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- History of the United Netherlands, 1588 - 1/9 -

Both Fleets off Calais--A Night of Anxiety--Project of Howard and Winter--Impatience of the Spaniards--Fire-Ships sent against the Armada--A great Galeasse disabled--Attacked and captured by English Boats--General Engagement of both Fleets--Loss of several Spanish Ships--Armada flies, followed by the English--English insufficiently provided--Are obliged to relinquish the Chase--A great Storm disperses the Armada--Great Energy of Parma Made fruitless by Philip's Dulness--England readier at Sea than on Shore--The Lieutenant--General's Complaints--His Quarrels with Norris and Williams--Harsh Statements as to the English Troops--Want of Organization in England--Royal Parsimony and Delay--Quarrels of English Admirals--England's narrow Escape from great Peril--Various Rumours as to the Armada's Fate--Philip for a long Time in Doubt--He believes himself victorious--Is tranquil when undeceived.


And in Calais roads the great fleet--sailing slowly all next day in company with the English, without a shot being fired on either side--at last dropped anchor on Saturday afternoon, August 6th.

Here then the Invincible Armada had arrived at its appointed resting- place. Here the great junction--of Medina Sidonia with the Duke of Parma was to be effected; and now at last the curtain was to rise upon the last act of the great drama so slowly and elaborately prepared.

That Saturday afternoon, Lord Henry Seymour and his squadron of sixteen lay between Dungeness and Folkestone; waiting the approach of the two fleets. He spoke several-coasting vessels coming from the west; but they could give him no information--strange to say--either of the Spaniards or, of his own countrymen,--Seymour; having hardly three days' provision in his fleet, thought that there might be time to take in supplies; and so bore into the Downs. Hardly had he been there half an hour; when a pinnace arrived from the Lord-Admiral; with orders for Lord Henry's squadron to hold itself in readiness. There was no longer time for victualling, and very soon afterwards the order was given to make sail and bear for the French coast. The wind was however so light; that the whole day was spent before Seymour with his ships could cross the channel. At last, towards seven in the evening; he saw the great Spanish Armada, drawn up in a half-moon, and riding at anchor--the ships very near each other--a little to the eastward of Calais, and very near the shore. The English, under Howard Drake, Frobisher, and Hawkins, were slowly following, and--so soon as Lord Henry, arriving from the opposite shore; had made his junction with them--the whole combined fleet dropped anchor likewise very near Calais, and within one mile and a half of the Spaniards. That invincible force had at last almost reached its destination. It was now to receive the cooperation of the great Farnese, at the head of an army of veterans, disciplined on a hundred battle- fields, confident from countless victories, and arrayed, as they had been with ostentatious splendour, to follow the most brilliant general in Christendom on his triumphal march into the capital of England. The long-threatened invasion was no longer an idle figment of politicians, maliciously spread abroad to poison men's minds as to the intentions of a long-enduring but magnanimous, and on the whole friendly sovereign. The mask had been at last thrown down, and the mild accents of Philip's diplomatists and their English dupes, interchanging protocols so decorously month after month on the sands of Bourbourg, had been drowned by the peremptory voice of English and Spanish artillery, suddenly breaking in upon their placid conferences. It had now become supererogatory to ask for Alexander's word of honour whether he had, ever heard of Cardinal Allan's pamphlet, or whether his master contemplated hostilities against Queen Elizabeth.

Never, since England was England, had such a sight been seen as now revealed itself in those narrow straits between Dover and Calais. Along that long, low, sandy shore, and quite within the range of the Calais fortifications, one hundred and thirty Spanish ships--the greater number of them the largest and most heavily armed in the world lay face to face, and scarcely out of cannon-shot, with one hundred and fifty English sloops and frigates, the strongest and swiftest that the island could furnish, and commanded by men whose exploits had rung through the world.

Farther along the coast, invisible, but known to be performing a post perilous and vital service, was a squadron of Dutch vessels of all sizes, lining both the inner and outer edges of the sandbanks off the Flemish coasts, and swarming in all the estuaries and inlets of that intricate and dangerous cruising-ground between Dunkerk and Walcheren. Those fleets of Holland and Zeeland, numbering some one hundred and fifty galleons, sloops, and fly-boats, under Warmond, Nassau, Van der Does, de Moor, and Rosendael, lay patiently blockading every possible egress from Newport, or Gravelines; or Sluys, or Flushing, or Dunkerk, and longing to grapple with the Duke of Parma, so soon as his fleet of gunboats and hoys, packed with his Spanish and Italian veterans, should venture to set forth upon the sea for their long-prepared exploit.

It was a pompous spectacle, that midsummer night, upon those narrow seas. The moon, which was at the full, was rising calmly upon a scene of anxious expectation. Would she not be looking, by the morrow's night, upon a subjugated England, a re-enslaved Holland--upon the downfall of civil and religious liberty? Those ships of Spain, which lay there with their banners waving in the moonlight, discharging salvoes of anticipated triumph and filling the air with strains of insolent music; would they not, by daybreak, be moving straight to their purpose, bearing the conquerors of the world to the scene of their cherished hopes?

