Cambridge Historical Reader: Primary - Cambridge Press

The Little "Revenge" or, "One Against Fifty-Three"

This is another story of the brave days of "Good Queen Bess," but, in this case, a great sailor, and not a soldier, is the hero of the tale.

The "sea-dogs," as we call the great seamen of that day, dearly loved to chase and sink great Spanish ships, and bring home to England their rich cargo of gold and silver.

So, when Sir Thomas Howard set out with six ships to meet a great Spanish treasure fleet, everyone was in high glee. One of the English ships was the little "Revenge," and Sir Richard Grenville, who commanded it, had struck many hard blows at the Dons, as the Spaniards were often called.

Soon, the ships of Spain came in sight; not, however, ships full of gold, but fifty-three great fighting vessels. Sir Thomas Howard thought it no disgrace for six to run away from fifty-three; so he gave orders for his vessels to flee.

Sir Richard Grenville


But Sir Richard Grenville had never fled from a Spaniard, and would not do so now. So he told his men to get ready for the fight—the fight of one against fifty-three. At first, as you may think, the Spaniards thought it quite a joke, but they soon found out their mistake.

This strange and wonderful battle began about three o'clock in the afternoon, and, when midnight came, the brave little ship and its crew were still unbeaten. The Spanish ships were so high that the shot from the big guns did but little harm to the brave "Revenge."

Its sails and masts, indeed, were shot away, but this did not matter to Sir Richard, who scorned the thought of flying. On the other hand, the great "San Philip" was hurt so much by the fire from the "Revenge," that it had to leave the fight.

Just as darkness was coming on, two Spanish ships sank. As for the others, many were shattered and so could fight no more. By this time, the powder and shot of the "Revenge" were running short, but still its brave leader cried out to his men "Fight on! Fight on!"

Of the brave crew, forty were dead, and the sixty who were left were nearly all wounded. Grenville had been struck by a bullet; his little vessel could scarcely keep afloat; but he was as brave as ever. If he could not win, he was too proud to fly.

He even sent for the gunner, and told him to sink the ship; for, said he, "It is better to fall into the hands of God than into the hands of Spain."

But now his men came to him, and begged him to give in; for, said they, "We have children, we have wives, and, if we yield now, the Spaniards will let us go, and we can fight them another time." So, at last, Sir Richard Grenville gave way, and, sorely wounded, he was taken on board the Spanish flag-ship.

Here, the stately Spanish men came round him as he lay dying at the foot of the mast, and they praised him to his face. They thought it a glory to have fought with such a brave man. At the last moment, he raised himself, and, in a clear voice, said,

"I have fought for Queen and Faith,

Like a valiant man and true,

I have only done my duty,

As a man is bound to do,

With a joyful spirit, I,

Sir Richard Grenville, die."

Then, to the great grief of both friend and foe, he "fell upon the deck and died." And what of the little "Revenge"? Two hundred Spanish sea-men were sent on board, but a great storm arose in which the little vessel was lost.

Thus, like its brave master, the little "Revenge" could not remain a slave to Spain; and, surely, no Briton will ever forget the brave story of Sir Richard Grenville—or the fight of "one against fifty-three."