Sir Walter Raleigh - Frederick Ober

Two Famous Victories


Sir Walter returned to England without great honors, either of conquest or discovery, which fact was as displeasing to the Queen as it was mortifying to him. Elizabeth had hoped for rich prizes, the loot of cities, and perchance some captive ships to add to her navy; but nothing save promises and flattery had Raleigh to lay at her feet. She averted her face from this favorite of former times, who had accomplished so little after preparing so greatly. He had not even visited the plantations in Virginia, which were at one time as the apple of his eye, and which, he had proclaimed, it was his intention to take in on the homeward voyage. In very truth, he had not done anything he had promised to do, and on his return was in greater disfavor than ever.

He saw that to win back the lost regard of a sovereign whose weakness was vanity, and whose besetting sin was covetousness, he must connect himself with some enterprise that should minister to both, by extending her fame among nations and filling her treasury with gold. The opportunity came within a year, but meanwhile he was in disgrace. His hopes were dashed, his expectations unrealized; but his high courage supported him, and within a few months of his return he sent back his faithful follower, Captain Keymis, to explore the mines of which they had heard such glowing reports. Five months later Keymis returned with the discouraging information that the Spaniards had erected a fort near the mouth of the river Caroni, where they were in force sufficient to defeat any attempt to reach the mines. He came back empty-handed, but with important additions to Raleigh's rich store of knowledge concerning the country he desired to colonize for England, which was embodied in the book he wrote and issued the next year—his Discoverie of Guiana.

Sir Walter could not truthfully claim that he had "discovered" Guiana, since the Spaniards found the way thither many years before his voyage was made; but he had certainly opened a route to a region until that time closed to English navigation. England and Spain were to wrangle over the question of priority many years after, and what Raleigh did, though it was little, gave the former an excuse for setting forth her claims to territory which, but for him, she never would have even a shadowy title to, But this is a subject aside from that we are considering, and must be ignored. We should take cognizance, however, of Sir Walter's great book, which was the first to be issued on that wonderful country, setting forth his adventures therein, and note that by means of it he re-established himself in general esteem and gained the credence of the public, even if his sovereign still continued obdurate.

By the royal commission under which Raleigh had sailed with his fleet, he had been empowered by the Queen "to do Us service in offending the King of Spain and his subjects in his dominions to your uttermost power." And, furthermore, whatever should result from that expedition, "as well by sea as by land, for the furtherance of this Our service, and enfeebling of Our enemies, the subjects and adherents of the King of Spain, you and all such as serve under you on this voyage shall be clearly acquitted and di& charged." That is, he would not be held responsible for any international complications that might result from his endeavors to force a passage through the King of Spain's dominions, or the waters, such as the Caribbean Sea, which he claimed to control. With the ample powers for conquest, however, granted him by this commission, Raleigh had only captured a small garrison at Trinidad; and with full authority for laying siege to and sacking any city of the West Indies or the Spanish Main, he had returned without having made a serious attempt upon any Spanish settlement whatever.

But another opportunity was given him, as we have said, within a year of his return from Trinidad. It had become plainly apparent, even to the Queen, that King Philip of Spain was meditating another descent upon England's shores, and was gathering his ships together for another and perhaps more powerful armada than that which he had despatched in 1588. Instead of waiting for its advent, such captains as Drake and Hawkins recommended that the tactics of the former when he destroyed the ships of Cadiz be adopted. But both great and gallant sea-lions died before the plan was carried into effect Hawkins off Porto Rico, in November, 1595, and Drake on the same voyage, off Porto Bello, in January, 1596. Elizabeth had other captains, though perhaps none so effective for such an enterprise, and the projected expedition was delayed. When finally afloat, it consisted of nearly one hundred English craft of all kinds, large and small, including "Queen's ships "and transports, and twenty-four Dutch vessels as an auxiliary squadron, the total force on board which was about sixteen thousand soldiers and sailors.

The chief in command of this fleet was the Lord High Admiral Howard, of Effingham; but associated with him was the Earl of Essex, as generalissimo of the forces. The fleet was divided into four squadrons, the first of which was led by the Ark Royal, formerly the famous Ark Ralegh, and commanded by the Lord High Admiral; the Earl of Essex led the second squadron; Lord Thomas Howard, vice-admiral of the combined fleet, led the third; Sir Walter Raleigh, as rear-admiral, led the fourth in the Warspite;  while the Dutch fleet comprised a fifth squadron, which brought up the rear, and was active only in gathering in the spoils of victory.

