The Spanish Armada

Author Unknown

While Mary Stuart, the Roman Catholic Queen of Scots, lived, Rome’s hope of bringing England back under the control of the Catholic Church centered in her. Her death, however, effectively put an end to all of these hopes. The papal decree ordering all Christian princes to actively work for the destruction of Protestantism still remained as one of the infallible canons of the Council of Trent and was still acknowledged by the kings of the Catholic world. The plot to bring about the overthrow of Protestant England now took a new shape in the form of the Invincible Armada.   It required no supernatural insight to recognize the approaching storm. Sixtus V, who even among popes was outstanding for his craft and daring, was just beginning his reign. Cold, selfish, hungry for power, and dedicated to the overthrow of Protestantism, Phillip II was on the throne of Spain. No Jesuit was ever more dedicated in purpose nor shrewd in disguising his purposes. His great ambition was that he should be remembered by after generations as the one by whose arms heresy had been exterminated.

The Jesuits were operating throughout Europe, working to inflame the minds of kings and statesmen against the Reformation. Protestantism had been effectively purged from Spain and Italy. Perhaps worst of all, even among the friends of Protestantism there was fragmentation and disagreement. The spiritual influence, which like a mighty wave had rolled across all Christendom in the first half of the century, bearing on its swelling crest scholars, statesmen, and nations, was now on the ebb; and Catholicism was struggling to gain back that which it had lost. Luther, Calvin, Knox, Cranmer, and Coligny had all passed from the stage of action; and their successors, though men of faith and ability, were not of the same stature as those who had laid the foundation of the Reformation. In terms of facilities that generally determine the strength of a nation, there was little to compare between those who favored the Reformation and those who opposed it. To all human appearances, it seemed that the flame of the Reformation, which but a few years earlier had burned so brightly, must soon flicker and die.   England, with her little population of four million, and Holland, with even less, appeared completely vulnerable before the mighty armies of the Catholic world, enriched with their gold plundered from the New World. While the friends of the Reformation were divided, irresolute, cherishing illusions of peace, and making little or no preparations, there were omens that only too clearly betokened the coming conflict.

In 1584, two years before the execution of Mary Stuart, Phillip began preparations for building a fleet, the likes of which the world had never seen. For such an effort and for such a glorious cause, money and effort were no object. Stretching along nearly two thousand miles of coast line there was not a harbor or river’s mouth that could be utilized which was not taken advantage of for the building of ships that were to bear the Spanish soldiers of the Inquisition to the shores of heretical England.   The completed fleet had provisions for six months, as well as quantities of powder, shot, and all of the other materials that would be needed for an invasion. The Armada numbered 130 vessels, great and small. On board were 8,000 sailors in addition to 20,000 soldiers. This group was augmented by many noblemen and gentlemen who had volunteered to serve. The armor consisted of 2,650 pieces of ordnance; its burden was 60,000 tons. This was an immense tonnage at the time when the English navy consisted of twenty-eight sailing ships and an aggregate weight that did not exceed the tonnage of a single, modern sea going vessel.   The Spanish ships were of great capacity and amazing strength. Their strong ribs were lined with planks through which it was thought impossible that a cannon ball could pierce. Cables smeared with pitch were wound around the masts to enable them to withstand the fire of the enemy. Sixty-four of the total number of ships were galleons. Armed with heavy brass, they towered above the waves like castles.   During the time that the vast fleet was being built, Spain did everything that could possibly be done to conceal the knowledge of it from England. With poor, if any, postal communications, secrecy was more easily attainable then than it is today. It was impossible, however, to keep such a massive project a complete secret. In order to ease the concerns of the English, Philip resorted to dissimulation. It was said at one time that the new fleet’s purpose was to sweep from the seas certain pirates that gave annoyance to Spain and had captured some of her ships. Later, it was said that Philip meant to punish certain unknown enemies on the far side of the Atlantic. All that craft and lying could do was done to allay the suspicions of the people of England. Even Walsingham, one of the most discerning and clear sighted of the queen’s ministers, expressed his belief—just fifteen days before the Armada sailed—that it never would invade England and that Philip’s hands were too full at home to leave him leisure to conquer kingdoms abroad.   In reality, there were two Armadas being prepared to attack an unsuspecting England.