That English fleet, too, which rode there at anchor, so anxiously on the watch--would that swarm of, nimble, lightly-handled, but slender vessels,--which had held their own hitherto in hurried and desultory skirmishes--be able to cope with their great antagonist now that the moment had arrived for the death grapple? Would not Howard, Drake, Frobisher, Seymour, Winter, and Hawkins, be swept out of the straits at last, yielding an open passage to Medina, Oquendo, Recalde, and Farnese? Would those Hollanders and Zeelanders, cruising so vigilantly among their treacherous shallows, dare to maintain their post, now that the terrible 'Holofernese,' with his invincible legions, was resolved to come forth?

So soon as he had cast anchor, Howard despatched a pinnace to the Vanguard, with a message to Winter to come on board the flag-ship. When Sir William reached the Ark, it was already nine in the evening. He was anxiously consulted by the Lord-Admiral as to the course now to be taken. Hitherto the English had been teasing and perplexing an enemy, on the retreat, as it were, by the nature of his instructions. Although anxious to give battle, the Spaniard was forbidden to descend upon the coast until after his junction with Parma. So the English had played a comparatively easy game, hanging upon their enemy's skirts, maltreating him as they doubled about him, cannonading him from a distance, and slipping out of his reach at their pleasure. But he was now to be met face to face, and the fate of the two free commonwealths of the world was upon the issue of the struggle, which could no longer be deferred.

Winter, standing side by aide with the Lord-Admiral on the deck of the little Ark-Royal, gazed for the first time on those enormous galleons and galleys with which his companion, was already sufficiently familiar.

"Considering their hugeness," said he, "twill not be possible to remove them but by a device."

Then remembering, in a lucky moment, something that he had heard four years before of the fire ships sent by the Antwerpers against Parma's bridge--the inventor of which, the Italian Gianibelli, was at that very moment constructing fortifications on the Thames to assist the English against his old enemy Farnese--Winter suggested that some stratagem of the same kind should be attempted against the Invincible Armada. There was no time nor opportunity to prepare such submarine volcanoes as had been employed on that memorable occasion; but burning ships at least might be sent among the fleet. Some damage would doubtless be thus inflicted by the fire, and perhaps a panic, suggested by the memories of Antwerp and by the knowledge that the famous Mantuan wizard was then a resident of England, would be still more effective. In Winter's opinion, the Armada might at least be compelled to slip its cables, and be thrown into some confusion if the project were fairly carried out.

Howard approved of the device, and determined to hold, next morning, a council of war for arranging the details of its execution.

While the two sat in the cabin, conversing thus earnestly, there had well nigh been a serious misfortune. The ship, White Bear, of 1000 tons burthen, and three others of the English fleet, all tangled together, came drifting with the tide against the Ark. There were many yards carried away; much tackle spoiled, and for a time there was great danger; in the opinion of Winter, that some of the very best ships in the fleet would be crippled and quite destroyed on the eve of a general engagement. By alacrity and good handling, however, the ships were separated, and the ill-consequences of an accident--such as had already proved fatal to several Spanish vessels--were fortunately averted.

Next day, Sunday, 7th August, the two great fleets were still lying but a mile and a half apart, calmly gazing at each other, and rising and falling at their anchors as idly as if some vast summer regatta were the only purpose of that great assemblage of shipping. Nothing as yet was heard of Farnese. Thus far, at least, the Hollanders had held him at bay, and there was still breathing-time before the catastrophe. So Howard hung out his signal for council early in the morning, and very soon after Drake and Hawkins, Seymour, Winter, and the rest, were gravely consulting in his cabin.

It was decided that Winter's suggestion should be acted upon, and Sir Henry Palmer was immediately despatched in a pinnace to Dover, to bring off a number of old vessels fit to be fired, together with a supply of light wood, tar, rosin, sulphur, and other combustibles, most adapted to the purpose.' But as time wore away, it became obviously impossible for Palmer to return that night, and it was determined to make the most of what could be collected in the fleet itself. Otherwise it was to be feared that the opportunity might be for ever lost. Parma, crushing all opposition, might suddenly appear at any moment upon the channel; and the whole Spanish Armada, placing itself between him and his enemies, would engage the English and Dutch fleets, and cover his passage to Dover. It would then be too late to think of the burning ships.

On the other hand, upon the decks of the Armada, there was an impatience that night which increased every hour. The governor of Calais; M. de Gourdon, had sent his nephew on board the flag-ship of Medina Sidonia, with courteous salutations, professions of friendship, and bountiful refreshments. There was no fear--now that Mucio was for the time in the ascendency--that the schemes of Philip would be interfered with by France. The governor, had, however, sent serious warning of--the dangerous position in which the Armada had placed itself. He was quite right. Calais roads were no safe anchorage for huge vessels like those of Spain and Portugal; for the tides and cross-currents to which they were exposed were most treacherous. It was calm enough at the moment, but a westerly gale might, in a few hours, drive the whole fleet hopelessly among the sand-banks of the dangerous Flemish coast. Moreover, the Duke, although tolerably well furnished with charts and pilots for the English coast, was comparatively unprovided against the dangers which might beset him off Dunkerk, Newport, and Flushing. He had sent messengers, day after day, to Farnese, begging for assistance of

History of the United Netherlands, 1588 - 1/9

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