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- England Under the Tudors - 70/90 -
the jurisdiction of the Holy Office, the English Queen in effect refused to interfere with acts of reprisal. If these rovers could have been caught and hanged at the yard-arm, she could hardly have protested; but as breaches of international amity the practices were very much on a par. In the technical sense, that they made war on their own account on the ships of a theoretically friendly Power, the rovers of this class were no doubt pirates; what we have to recognise is that the normal condition of affairs was one unknown to the law-books, a state of quasi-war; having no little resemblance to that prevalent for centuries on the Anglo-Scottish border, where it was not to be expected that the Wardens of the Marches on the one side would carry out their duties while the Wardens on the other side were neglecting theirs with the connivance of the Government. And in this case, Philip's connivance at the proceedings of the Inquisition was open and avowed; by consequence, the English Government refused to treat the proceedings of the privateers as piracy; and again by consequence the privateers considered themselves to be acting in a perfectly legitimate, not to say laudable, manner, in treating the enemy's commerce precisely as they would have done under a state of declared war.
No doubt the desire of plunder was usually a stronger incentive than either retaliation or religion. Privateering was not _per se_ admirable or praiseworthy. But it was something entirely different from what we understand by Piracy pure and simple. And manifestly it provided a very excellent and efficient school for the sons of a nation which was about to challenge the Colossus of the South for the title to the Empire of the Seas.
[Sidenote: The Explorers]
But while privateering bred in numbers men who knew how to handle and fight their ships, something more was needed to produce a race of great captains; something which was provided by the vast fields opened to exploration. Here was to be found the necessary training in calculated daring, in conquering seemingly impossible obstacles, in defying apparently insurmountable dangers, in rising to overwhelming emergencies, in learning to a nicety what it was possible for seamanship to accomplish.
[Endnote: Spain in America]
At the opening of Elizabeth's reign, Spain and Portugal were practically and theoretically in possession of the inheritance of the explorers and the Conquistadores. The latter Power held complete sway on the African Guinea Coast, and in the Indian Ocean, undisturbed by European rivals; while the Pope had bestowed upon it so much of the New World as lies East of the mouth of the Amazon--in effect, what lies behind the coast-line of Brazil. All that lies west of the mouth of the Amazon he had bestowed upon Spain; and this gift the swords of Spaniards had made good. In the West India Islands, their head-quarters were the Island and port of San Domingo (Hayti). From Florida, north, to the mouth of the Amazon, south, all was Spanish territory. On the Atlantic coast: Mexico had Vera Cruz with its haven of San Juan d'Ulloa; on Darien was Nombre de Dios; on the _Tierra Firma_ known to the English as the Spanish Main lay Cartagena and several other ports of varying importance. On the Pacific coast, the most notable spots were Panama, the port whither came the treasure ships from Peru to transport their stores by land to Nombre de Dios; Lima, the great city of Peru, which had its port of Callao; and further south the town of Santiago and the harbour of Valparaiso. The straits of Magellan, the only known entry for ships to the Pacific from the Atlantic, were deemed virtually impassable, while Tierra del Fuego was supposed to be the head of another Continent extending continuously to the south. In all these regions, the Spaniard claimed an absolute monopoly, and the right of excluding foreign vessels and foreign trade from what he regarded as Spanish waters.
It is chiefly with transactions on these seas and territories that we are concerned, in giving some account of the rovers, who first in their private capacity challenged the power of Spain, and then led the English fleets to their triumph over the "Invincible" Armada.
[Sidenote: John Hawkins's early voyages, 1562-1566]
First on the roll stands the name of John Hawkins--greatest of the "sea-dogs" till his fame was surpassed by the mightiest of all, Francis Drake. In Henry's day his father, old William Hawkins, had won high repute, for himself as a sailor and for his countrymen as honourable dealers, by his voyages to the Guinea coast, where the Portuguese were in very evil odour, and to the Brazils. John Hawkins fell as far behind his father in the latter respect as he surpassed him in the former: for he was responsible for initiating the Slave-trade. His first notable voyage was made in 1562, when he sailed to the Guinea coast, purchased or kidnapped from the African chiefs some three hundred negroes, crossed the Ocean, and sold them to the Spaniards in Hayti (or Hispaniola). In 1564 he sailed again with four ships; but on reaching America he was told at Rio de La Hacha and Cartagena that the traffic was forbidden. The Englishmen, however, held that these regulations were invalid, as a contravention of ancient treaty rights of free trade with the Spanish dominions. The Spaniards for their part were willing enough to find an excuse for transgressing their orders, which was given by a slight display of force; and Hawkins came home again with large profits, after visiting Florida where there were Huguenot settlers, and Newfoundland where fishing fleets of all nations congregated. It is noteworthy that while the Queen herself and sundry of her courtiers had a large pecuniary interest in these ventures of Hawkins, Cecil conscientiously declined to have part or lot in them, now or later: lawlessness being to him a thing abominable.
