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The fight between the fleets had begun on Sunday morning, and at the end of the third day the strength of the Armada remained unbroken. The moral effect had no doubt been great, but the loss of two or three ships was a trifle to so large a force, and the spirit of the Spaniards had been raised by the gallant and successful defence the San Marcos had made on the Tuesday afternoon. Wednesday was again calm. The magazines of the English ships were empty. Though express after express had been sent off praying that ammunition might be sent, none had arrived, and the two fleets lay six miles apart without action, save that the galleasses came out and skirmished for a while with the English ships.
That evening, however, a supply of ammunition sufficient for another day's fighting arrived, and soon after daybreak the English fleet moved down towards the Armada, and for the first time engaged them at close quarters. The Ark Raleigh, the Bear, the Elizabeth Jones, the Lion, and the Victory bore on straight into the centre of the Spanish galleons, exchanging broadsides with each as they passed. Oquendo with his vessel was right in the course of the English flagship, and a collision took place, in which the Ark Raleigh's rudder was unshipped, and she became unmanageable.
The enemy's vessels closed round her, but she lowered her boats, and these, in spite of the fire of the enemy, brought her head round before the wind, and she made her way through her antagonists and got clear. For several hours the battle continued. The Spanish fire was so slow, and their ships so unwieldy, that it was rarely they succeeded in firing a shot into their active foes, while the English shot tore their way through the massive timbers of the Spanish vessels, scattering the splinters thickly among the soldiers, who had been sent below to be out of harm's way; but beyond this, and inflicting much damage upon masts and spars, the day's fighting had no actual results. No captures were made by the English.
The Spaniards suffered, but made no sign; nevertheless their confidence in their powers was shaken. Their ammunition was also running short, and they had no hope of refilling their magazines until they effected a junction with Parma. Their admiral that night wrote to him asking that two shiploads of shot and powder might be sent to him immediately. "The enemy pursue me," he said; "they fire upon me most days from morning till nightfall, but they will not close and grapple. I have given them every opportunity. I have purposely left ships exposed to tempt them to board, but they decline to do it; and there is no remedy, for they are swift and we are slow. They have men and ammunition in abundance." The Spanish admiral was unaware that the English magazines were even more empty than his own.
On Friday morning Howard sailed for Dover to take in the supplies that were so sorely needed. The Earl of Sussex, who was in command of the castle, gave him all that he had, and the stores taken from the prizes came up in light vessels and were divided among the fleet, and in the evening the English fleet again sailed out and took up its place in the rear of the Armada. On Saturday morning the weather changed. After six days of calm and sunshine it began to blow hard from the west, with driving showers. The Spaniards, having no pilots who knew the coasts, anchored off Calais. The English fleet, closely watching their movements, brought up two miles astern.
The Spanish admiral sent off another urgent letter to Parma at Dunkirk, begging him to send immediately thirty or forty fast gunboats to keep the English at bay. Parma had received the admiral's letters, and was perfectly ready to embark his troops, but could not do this as the admiral expected he would, until the fleet came up to protect him. The lighters and barges he had constructed for the passage were only fit to keep the sea in calm weather, and would have been wholly at the mercy of even a single English ship of war. He could not, therefore, embark his troops until the duke arrived. As to the gunboats asked for, he had none with him.
But while the Spanish admiral had grave cause for uneasiness in the situation in which he found himself, Lord Howard had no greater reason for satisfaction. In spite of his efforts the enemy's fleet had arrived at their destination with their strength still unimpaired, and were in communication with the Duke of Parma's army. Lord Seymour had come up with a squadron from the mouth of the Thames, but his ships had but one day's provisions on board, while Drake and Howard's divisions had all but exhausted their supplies. The previous day's fighting had used up the ammunition obtained at Dover. Starvation would drive every English ship from the sea in another week at the latest. The Channel would then be open for the passage of Parma's army.
