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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Armada Destroyed
By John Lothrop Motley (1814–1877)
 
From the ‘History of the United Netherlands’

THE BATTLE lasted six hours long, hot and furious; for now there was no excuse for retreat on the part of the Spaniards, but on the contrary, it was the intention of the captain-general to return to his station off Calais, if it were within his power. Nevertheless, the English still partially maintained the tactics which had proved so successful, and resolutely refused the fierce attempts of the Spaniards to lay themselves alongside. Keeping within musket-range, the well-disciplined English mariners poured broadside after broadside against the towering ships of the Armada which afforded so easy a mark; while the Spaniards on their part found it impossible, while wasting incredible quantities of powder and shot, to inflict any severe damage on their enemies. Throughout the action, not an English ship was destroyed, and not a hundred men were killed. On the other hand, all the best ships of the Spaniards were riddled through and through; and with masts and yards shattered, sails and rigging torn to shreds, and a northwest wind still drifting them towards the fatal sandbanks of Holland, they labored heavily in a chopping sea, firing wildly, and receiving tremendous punishment at the hands of Howard, Drake, Seymour, Winter, and their followers. Not even master-gunner Thomas could complain that day of “blind exercise” on the part of the English, with “little harm done” to the enemy. There was scarcely a ship in the Armada that did not suffer severely; for nearly all were engaged in that memorable action off the sands of Gravelines. The captain-general himself, Admiral Recalde, Alonzo de Leyva, Oquendo, Diego Flores de Valdez, Bertendona, Don Francisco de Toledo, Don Diego de Pimentel, Telles Enriquez, Alonzo de Luzon, Garibay, with most of the great galleons and galeasses, were in the thickest of the fight; and one after the other each of these huge ships were disabled. Three sank before the fight was over; many others were soon drifting helpless wrecks towards a hostile shore; and before five o’clock in the afternoon, at least sixteen of their best ships had been sacrificed, and from four to five thousand soldiers killed.  1
  Nearly all the largest vessels of the Armada, therefore, having been disabled or damaged,—according to a Spanish eye-witness,—and all their small shot exhausted, Medina Sidonia reluctantly gave orders to retreat. The captain-general was a bad sailor; but he was a chivalrous Spaniard of ancient Gothic blood, and he felt deep mortification at the plight of his invincible fleet, together with undisguised resentment against Alexander Farnese, through whose treachery and incapacity he considered the great Catholic cause to have been so foully sacrificed. Crippled, maltreated, and diminished in number as were his ships, he would have still faced the enemy, but the winds and currents were fast driving him on a lee-shore; and the pilots, one and all, assured him that it would be inevitable destruction to remain. After a slight and very ineffectual attempt to rescue Don Diego de Pimentel in the St. Matthew—who refused to leave his disabled ship—and Don Francisco de Toledo, whose great galleon the St. Philip was fast driving, a helpless wreck, towards Zeeland, the Armada bore away N. N. E. into the open sea, leaving those who could not follow, to their fate….  2
  But Howard decided to wrestle no further pull. Having followed the Spaniards till Friday, 12th of August, as far as the latitude of 56° 17', the Lord Admiral called a council. It was then decided, in order to save English lives and ships, to put into the Frith of Forth for water and provisions, leaving two “pinnaces to dog the fleet until it should be past the Isles of Scotland.” But the next day, as the wind shifted to the northwest, another council decided to take advantage of the change, and bear away for the North Foreland, in order to obtain a supply of powder, shot, and provisions.  3
  Up to this period the weather, though occasionally threatening, had been moderate. During the week which succeeded the eventful night off Calais, neither the Armada nor the English ships had been much impeded in their manœuvres by storms or heavy seas. But on the following Sunday, 14th of August, there was a change. The wind shifted again to the southwest; and during the whole of that day and the Monday, blew a tremendous gale. “’Twas a more violent storm,” said Howard, “than was ever seen before at this time of the year.” The retreating English fleet was scattered, many ships were in peril “among the ill-favored sands off Norfolk,” but within four or five days all arrived safely in Margate roads.  4
  Far different was the fate of the Spaniards. Over their Invincible Armada, last seen by the departing English midway between the coasts of Scotland and Denmark, the blackness of night seemed suddenly to descend. A mystery hung for a long time over their fate. Damaged, leaking, without pilots, without a competent commander, the great fleet entered that furious storm, and was whirled along the iron crags of Norway, and between the savage rocks of Faröe and the Hebrides. In those regions of tempest the insulted North wreaked its full vengeance on the insolent Spaniards. Disaster after disaster marked their perilous track, gale after gale swept them hither and thither, tossing them on sandbanks or shattering them against granite cliffs. The coasts of Norway, Scotland, Ireland, were strewn with the wrecks of that pompous fleet which claimed the dominion of the seas; with the bones of those invincible legions which were to have sacked London and made England a Spanish viceroyalty.  5
  Through the remainder of the month of August there was a succession of storms. On the 2d of September a fierce southwester drove Admiral Oquendo in his galleon, together with one of the great galeasses, two large Venetian ships (the Ratta and the Balauzara), and thirty-six other vessels, upon the Irish coast, where nearly every soul on board perished; while the few who escaped to the shore—notwithstanding their religious affinity with the inhabitants—were either butchered in cold blood, or sent coupled in halters from village to village, in order to be shipped to England. A few ships were driven on the English coast; others went ashore near Rochelle.  6
  Of the four galeasses and four galleys, one of each returned to Spain. Of the ninety-one great galleons and hulks, fifty-eight were lost and thirty-three returned. Of the tenders and zabras, seventeen were lost and eighteen returned. Of one hundred and thirty-four vessels which sailed from Coruña in July, but fifty-three, great and small, made their escape to Spain; and these were so damaged as to be utterly worthless. The Invincible Armada had not only been vanquished but annihilated.  7
  Of the thirty thousand men who sailed in the fleet, it is probable that not more than ten thousand ever saw their native land again. Most of the leaders of the expedition lost their lives. Medina Sidonia reached Santander in October, and as Philip for a moment believed, “with the greater part of the Armada,” although the King soon discovered his mistake. Recalde, Diego Flores de Valdez, Oquendo, Maldonado, Bobadilla, Manriquez, either perished at sea, or died of exhaustion immediately after their return. Pedro de Valdez, Vasco de Silva, Alonzo de Sayas, Pimentel, Toledo, with many other nobles, were prisoners in England and Holland. There was hardly a distinguished family in Spain not placed in mourning; so that, to relieve the universal gloom, an edict was published forbidding the wearing of mourning at all. On the other hand, a merchant of Lisbon, not yet reconciled to the Spanish conquest of his country, permitted himself some tokens of hilarity at the defeat of the Armada, and was immediately hanged by express command of Philip. Thus—as men said—one could neither cry nor laugh within the Spanish dominions.  8
  This was the result of the invasion, so many years preparing, and at an expense almost incalculable. In the year 1588 alone, the cost of Philip’s armaments for the subjugation of England could not have been less than six millions of ducats; and there was at least as large a sum on board the Armada itself, although the Pope refused to pay his promised million. And with all this outlay, and with the sacrifice of so many thousand lives, nothing had been accomplished; and Spain, in a moment, instead of seeming terrible to all the world, had become ridiculous.  9
 
 
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