Philip was naturally indignant at the Englishman's method of overriding his trade regulations, and Hawkins had to lie quiet for a time; but in 1567 he sailed for the third time, taking with him his young cousin Francis Drake.
[Sidenote: San Juan d'Ulloa 1567]
For a while all went well. The Spaniards wanted to buy in spite of the regulations; though at Rio de La Hacha Hawkins had to emphasise the advantages of trading with him by seizing the town in force. But when he started for home, contrary winds and storms compelled him to put back to the Mexican port of San Juan d'Ulloa (Vera Cruz) to refit his three vessels. He was well received; but while he was in harbour, a Spanish fleet of thirteen sail arrived. The entry was narrow, and Hawkins could have held them at bay; but his theory was that he was behaving in a perfectly regular and well-conducted manner. For three days there was a peaceful interchange of courtesies; then without warning the Spaniards attacked him. Two of his ships succeeded in escaping, despite the heavy odds against them, taking a number of survivors from the third. But next day they parted company; Hawkins's ship was terribly overcrowded; a hundred of his men, by their own desire, were landed--to fall into the hands of the Inquisition; and Hawkins and Drake finally reached England separately with a remnant of their crews, and the loss of all that had been gained in the first stages of the venture.
[Sidenote: Francis Drake]
Now the Spaniards manifestly had a very good case for arresting Hawkins on the ground of his overriding forcibly the regulations which they were, in their own view at least, entitled to make: but they had chosen to receive him hospitably and attempt his capture by flagrant treachery. When his men fell into their hands, they might have been tried as participators in his lawlessness; but the crime laid to their charge was heresy. It is small wonder then that the feeling inspired by the affair of San Juan d'Ulloa was: first, that the Inquisition, claiming itself to be above international law, was outside international law, a tyranny which should be fought without regard to law: second, that Spain had no more right to the wealth of the New World than any one else; third, that since in the New World she elected to rule not by legal methods but by the high hand, it was legitimate to ignore law in dealing with her. There and then Francis Drake, now twenty-seven years old, made up his mind that he would for his own hand wage war on Spain and the Inquisition in the New World. If to do so was piracy, Drake resolved to become a pirate. But he assuredly did not conceive himself to be a pirate; nor were his motives the same; and his methods were utterly unstained by the blood-thirstiness and cruelty inseparably associated with the title. He was rather an Ocean knight-errant, smiting and spoiling, and incidentally enriching himself, but in knightly fashion and for a great cause: not a miscellaneous robber, but a scourge of the enemies of his country and his faith.
[Sidenote: The Venture of 1572]
Drake laid his plans with care and deliberation, making two more voyages in small vessels to the West Indies to acquire thorough knowledge and information, before starting on the first of his great expeditions. Then in 1572, some months before the _rapprochement_ with Spain which followed St. Bartholomew, he sailed for the Spanish Main; his whole force consisting of three small ships of a burden ranging from 25 to 70 tons [Footnote: _Royal Navy,_ i., p. 621.] with picked crews numbering in all 111 men. With this small company, arriving by night, he fell suddenly upon Nombre de Dios, a principal port of embarkation on the Isthmus of Darien. The surprise was not complete, and though the resistance of the Spaniards was overcome and a large capture of silver ingots was effected, Drake himself was somewhat severely wounded. One of the ships went home; the other two with the commander remained, and took several prizes. But this did not satisfy him, and he conceived the daring scheme of landing and crossing the Isthmus, to intercept the trains of treasure on their way overland from Panama. In February he got, from a tree-top, his first sight of the Pacific. He succeeded in ambushing a small train of mules laden with gold, and, on his way back, another large one laden with silver. Then where he expected to meet his own ships he found a Spanish squadron; but undaunted by this ill-fortune, reached the shore undiscovered, improvised a raft, put to sea, found his own ships, and returned to Plymouth a rich man: having won golden opinions from the Cimmaroons-- escaped slaves of the district--from the contrast between the English and the Spanish methods of treating them.
[Sidenote: 1575 John Oxenham]
This was but the precursor of that most famous of his voyages which made his name more terrible to the Spaniards than that of John Hawkins had ever been. More than four years, however, elapsed before that expedition started; and in the interval one of his lieutenants, John Oxenham in 1575 undertook his own disastrous venture, [Footnote: The details of his story are familiar to all readers of Westward Ho.] which well illustrates the boldness of conception and audacity of execution that characterise the Elizabethan seamen. His plan was a development of Drake's Darien exploit. On reaching the Isthmus, he hid his ship and guns, crossed the mountains as Drake had done, built himself a pinnace, and first of all Englishmen sailed on the Pacific. He captured two treasure-ships, which of course had never dreamed of meeting a hostile vessel; but allowed the crews to depart. Naturally a force was soon in pursuit. Oxenham, with a fourth of their numbers, attacked them: half his men were killed in the fight, and nearly all the rest including Oxenham himself were put to death. Drake had already started before the news reached England.
[Sidenote: Drake's great voyage, 1577]
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