The Queen had done her best to give every admiral in her navy a position commensurate with his rank, and the result was that with so many commanders there was indescribable confusion. When Cadiz was sighted there were no two commanders who agreed as to the proper mode of attack. The Lord High Admiral refused to attack with his ships until after the soldiers had been landed.; the Earl of Essex attempted to land them, but the sea was so high that his boats were swamped, and fifteen lives were lost. At the same time the fire of the Cadiz batteries was concentrated upon him, and he knew not what to do; but Raleigh, who had been sent ahead to prevent the Spanish ships from escaping, saw the peril of his position and hastened to the rescue. Then, for once in their lives, these discredited favorites of Queen Elizabeth and erstwhile rivals were agreed: they both denounced the Lord High Admiral's scheme as a failure. But who would go to the pompous old Admiral and tell him so?

"I will!" exclaimed Sir Walter. "We should at once assault the ships in the inner harbor. See them there, penned up like sheep in a fold! 'Od zooks! but we could swiftly slaughter them all. I will away; and, meanwhile, await you here until I return."

Suiting the action to the word, he sprang into a skiff and ordered his men to row to the flag-ship. Amid plunging shot from the shore batteries, he made his way among the assembling ships to the Ark Royal, on the deck of which he held a brief but stormy interview with the old Admiral. In the end he secured his assent to an immediate attack, and no sooner was it received than he leaped into the skiff again and dashed back to his ship. On the way he passed near the Due Repulse, on the deck of which was Essex, pacing nervously to and fro.

"Entramos!"  (In we go) shouted Raleigh, hearing which joyful news the Earl cast his plumed hat into the sea, with a cry of delight, and gave orders for re-embarking the troops. Before this was accomplished the afternoon was well spent, and the assault was perforce put off till the morrow; but there were some so rash, including the excitable Essex, that they would have dashed in at once, through the darkness of night.

Though the British were brave enough, sailors and officers, they were like a flock of sheep without a leader. There was no actual head—or, rather, the commanding force was hydra-headed—and naught but confusion resulted from the council of war which was held on board the Ark Royal  that night. As Raleigh had been instrumental in preventing the fatal landing of the soldiers, and in changing the attack to one of direct assault upon the shipping, to him was given the honor of leading. But there were others desirous of that honor, and quite a quarrel developed between Raleigh and Lord Thomas Howard, who insisted upon a prior claim by reason of rank; and, absurd as it may appear, on the morrow there were two commanders thrusting themselves to the front, each in his flag-ship striving for precedency and giving orders to others.

Sir Walter himself says of the affair: "For mine own part, as I was willing to give honor to my Lord Thomas (having both precedency in the army, and being a gentleman whom I much honored), so yet I was resolved to give and not take example for this service, holding mine own reputation dearest, and remembering my great duty to her Majesty. With the first peep of day, therefore, I weighed anchor, and bore down upon the Spanish fleet, taking the start of all ours a good distance."

The Spanish fleet, which consisted of "fifty-nine tall ships," besides seventeen galleys beneath the guns of the forts and many great galleons of war, exceeding in size the largest in the English navy, lay huddled within the inner harbor of Cadiz. If the Spaniards had possessed a single officer of commanding ability, they might have sallied out and successfully attacked the disorganized squadrons that had so rashly sailed in to emulate the great exploit of Drake in that same harbor ten years before. But, as then, they had no men qualified to command in an exigency; as then, their ships were crowded together in a mass, relying for protection, not upon their own armaments, but upon the guns of batteries on shore. The result was the same as in 1587, and as it was more than three hundred years later, at Manila and at Santiago: infinite harm came to the Spaniards, whose ships were crushed by shot, sunk, destroyed by flames, without inflicting corresponding injuries upon their opponents.

Straight at the centre of the imprisoned fleet aimed Raleigh, and he could not soon enough get into close quarters; for he had a score to settle with two of the mightiest antagonists in front of him—the enormous galleons St. Philip  and St. Andrew, as they had been foremost in the Azores fight of five years before, when his cousin Grenville was killed. His artillery fire was deadly, and the galleons received the brunt of it; but he was anxious to board them both, and for this purpose lay up close against them for two hours, sending great shot into their sides and sweeping their decks with the iron hail. Perhaps no better account of the great battle could be given than that written by himself, for, as we know, he was as good with the pen as with the sword. We will begin with the approach of the ships to close quarters, after an artillery duel in which every commander sought to participate:

"Now after we had beaten, as two butts one upon another, almost three hours (assuring your honor that the volleys of cannon and culverin came as thick as if it had been a skirmish of musketeers), and finding myself in danger to be sunk at the place, I went to my Lord General in my skiff, to desire him that he would enforce the promised fly-boats to come up, that I might board; for as I rid, I could not endure so great a battery any long time . . . .