In the Netherlands, at that time in the possession of Philip, there was a scene of activity nearly as great as that which was taking place in Spain. Philip’s governor in Belgium, the duke of Parma, was perhaps the most able general of his age. His instructions were to prepare an army and fleet to cooperate with the Spanish force as soon as it arrived in the English Channel.   The whole of the Spanish Netherlands suddenly burst into activity. Assembling 28 warships, along with several hundred smaller vessels, the duke gathered regiments of soldiers from every Catholic nation in Europe. There was scarcely a noble house of Spain that was not represented within the camp of Parma. Believing that the last hour of England had come, they assembled to witness her fall.   During this time of preparation, every imaginable deception was practiced toward Elizabeth and the statesmen who served her to hide from them their great danger until it should overtake them. She sent her commissioners to the Low Countries, but Parma protested, with tears in his eyes, that there lived not on earth anyone who more sincerely desired peace than himself. Did not his prayers morning and night ascend for its continuance? And as regarding the wise and magnanimous sovereign of England, there was not one of her servants that cherished a higher admiration for her than did he. This monumental hypocrisy was not without effect. The English commissioners returned, after three months’ absence, in the belief that Parma’s intentions were peaceful and confirmed Elizabeth and her ministers in dreams of peace. England did not fully awaken from this illusion of peace until just days before the guns of the Spanish Armada were heard in the English Channel.   To aid in the war effort, Sixtus V issued a bull against Elizabeth in which he confirmed the previous one by Pius V, absolving her subjects of their allegiance and conferring her kingdom upon Philip II, to have and to hold as tributary and feudatory of the papal chair. While the pope with one hand took away the crown from Elizabeth, he conferred with the other the red hat upon Father Allen. Already the archbishop of Canterbury, Allen was at once both the archbishop of Canterbury and, by order of the pope, papal legate. Allen now had the pope’s bull translated into English, intending that upon the arrival of the Spanish fleet, it should be published in England.   Suddenly, as if from a deep sleep, England awoke to her great danger just before the Spanish ships were to arrive. How was the invasion to be met? England had but a handful of soldiers and a few ships to oppose the host that was coming against her.   The total English force was just over 150,000. This force was split into three groups with one group stationed for the defense of the capital, one for the personal defense of the queen, and the third was to guard the south and east as the place most likely to be selected by the enemy for landing. Beacons were prepared to be lighted at the first landing of the enemy on English soil, notifying the rest of the troops at what point to converge.   The English fleet that sailed to oppose the Armada consisted of thirty-four ships of small tonnage carrying 6,000 men. Besides these, the city of London provided thirty ships. In all the port towns, merchant vessels were converted into war-ships, bringing the total to possibly as many as 150 vessels, with a crew of 14,000. Though the total number of vessels nearly matched that of the Spanish, the figures on paper give a far more favorable appearance than is warranted. The English fleet was, in comparison to the Spanish fleet, but a collection of six or eight oared boats along with a few slightly larger vessels.   This force was divided into two squadrons: one under Lord Howard, high admiral of England, consisting of seventeen ships which were to cruise the Channel and there wait for the arrival of the Armada. The second squadron, under Hawkins, consisting of fifteen ships, was stationed at Dunkirk to intercept Parma should he attempt to cross with his fleet from Flanders. Sir Francis Drake, in his ship the Revenge, had a following of about thirty privateers. After the war broke out, the fleet was further increased by ships belonging to the nobility and the merchants, hastily armed and sent to sea; though the brunt of the fight, it was foreseen, must fall on the queen’s ships.

England’s inferior army was simply militia, insufficiently drilled, poorly armed and, except in spirit, could not compare in any way with the soldiers of Spain who had been seasoned on the field of battle. The Spanish army alone was deemed more than sufficient to conquer England; and how easy would the conquest become when that Armada should be joined by the mighty force under Parma, the flower of the Spanish army! England, with her long line of coast, her unfortified towns, and her four millions of population, including many thousands of Roman Catholics ready to rise in insurrection as soon as the invader had made good his landing, was at that hour in supreme peril. It was not England alone whose existence was in question.

