Boys' Book of Sea Fights - Chelsea Fraser
Great golden galleons plied the Main;
He hit them hard, again, again;
And with his fleet of British ship
Forever broke Spain's tyrant grip.
The stirring times into which young Drake was born acted as a forcing-house for the growth of character. Boys turned into men at a leap. Bred in a nursery whose very atmosphere was war and revolution, they were trained by danger and privation to fight battles at an age when the boy of to-day is making ready to take up his school life. The strange mixture of lax moral standards and fierce religious passions, the prevalence of an unwonted bigotry, the light esteem in which human life was held, the rapid succession of startling events, the persecutions carried on in the name of a holy cause,—all went to forge men of singular and violent contrasts.
Sir Francis Drake, the foremost sailor of the Reformation, the chief pirate of Queen Elizabeth, was one of these men. No name in England's annals of the sea has been surrounded with so dazzling a setting of romance as his. During his whole lifetime Drake's adventures found no place in sober history. They invaded the realm of folklore and took strong hold on the popular fancy in the shape of marvelous tales and legends. Yet there was a solid foundation to them for all of that, and rising out of this wonderland of romance the record of mankind must ever show that this daring boy of Devon was one of the most skillful of navigators as well as the first really great admiral in the development of modern naval science, which had its cradle in England, and which substituted the sailing-navy for the ancient, rowing-navy.
Born in 1544, in the heat of the strife between Catholics and Protestants, little Francis held a fierce hatred for Spain and her subjects. His father, Edmund Drake, was one of the most zealous of Protestants, with a gift for preaching which he often used. He made no effort to hide his religious attitude, although Devon was known to be mainly Catholic, but went about boldly and fearlessly asserting his views.
This action could have but one outcome. The Catholic faction made, it so hot for all Protestants in Devon, and for Edward Drake in particular, that he fled with little Francis to St. Nicholas Island, in the harbor of Plymouth. In Chatham reach, beyond the dockyard, at the mouth of the Medway, was the anchorage of vessels out of commission, of war ships, and of old and useless hulks. Here the Protestant preacher was given an appointment under King Edward as "Reader of Prayers to the Royal Navy," and was assigned a rotting hulk as a dwelling place.
But to young Francis it was no rotting hulk—rather a palace of the most intoxicating delights. Seldom did he care to go ashore. All day long he climbed the masts of his new floating home, raced across the old weather beaten decks, or delved into the below decks mysteries of the veteran craft. And when night would come he often fell asleep in the midst of his beloved old war-ship's guns, rocked by the heaving waves and solaced into the last deep oblivion by the lisping tide and the lullaby of the sailors' songs.
Edmund Drake had hoped to place his boy in the navy, with the patronage of Edward VI and the powerful Earl of Bedford, but his expectation was shattered by a rude change. King Edward died. "Bloody Mary," the Catholic Queen, succeeded to the throne, and the land was threatened with a prince of Spain as husband to the Queen.
Then it was that the gathering storm of the Reformation suddenly burst and threw all England into a turmoil. Francis's father lost his position, and was forced to apprentice his son as ship's-boy on a craft that carried on a coasting trade with France and Holland. It was on this channel coaster that the sailor lad, exposed to great privations and severe conditions, gained some of the most valuable lessons of his experience.
While his young body was being steeled to every conceivable form of hardship, his spirit was being trained for future revenges on the Spanish Main. Passionate tales of the horrors of the Inquisition were being told by Flemish refugees on quay and shipboard. The persecutions of Philip, King of Spain, in the Netherlands, fanned the flame of the English Reformation, and Francis Drake found himself, presently, in the center of the hottest frenzy of religious feeling. Small wonder that he grew to man's estate with that implacable hatred of the very name of Spain which furnished the motive power of his subsequent brilliant career.
In the meantime events followed one another rapidly. Bloody Mary had passed away, Elizabeth reigned, and the Protestants were once more in favor. Francis had grown from boy to youth; his master skipper had died and bequeathed him his little craft on which to begin life as an independent trader.
Open war with Spain had not yet been declared; but the rupture was imminent. Cruel reprisals by private individuals on both sides were rapidly paving the way for the coming break. The Channel swarmed with sea-rovers. Four hundred adventurers swept the narrow stretches of water in search of plunder. The enormous wealth of the Spanish trade courted depredation in those loose-moraled times when it was not the fashion to be as strictly honest with the belongings of one's neighbor as it is to-day. Spanish galleons were chased and scuttled. Catholic vessels of other nations, particularly France, were considered legitimate prey for looting. Rich cargoes of saffron, cochineal, wool, silk, gold, silver, pearls and precious stones, linen, tapestry and wines, were carried off to the pirates' lairs on the Isle of Wight and in the creeks and inlets of the Irish coast. In revenge, British ships were seized in Spanish ports, and many English sailors were thrown into the dungeons of the infamous Inquisition.
Forced to quit his independent trading on account of its unprofitableness, young Drake entered the only service that then seemed open to him—that of his famous kinsmen, Captains John and William Hawkins, the rich ship owners and pirate merchants of Plymouth. The chief sea port town of picturesque Devon might well have been called one of the pirate centers of the English coast. Its harbor was large and safe, and many precious cargoes, obtained by foul means as well as fair, were brought in by daring adventurers who had scoured the limited sea in search of riches. Neither gold nor excitement were hard to find in those days, and Plymouth became, by reason of its peculiar accessibility and additional virtues, a favorite port for the bold crews.