At five o'clock on Sunday evening a council of war was held in Lord Howard's cabin, and it was determined, that as it was impossible to attack the Spanish Fleet where they lay at the edge of shallow water, an attempt must be made to drive them out into the Channel with fireships. Eight of the private vessels were accordingly taken, and such combustibles as could be found -- pitch, tar, old sails, empty casks, and other materials -- were piled into them. At midnight the tide set directly from the English fleet towards the Spaniards, and the fireships, manned by their respective crews, hoisted sail and drove down towards them.
When near the Armada the crews set fire to the combustibles, and taking to their boats rowed back to the fleet. At the sight of the flames bursting up from the eight ships bearing down upon them, the Spaniards were seized with a panic. The admiral fired a gun as a signal, and all cut their cables and hoisted sail, and succeeded in getting out to sea before the fireships arrived. They lay to six miles from shore, intending to return in the morning and recover their anchors; but Drake with his division of the fleet, and Seymour with the squadron from the Thames, weighed their anchors and stood off after them, while Howard with his division remained off Calais, where, in the morning, the largest of the four galleasses was seen aground on Calais Bar. Lord Howard wasted many precious hours in capturing her before he set off to join Drake and Seymour, who were thundering against the Spanish fleet. The wind had got up during the night, and the Spaniards had drifted farther than they expected, and when morning dawned were scattered over the sea off Gravelines. Signals were made for them to collect, but before they could do so Drake and Seymour came up and opened fire within pistol shot. The English admiral saw at once that, with the wind rising from the south, if he could drive the unwieldy galleons north they would be cut off from Dunkirk, and would not be able to beat back again until there was a change of wind.
All through the morning the English ships poured a continuous shower of shot into the Spanish vessels, which, huddled together in a confused mass, were unable to make any return whatever. The duke and Oquendo, with some of the best sailors among the Fleet, tried to beat out from the crowd and get room to manoeuvre, but Drake's ships were too weatherly and too well handled to permit of this, and they were driven back again into the confused mass, which was being slowly forced towards the shoals and banks of the coasts.
Howard came up at noon with his division, and until sunset the fire was maintained, by which time almost the last cartridge was spent, and the crews worn our by their incessant labour. They took no prizes, for they never attempted to board. They saw three great galleons go down, and three more drift away towards the sands of Ostend, where they were captured either by the English garrisoned there or by three vessels sent by Lord Willoughby from Flushing, under the command of Francis Vere. Had the English ammunition lasted but a few more hours the whole of the Armada would have been either driven ashore or sunk; but when the last cartridge had been burned the assailants drew off to take on board the stores which had, while the fighting was going on, been brought up by some provision ships from the Thames.
But the Spaniards were in no condition to benefit by the cessation of the attack. In spite of the terrible disadvantages under which they laboured, they had fought with splendid courage. The sides of the galleons had been riddled with shot, and the splinters caused by the rending of the massive timbers had done even greater execution than the iron hail. Being always to leeward, and heeling over with the wind, the ships had been struck again and again below the waterline, and many were only kept from sinking by nailing sheets of lead over the shot holes.
Their guns were, for the most part, dismounted or knocked to pieces. Several had lost masts, the carnage among the crews was frightful, and yet not a single ship hauled down her colours. The San Mateo, which was one of those that grounded between Ostend and Sluys, fought to the last, and kept Francis Vere's three ships at bay for two hours, until she was at last carried by boarding.
Left to themselves at the end of the day, the Spaniards gathered in what order they could, and made sail for the north. On counting the losses they found that four thousand men had been killed or drowned, and the number of wounded must have been far greater. The crews were utterly worn out and exhausted. They had the day before been kept at work cleaning and refitting, and the fireships had disturbed them early in the night. During the engagement there had been no time to serve out food, and the labours of the long struggle had completely exhausted them. Worst of all, they were utterly disheartened by the day's fighting. They had been pounded by their active foes, who fired five shots to their one, and whose vessels sailed round and round them, while they themselves had inflicted no damage that they could perceive upon their assailants.
