Sunday, June 1, 2014

 
1587-1588: Philip II Defeated, John White Thwarted
 
King Philip II of Spain had reason to believe at the beginning of 1587 that his armada of war ships being constructed in the port of Cadiz and the port of Lisbon would be prepared to sail in June or July.  They would travel to the Netherlands, upload on barges approximately 16,000 of the Duke of Parma’s soldiers, cross the English Channel, break through if not destroy opposing warships, and put ashore Parma’s troops, which would quickly vanquish all opposition, march to London, and depose the Queen.  Elizabeth, her advisors, and every citizen of the realm knew his intentions.  Desperate measures were required to defeat him. 
 
Elizabeth began by providing Frances Drake four Royal Naval ships.  A group of London merchants, looking to profit from the seizure of Spanish ships, armed an assortment of pinnaces and outfitted twenty merchantmen to accompany Drake.  Drake’s motley fleet left Plymouth Harbor April 12.  Seven days later, vacillating, Elizabeth sent Drake a message by ship instructing him not to initiate hostilities.  Driven back to port by strong headwinds, the ship did not reach him.  Drake’s attacks upon the shipping in Cadiz and Lisbon and assaults by raiding parties upon several forts along the Portuguese coast inflicted great damage.  Over one hundred Spanish ships of various tonnage were destroyed or captured, including 37 ships burned in Cadiz Harbor.  On June 8 Drake captured the Portuguese carrack Sao Filipe, laden with silk, spices, and gold valued at 108,000 pounds.  Drake’s fleet returned to England July 6.  Great celebrations ensued.  In Madrid, Philip ordered the construction of a new armada.
 
While Drake was yet at sea, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, demonstrated again his incompetence as commander of English soldiers in the Netherlands.  Returned to the United Provinces June 25 with 3,000 new troops and a fleet of warships, he alienated his Dutch allies with his imperious conduct and failed to check Parma’s advancement in the Protestant-occupied territory.  Extremely displeased, Elizabeth recalled him November 10.
 
John White, artist-turned-governor, and 117 recruited settlers had left England May 8, nearly a month after Drake’s departure, intent upon establishing a colony on or near the southern shores of Chesapeake Bay.  Walter Raleigh had instructed White to stop by Roanoke Island to pick up the 15 sailors that Richard Grenville had left there in late June 1586 after finding Governor Ralph Lane’s colony abandoned.  Upon their arrival, White’s pilot, Simon Fernandez, ordered White and his settlers to disembark, claiming it was too late in the season to sail to the Chesapeake.  White believed that Fernandez intended to use his ships to privateer.  Historian Lee Miller believes that Fernandez was carrying out the orders of Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s chief secretary, Walsingham wanting the colonial venture to fail and, thereby, destroy Raleigh’s competing influence over the Queen.
 
Placed in great peril -- the previous Roanoke settlement’s governor Ralph Lane had alienated the local Algonquian tribe and murdered its leader -- White’s principal subordinates recognized that Raleigh had to be notified immediately of their whereabouts.  They could not have ships sent by Raleigh intended for their benefit sail directly to the Chesapeake.  Fernandez could not be trusted to deliver their message.  It was agreed that White himself had to return to England on one of the expedition’s ships.  He did so, arriving in Ireland October 16 after a harrowing crossing. 
 
White found his countrymen extremely anxious.  Philip II’s invasion plans had been foiled, but only temporarily.  Substantial preparations to confront Philip’s forthcoming invasion remained to be accomplished.  Raleigh promised to send a ship with needed supplies to Roanoke as soon as he was able.  The following spring he would have his cousin Richard Grenville and a fleet of ships set sail out of Bideford, despite the Privy Council’s general stay on shipping from English ports.  White’s colony would have to survive the winter at Roanoke before it could be relocated.
 
