Tuesday, July 1, 2014

1588-1590 -- Drake's Failure, Raleigh's Decline, White's Dilemma

In late May 1588, while John White was recuperating in England from wounds suffered aboard the Brave and his countrymen were anticipating the arrival of King Philip’s great armada, a Spanish bark carrying 30 soldiers left St. Augustine, Florida, and headed north.  Its commander’s assignment was to search the Atlantic coastline for an English settlement rumored to have been founded one, two, or three years earlier.  Making Chesapeake Bay landfalls in June, traveling up the Potomac and Susquehanna Rivers, the ship’s party found no evidence of an English presence.  Battling a fierce wind early during their return voyage, the crew dismasted the bark and rowed it toward the shoreline of a long sandbar island.  Finding a shallow inlet (probably Port Ferdinando), they entered an expansive, shallow sound.  Looking northward, they saw a great bay (the entrance to Albemarle Sound), the wooded part of Roanoke Island, and a deeper inlet into the sound a league north of the island.   On the east side of the northern portion of the island they discovered a slipway (a shipyard) “for small vessels and on land a number of wells made with English casks …, and other debris indicating that a considerable number of people had been here” (Quinn 308).  Finding no Englishmen present, concluding that the settlement had been abandoned, the party sailed for Florida.  Had John White and the Brave actually gone to Roanoke, the Brave and the Spanish bark might possibly have found each other and fought.
After the Spanish Armada’s defeat in September, White sought Walter Raleigh’s assistance.  Historian Lee Miller believes that Raleigh told the Queen that sabotage was the motive of Simon Fernandez’s refusal to carry John White and his colonists to the southern shore of Chesapeake Bay in 1587.  Raleigh had to have known that his accusation would implicate Elizabeth’s very powerful secretary to state, Francis Walsingham.  (See blog entry, “1587-1588: Philip II Defeated, John White Thwarted,” fourth paragraph, June 1, 2014) 
Most likely, Raleigh made his allegation after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, when the Queen was no longer fixated on the nation’s survival.  Notwithstanding, doing so afterward was a dangerous action.  “With the victory celebration booming, Raleigh’s complaints could only come as an unwelcomed distraction – ungrateful at best – amid the patriotic fervor.  John White’s enemies will roundly condemn him [White] as a liar.  The whelp Essex and his faction are ever ready to denounce Raleigh for his recriminations, calling him an acerbic troublemaker whose combative nature disrupts the peace of the Court.  He takes too much credit for the defeat of the Armada.  He is too independent” (Miller 198).  More importantly, what might Walsingham do?  And how might the Queen react?  Did Raleigh consider thoroughly these predictable risks?  Given his history of combating criticism with disdain, he probably didn’t. 
Unlike other historians, who refuse to speculate what he may have said, Lee Miller believes that Raleigh implicated Walsingham.  Raleigh’s single defender is Leicester.  Yet soon after the Armada’s defeat, Leicester is dead from a fever, which many suspect was caused by poison.  Whatever the source of Raleigh’s troubles, there is no denying that he passed into a period of disfavor that has no other ready explanation.  He speaks of errors made … Was accusing Walsingham his error” (Miller 198)?
White and Raleigh must have had long conversations “about the possibilities for doing something as soon as the war fervor had died down and the prohibition on sailing had been removed” (Quinn 310-311).  Raleigh probably “introduced White to his business manager in London, William Sanderson, and to the richest promoters of the day, the two Thomas Smiths (or Smythes), who were father and son” (Quinn 311).  Clearly out of favor with the Queen, Raleigh had to disassociate himself from White’s enterprise so as not to damage him.
Elizabeth’s long-time friend and advisor and one-time suitor, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, had died September 4.  Grief-stricken, she had refused to see anybody for days.  It was at this time that Leicester’s step-son, Robert Devereux, the youthful, petulant Earl of Essex, capitalized on Elizabeth’s attraction to him.  Having moved into Leicester’s old quarters at Court, he was constantly near her.  He flattered her, and, simultaneously, demanded indulgences.  Thirty-four years her junior, he played the admiration game.  “’I do confess that, as a man, I have been more subject to your natural beauty, than as a subject to the power of a king,’ he told her” (Weir 402).  Resentful whenever she refused any of his demands, he would threaten to leave Court and live in the country, confident that she would yield.  “He thought to manipulate her, but constantly underestimated her formidable intellect and strength of will.  However, such was her affection for him that she would invariably forgive him for minor transgressions: this, again, led him to believe that he could do as he pleased with impunity” (Weir 401).    All the while that he sought to manipulate her, he derided Raleigh.
In November Essex fought a duel with Sir Charles Blount, a handsome young courtier whom Elizabeth had given a golden chess queen, a token he wore tied to his arm with a crimson ribbon.  In December, Essex, quarreling, challenged Raleigh to a duel.  Raleigh declined.  The Privy Council forbade it take place.  Hearing of it, Elizabeth was very disturbed.  Essex remarked to the French ambassador, “’She takes pleasure in beholding such quarrels among her servants,’ especially when they concerned herself” (Weir 402).