In October, 1567, Drake set sail from Plymouth harbor as pilot to John Hawkins. In the squadron were six vessels, all armed and victualled for a long voyage. This expedition was destined to turn the scale of commercial supremacy and complete the antagonism existing between England and Spain.
In Queen Elizabeth's time neither the navy nor the maritime commerce of England were established on a regular footing. The navy, used simply as an adjunct to the army, had remained an undeveloped independent instrument of national power, and the vastness of its resources were still undreamed of. Later on, Drake proved the wonderful possibilities of a strongly equipped fleet in war time, by turning the enemy's coastline into the center of hostilities and by destroying his trade with foreign countries.
SIR FRANCIS DRAKE, KT.
FROM THE ENGRAVING BY W. HOLL, AFTER F. ZUCCHERO'S PICTURE.
But meanwhile the fleets of war and commerce were intermingled. In time of peace Queen Elizabeth used her men-of-war for merchantmen, while in war time she added her real merchantmen to her force of fighting craft. In this way it became exceedingly difficult to draw the line between official naval expeditions and private commercial enterprises, the last-named of which, as already shown, were frequently synonymous with buccaneering. This state of affairs worked to the disadvantage of her adversaries and much to the advantage of the Queen at times. On other occasions the benefits were reversed. Altogether it proved an ill arrangement.
Often the Queen was one of the shareholders in the filibustering expeditions of Hawkins and Drake, and contributed some ships-of-war to the outfit. She was too much allured by the prospect of untold riches in gold, silver, pearls and precious stones to resist the temptation of enriching her private coffers by becoming a secret partner in the buccaneering ventures of her favorite pirates.
However, when Spanish ambassadors and the diplomats of other victimized powers called peremptorily for satisfaction, she was careful to assume indignation and disapproval of the practices of her unruly subjects. And while she always welcomed the precious cargoes brought back to her by her partners in adventure, the men themselves were not always sure of her approval. Such was her vacillating trend of mind that one time she might bestow upon the returned hero the honors of knighthood, and the next time send the poor fellow to the gallows.
But the game was worth the candle, and so it was that on that October day in 1567 Hawkins and Drake sailed out of Plymouth harbor with what amounted to a naval squadron, loaded with ammunition and numerous heavy guns. Accompanying them were two ships-of-war, the Minion and the Jesus, especially loaned by Elizabeth herself.
From the very first the squadron met with bad weather. Near Cape Finisterre a violent storm damaged and scattered many of the vessels, but they succeeded in reaching their first rendezvous at the Canary Islands. From there they sailed southward to the coast of Guinea, in western Africa, where the traders spent several months in collecting negroes as slaves.
Partly by means of the sword, and partly by exchange of scarlet coats and beads, they succeeded in storing away in their holds as many as five hundred of the black men. Thus equipped with trading material, they crossed over to the Caribbean Sea, reaching the West Indies in the following March.
As traffic had been forbidden in the colonies by the Spanish government, they found it no easy matter to dispose of their cargo. Rio de la Hacha brought them up with a start by presumptuously firing upon the merchant fleet. To this rude greeting Hawkins and Drake retaliated with equal severity. They blockaded the port, stormed the defenses and carried the town by impetuous assault. Then, in secret and under cover of the night, the unlawful trade began, and two hundred slaves were exchanged for gold, silver and pearls, sugar and hides.
The leaders. were so well pleased with their valuable cargo that they decided to sail at once for home. Unfortunately, however, they had tarried a bit too long in those treacherous waters. Two fierce furicanos, or hurricanes, disabled the squadron and compelled them to seek shelter in San Juan de Ulua, or Vera Cruz, the port of the City of Mexico.
In the harbor the adventurers found a Spanish merchant fleet of twelve vessels. These ships were unarmed, and laden with the year's produce of the West Indies, amounting to more than ten million dollars in gold and silver. The Spaniards lay in the harbor, hourly expecting an armed escort of their countrymen to convoy them on the home-bound voyage.
Indeed, the very next morning following the arrival of Hawkins and Drake, the armed escort appeared upon the scene, coming grandly forward just outside the harbor.
It was an extremely difficult position in which the English traders now found themselves, as may be presumed. Hawkins was obliged to choose between two doubtful courses. Either he must appeal to Spanish honor (a very unstable virtue) to let him proceed on his way unmolested, or he must do his best to keep the enemy's ships from entering the harbor by sheer force of his own feebler armament until the first tornado should cripple the Spaniards sufficiently to permit of him boarding them, seizing their treasure, and making off for "Merrie England."
In his quandary, Hawkins sought the opinion of Francis Drake. The bold Drake at once advised an attack; but Hawkins demurred. This meant the loss to Spain of more than twenty-two millions of dollars; it would undoubtedly precipitate the long-threatened rupture between that country and England, and while the Queen could be counted on as gladly receiving almost any ordinary treasure, he was much afraid of her displeasure at so stupendous a venture as Drake advocated.