"While I was speaking with the Earl, the Marshal, who thought it some touch to his esteemed valor to ride behind me so many hours, got up ahead of my ship; which my Lord Thomas perceiving headed him again, myself being but a quarter of an hour absent. At my return, finding myself from being the first to be but the third, I presently let slip anchor, and thrust in between my Lord Thomas and the Marshal, and went up further ahead than all of them before, and thrust myself athwart the channel, so as I was sure none would outstart me again for that day!  My Lord General Essex, thinking his ship's sides stronger than the rest, thrust the Dreadnought  aside and came next my ship, the Warspite, on the left hand, ahead of all that rank but my Lord Thomas. The Marshal, while we had no leisure to look behind us, secretly fastened a rope on my ship's side toward him, to draw himself up equally with me; but some of my company advertising me thereof, I caused it to be cut off, and so he fell back into his place; whom I guarded, all but his very prow, from the enemy.

"Now if it please you to remember, that having no hope of my fly-boats to board [small boats to carry his boarders], and that the Earl and my Lord Thomas promised to second me, I laid out a warp by the side of the Philip, to shake hands with her  (for with the wind we could not get aboard), which, when she and the rest perceived, finding also that the Repulse began to do the like, and the Rear Admiral also, they all let slip and came aground, tumbling into the sea heaps of soldiers, so thick as if coals had been poured out of a sack, some drowned and some sticking in the mud.

"The Philip  and the St. Thomas  burnt themselves; the St. Matthew  and the St. Andrew  were recovered by our boats, ere they could get out to fire them. The spectacle was very lamentable on their side, for many drowned themselves, many, half-burnt, leaped into the water; very many hanging by the ropes' ends by the ship's sides, under water even to their lips; many, swimming with grievous wounds, stricken under water and put out of their pains; and withal so huge a fire, and such tearing of ordnance in the great Philip, and the rest, when the fire came to them, as, if any man had desired to see Hell itself, it was there most lively figured. Ourselves spared the lives of all, after the victory; but the Flemings, who did little or nothing in the fight, used merciless slaughter, until they were, by myself, and afterward by my Lord Admiral, beaten off."

The fleet having been destroyed and the batteries silenced, the city was taken by soldiers under the command of Essex, to whose valor and skill Raleigh bore willing testimony in a letter to Cecil. He himself was prevented by a severe wound from participating in the assault, but insisted upon being carried ashore in a litter, and saw much of the fighting. He also shared in the rich spoils, at the sacking of the city, his portion of which was estimated at two thousand pounds sterling. The city was systematically sacked, and the spoils were vast; but the Queen's servants, both of high and low degree, having had forewarning of her cupidity at other times, secreted the bulk of it so successfully that Elizabeth "was indignant, first, that the spoil was not greater; and, secondly, that what there was seemed likely to be, in large measure, absorbed by the claims, or the foresight, of those who had taken it."

A joyous welcome awaited the victors when, late in the summer of that year, their ships sailed back to port. "The news of a victory so brilliant excited great enthusiasm everywhere in England—except at Court. The people were delighted that the King of Spain had suffered such a defeat as never before had befallen him at home. In the streets the victors were met with transports of applause and joy. But at Court they met clouded looks and haggling discussions about the amount of their prize-money. This degrading and petty avarice, and the consequent disregard of the claims of those who had so nobly served her, seems to have grown with Elizabeth's advancing years, and the power it had now attained over her better qualities would almost pass credibility, were not the proofs numerous, cogent, and circumstantial."

Raleigh and Essex were the people's heroes, and such was the revulsion of feeling caused by their bravery that they were everywhere hailed with tumultuous applause. They had been told of Sir Walter's defiance of the galleys and the forts, as, standing on the upper deck of the Warspite, he answered every shot from their guns with a contemptuous blare of his silver trumpet, sweeping onward steadily toward the enemies' galleons, with which he grappled in a battle to the death. They had been told, also, of the hot striving for the front, when every commander, with more zeal than discretion, tried to be the first at the Spaniards, and foremost to receive the deadly fire from the galleons' towering walls. The change in opinion respecting Sir Walter is well expressed in a letter to Lord Burghley from one of Raleigh's former enemies: "In my judgment," he wrote, "did no man better, and his artillery was of most effect. I never knew the gentleman till this time, and am sorry for it, for there are in him excellent things besides his valor; and the observation he hath in this voyage used with my Lord Essex hath made me love him."

