.
In those days honor between sovereigns was a thing
almost unknown. No one blamed the government of one
country for trying to get the better of that of
another. While Philip was making ready for war, he and
Elizabeth were engaged in arranging for a treaty of
peace and friendship. Each knew that the other was
treacherous, but each meant to get the better of the
On the arrival of this news from Spain, Elizabeth sent
for Drake. "Sir Francis," said she, "how
would it please
you to make a voyage to Spain?"
Drake guessed in a moment what she wished of him and
answered most heartily:—
"There's nothing in all the world that would do me
"Ships and stores and soldiers are assembling off Cadiz
and Lisbon. It would be a goodly sight, perhaps as fine
as anything you saw in your voyage around the world."
"With how many ships may I go?" asked Drake.
 "I can give you four, and the merchants will add to the
They did add twenty-six vessels of all kinds and sizes,
for they well knew that, though Drake would probably
sail with the usual orders to "do no harm to my good
friend, the king of Spain," the chances were that every
vessel would come back with a valuable cargo.
Drake made a rapid voyage, and on his return he at once
brought his report to the queen.
"Well, my sailor lad," was her greeting, "have you
another wild tale of adventure to tell me? Have you
made me queen of a new land or have you excommunicated
"I've not excommunicated my chaplain," returned Drake,
"but it'll take many a blessing from the Pope to make
up to the Spaniards for that merry time off Cadiz. I've
not discovered a new country, but your Majesty is queen
of what is stowed away in my ships, and perchance that
is of more worth than some of the raw lands that lie to
Elizabeth's eyes shone. "I know you've been in many a
gallant fight," said she, "and now tell me just what
you have done."
 "The Spanish fleet was off Cadiz ready to sail for
Lisbon, so there was nothing else to do but to attack
it. We took eighty or more of their vessels, laden with
stores to the gunwale, and we captured two galleons."
"So that's the way you do no harm to my friend Philip,"
said the queen. "Brave sailor laddie that you are, what
did you do next?"
"My men were a bit weary of the sea," answered Drake,
"Yes, it must have been a dull and wearisome voyage,"
said Elizabeth with a smile. "And what did you do to
"There was little to do, but we took three castles and
burned some fishing boats and nets. I hadn't time for
much, for there was news of a carrack coming from
India, and it was only courtesy to sail out and give
her a greeting."
"Surely," said the queen. "My sailors are always ready
to show that kind of courtesy to an enemy in loneliness
on the ocean."
"That's the whole story," said Drake, "save that the
carrack was full of the richest treasure that ever
sailed the seas, and I brought it home."
"That is more of your courtesy," said
Eliza-  beth. "You would save the busy king from the care of it, I
"Yes, your Majesty. He'll be busy enough for one while.
We've singed his whiskers for him."
The stories were true. Philip was at last determined
to attack England. Mary was dead, and he claimed the
crown by virtue of his connection with the royal house
of Lancaster and by the will of the Queen of Scots.
There was another side to his plan, Elizabeth had torn
her country from its allegiance to the Pope, and this
invasion was a crusade. If he conquered England, the
country would be brought back to the Roman church, and
so would Holland; it was a holy war. A Spanish cardinal
wrote, "Spain does not war against Englishmen, but
against Elizabeth. It is not England but her wretched
queen who has overthrown the Holy Church and persecuted
the pious Catholics. Let the English people rise and
welcome their deliverer." This letter was circulated
throughout England, but it produced no effect save to
increase the loyalty of the English Catholics. They
were the more indignant because the author of the
 an Englishman who had abandoned his country and become
a subject of Spain. "It is only the blast of a beggarly
traitor," declared Elizabeth.
The "singeing of his whiskers" kept Philip waiting for
a year. To sail out into the Atlantic with the
probability of meeting the autumn gales far away from
any friendly harbor would have been a reckless thing to
do, and it was not easy to bring together at short
notice stores enough to take the place of those that
had been destroyed. Philip waited. He even gave the
queen a final chance to avoid the attack, for he sent
her a Latin verse to the effect that she might even yet
escape his conquest by agreeing to return the treasure
taken by Drake, to render no more aid to the Low
Countries, and to bring her kingdom back to the Church
of Rome. Elizabeth replied, "My good king, I'll obey
you when the Greek kalends come around," and as the
Greeks had no kalends, there was little hope of peace.
While the shipbuilders of Spain were working night and
day, and while men and provisions and powder and cannon
were being brought together, England, too, was
preparing for the encounter. There was no ally on the
continent to lend aid,
 the King of Scots might be faithful and he might not,
according to what he regarded as for his interests. The
fortifications of the kingdom were weak. At Portsmouth
the guns could not be fired when the queen was crowned
because the tower was so old and ready to crumble, and
for thirty years little had been done to put it in
order. This very weakness, however, of the resources of
the government was England's strength, for every
Englishman saw that if his country was to be saved from
becoming a province of Spain, he and every other man
must do his best to defend it. The council sent a
message to London:—
"What number of ships and men is it your wish to
contribute to the defence of the land?"