Finally Hawkins chose upon a peaceful retirement if possible. He appealed to the Spanish fleet commander for a condition of friendliness. This was graciously promised. But it was all deceit; in spite of their sacred oaths and solemn pledges, no sooner were the wily Spaniards permitted to enter the harbor before they fell upon the British ships with their superior numbers.
In the sharp but brief engagement that followed the British seamen fought with desperateness and wonderful valor; but being wholly unprepared for the dastardly attack, they could save but few of their vessels. The smaller craft were, quickly sunk, and the Jesus was so shattered that it had to be abandoned with all its precious spoils. The Minion, with Hawkins on board, and the little Judith, with Drake, alone escaped on that fatal night. Riddled with Spanish shot and terribly damaged, with crews depleted and half-starved, these two ships struggled homeward and eventually crept into Plymouth harbor without a remnant of the former immense and valuable British cargo.
Just three years later, in 1570, Francis Drake succeeded in obtaining a sailing commission from Queen Elizabeth, as a reward for his sea exploits. During the next two years, he cruised, his own commander, in the West Indies, enriching himself with much plunder.
On Whitsunday Eve; in 1572, Drake set sail for Plymouth at the head of a tiny squadron and a handful of men. Leading was the Pascha, Drake's flagship, a vessel of seventy tons. The rear was brought up by the Swan, of twenty-five tons burden, captained by his brother, John Drake, who had taken up a sea-faring life. These toy men-of-war were fitted out with every warlike device of that time. In addition to a plentiful supply of guns and ammunition, boarding implements and cutlasses, there were three small pinnaces, made to be taken apart and set up again at short notice. The two crews comprised seventy-three men, of whom only one was over thirty years of age. It seemed, truly, like a boy's crazy venture.
Favored by the winds, the squadron sailed without a stop until it had its first sight of Gaudeloupe, one of the leeward Islands in the West Indian group. On reaching Port Pleasant, a small landlocked harbor in the Gulf of Darien, on the mainland, Drake dropped anchor and started to set up his pinnaces. It was a safe bay, and convenient for his purpose.
While he was in the midst of this work, a strange squadron hove in sight. To his great relief this proved to consist of a vessel belonging to Ned Horsey, the well-known pirate of the Isle of Wight, and a Spanish caravel and a shallop that its commander, Captain Ranse, had captured. The two adventurers greeted one another joyfully, and decided to join forces forth with.
Seven days later these united squadrons crept out of the harbor. Westward along the coast they stole, keeping a sharp lookout for Nombre de Dios, the treasure-house of the Spanish Main. A week later the comparatively small force lay at midnight under the huge bluffs at the point of the harbor of this town. Breathlessly the British lads awaited the breaking of dawn—the time appointed for the audacious attack. Twenty-four of them were armed with muskets. The remainder were possessed of pikes and bows and arrows, with the exception of four who had been provided with drums and trumpets to inspire the crews and terrorize the natives.
Twelve men were left to hold the pinnaces, so as to insure a safe retreat in case of necessity. The rest of the company were divided into two groups, and advanced upon the Plaza from different sides. Half a dozen fire-pikes, swabbed in blazing tow, lighted the way, casting a lurid glow over the narrow streets; the drums and trumpets sounded with maddening din, appearing to be the portion of a large marine band rather than of a few energetic men.
Quickly the Spanish town aroused itself. The great bells in the Catholic church and monastery began to clang out their brazen alarm. People, half-robed, appeared upon the streets and ran hither and thither, with cries and shouts that merged from fright into a threatening roar. The Spanish soldiers had been called to arms in an incredibly short time; at the end of the Plaza, near the Panama gate, they were soon drawn up to receive the attack.
As they came undaunted forward, a heavy volley of bullets and arrows greeted Drake and his force full in the face. Pausing only long enough to return the fire in like manner, they rushed on, shoulder to shoulder, and closed in upon the consternated Spanish soldiers with pike and cutlass. Flashing the sputtering, weirdly flickering fire-pikes in their very faces, yelling like a horde of hungry beasts, thrusting to right and left with vicious jabs of sharp-pointed steel, it is not to be wondered at that the superstitious Spaniards went into a panic and presently broke and fled before this enemy they scarcely could see in the darkness and whose weapons seared and lacerated them so terribly.
In a very brief time the last of the enemy soldiery and citizenry had disappeared through the Panama gate, leaving the Plaza in the hands of the adventurers.
Drake at once placed a guard at the entrances to the town. With the rest of his men he took possession of the governor's house. There, in a lower room, a blaze of treasure met their eyes—a blaze of such proportions that it made the bold commander himself, used to the sight of riches, stare for some moments unbelievingly.
Piled against the wall, and glinting in the beams of light that came through the partly-open door, were great bars of silver. These reached fully seventy feet, from end to end of the long room, and rose, like a huge woodpile, till the upper bars all but scraped the ceiling. The poor Devon lads, with their commander, looked on this unaccustomed sight in half-dazed wonder.