Its success or failure was the standing or falling of Protestantism. Should Philip succeed in his enterprise, Spain would replace England as the teacher and guide of the nations. Some idea of the consequence of such an outcome may be seen by contrasting the political, religious, social, and moral conditions today of Latin America with those of Protestant North America.   For some time after the ships of the Armada had been collected in Lisbon, ready to sail, they were unable to move, waiting for favorable weather. When the wind finally shifted, the proud galleons spread their canvas and began their voyage toward England. For three days—May 28–30, 1588—galleon followed galleon till it seemed the ocean must surely be filled with them. It was a breathtaking sight, as with sails spread to the breeze and banners and streamers gaily unfurled, it made its way along the coast of Spain. The twelve principal ships of the Armada bound on this holy enterprise had been baptized with the names of the twelve apostles. On board the St. Peter was Don Martin Allacon, administrator and vicar-general of the holy office of the Inquisition; and along with him were 200 barefooted friars and Dominicans. Though the guns of the Armada were to begin the conquest of heretical England, the spiritual arms of the Fathers were to complete it.   Just as the Armada was about to sail, the Marquis Santa Cruz, who had been appointed to the chief command, died. He had been thirty years in Philip’s service and was beyond doubt the most capable sea captain Spain had. Another had to be found to fill the place of the “Iron-Marquis,” and the duke of Medina Sidonia was selected for the job. The main recommendation of Medina Sidonia was his vast wealth. The “Golden Duke” was there simply to provide the armament; the real head of the expedition was to be the duke of Parma, Philip’s commander in the Netherlands and the ablest of his generals. As soon as the Armada should arrive off Calais, the duke was to cross from Flanders and, uniting his numerous army with the vast fleet, to descend like a cloud upon the shore of England.   The Armada was three weeks at sea. The huge ships, so disproportioned to the small sails, made windward progress wearisomely slow. They floated well enough upon a calm sea, but as they were about to open the Bay of Biscay, the sky began to be overcast, and dark clouds came rolling up from the southwest. The swell of the Atlantic grew into mountainous billows, tumbling around those towering structures whose bulk only exposed them all the more to the buffeting of the great waves and furious winds. The Armada was scattered by the gale.

As the weather moderated, the ships reassembled and again began to move toward England. A second and more severe storm soon burst upon them. The waves, dashing against the lofty turrets at stem and stern, sent a spout of white water up their sides and high into midair, while the racing waves, coursing across the low bulwarks amidships, threatened every moment to engulf the galleons. One of the greatest of them went down with all on board, and another two were driven to the coast of France.   The storm subsiding, the Armada once more gathered itself together; and on July 29, it entered the Channel. The next day England had her first sight of the enemy. Instantly the beacon fires were kindled, announcing that the Spanish had arrived. On the afternoon of July 30, the Armada could be seen from the high ground above Plymouth Harbor, advancing slowly from the southwest in the form of a crescent, the two horns of which were seven miles apart. As one massive hull after another came out of the blue distance, it was seen that rumor of its size had not been exaggerated in the least. On his great galleon, the St. Martin, in his shot-proof fortress, stood Medina Sidona, casting proud glances around him.   The night that followed was a night long to be remembered in England, as another and yet another hilltop lighted its fires in the darkness and the ever-extending line of light flashed the news of the Armada’s arrival from the shores of the Channel across all of England and Scotland. In this moment of destiny, the hearts of men were drawn together by the sense of a common terror. All controversies were forgotten in one absorbing interest, and the cry of the nation went up to God that He who covered His people in Egypt on that awful night when the Angel of death passed through the land would place His protection over England and not suffer her to be destroyed.