"How many may properly be required of us?" asked the
"Fifteen ships and five thousand men," was the answer.
Now in all London there were hardly more than seventeen
thousand men, but the city straightway wrote to the
"Ten thousand men and thirty ships we will gladly
provide, and the ships shall be amply furnished."
 So it was throughout the kingdom. Every town sent a
generous number of men and generous gifts of money.
Every little village on the coast hastened to refit its
fishing vessels and offer boats and sailors to the
government. The wildest stories were rife of what the
Spaniards would do if they were once in control of the
country. It was said that they had already lists of the
stately castles of the realm and the homes of rich
London merchants, marked with the names of the Spanish
nobles to whom they were to be given. Most of the
English were to be hanged, so the rumor went, but all
children under seven years of age were to be branded on
the face and kept as slaves.
Philip had not expected to conquer England without
other aid than that of the soldiers whom he was to
carry with him. He had a large band of allies, on
English soil, so he thought, waiting for his coming and
ready to welcome him. These were the Catholics of
England. The Pope had excommunicated Elizabeth and had
pronounced the curse of the church upon all Catholics
that should support her.
"These are not common days," said one of
 her advisers, "and in such times there must often be
resort to means that would be most cruel and unjust in
"What do you mean?" demanded the queen.
"Your Majesty has of course not failed to consider the
support that the Spanish king may find if he succeeds
in landing upon our shores."
"Who will support him, you or I?"
"It would be but natural for those of his own church to
"They'll welcome him with powder and cannon."
"Your Majesty, when your illustrious father, King Henry
VIII., was about to depart for the French wars, did he
not bring to the block his own cousin and others who
were most devoted to the old faith, lest they should
raise an insurrection while he was on the continent?"
"And you would cut off the heads of my faithful
subjects? They shall attend my church, and if they will
not, they shall be fined or imprisoned. My agents are
zealous, and it may be that they have sometimes gone
beyond my orders, but I tell you that I rule men and
women, not their thoughts, and if a man obeys me, his
 stays on his shoulders, mark that. I'll tell you one
thing more, the lord high-admiral of my fleet is to be
Howard of Effingham. What think you of that, my man?"
"But, your Majesty, he is a strong supporter of the old
"So will he be of the new queen," replied Elizabeth
Howard became admiral, and Drake vice-admiral, while
Frobisher and Hawkins served as captains and Raleigh
sailed out in his own vessel as a volunteer. Howard
knew almost nothing of naval command, but around him
were officers of experience, and he was not so exalted
by his new dignity that he scorned to learn of them.
The sailors watched him closely, and when they saw him
put his own hands to the towing rope, they shouted
"Hurrah for the admiral!" Nobles and commoners were
mingled, and not one among them seemed to have any
thought of rank or dignity. It was for England that
they were working, and the honor lay in helping to save
The English vessels came together. There were all sorts
of craft, ranging from a ship not
 much smaller than the galleons of the Spaniards to what
were hardly more than mere fishing boats. They were
miserably supplied with food and powder, for it was
very hard for Elizabeth to make up her mind to meet the
vast expenses of war. Almost every letter of the
admiral's contained a request for absolute necessities
that were given out most grudgingly. Beef was too dear,
thought the queen, and she changed the sailors' rations
to a scanty supply of fish, oil, and peas. The wages
were in arrears, there was not powder enough, food was
carried to the ships in small quantities, though Howard
declared indignantly, "King Harry never made a less
supply than six weeks." At the least rumor that the
Spaniards were not coming, Elizabeth would give orders
to reduce the English fleet. The Invincible Armada had
left Spain, and Howard wrote, "Beseech Burleigh to
hasten provisions. If the wind holds out for six days,
Spain will be knocking at our doors."
One evening in July a game of bowls was going on at the
Pelican Inn in Plymouth.
"Your turn, Frobisher," said Hawkins, "and then Sir
 "That's well done, Sir Walter. Yours next, Sir
Francis," said Howard. Drake stooped for the ball, and
was about to send it, when an old sailor rushed into
the room and cried:—
"Admiral, Admiral, they're coming! I saw them off the
Lizard, and there are hundreds of them."
"What do you say, Admiral," asked Drake with his hand
still on the ball, "Won't there be time to finish the
game and then go out and give the dons a thrashing?"