At this moment some of the Englishmen left on guard came running up with the report that the pinnaces were in danger of being captured. Drake immediately dispatched John Oxenheim to reconnoiter the shore, and made a rendezvous at the treasure-house of the King which had not yet been visited and which stood near the water's edge. Here the chief pirate declared they were likely to discover far greater wonders in the shape of gold and precious stones—enough, probably, to overflow their pinnaces should they attempt to take it all.
But scarcely had they departed when one of those furious tropical storms of the region burst suddenly over their heads. The thunder rolled and crashed; the rain fell in torrents. Before they could get under shelter their bowstrings had been so wetted that they were temporarily useless, and their powder ruined.
This so changed the aspect of matters, that the men, losing their nerve, declined to risk a counter attack by the Spanish in the proposed visit to the King's treasure-house. Drake pleaded, then taunted.
"I have brought you to the treasure-house of the richest country in the world," he cried; "blame no one but yourselves if you go away empty!"
They stood before the treasure-house as Drake spoke. But still his followers hesitated. Quite losing control of himself, Drake ordered them to break into the structure or suffer the displeasure of the Queen upon their return. He took a step forward himself at this juncture. But, as he did so, he stumbled and fell on his face, blood gushing from a wound in his leg. He had been shot early in the encounter, and had concealed the fact from his men that they might not lose heart.
Quickly they lifted him from the ground, and against all his entreaties carried him to his boat. In order to preserve their beloved captain's life, they set sail, abandoning the rich spoils they had come so far to seek.
But the gold and silver bars left back there in Nombre de Dios were not forgotten, nor given up for good. Back in a hidden bay in the Gulf of Darien, his favorite secret retreat, Francis Drake soon recovered from his wound, and made plans for stranger and more daring projects than he had yet brewed. With the aid of the Maroons, a savage tribe of escaped negro slaves, he planned to intercept the gold of Panama as it was carried in mule packs across the Isthmus to be shipped to Spain. But months must elapse before the coming of the dry season when the Spaniards were accustomed to make this annual journey overland, and meanwhile his pinnaces stole from the harbor and plundered passing ships and raided the neighboring coast.
Under these circumstances it was not long before the name of Le Draque became a dreaded one to the ear of the average Spanish seaman. Castilian captains feared to operate their ships over the Main when it was rumored the famous English navigator was in their waters. Castilian crews trembled, half the fight out of them, when this terrible crusader of the seas suddenly hove in view with his ships. Coast towns, especially Nombre de Dios, put additional guards over their treasure-houses, to all of which strenuous effort at protection Francis Drake only smiled grimly, and continued his successful operations.
On the morning of the 1st of April, a mule train, laden with gold and silver, was traveling cautiously along the road to Santa Cruz. A mile from the town, within earshot of the carpenters working at the docks, the brush held a menace, but the Spaniards came on blissfully unconscious of, the fact, the mule bells tinkling regularly and peacefully as they had been right along,
Suddenly the plodding sound of the many hoofs of the animals was broken by a frightful din. Figures had unexpectedly risen beside the path in two different places, seizing the foremost and hindmost mules, which immediately had set up a terrific braying, spreading terror to those between and occupying the attention of most of the guards to keep them in restraint. In the midst of all this a third body of strange men rose up and discharged a heavy fusillade of bullets and arrows into the ranks of the Spaniards. There was a feeble reply in defense, whereupon the escort fled in a panic, leaving the mules and their precious burdens in the hands of the attackers.
Needless to say, these were the lads from Devon. Swiftly the bars of silver, too heavy to carry away then, were hidden in the burrows of land-crabs or buried in pits especially scooped out for them. The gold itself was stowed away in shirts and pockets, and with forced marches the young Englishmen returned to Rio Francisco.
But, to their dismay, their pinnaces were nowhere to be seen! Instead, seven Spanish ships rode menacingly in the harbor. All hope of safety for the moment was gone. However, Drake's ingenuity found a way out of the awkward dilemma.
A raft was built from drifted tree trunks and limbs. With a biscuit-sack for a sail, and a long sapling for a rudder, Drake and three of his men started on a wild sail over an angry sea. A strong wind lashed the waves high, many of which, as they sat for six hours in water up to their waists, broke completely over their heads. By mid-afternoon the wind died down, and with it the tumultuous waters. Then the hot sun came out and beat hotly down upon their unprotected bodies until their wet clothes fairly steamed and their strength was well-nigh exhausted.
Fortunately, as night settled down they managed to work their way into a quiet little cove, where, as hoped, the pinnaces were found to haves ought shelter with their guard-crews. That same night, tired as he was, Drake showed his indomitable will power and endurance by rowing back to Rio Francisco. The remainder of the crew were told of the happy finding of the pinnaces, whereupon it was decided to return at once to Santa Cruz and succor the hidden silver bars. This was accomplished without further misadventure, and the little company then rejoined those aboard the pinnaces.
A fortnight later the lads from Devon started on their homeward journey. They were laden with an unusually rich booty, for, besides the treasure of the mule train, they had been lucky enough to overhaul almost two hundred vessels in the Caribbean Sea.
The voyage back to England was accomplished in due course, after a number of additional captures of Spanish ships which added in no mean way to their already enormous amount of treasure. It was on the Sabbath Day, August 9th, 1573, that they cast anchor at last in Plymouth harbor. News of Drake's arrival and wonderful exploits spread like wildfire. So anxious were the townspeople, then in attendance at divine worship, to see his ships and pay homage to their successful countryman, that many of them forsook their devotions to hurry down to the quay.