Meanwhile, the harbor of Plymouth was in a fever of excitement. The moment the news arrived that the Armada had been sighted, Howard, Drake, and Hawkins began their preparations; and the rest of the night was spent in preparing the ships for sea. By morning, sixty ships had been towed out of the harbor. Their numbers were little more than a third of those of the Armada, and their inferiority in size was even greater; but mobbed by patriotic crews, they hoisted sail and went forth to meet the enemy. On the afternoon of the same day, the two fleets came in sight of each other.

The wind was blowing from the southwest, bringing with it a drizzling rain and choppy seas. The waves of the Atlantic came tumbling into the Channel; and the galleons of Spain, with their heavy ordnance and their numerous squadrons, rolled uneasily and clumsily. The English ships, of smaller size and handled by expert seamen, bore finely up before the breeze, taking a close survey of the Spanish fleet, and then, standing off to windward, became invisible in the haze. The Spaniards knew that the English fleet was in the vicinity, but the darkness did not permit battle to be joined that night.   Sunday morning, July 31, 1588, witnessed the first encounter between the great navy of Spain and the little fleet of England.

Medina Sidonia gave the signal for an engagement; but to his surprise, he found that the ability of accepting or declining battle lay entirely with the English. Howard’s ships were stationed to the windward, and the sluggish Spanish galleons could not close with them. The English vessels, however, which were light and skillfully handled, would run up to the Armada, pour a broadside into it, and then as swiftly retreat beyond the reach of the Spanish guns. Sailing right into the wind, they defied pursuit. This was a method of fighting most frustrating to the Spanish, but they were unable to change it. All day the Armada moved slowly up-channel before the westerly breeze; and the English fleet hanging upon its rear, continued to fire into it, now a single shot, and again, a whole broadside. This action was repeated over and over again. The Spanish guns, seeking to return the fire, found that their shots, fired from lofty decks, passed over the English ships, falling harmlessly into the sea beyond them.

t was in vain that the Spanish admiral raised the flag of battle, for the wind and the sea would not permit him to lie to. His nimble foe would not come within reach, unless it might be for a moment to send a cannonball through the side of some of his galleons and then slip away, laughing to scorn the ungainly efforts of this bulky pursuer to overtake him. As yet there had been no loss of either ship or man on the part of the English.   In addition to the damage inflicted on them by the English guns, the Armada sustained other damage. As night fell, its ships huddled together to prevent dispersion. The galleon of Pedro di Valdez, fouling with the Santa Catalina, was damaged and fell behind, becoming the booty of the English. This galleon had onboard a large amount of treasure and, what was of even greater importance to the captors, whose scanty stock of ammunition was already becoming exhausted, many tons of gunpowder. A loss of even greater significance to the Spanish than the money and the ammunition was that of her commander. Pedro di Valdez was the only navel officer of the fleet who was acquainted with the Channel.

Later the same evening a yet greater calamity befell the Armada. The captain of the rear admiral’s galleon, much out of humor for the day’s adventures and quarreling with all who approached him, accused the master gunner of careless firing. Greatly offended, the man went straight to the powder magazine, thrust a burning match into it, and threw himself out of one of the portholes into the sea. Within seconds, in a momentary burst of splendor, the explosion lit the surrounding ocean. The deck was upheaved; the turrets at stern and stem rose into the air, carrying with them the paymaster of the fleet and 200 soldiers. The strong hulk, though torn by the explosion, continued to float and was seized in the morning by the English who found in it a great amount of treasure and supply of ammunition which had not ignited.   On the very first day of conflict, the Armada had lost two flagships, 450 officers and men, the paymaster of the fleet, and 100,000 ducats of Spanish gold, a sum equal to about 50,000 of English money. This was not a favorable start of an expedition which Spain had exhausted herself to outfit.   The following day the Armada continued its way slowly up-channel, followed by the fleet under Howard, who hovered upon its rear but did not attack. On Tuesday, the first serious encounter took place. As the morning rose, the wind changed to the east, which exactly reversed the position of the two fleets, giving the weather advantage to the Armada.

