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Story of the English - Helene Guerber

Wreck of the Spanish Armada

Parliament had fancied that when Mary was dead all trouble from the Catholics would be ended, because they would have no person of their faith to set upon the throne. Parliament was mistaken, however, for Mary in her will left her claims to the throne of England to Philip II. of Spain, the champion of the Roman Catholic Church, and a descendant of the English house of Lancaster.

Philip II. had several reasons for hating the English. First, he was angry because they had received him coldly and refused him a share in the government when he married Queen Mary; second, Elizabeth had refused to marry him; third, she had either secretly or openly helped the Protestants in the Netherlands when they revolted against him; fourth, Elizabeth in order to punish him for training students in his universities to believe that any one who murdered her would do a good deed had allowed many of her captains to capture his gold-laden ships on their way from America to Spain.

These reasons, added to Mary's will, gave Philip II. the excuses he wanted for making war against England. He therefore prepared an immense army at Dunkirk, under the Duke of Alva, his best general, and a huge fleet at Cadiz. His ships were so large that he proudly fancied no one could resist them, so he boastingly called this fleet the never-to-be-beaten, or Invincible Armada.

The news of the coming war and of Philip's vast preparations terrified the English. Elizabeth, however, did not seem to lose courage, and her noble example inspired all those around her with hope. Troops were drilled, vessels were manned, and arrangements of all kinds were made. Elizabeth herself rode through her army's camp, vowing that she wished she were a man, so that she might fight too.

Her greatest helper at this time was one of her bravest seamen, Sir Francis Drake. He had made many journeys to America, had captured several gold-laden galleons, and was the first Englishman to see the Pacific and sail around the globe. This man was bold, clever, and so daring that he actually made his way into the harbour of Cadiz and destroyed part of the ships and stores collected there.

Nothing daunted, Philip repaired his losses; but the Invincible Armada no sooner started out than it met a severe gale and had to put back into port. Finally, however, it sailed northward, and a Scotch pirate, who was the first to discover it, gave the alarm in England. There, as had been agreed, signal fires were lighted all along the shore to warn fleet and army of the coming attack.

The ships which composed the Armada were much larger than the English vessels, and twice as numerous. The English fleet was under the orders of Admiral Howard; but Drake, Hawkins, Frobisher, Winter, and Raleigh, all noted English seamen, commanded a few vessels, and by their daring helped him greatly.

The Spanish galleys were so heavy that they moved slowly, and the English seamen took advantage of this to seize or sink all those which lagged behind the rest. They followed the fleet up the Channel, and when it anchored off Calais, sent into its midst boats filled with burning materials.

The Spaniards, fearing that their vessels would catch fire, cut their cables and scattered wildly, and many ships were captured, one by one, by the English. Seeing that he was worsted, the Spanish admiral wanted to return home; but as he did not dare run the gantlet by passing through the English Channel amid the English ships, he made up his mind to sail around the British Isles.

The English pursued him as long as their ammunition held out; and when they left him, a tempest arose, and many of his vessels were wrecked on the northern coast. Here the inhabitants murdered from five to seven thousand Spaniards; but a few were rescued, and made their homes among the Irish.

When the admiral came back to Spain with the battered remains of his Invincible Armada, Philip remarked that he had not expected him to make war against the billows. But the expedition was never renewed, and Elizabeth could pride herself upon having defeated a formidable enemy, thanks to her wise foresight in preparing for war ever since she had come to the throne. A medal was struck to commemorate the defeat of the Armada, and on it was the legend, "Jehovah blew, and they were scattered;" for the English rightly felt that the victory was not all due to their valour.