On a certain day in November, 1577, we find Drake standing on the deck of his ship, his face turned toward the fabled Pacific. Men of the time tell us that he was dressed in a "loose, dark seaman's shirt, belted at the waist, with a scarlet cap adorning his flowing black locks." If this be true, as undoubtedly it is, he must have looked the typical bold rover of the seas that he was indeed.
Drake's ships were mere cockle shells compared to vessels of modern times, being no larger than the average coaster. They consisted of the Pelican, one hundred tons; the Elizabeth, eighty tons; the Swan, fifty tons; and the Christopher, a pinnace of fifteen tons. The first two ships carried sixteen guns, while the Swan was a provision-boat. One hundred and fifteen men and fourteen boys manned the craft which were well ammunitioned with bullets, wildfire, chainshot, muskets, pistols, pikes, cutlasses, and bows and arrows.
Into a chartless and unknown ocean, to brave a shadowy world of water which popular superstition had peopled with every conceivable terror of the elements and every dreadful form of animal, serpent, and fish life, Drake was about to sail with this little squadron. To his crew his final destination was kept a secret. Led to believe that they were bound for Alexandria, not until they reached the coast of Morocco was the real object of the venture made known.
Beset almost at the start with bad weather—through stress of gales, fogs, calms and tempestuous seas—embroiled in an incipient mutiny, treason, and the tragedy of an ocean lynch-court, which was followed by an execution off the lonely coast of Patagonia, the sorely-assailed fleet nevertheless kept courageously on its perilous course. A spirit less unflinching than Drake's would have quailed under the torment of Nature and inconstance of man. Only three of the five ships were brought finally to the gateway of the great South Sea. Meantime the Pelican had been rechristened the Golden Hind, and on the 6th of September she was the first of her sister craft to pass through the straights of Magellan, amid cold and sickness, and enter the famed South Sea.
Really the dangers of the voyage had now just begun. No sooner had the expedition entered the confines of the mighty Pacific than all the furies of a violent tempest burst over them. For six weeks they were tossed to and fro like chips. Battered of hulk by the gigantic waves, torn of rigging and sail by the terrific winds, they were swept fully six hundred miles out of their course. During the third week the Marigold went down with all on board. A week later the Elizabeth became separated from the Golden Hind, and losing heart its commander, Captain Wynter, returned through the Straits the way they had come, and sailed back with his sadly crippled vessel to England, there to report that in all probability his ship was the only survivor of the squadron, and to recount the awesome fury of the strange new waters which were "invested with all the wrath of Satan."
Meantime Drake was left alone, but unsubdued. And the storm, as if exhausted in its battle with this man of iron will, or desirous of rewarding him for his heroic struggle, abated. Once more the angry skies cleared away, the sun smiled brightly, and fair winds played among the rent sails, while the lashing waters melted into the long, regular, smooth-rolling swells which were more suited to the name later bestowed upon this fabled body of liquid.
Soon Drake found himself in the midst of the islands of Tierra del Fuego, and then, on a late day in October, he knew that he was really one of the great discoverers of the world. He stood triumphantly on the southernmost point of land of the western hemisphere. At his feet, where the dream of ages had woven a mystic shroud of romantic separation between them, the immense waters of the known Atlantic and the unknown Pacific rolled together in one mighty confluence of twin-love.
As he went Spanish ships were encountered, and prize after prize fell into his hands. In Valparaiso harbor the Golden Hind met a galleon heavily laden with Spanish plate to the amount of thirty-seven thousand ducats. Never before had a strange sail been seen in those waters, and the crew of this vessel—the Grand Captain of the South—thought the new arrival must be a friend. They brought out bottles of Chile wine to drink to the health of the Englishmen, but drank too deeply. Tumbled into the hatches of their own ship by their guests, these Spaniards did not succeed in extricating themselves until all their treasure had been carried away.
This was typical of many such adventures in the days that followed. To Drake and his men the new ocean was anything but Pacific!
Then one fine day Drake pointed the bow of the Golden Hind straight across the Pacific. Past the Carolines, the Philippines, and the Moluccas, he made his way. Creeping among the Maze of dangerous shoals and coral reefs in the Sea of Celebes, the vessel ran unexpectedly upon a sunken rock.
For twenty hours she lay at the mercy of the waves, caught fast, resisting all effort of her crew to release her. Finally, as a last resort, eight guns and three tons of cloves were thrown overboard in an effort to lighten her sufficiently to float off. Fortunately, the wind freshened just then, and with her sails set to catch every ounce of pressure, she slid from the reef into deep water. The men uttered a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving.
This was the last and greatest danger. Soon the Golden Hind cleared the Archipelago, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and just two years and ten months from the day she sailed out of Plymouth harbor she again swept into it. The long lost had returned.
In the meanwhile England had given up ever seeing Drake and his crew again. If he had not actually fallen a victim to the fury of the big new waters, it had by this time become a foregone conclusion that he had either perished at the hands of some mysterious wild tribe along the coastline or in the islands, or been taken and executed by the Spaniards. Therefore, his return, laden down with spoils of vast richness, created a thunderbolt of surprise among his countrymen.