The English admirals had no idea of the extent of the victory they had won. Howard, who had only come up in the middle of the fight, believed that they "were still wonderful great and strong," while even Drake, who saw more clearly how much they had suffered, only ventured to hope that some days at least would elapse before they could join hands with Parma. In spite of the small store of ammunition that had arrived the night before, the English magazines were almost empty; but they determined to show a good front, and "give chase as though they wanted nothing."
When the morning dawned the English fleet were still to windward of the Armada, while to leeward were lines of white foam, where the sea was breaking on the shoals of Holland. It seemed that the Armada was lost. At this critical moment the wind suddenly shifted to the east. This threw the English fleet to leeward, and enabled the Spaniards to head out from the coast and make for the North Sea. The Spanish admiral held a council. The sea had gone down, and they had now a fair wind for Calais; and the question was put to the sailing masters and captains whether they should return into the Channel or sail north round Scotland and Ireland, and so return to Spain. The former was the courageous course, but the spirit of the Spaniards was broken, and the vote was in favour of what appeared a way of escape. Therefore, the shattered Fleet bore on its way north. On board the English fleet a similar council was being held, and it was determined that Lord Seymour's squadron should return to guard the Channel, lest Parma should take advantage of the absence of the fleet to cross from Dunkirk to England, and that Howard and Drake with their ninety ships should pursue the Spaniards; for it was not for a moment supposed that the latter had entirely abandoned their enterprise, and intended to return to Spain without making another effort to rejoin Parma.
During the week's fighting Geoffrey and Lionel Vickars had taken such part as they could in the contest; but as there had been no hand to hand fighting, the position of the volunteers on board the fleet had been little more than that of spectators. The crews worked the guns and manoeuvred the sails, and the most the lads could do was to relieve the ship boys in carrying up powder and shot, and to take round drink to men serving the guns. When not otherwise engaged they had watched with intense excitement the manoeuvres of their own ship and of those near them, as they swept down towards the great hulls, delivered their broadsides, and then shot off again before the Spaniards had had time to discharge more than a gun or two. The sails had been pierced in several places, but not a single shot had struck the hull of the vessel. In the last day's fighting, however, the Active became entangled among several of the Spanish galleons, and being almost becalmed by their lofty hulls, one of them ran full at her, and rolling heavily in the sea, seemed as if she would overwhelm her puny antagonist.
Geoffrey was standing at the end of the poop when the mizzen rigging became entangled in the stern gallery of the Spaniard, and a moment later the mast snapped off, and as it fell carried him overboard. For a moment he was half stunned, but caught hold of a piece of timber shot away from one of the enemy's ships, and clung to it mechanically. When he recovered and looked round, the Active had drawn out from between the Spaniards, and the great galleon which had so nearly sunk her was close beside him.
The sea was in a turmoil; the waves as they set in from the west being broken up by the rolling of the great ships, and torn by the hail of shot. The noise was prodigious, from the incessant cannonade kept up by the English ships and the return of the artillery on board the Armada, the rending of timber, the heavy crashes as the great galleons rolled against one another, the shouting on board the Spanish ships, the creaking of the masts and yards, and the flapping of the sails.
On trying to strike out, Geoffrey found that as he had been knocked overboard he had struck his right knee severely against the rail of the vessel, and was at present unable to use that leg. Fearful of being run down by one of the great ships, and still more of being caught between two of them as they rolled, he looked round to try to get sight of an English ship in the throng. Then, seeing that he was entirely surrounded by Spaniards, he left the spar and swam as well as he could to the bow of a great ship close beside him, and grasping a rope trailing from the bowsprit, managed by its aid to climb up until he reached the bobstay, across which he seated himself with his back to the stem. The position was a precarious one, and after a time he gained the wooden carved work above, and obtained a seat there just below the bowsprit, and hidden from the sight of those on deck a few feet above him. As he knew the vessels were drifting to leeward towards the shoals, he hoped to remain hidden until the vessel struck, and then to gain the shore.