As Philip’s new armada was being built, Elizabeth was taking measures to defend her country.  Harbors and land defenses were being strengthened.  Eleven warships were being built and old warships refurbished.  Arms and stores were being requisitioned.  And, germane especially to John White’s situation, Walter Raleigh’s favored standing with the Queen declined.
 
Raleigh had been appointed Captain of the Queen’s guard in April 1587, succeeding Christopher Hatton, who had been appointed Lord Chancellor.  It was an honorary position with no salary but with great prestige.  He was expected to spend much time with her, among other duties serving her meals and delivering messages and performing errands.  She had needed his presence to rally her from the deep depression she had suffered following Mary Stuart’s execution. 
 
A handsome new face, however, had appeared at Court -- nineteen-year-old Robert Devereux, the Second Earl of Essex.  Tall, dark-eyed, with auburn hair, elegant, intelligent, he was Leicester’s step-son.  Essex had taken an immediate dislike of Raleigh, now well into his thirties.  He was jealous of Raleigh’s literary accomplishments and envious of his overseas enterprises.  Essex was of aristocrat, an ancestor of Edward III.  Lord Burghley and his son Robert Cecil, two of Elizabeth’s key advisors, had encouraged a relationship between the young man and the Queen, believing he could best rejuvenate her from her depression.  Playing cards frequently with him, she found him to be an exhilarating companion.  Having a quick temper, Essex was given to passionate outbursts and tantrums.  As time would demonstrate, he harbored great resentments.  Elizabeth had allowed him a freedom of speech she had not Christopher Hatton or Raleigh.  Raleigh’s enemies had watched gleefully as Essex had begun to supplant Raleigh as her favorite.  In June 1587 she had made Essex her Master of the Horse, succeeding his step-father, the Earl of Leicester.  After she had recalled Leicester in November, upon Leicester’s insistence, Elizabeth sent Essex and Leicester’s nephew, Sir Philip Sidney, to the Netherlands to replace him.
 
Raleigh’s assistance in helping Elizabeth prepare for Philip’s invasion would prove to be considerable.  He had sold his ship, the Ark Raleigh, to the Queen for a modest 500 pounds.  (It would be renamed the Ark Royal and be the flag ship of the Lord High Admiral, Charles Lord Howard)  In November, while Essex and Sidney were being transported to the Netherlands and John White was pressing him yet for relief ships, Raleigh was appointed to Elizabeth’s Council of War.  His specific duty was to levy troops and improve defenses in Southwest England.  He would set up a system of beacons from Cornwall to the south coast to alert the early appearance of Philip’s fleet.  6,000 trained men would be held ready to march to Plymouth and another 8,000 to Falmouth if either port were attacked.
 
Winter passed.  In March 1588, Grenville was poised with a fleet of ships at Bideford to sail to the Caribbean and, afterward, to Roanoke Island.  Just before he was to lift anchor, the Privy Council ordered him to travel to Plymouth where he was to relinquish his ships to his long-time adversary, Francis Drake.  Not one of the ships would be used months later against Philip’s Armada.  Historian Lee Miller conjectures that Walsingham was responsible for this decision.  “Yet ships did leave.  … Specifically, the ships that are not allowed to sail are Raleigh’s” (Miller 194).  White implored Raleigh for assistance.  Raleigh was able to procure two small ships – the Row and the Brave -- unsuitable for naval engagement.  “April 22, 1588.  The boats leave the Devon coast.  White rides in the Brave, captained by Arthur Facy.  Fifteen colonists sail with him …  If the weather is favorable, White can expect a two-month crossing, placing them on Roanoke at the end of June” (Miller 195).  Instead, Facy and the Row engaged immediately in privateering.  They encountered on May 6 a French vessel twice each of the English vessels’ sizes.  The French ship’s crew attempted to board the Brave.  White was wounded twice in the head -- by a sword and then by a pike -- and shot in the side of the buttock.  The Brave surrendered and was looted.  Released, the Brave and the badly battered Row limped back to England.
 