Indeed, Drake had arrived to find that the Queen had publicly disowned him—doubtless for political effect more than anything else. Even at the time the Spanish ambassador was calling loudly for redress for the recent depredations that he had committed.
Getting wind of this unpromising condition of affairs, Drake considered it prudent to drop anchor behind St. Nicholas Island, where his father had fled with him from religious persecution thirty years before. Thence he dispatched a messenger to the Queen, with notification of his arrival, and was presently asked to appear before her august person. When he obeyed the summons it was not without full hands. Drake knew Elizabeth's fondness for money and jewels, and the richest of his spoils went with him as a gift to her and her courtiers.
The Queen, true to Drake's expectations, greeted him warmly. Pleased by the great value of these presents, and filled with admiration for her subject's daring exploits, Her Majesty loaded him with honors. Already the hero of the hour with the countryside, his name was now, with the Queen's own commendations, on every one's tongue. Throughout the breadth of England he was praised. From the Lizard to the Downs his deeds were recounted before humble and pretentious firesides alike.
The booty was carried to the Tower of London, but before registration, four hundred thousand dollars were extracted from the pile as Drake's own share of the spoils. Later Elizabeth allowed him an additional fifty thousand reward. The Golden Hind was brought up the Thames and there preserved as a memorial. On her deck a public banquet was given, and the Queen, who graced the occasion, conferred upon Drake the honor of knighthood.
But the great seaman had not come home to be petted and pampered at court. His was a character made up of sterner and bigger things than that. Even now his active and far-reaching mind was burdening itself with thinking out other points for his attack.
However, five years were to pass before Drake could obtain his letters of marque. In the midst of treachery, vacillations and other delays, his spirit fretted to be loosed once more upon the waters. Meanwhile he was forced to work at home in organization of the navy, in voting supplies as a member of Parliament, and in improving the town and harbor of Plymouth, of which town he had been appointed mayor.
It was King Philip of Spain himself who precipitated matters finally. The arrogant sovereign neighbor seized a number of British corn ships, and Elizabeth's temper was sufficiently inflamed for her to order Drake out to retaliate. His fleet, quickly collected, was the largest he had ever commanded, and the most extensive privateering squadron on record up to that time. It numbered two men-of-war, eighteen cruisers, and many pinnaces and store-ships, manned by two thousand soldiers and sailors.
On a late day in September, 1585, Drake hoisted the English colors over his flagship, the Elizabeth Bonaventura, and led his fleet out to sea. Again his goal was the West Indies, but this time he was destined to strike a far more telling blow at enemy interests than upon the other occasion gone before.
In his eagerness to get away, Drake started short of provisions. To replenish his stores, he stopped at the Bayona Islands and here helped himself to sufficient Spanish food to properly victual the entire fleet. Arriving at St. Iago, of the Cape Verde group, he stormed the town and raided the island, then headed for San Domingo, which was reached shortly after Christmas.
San Domingo was a walled and strongly fortified city, the largest and most important in the West Indies. Drake realized that its fall would have a powerful moral effect upon the whole of Europe, and straightway made up his mind to attack it, even though this step would entail a serious naval operation for him.
He planned the assault with great care, surprised the garrison, and after a few hours' brisk fighting the Spaniards fled across the river, leaving the storming party in possession of the Plaza. Observing that his force was too weak to successfully defend the place for any time, the circumnavigator demanded a ransom of a quarter million dollars. After destroying the enemy shipping in the harbor, he then stood away upon the Spanish Main.
Cartagena, capital of the Main, and one of the wealthiest of the many wealthy Spanish cities, was sighted in February. Formidable defenses surrounded it on all sides. From the sea it was protected by a lagoon to which only two narrow entrances, both well guarded, gave access. From the land, approach was made difficult by a creek, also amply fortified.
To storm the city seemed sheer madness, even for a force the size of Drake's. But Drake, as usual, was resourceful enough to uncover a promising method of accomplishing his ends.
A detachment was ordered to wade through the surf and to come unexpectedly upon the city from a point where the enemy had made no provision for defense. At the same time a boat attack was feigned on the side of the harbor, in order to deceive the Spaniards.
The stratagem was successful. The city was taken with a rush; the defenders ran. Disdaining to loot the place of its rich treasure, Drake merely demanded a ransom of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, which was gladly paid. Having also destroyed the shipping here, the commander then turned his eyes toward Panama.
But on the way thither, sickness broke out among his men. Many died, and others were stricken down every day. With his diminished force he saw that he could scarcely hope for success at so strongly a fortified place. So in the latter days of March he set sail for home, quite satisfied that the blows he had struck would do much to deter Spain in her threatened attack upon England.
Philip of Spain, aided and abetted by the Catholic policy of the Pope and the court of France, had been making vast preparations to produce and equip the most powerful fleet that the world had yet seen. In all the ports of Sicily, Italy, France, Spain and Portugal, vessels of enormous size were being built for him, the heaviest of guns were placed upon them, and vast quantities of provisions and small arms collected.