Presently the shifting of the positions of the ships brought the vessel on which he was into the outside line. The shots now flew thickly about, and he could from time to time feel a jar as the vessel was struck.
So an hour went on. At the end of that time he heard a great shouting on deck, and the sound of men running to and fro. Happening to look down he saw that the sea was but a few feet below him, and knew that the great galleon was sinking. Another quarter of an hour she was so much lower that he was sure she could nor swim many minutes longer; and to avoid being drawn down with her he dropped into the water and swam off. He was but a short distance away when he heard a loud cry, and glancing over his shoulder saw the ship disappearing. He swam desperately, but was caught in the suck and carried under; but there was no great depth of water, and he soon came to the surface again. The sea was dotted with struggling men and pieces of wreckage. He swam to one of the latter, and held on until he saw some boats, which the next Spanish ship had lowered when she saw her consort disappearing, rowing towards them, and was soon afterwards hauled into one of them. He had closed his eyes as it came up, and assumed the appearance of insensibility, and he lay in the bottom of the boat immovable, until after a time he heard voices above, and then felt himself being carried up the ladder and laid down on the deck.
He remained quiet for some rime, thinking over what he had best do. He was certain that were it known he was English he would at once be stabbed and thrown overboard, for there was no hope of quarter; but he was for some time unable to devise any plan by which, even for a short rime, to conceal his nationality. He only knew a few words of Spanish, and would be detected the moment he opened his lips. He thought of leaping up suddenly and jumping overboard; but his chance of reaching the English ships to windward would be slight indeed. At last an idea struck him, and sitting up he opened his eyes and looked round. Several other Spaniards who had been picked up lay exhausted on the deck near him. A party of soldiers and sailors close by were working a cannon. The bulwarks were shot away in many places, dead and dying men lay scattered about, the decks were everywhere stained with blood, and no one paid any attention to him until presently the fire began to slacken. Shortly afterwards a Spanish officer came up and spoke to him.
Geoffrey rose to his feet, rubbed his eyes, yawned, and burst into an idiotic laugh. The officer spoke again but he paid no attention, and the Spaniard turned away, believing that the lad had lost his senses from fear and the horrors of the day.
As night came on he was several times addressed, but always with the same result. When after dark food and wine were served out, he seized the portion offered to him, and hurrying away crouched under the shelter of a gun, and devoured it as if fearing it would be taken from him again.
When he saw that the sailors were beginning to repair some of the most necessary ropes and stays that had been shot away, he pushed his way through them and took his share of the work, laughing idiotically from time to time. He had, when he saw that the galleon was sinking, taken off his doublet, the better to be able to swim, and in his shirt and trunks there was nothing to distinguish him from a Spaniard, and none suspected that he was other than he seemed to be -- a ship's boy, who had lost his senses from fear. When the work was done, he threw himself on the deck with the weary sailors. His hopes were that the battle would be renewed in the morning, and that either the ship might be captured, or that an English vessel might pass so close alongside that he might leap over and swim to her.
Great was his disappointment next day when the sudden change of wind gave the Spanish fleet the weather gage, and enabled them to steer away for the north. He joined in the work of the crew, paying no attention whatever to what was passing around him, or heeding in the slightest the remarks made to him. Once or twice when an officer spoke to him sternly he gave a little cry, ran to the side, and crouched down as if in abject fear. In a very short time no attention was paid to him, and he was suffered to go about as he chose, being regarded as a harmless imbecile. He was in hopes that the next day the Spaniards would change their course and endeavour to beat back to the Channel, and was at once disappointed and surprised as they sped on before the southwesterly wind, which was hourly increasing in force. Some miles behind he could see the English squadron in pursuit; but these made no attempt to close up, being well contented to see the Armada sailing away, and being too straitened in ammunition to wish to bring on an engagement so long as the Spaniards were following their present course.