Howard attempted to sail around it and get to the windward side, but Medina Sidonia intercepted him by coming between him and the shore and compelled him to accept battle at close quarters. The combat was long and confused. In the evening the Spanish ships gathered themselves up and forming into a compact group, went on their way. It was believed that they were obeying Philip’s instructions to meet the Duke of Parma and then, with his army, strike the decisive blow. The shores of the English Channel were crowded with anxious spectators, breathlessly watching their brave little fleet battling against the mighty ships of the Spanish invader. From every port of the realm, English merchant vessels were hastening to the spot where England’s very existence hung on the outcome of the battle. While the many small additions added greatly to the appearance, they did very little to the effectiveness of the queen’s navy.   On Wednesday, a few shots were exchanged, but no general action took place. By the following day, the wind had again changed to the east, giving the Armada the advantage once more. The sharpest action yet to be fought began. The ships of the two fleets engaged yardarm to yardarm, and broadside after broadside was exchanged at a distance of about 100 yards.

The English admiral, Lord Howard, in his ship the Ark, steered right into the middle of the Spanish ships in search of Medina Sidonia. As he passed, he introduced himself to each galleon by pouring a broadside into it. Rear Admiral Oquendo, perceiving Howard’s design, ran his ship under the bows of the Ark and by the shock unshipped her rudder and rendered her unmanageable. Six Spanish galleons closed around her, never doubting that she was their prize. Within moments, the Ark’s own boats had her in tow; and passing out of the hostile circle, she escaped, to the amazement of the Spaniards. The fight continued several hours longer. When evening fell, it found the English fleet, that had all through the conflict seen the Spanish shot pass harmlessly over it, burying itself in the sea, showing no sign of battle, with scarcely a cord torn and its crews intact. The sides of the galleons, however, were pierced and riddled with the English shot; and their masts were cut or splintered.   The following day the procession up-channel was resumed in the same order as before, the mighty Armada leading the van and the nimble English fleet following. By Saturday afternoon the Spaniards were approaching the point at which they were to be joined by the Duke of Parma. As he had not yet arrived, Medina Sidonia decided to cast anchor and wait.   The critical hour had arrived when it was to be determined whether England should remain an independent kingdom or become one of Philip’s numerous satrapies; whether it was to retain the light of the Protestant faith or to fall back into the darkness and serfdom of a medieval superstition. In the skirmishes that had preceded this moment, the English ships had fared well; but now the moment had come for a death struggle between Spain and England. The Armada had arrived on the battleground comparatively intact. It had experienced rough handling from the tempests of the Atlantic and had received some heavy blows from the English fleet. Several of the galleons which had glided so proudly out of the harbor at Lisbon were now at the bottom of the ocean; but these losses were hardly felt by the great Armada. It only awaited the arrival of the Duke of Parma to be perhaps the mightiest combination of naval and military power which the world had seen.   As evening drew on, low, rapidly moving clouds gave evidence of an approaching storm. The waves of the Atlantic, forcing their way up the Channel, uneasily rocked the huge Spanish galleons. The night wore away; and with the return of light, Medina Sidonia could be seen scrutinizing the eastern ocean, looking for the approach of the Duke of Parma.

Meanwhile, Parma was himself as anxious to join the Armada as they were to have him. A fleet of flat-bottomed vessels was ready to carry this powerful host; but one thing was wanting, and its absence rendered all of these vast preparations fruitless. In order to join the Spanish fleet, Parma needed an open door from his harbors to the ocean, and the Dutch saw to it that he had none. They drew a line of warships along the Netherland coast; and Parma, with his sailors and soldiers, was imprisoned in his own ports. It was strange that these circumstances had not been foreseen and provided for. In this oversight is revealed the working of a Hand powerful enough by Its slightest touches to defeat the wisest schemes and crush the mightiest combinations of man when directed against a people who were leaning on Him for help.   Parma repeatedly wrote to both Philip and Medina Sidonia telling them of his predicament, but Philip either would not or could not understand.   In the meantime, anxious consultations were being held onboard the English fleet. The brave and patriotic men who led it recognized the gravity of the situation. If the Armada was joined by Parma, it would be so overwhelmingly powerful that it seemed nothing could hinder its crossing over to England. The men of the English fleet feared that before another dawn had come, Parma’s fleet would anchor alongside that of Medina Sidonia and the opportunity for striking a preemptive blow would be past.   A bold and somewhat novel idea was decided upon. Eight of the volunteer ships were selected, their masts smeared with pitch, and their hulls filled with powder, all kinds of explosives, and combustible materials. Once prepared, they were set adrift in the direction of the Armada.