Of course England was kept in ignorance of Philip's animose intentions, rumors having been sedulously spread that the great Armada was designed to proceed to the Indies to realize extensive projects of distant conquest. But she was not wholly deceived; the fact is, some of Elizabeth's advisors, prominent among whom were Sir Francis Drake, had whispered in her ear what to look out for, and it was largely owing to her acquiescence in the suspicion that her own country might be the object of all this enemy energy that she had consented to the last departure of Drake for the West Indies. Really it had been a most opportune blow that the famous sea king had dealt the Spaniards upon this occasion. But for the delay it caused in Philip's plans, the huge Armada would have been cast upon England much sooner than it came, and perhaps at a time when it could not have been successfully met.
On the afternoon of July 19th, 1588, a group of English captains were collected at the Bowling Green on the Hoe at Plymouth. Never before or since have men of such fame gathered at that favorite mustering-place for British seamen. There was Sir Francis Drake, first English circumnavigator of the globe, the terror of every Spanish coast in the Old World and the New; there was Sir John Hawkins, the rough veteran of many a daring voyage on the African and American seas, and of many a desperate battle; there was Sir Martin Frobisher, earliest of explorers of the Arctic seas in search of the elusive Northwest Passage; there was Lord Howard of Effingham, High-Admiral of England, in his patriotic zeal bold even to disobey the Queen when obedience meant harm to the welfare of his country; and last, but in no wise least, you could also observe Sir Walter Raleigh, who had been commissioned to raise and equip the land forces of Cornwall, and who had come to consult with the Lord-Admiral and other high officers.
Many other brave and skillful mariners, though of less renown, were there also. All were enjoying a game of bowls on the green with true sailor-like merriment during their temporary relaxation from duty. Presently Drake chanced to look off over the harbor. He noticed a small armed vessel running before the wind, all sails filled, making in furiously.
"What is this?" cried Drake, directing the attention of his nearest companions to the approaching vessel. "Truth, and I believe 'tis none less I see than Fleming and his privateer coming yonder. A penny to know what could induce such mad speed from the lazy Scotchman!"
They were soon to know, without the penny. A few minutes later the lanky Fleming stood in the midst of the excited group, telling the English officers that he had that very morning seen the great Spanish Armada off the Cornish coast!
Meanwhile messengers and signals had been dispatched fast and far throughout England, to warn each town and village that the enemy had come at last. In every seaport there was instant making ready by land and by sea; in every shire and every city there was instant mustering of horse and man. But England's best defense then, as ever, was her fleet. In spite of the fact that Elizabeth had done much to embarrass the efficiency of this by her penuriousness in dispensing ammunition, doling out powder and ball day by day, at the last moment of need, Drake had exercised his men well at target-practice, though even this she had regarded an extravagant waste.
It was a solemn sight when the two fleets had their first meeting. The English ships, some of which had been loaned by the Dutch, totaled one hundred and fifty-two, manned by seventeen thousand men. The great majority of these were merchantmen, only thirty-six belonging to the Royal Navy. Practically all were light, swift, and easily managed.
The Spanish Armada itself was a gorgeous display, more fitted for a pageant than a war. The great fleet consisted of one hundred and fifty ships, mostly much larger than those of their adversary. Of these there were galleons, galliasses, galleys, caravels, petaches and zabraes, on which Spain admits, in a document of the time: "The number of mariners were about eight thousands; of slaves, twenty hundred and eighty-eight; of soldiers, twenty thousands (besides noblemen and gentlemen voluntaries)." It adds that "the aforesaid ships were of an huge and incredible capacitie and receipt: for the whole fleet was large enough to contain the burthen of sixty thousands tunnes."
Interesting, too, is the following description in the quaint English of the period:
"The galeons were sixty-four in number, being of an huge bignesse, and very flatly built, being of marvelous force also, and so high that they resembled great castles, most fit to defend themselves and to withstand an assault, but in giving encounter farr inferiour are they unto the English and Dutch ships, which can with great dexterite weild and turne themselves at all assayes. The upperworke of the said galeons was of thicknesse and strength sufficient to bear off musket shot. The lower worke and the timbers thereof were out of measure strong, being framed of plankes and rigs foure or five foote in thicknesse, insomuch that no bullets might go through them, but afterward were found to sticke fast within the massie substance of those thicke plankes. Great and well pitched cables were twined about the masts of their shippes, to strengthen them against the battery of shot."
This great Armada was drawn up before the British in the form of a gigantic crescent whose horns, or tips, were fully seven miles apart. There was a southwest wind, and before it the huge vessels comprising the enemy fleet came sailing grandly on.
Very neatly and skillfully the English craft, keeping out of sight and range, side stepped and slipped around to the rear of the approaching enemy. Coming up swiftly from behind, they opened the attack.
Caught at a disadvantage at the outset, her soldiers far better fighters on land than on sea, Spain's huge fleet was dealt a stunning and staggering blow by the agile enemy whose guns were all manned by veteran seamen used to hitting their targets whether inanimate or animate. After standing to for a brief period in an effort to stem the furious tide of shot which tore through their rigging, swept their decks and rained against their hulls, the Spaniards sailed away.