Raleigh was too busy to do anything more than commiserate.  “There is no time now to think of any Roanoke rescue.    The kingdom’s troops are far too few; therefore Raleigh urges a radical plan of attack: hit the Spaniards by sea before they can land.  The English navy is redesigned, the ships lowered to gain nimbleness and speed” (Miller 196).  April 1588: “… Elizabeth ordered the refurbishment of twelve more ships and her government instituted a programme of intensive training for her fighting forces.  Drake was in favour of sailing to Spain to sabotage Philip’s fleet, but she would not allow it, being concerned that her own ships would be either damaged or lost when she most needed them.  Any confrontation at sea, she said, must take place within sight of the shores of England, in order to remind her sailors what they were fighting for” (Weir 388-389).  Hoping yet that she could avert war, she dispatched Dr. Valentine Dale to meet with the Duke of Parma to negotiate a peace settlement.  They met May 30, “the very day on which the Spanish Armada of 130 ships, manned by 30,000 men … set sail from Lisbon, bound for England” (Weir 389).
 
‘The progress of the Spanish fleet had been impeded by storms … As the chain of beacons flared, Elizabeth heard the news on the night of 22 July …  A prayer of intercession, composed by the Queen, was read in churches” (Weir 389-390).
 
Philip’s Armada moved along the south coast headed for the Netherlands to upload Parma’s army.  Waiting at Plymouth was the English fleet, 150 ships strong, its admiral Lord Howard of Effingham, assisted by the far more experienced Sir Francis Drake …
 
Effingham put out to sea after nightfall on the 19th.  He skirmished briefly with the ships of the Armada off Eddystone, near Plymouth, on Sunday, July 21.  Two days later near Portland, Dorset, he damaged severely several galleons.  Two more were wrecked off the Isle of Wight July 25.  “The English fleet continued to shadow the Armada as it sailed east, neatly avoiding any further engagements by sailing out of range whenever the galleons prepared for battle” (Weir 390).
 
The Armada anchored off Calais, where Parma and 16,000 troops waited.  The English ships followed.  At midnight on July 28 five “hell-burners” (fire ships), packed with wood and pitch, were sent amongst the galleons.  The subsequent inferno, aided by high winds, caused great panic.  The galleons scattered.  Because of the high winds, the Spanish admiral was unable to regroup them into the Armada’s protective crescent formation.
 
“On 29 July, off Graylines … the two fleets engaged in what was to be the final battle.  … The Spaniards lost eleven ships and 2000 men, and the English just fifty men.  The action was only abandoned when both sides ran out of ammunition” (Weir 391).
 
On July 30 the wind changed.  The Armada was forced northwards, off course, its galleons scattering.  Effingham ordered his ships to chase them, but there was no need.  “… the wind – the ‘Protestant’ wind, as people were now calling it … -- and terrible storms were bringing about more destruction than they could realistically have hoped to achieve themselves” (Weir 391).
 
Eventually, Effingham ended the chase.  King Philip’s remaining ships, many of them broken, made their way dangerously around the coasts of Scotland, Ireland and Cornwall.  Philip had suffered the worst naval defeat in his country’s history.  He had lost two thirds of his men, “many dying stranded on remote beaches of wounds and sickness, or slaughtered in Ireland by the Lord Deputy’s men” (Weir 392).  He had lost 44 ships. Many more were too damaged to be considered seaworthy.  The English had lost only a hundred men and none of their ships.  Yet Elizabeth was cautious.  ‘This tyrannical, proud and brainsick attempt’ would be, she observed in a letter to James VI [of Scotland], ‘the beginning, though not the end, of the ruin of that king [Philip]’.  The Spanish fleet might have been crippled, but there remained a very real threat from Parma and his army, who were poised to cross the Channel, and awaited only a favourable wind” (Weir 392).
 
Sources Cited:
 
Miller, Lee. Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony.  New York: Arcade Publishing, 2001.  Print.
 
Weir, Alison.  Elizabeth the Queen.  London: Vintage Books, 1998.  Print.