The night favored the execution of this design. Dark clouds hid the stars, while the muttering of distant thunder reverberated in the sky. The deep, heavy swell of the ocean that precedes the tempest was rocking the galleons, rendering their position every moment more unpleasant. On the one side they found themselves close to the shallows of Calais, with the quicksand of Flanders behind them.   Suddenly, about an hour past midnight, the watch discerned dark objects emerging out of the blackness and advancing toward them. They had scarcely given the alarm when these dark shapes burst into flame, lighting up sea and sky in gloomy grandeur. Steadily these pillars of fire continued to move over the waters straight toward the Armada. The Spaniards gazed for one terrified moment upon the dreadful apparition; and then, divining its nature and mission, instantly cut their cables and, with the loss of some of their galleons and the damage of others, fled in confusion and panic.   With the first light, the English admiral weighed anchor and set sail in pursuit of the fleeing Spanish. At eight o’clock on Monday morning, Drake caught up with the Armada; and giving it no time to collect and form, began the most important of all of the battles which had yet been fought.   The English ships drew close to the galleons, pouring broadside after broadside into them. From morning to night the rain of shot continued. The galleons, falling back before the fierce onslaught, huddled together. The English fire, pouring into the mass of hulls and masts, was doing fearful work, converting the ships into shambles. Rivulets of blood poured from their scuttles into the sea. By this time, many of the Spanish guns were dismounted; those that remained active fired but slowly, while the heavy rolling of the vessels threw the shot into the air. Several of the galleons were seen to go down in the action; others reeled away toward Ostend.   When evening fell, the fighting was still going on; but with the shifting of the breeze to the northwest and the increasing rise of the sea, a new calamity threatened the disabled and helpless Armada. It was being forced upon the Flanders coast. If the English had had strength and ammunition to pursue them, the galleons would have that night found common burial on the shoals and quicksand of the Netherlands.   The power of the Armada had been broken; most of its vessels were in sinking condition. Between 4,000 and 5,000 of its soldiers had been killed and received burial in the ocean, and at least as many more lay wounded and dying onboard their shattered galleons. Of the English, not more than 100 had fallen.

Thankful was the terrified Medina Sidonia when night fell, giving him a few hours respite; but with the morning, his dangers and anxieties returned as he found himself between two great perils. On the windward of him was the English fleet. Behind him was that belt of muddy water of the Dutch coast, which, if he struck, he was lost. With every passing moment the helpless Armada was drawing nearer to those terrible shoals. Suddenly the wind shifted to the east, and the change rescued, at least for the moment, the Spanish galleons on the very brink of destruction.   The English fleet, having lost the advantage of the wind, stood off; and the Spanish admiral, relieved of their presence, assembled his officers to deliberate on the course to be taken. The question to be decided was: Should they return to their anchorage off Calais or go back to Spain by way of the Orkneys? To return to Calais involved a second battle with the English; and were this to take place, the officers were of the opinion that for the Armada, there would be no tomorrow. The alternative of returning to Spain in battered ships, passing without pilots through unknown and dangerous seas, was a solution nearly as formidable; nevertheless, it was the lesser of the two evils to which their choice was limited, and it was the one adopted.

No sooner had the change of wind rescued the Spanish from the destruction which seemed to await them than it shifted once more and, settling in the southwest, blew with ever increasing intensity. The mostly rudderless ships could do nothing but drift before the rising storm into the northern seas. Drake followed them for a day or two without firing a gun, having spent his supply of ammunition; but just the sight of his ships was enough for the terrified Spaniards, and they fled.