The wind blew with ever increasing force; the lightly ballasted ships made bad weather, rolling deep in the seas, straining heavily, and leaking badly through the opening seams and the hastily stopped shot holes. Water was extremely scarce, and at a signal from the admiral all the horses and mules were thrown overboard in order to husband the supply. Several of the masts, badly injured by the English shot, went by the board, and the vessels dropped behind crippled, to be picked up by the pursuing fleet.
Lord Howard followed as far as the mouth of the Forth; and seeing that the Spaniards made no effort to enter the estuary, and his provisions being now well nigh exhausted, he hove the fleet about and made back for the Channel, leaving two small vessels only to follow the Armada and watch its course, believing that it would make for Denmark, refit there, and then return to rejoin Parma.
It was a grievous disappointment to the English to be thus forced by want of provisions to relinquish the pursuit. Had they been properly supplied with provisions and ammunition they could have made an end of the Armada; whereas, they believed that by allowing them now to escape the whole work would have to be done over again. They had sore trouble to get back again off the Norfolk coast. The wind became so furious that the fleet was scattered. A few of the largest ships reached Margate; others were driven into Harwich, others with difficulty kept the sea until the storm broke.
It might have been thought that after such service as the fleet had rendered even Elizabeth might have been generous; but now that the danger was over, she became more niggardly than ever. No fresh provisions were supplied for the sick men, and though in the fight off the Dutch coast only some fifty or sixty had been killed, in the course of a very short time the crews were so weakened by deaths and disease that scarce a ship could have put to sea, however urgent the necessity. Drake and Howard spent every penny they could raise in buying fresh meat and vegetables, and in procuring some sort of shelter on shore for the sick. Had the men received the wages due to them they could have made a shift to have purchased what they so urgently required; but though the Treasury was full of money, not a penny was forthcoming until every item of the accounts had been investigated and squabbled over. Howard was compelled to pay from his private purse for everything that had been purchased at Plymouth, Sir John Hawkins was absolutely ruined by the demands made on him to pay for necessaries supplied to the fleet, and had the admirals and sailors of the fleet that saved England behaved like ignominious cowards, their treatment could not have been worse than that which they received at the hands of their sovereign.
But while the English seamen were dying like sheep from disease and neglect, their conquered foes were faring no better. They had breathed freely for the first time when they saw the English fleet bear up; an examination was made of the provisions that were left, and the crews were placed on rations of eight ounces of bread, half a pint of wine, and a pint of water a day. The fleet was still a great one, for of the hundred and fifty ships which had sailed from Corunna, a hundred and twenty still held together. The weather now turned bitterly cold, with fog and mist, squalls and driving showers; and the vessels, when they reached the north coast of Scotland, lost sight of each other, and each struggled for herself in the tempestuous sea.
A week later the weather cleared, and on the 9th of August Geoffrey looking round at daybreak saw fifteen other ships in sight. Among these were the galleons of Calderon and Ricaldo, the Rita, San Marcos, and eleven other vessels. Signals were flying from all of them, but the sea was so high that it was scarce possible to lower a boat. That night it again blew hard and the fog closed in, and in the morning Geoffrey found that the ship he was on, and all the others, with the exception of that of Calderon, were steering north; the intention of Ricaldo and De Leyva being to make for the Orkneys and refit there. Calderon had stood south, and had come upon Sidonia with fifty ships; and these, bearing well away to the west of Ireland, finally succeeded for the most part in reaching Spain, their crews reduced by sickness and want to a mere shadow of their original strength.
The cold became bitter as De Leyva's ships made their way towards the Orkneys. The storm was furious, and the sailors, unaccustomed to the cold and weakened by disease and famine, could no longer work their ships, and De Leyva was obliged at last to abandon his intention and make south. One galleon was driven on the Faroe Islands, a second on the Orkneys, and a third on the Isle of Mull, where it was attacked by the natives and burned with almost every one on board. The rest managed to make the west coast of Ireland, and the hope that they would find shelter in Galway Bay, or the mouth of the Shannon, began to spring up in the breasts of the exhausted crews.