Months elapsed, however, before Raleigh was allowed at court in his wonted capacity as Elizabeth's trusted adviser. He passed the winter of 1596–97 in strengthening the coast defences and putting the fleets in order for another voyage; but in May, 1597, as we gather from a gossipy letter of that time, he was daily at court, "and a hope is had that he shall be admitted to the execution of his office as Captain of the Guard before he goes to sea."

This reference to another expedition leads us up to the second appearance of Sir Walter as rear-admiral, and to the second victory which he was to gain for English ships and sailors. With his accustomed foresight, Raleigh had predicted that King Philip, though humiliated, was not crushed, and would certainly essay once again an invasion of England. "How the Spanish King can gather such an army and fleet together in so short a time, considering his late losses, I conceive not," he declares, in his famous Opinion Upon the Spanish Alarum;  yet he urges the government to "prepare for the worst," and sets an example of activity that is infectious. He had the country with him then, and, except for the Queen's parsimony, which constantly hindered his progress, no great obstacles were placed in his way. He was correct in his main conjecture, for the King of Spain, though his finest seaport had been laid in ruins, its forts and castles demolished, and the mightiest of his war-ships destroyed, set himself once again to the assembling of an "invincible armada." Crippled in resources as he was, and fully aware that with the fall of Cadiz the prestige of Spain had begun to decline, King Philip yet managed to collect another formidable fleet by midsummer of 1597.

Information reached Raleigh, through his secret agents, that Philip's new armada had begun to collect, as early as November, 1596, at Ferrol, on the coast of Coruna; but the English knew that no invasion of their shores would be made in the winter season, owing to the fierce gales that swept the seas, and aimed merely to have their fleet ready to meet the Spaniards in the following summer. It put to sea, in fact, about the middle of July, and consisted of seventeen ships of war, besides numerous transports and pinnaces. The Earl of Essex was admiral-in-chief, Lord Thomas Howard vice-admiral, and Sir Walter Raleigh rear-admiral, while the five thousand soldiers on board the ships, though nominally commanded by Lord Marshal Vere, were actually at the orders of the Queen's latest favorite, young Lord Mountjoy. The fleet was strong in ships and men, but weak from the very causes that operated against the former one: a multiplicity of officials, whom the Queen felt compelled to conciliate with important commands.

The valiant though fantastic Essex was supreme commander, however, and allowed no one to dispute his authority. He was instructed to seek and attack the fleet assembled, or assembling, at Ferrol; but a series of gales reduced the efficiency of his squadron so greatly that he was afraid to attempt it, and chose the other alternative of searching for and overhauling the expected treasure-fleet of that year, which was supposed to be large and richly laden. As it usually touched in at some one of the Azores, whence it proceeded under convoy to Spain, Essex appointed a rendezvous at the island of Flores, off which, about the middle of September, he and Raleigh met, and dined together on board the flag-ship, when they decided upon future operations.

Essex set off in advance, leaving Raleigh to follow, after watering his ships; but when the latter arrived at Fayal no other vessels than those of his own squadron were in sight. He waited four days, in great impatience, and then, as it had been the Admiral's intention to make an attack on Fayal, he took it upon himself to do so single-handed, and landed a strong force for the purpose. They were met by a heavy fire, when Sir Walter, who had gone ashore without his armor, himself led a dashing charge upon the intrenchments, and drove the Spaniards to the city, five miles away. A scattering fire was kept up by the enemy all along the route, and Raleigh received several bullets through his clothes, but escaped unscathed, and on the morrow returned to welcome his commander at the roadstead. Then there was a fierce quarrel between the two hot-headed admirals, for Essex considered his prerogatives invaded, and was inclined to punish his subordinate for "breach of order and articles," which carried with it the death penalty. Raleigh finally convinced the irate Earl that this penalty did not apply to a "principal commander," which he undoubtedly was; but, in the words of one who was there, "if my Lord, who by nature was timorous and flexible, had not feared how it would have been taken in England, I think Sir Walter had smarted for it!"

A truce was concluded, however; for this was no time for dissensions, when the seas were alive with prospective prizes, and the squadrons scattered in search of the treasure-fleet, which was daily expected at the islands. Raleigh chased a richly laden East-Indiaman ashore, and had the chagrin to see its valuable cargo of spices go up in smoke, scenting the coast for miles around with fragrant gales. Three valuable prizes were captured, but the plate-fleet slipped into Terceira unharmed, where its vast treasure was taken ashore and buried, protected by the guns of the forts. The three prizes served to placate the Queen; but Essex could not forget that the scanty honors of that voyage were mainly won by his rival, who had not only captured Fayal, but had sailed with the two great galleons he had taken at Cadiz included in his squadron.