The Spanish ships slowly made their way into the
Channel. They were so large and so high at stem and
stern that they looked like great floating-castles, but
they were so clumsy and difficult to manage that the
nimble little English boats had a great advantage. The
Spanish fleet formed in a wide crescent, the two points
seven miles apart, and the English boats went out to
meet them. The galleons were high and the English
vessels so low that it was difficult to train the
Spanish guns upon them, moreover, the Spaniards were
not good marksmen. They would have had a better chance,
however, if the English had only been willing to stand
still and be fired at, but the
 Spanish were much surprised and disgusted when the
saucy little English craft slipped up under their very
bows, fired a shot or two and were away firing at the
next ship before the Spanish guns could be trained upon
them. Some of the little boats sailed the whole length
of the crescent, firing at every vessel and coming off
without a scar.
The Spanish Armada attacked by the English Fleet.
From Pine's engraving of the tapestry, formerly in the House of Lords, but destroyed by fire in the eighteenth century.
This kind of encounter was kept up for more than a
week, for the English hesitated to attempt a regular
engagement. The Spanish suffered severely. Masts were
shattered, the rigging was cut up, great, ragged holes
were torn in the hulls, and large numbers of sailors
were slain, but even worse was to follow.
The Spaniards were anchored off Calais. At two o'clock
one morning a strange, shapeless object was seen
floating toward them. Then came another and another
until there were eight. Fire blazed up from the
floating monsters. There were explosions and
suffocating gases. The flames rose higher, wind and
waves were bringing these malignant creatures, that
seemed half alive, into the midst of the Spanish fleet.
This attack by fire-boats was a new way of
 fighting. The Spaniards were perplexed and horrified.
Their only thought was to escape anywhere, no matter
where, if only they could get free from these terrors.
In their haste anchor chains fouled, some ships
collided, others burned or ran aground.
The land forces were encamped at Tilbury. "I am
commander in chief of my troops," declared Elizabeth,
"and I shall go to pay them a visit."
"Is it safe to commit yourself to armed multitudes?
Among so many there may well be treachery," suggested
"Let tyrants fear," returned Elizabeth. "I am true to
my people, and they are my faithful and loving
subjects. I should rather die than live in fear and
distrust of them. I shall go to visit my loyal
It must have been a brilliant sight, the long lines of
soldiers in battle array, and the queen riding in front
of the lines on her great charger. Before her went
Leicester and another noble bearing the sword of state.
Behind her followed a page carrying her helmet with its
white plumes. She was magnificently dressed, but over
her dress was a corslet of polished steel. Back and
 before the lines she rode, while the soldiers shouted,
"Queen Elizabeth! Queen Elizabeth! God save the queen!
The Lord keep her!" She raised her hand, and there was
silence to hear her words.
"I have the body of a weak, feeble woman," she said,
"but I have the heart of a king, of a king of England,
and I think it foul scorn that any prince of Europe
should dare to invade the borders of my realm. Rather
than that any dishonor should come by me, I will take
up arms, I will be your general myself, and the
rewarder of every deed of bravery. You deserve already
rewards and crowns, and they shall be paid. It will not
be long before we have a famous victory over these
enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people."
While Elizabeth was still at Tilbury, two messengers
came with a thrilling report.
"A fierce battle has been fought off Gravelines. Drake
was in command."
"My noble sailor laddie," said the queen proudly. "Tell
me of it. I would know the deeds of every one of my
"It is your Majesty who struck the fatal blow,"
 said the messenger, "for the fire-ships were your own
thought, and it was they that thrust the Spaniards from
our coast and drove them out to sea. Sir Francis and
his fleet led the attack. Six hours it lasted, till
every shot, large and small, had been fired. Then came
the Admiral, and he, too, fired every shot. There was
no more powder, but he put on a bold front and gave
them chase. They could not go south, and they went
"There's no fear in Howard," said Elizabeth. "I know my
man. Where are the Spaniards now?"
"Many of them have gone to whatever place the mercy of
the Lord may consign them," was the reply.
"And where are those that still depend upon the mercies
of wind and wave?" asked the queen.
"Only wind and wave can tell?" answered the messenger.
"The ships sailed far to the northward. The Admiral
pursued until his provisions failed, but there was
small need of searching for the enemy. The boisterous
northern seas will do the work of many a cannon."
The words of the messenger proved to be true.
 The Spanish ships ran aground on the unknown coasts,
they were shattered by storms, the sailors were
stricken by pestilence, they were driven ashore only to
be thrust back into the waves, for King James had no
idea of doing aught against the sovereign whose crown
he hoped would before many years rest upon his own
head, and the lord lieutenant of Ireland was little
inclined to show mercy to the enemies of his country.
Of the great fleet that left Spain, so strong that it
ventured to call itself invincible, more than half the
ships were left on the rocks or at the bottom of the