The Irish were their co-religionists and allies, and had only been waiting for news of the success of the Armada to rise in arms against the English, who had but few troops there. Rumours of disaster had arrived, and a small frigate had been driven into Tralee Bay. The fears of the garrison at Tralee Castle overcame their feelings of humanity, and all on board were put to death. Two galleons put into Dingle, and landing begged for water; but the natives, deciding that the Spanish cause was a lost one, refused to give them a drop, seized the men who had landed in the boats, and the galleons had to put to sea again.
Another ship of a thousand tons, Our Lady of the Rosary, was driven into the furious straits between the Blasket Islands and the coast of Kerry. Of her crew of seven hundred, five hundred had died. Before she got halfway through she struck among the breakers, and all the survivors perished save the son of the pilot, who was washed ashore lashed to a plank. Six others who had reached the mouth of the Shannon sent their boats ashore for water; but although there were no English there the Irish feared to supply them, even though the Spaniards offered any sum of money for a few casks. One of the ships was abandoned and the others put to sea, only to be dashed ashore in the same gale that wrecked Our Lady of the Rosary, and of all their crews only one hundred and fifty men were cast ashore alive. Along the coast of Connemara, Mayo, and Sligo many other ships were wrecked. In almost every case the crews who reached the shore were at once murdered by the native savages for the sake of their clothes and jewellery.
Geoffrey had suffered as much as the rest of the crew on board the galleon in which he sailed. All were so absorbed by their own suffering and misery that none paid any attention to the idiot boy in their midst. He worked at such work as there was to do: assisted to haul on the ropes, to throw the dead overboard, and to do what could be done for the sick and wounded. Like all on board he was reduced almost to a skeleton, and was scarce able to stand.
As the surviving ships passed Galway Bay, one of them, which was leaking so badly that she could only have been kept afloat a few hours in any case, entered it, and brought up opposite the town. Don Lewis of Cordova, who commanded, sent a party on shore, believing that in Galway, between which town and Spain there had always been close connections, they would be well received. They were, however, at once taken prisoners. An attempt was made to get up the anchors again, but the crew were too feeble to be able to do so, and the natives coming out in their boats, all were taken prisoners and sent on shore. Sir Richard Bingham, the governor of Connaught, arrived in a few hours, and at once despatched search parties through Clare and Connemara to bring all Spaniards cast ashore alive to the town, and sent his son to Mayo to fetch down all who landed there. But young Bingham's mission proved useless; every Spaniard who had landed had been murdered by the natives, well nigh three thousand having been slain by the axes and knives of the savages who professed to be their co-religionists.
Sir Richard Bingham was regarded as a humane man, but he feared the consequences should the eleven hundred prisoners collected at Galway be restored to health and strength. He had but a handful of troops under him, and had had the greatest difficulty in keeping down the Irish alone. With eleven hundred Spanish soldiers to aid them the task would be impossible, and accordingly he gave orders that all, with the exception of Don Lewis himself, and three or four other nobles, should be executed. The order was carried out; Don Lewis, with those spared, was sent under an escort to Dublin, but the others being too feeble to walk were killed or died on the way, and Don Lewis himself was the sole survivor out of the crews of a dozen ships.
De Leyva, the most popular officer in the Armada, had with him in his ship two hundred and fifty young nobles of the oldest families in Spain. He was twice wrecked. The first time all reached the shore in safety, and were protected by O'Niel, who was virtually the sovereign of the north of Ulster. He treated them kindly for a time. They then took to sea again, but were finally wrecked off Dunluce, and all on board save five perished miserably. Over eight thousand Spaniards died on the Irish coast. Eleven hundred were put to death by Bingham, three thousand murdered by the Irish, the rest drowned; and of the whole Armada but fifty-four vessels, carrying between nine and ten thousand worn out men, reached Spain, and of the survivors a large proportion afterwards died from the effects of the sufferings they had endured.
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