Spreading the sail to the rising gale, the Armada bore northward. Drake had been uneasy, fearing that the Spaniards might seek refuge in Scotland; but when he saw this danger pass and the Armada speed away toward the shores of Norway, he resolved to return before famine should set in among his crews.   No sooner did Drake turn back from the fleeing foe than the tempest took up the pursuit. Suddenly a furious gale burst out, and the last the English saw of the Armada was the vanishing forms of their retreating galleons as they entered the cloud of storm and became lost in the blackness of the northern night.   Carried on the tempest’s wings around Cape Wrath, they were next launched amid the perils of the Hebrides. The rollers of the Atlantic hoisted them, dashing them against the cliffs or flinging them on the shelving shore. Their crews, too worn with toil and want to swim ashore, were drowned in the surf and littered the beaches with their corpses.

The winds drove the survivors farther south until they reached the west coast of Ireland.   There came a day’s calm; hunger and thirst were raging onboard the ships; their store of water was entirely spent. Seeking to relieve their desperate situation, the Spaniards sent some boats on shore to beg supplies. They prayed piteously, willing to pay any amount of money, but were unable to obtain any help or supplies). The natives knew that the Spaniards had lost the day and, should they comfort and assist the enemies of Elizabeth, they would be held answerable.   The storm then returned in all its former violence and raged for eleven days. During that time, galleon after galleon came on shore, scattering its drowned crews by hundreds upon the beach.   The sea was not the only enemy these wretched men had to dread. The Irish, though of the same religion as the Spaniards, were more pitiless than the waves. As the Spaniards crawled through the surf up the beaches, the Irish slaughtered them for the sake of their velvets, their gold brocades, and their rich chains. In addition, prompted by the fear that the Spaniards might be joined by the Irish and lead them in revolt, the English garrisons in Ireland had received orders to execute all who fell into their hands.

It was calculated that in the month of September alone, 8,000 Spaniards perished between the Giant’s Causeway and Blosket Sound, 1,100 were executed by the government officers, and 3,000 were murdered by the Irish. The rest were drowned. The tragedy, witnessed of old on the shores of the Red Sea, had repeated itself, with wider horrors, on the coast of Ireland.   The few galleons that escaped the waves and rocks crept back home, one by one. The terrible tragedy was too great to be disclosed all at once. When the terrible facts became fully known, the nation was shocked. There was scarcely a noble family in all of Spain which had not lost one or more of its members. Of the 30,000 who had sailed in the Armada, scarcely 10,000 ever returned; and these returned, in almost every instance, to pine and die. The Duke of Medina Sidonia, the commander in chief, was almost the only one of the nobles who outlived the catastrophe; but his head was bowed in shame. Envying the fate of those who had perished, he buried himself from the eyes of his countrymen in his countryseat.

The sorrowful Philip was deeply wounded from a quarter from which he looked for sympathy and help. Pope Sixtus had promised a contribution of a million crowns toward the expenses of the Armada; but when he saw the outcome, he refused to pay a single ducat. In vain Philip urged that the pope had instigated him to the attempt, the expedition had been undertaken in the sacred cause of the Church, and the loss ought to be borne mutually. To his entreaties, Sixtus was deaf.   The Armada was the mightiest effort, by force of arms, ever put forth by the Roman Catholic powers against Protestantism; and it proved the turning point in the great war between Rome and the Reformation. Spain was never after what she had been before the failure of that expedition. It said in effect to her, “Remove the diadem; put off the crown.”

Almost all of the military genius and the naval skill enrolled in the service of Spain were lost in that ill-fated expedition. The financial loss could not be reckoned at less than six million ducats, but that was nothing compared with the loss of Spain’s prestige. The catastrophe stripped her naked. Her position and that of the Protestant powers was to a large extent reversed-England and the Netherlands rose, and Spain fell.   The tragedy of the Armada was a great sermon, the text of which was that the ordinary course of events had been interrupted; the heavens had been bowed; and the Great Judge had descended upon the scene, working out a marvelous deliverance for England. While dismay reigned within the popish kingdoms, the Protestant states joined in a chorus of thanksgiving.

Posted on October 18, 2009, in Stories and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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