A running fight now took place in which some of the best ships of the Spaniards were captured, and many more were severely damaged. For days the battle continued, always with the enemy on the go. The swift craft of the English sailed in and out and round and round among the unwieldy galliasses, cannonading them, and then escaping nimbly out of range, suffering little themselves. Time after time they repeated these performances, teasing and harassing the clumsy Spanish boats and pelting their enormous turrets, which looked like castellated fortresses. Undoubtedly had their crews been more equal, and the adversary not outnumbered in this respect more than two to one, the British lads would have closed with the Armada and fought matters out hand-to-hand. As it was, Lord Howard and Sir Francis Drake were wise to bide their time, and to first insure success by gradually weakening the adversary at long range.
Slowly holding their course along the coast the two fleets, still fighting fitfully and bitterly, continued hostilities. Each day added not only to the spirit, but to the number of the British force. Raleigh, Oxford, Cumberland and Sheffield joined them.
The Spanish admiral also showed great judgment, and no mean skill, in his maneuvers with the awkward vessels under his command. Had he been any less of the clever navigator, he never could have brought himself and fleet through as well as he did. And on the 27th of July he brought his Armada, sorely distressed but comparatively unbroken, to anchor in Calais Roads. Here, according to pre-arrangement, he expected to be joined by his countryman, the Prince of Parma, who was to come by water from Dunkirk with a flotilla and a large army with the purpose of invading England. But Parma had been nicely held in the meantime by the Dutch and English blockaders, and so was still far away when the Spanish Armada entered Calais Roads.
The great Armada lay in the offing, with its largest craft ranged outside, "like strong castles, fearing no assault; the lesser placed in the middleward." Lord Howard could not attack them in this position without great disadvantage. However, on the second night, past midnight, as the clouds covered the moon and no eye could pierce the darkness, eight vessels crept noiselessly within the Spanish lines.
A moment later the sea was suddenly illumined, and eight seeming volcanoes, spitting sparks and shooting long tongues of flame, bore down upon the terrified enemy. These were the dreaded fire-ships—such as the Greeks had so often used against the Turkish fleets in their war of independence—and had been unloosed by the forces of Howard and Drake.
As those eight masses of flame came nearer, a dreadful panic seized the Spaniards. The terror spread from ship to ship with seeming simultaneous quickness. Amid yells of fright and the greatest of confusion, the Spanish crews cut their cables to avoid the oncoming conflagrations and took to the wildest flight. One of the larger of the galleasses ran afoul of another, and both were so hopelessly tangled in a moment that they fell easy victims to their adversaries.
When daylight broke it was seen that the rest of the Armada was scattered along the Flemish coast. With great difficulty they obeyed their admiral's order to range themselves round him near Gravelines.
Now was the golden opportunity for the English to assail the crippled Spaniards once more. Drake and Fenner were the first British commanders to reach the unwieldy leviathans and open the assault. Then came Fenton, Southwell, Burton, Cross, Raynor, followed by the Lord-Admiral himself and Lord Sheffield. Huddling as close together as possible for mutual protection, the Spanish ships, firing desperately, broke and ran for it. After them, almost every shot telling on craft or crew, came their relentless will o' the wisp opponents.
The towering ships of the compact Armada made capital targets for the British gunners—targets hard to miss within fair range. Riddled, shattered, disabled, their own shots going wild or falling short, the best of the Spanish vessels soon gave up using their cannon, and drifted helplessly with the current toward the coast of Holland, past Dunkirk,—and far away from the Prince of Parma who, in watching their defeat from the coast, must have, as Drake afterward expressed it, "chafed like a bear robbed of her whelps."
And the remnant of Spain's colossal Armada—the sad, bedraggled little remnant left—made their way painfully through storm and hunger and sickness, to the shores of their mother country, still chased by the hound-ships of the British. As the latter pursued, pitiful wreck after pitiful wreck of what was but a short time previous a floating armed palace filled with gayly dressed and elaborately fed Spanish noblemen and soldiery, drifted upon the tossing waves. Of this great collection of proud craft only a pathetic handful ever returned to King Philip.
Much of the glory, if not indeed the greater share, of the defeat of the Spanish Armada was due to Drake. Although occupying the secondary command of Vice-Admiral in the Queen's fleet, Drake had been to the forefront throughout the fighting and had been entrusted with executive powers which aided materially in the successful outcome of the battle. While his own vessel had been struck as many as forty times, no ship of consequence under his command had been seriously damaged; likewise only minor casualties had been suffered among the crews, and no officers were injured.
The last act in the tragedy of Drake's life was laid among the scenes of his youth and early triumphs. Drawn irresistibly toward those islands in the Caribbean Sea that had witnessed his first exploits, he led his squadron one day to La Hacha, to Nombre de Dios, and then, in a sudden wave of the adventurous spirit of his boy hood, he headed for Truxillo, the port of Honduras, and for the rich towns of Nicaragua.
But ill winds snared him; he was held in the fatal Mosquito Gulf, where pestilence lurked in every breath of the foul air. Stricken with fever, his crew sailed with him back toward Puerto Bello. There, on the 28th of January, 1596, the great sea king expired, and his remains were confined very fittingly to the sepulcher of the deep he had loved so much in life.