Raleigh returned to Elizabeth’s good graces in early 1589, perhaps because she needed his participation in a major assault upon Spanish and Portuguese ports and the Azores to be led by Sir Francis Drake that spring.  Working independently, Raleigh’s business partner William Sanderson had put together a holding company of investors -- finalized March 7 -- to fund a relief expedition to Roanoke.  The investors were to be granted “the right to trade freely with the City of Ralegh and with any part of America in which Ralegh had any claim” (Quinn 312).  Nothing resulted from the agreement.  Any colonial endeavor required the protection of armed vessels, ships owned by large London syndicates engaged exclusively in privateering.  Who of the owners would give up potential riches to have his captains shepherd a supply ship and additional settlers to a far-distant, godforsaken land?  Even if one such owner were to be found, his ships were not immediately available.   They were to be used by Drake in his forthcoming assault.
The crippled remnants of the 1588 Armada were being repaired in the northern Spanish port of Santander and the Portuguese port of Lisbon.  Spain had taken possession of Portugal in 1581.  Don Antonio, the pretender to the Portuguese throne, had fled to England.  Living in London, he became one of Francis Drake’s friends.  Antonio told Drake that the Portuguese people were only waiting for his return to rise up and expel the Spaniards.  Wanting to destroy Philip’s preparations for a future invasion attempt, Elizabeth sanctioned Drake’s ambitious expedition.  Drake’s intention was to smash Philip’s navy, land Antonio and a military force in Portugal, pillage, incite a successful uprising, establish a permanent English base in the Azores, and seize Spanish treasure ships.
Drake’s fleet, consisting ultimately of 150 ships, carrying 20,000 men, set sail April 18.  Living well beyond his means and in debt for more than 23,000 pounds, Essex had been desperate to be a participant.  Ships would be seized.  Booty would be collected.  He would be enriched.  And he would earn renown as a valiant soldier.  Why, he demanded, was Raleigh to be a participant and he not?  The Queen was adamant.  Disguising himself, Essex galloped to Plymouth and boarded a ship that was to join Drake at sea.  Elizabeth ordered two ships to retrieve him.  Bad weather prevented the ships from reaching him.
The same bad weather impeded Drake.  “The ships were soon scattered by a series of violent gales, and some thirty turned back.  When the fleet regrouped on the north coast of Spain, the wind prevented it from reaching Santander” (Bawlf 235).  Drake sailed then to La Caruna.  Here, Drake had minor success, destroying 13 merchant ships in the harbor while General John Norreys (Norris) captured the lower town, killing 500 Spaniards.  Attempts to capture the fortified upper town failed.  The raid caught Spain off-guard.  The days Drake spent at La Caruna, however, gave Spanish forces time to strengthen their coastal defenses.  Lacking artillery, Norreys was unable to capture Lisbon.  Essex and Raleigh fought the enemy here with distinction. Neither Norreys, Drake, Raleigh, nor Essex witnessed any Portuguese uprising. 
By then, Drake’s campaign had suffered a heavy toll.  Disease had spread throughout his fleet.  Over 10,000 men would die from or be incapacitated by it.  The plan to attempt a landing on one of the islands of the Azores was abandoned.  Drake had only 2,000 men fit for combat.  Norreys sailed for England with the sick and wounded.  Drake set out with 20 ships to hunt Spanish treasure ships.  Struck by a heavy storm, his flag ship springing a leak, he turned about and returned to Plymouth.  Drake had lost about 40 ships, the investors of the expedition were to take heavy losses, and the Queen was poorer by 49,000 pounds.  To punish Essex, Elizabeth awarded Raleigh at Court a gold chain.  Essex, acting the role of returning hero, received nothing.  Even though she later excused his disobedient behavior as “but a sally of youth,” Essex wrote a resentful letter to James VI of Scotland, Elizabeth’s heir apparent.
The failure of William Sanderson’s holding company to attempt to obtain ships and Elizabeth’s turbulent relationship with Essex continued.  Again, Raleigh fell out of favor.  On August 15, Sir Francis Allen wrote to Anthony Bacon, in France, that Essex had chased Raleigh from the Court and had “confined him to Ireland.”  Raleigh had taken residence there to organize his estates; Elizabeth had threatened to reclaim 42,000 acres of his holdings.  At a low point emotionally, he composed a melancholy poem that included these lines: “As in a country strange without companion/I only wail the wrong of death’s delays.”  (He made no mention in the poem of his having fathered an illegitimate daughter)  At the end of 1589 Raleigh was again in Elizabeth’s good graces.  It helped that Francis Walsingham had become ill and would die April 6, 1590.  It helped him even more that Essex had secretly married Walsingham’s widowed daughter Frances and that Elizabeth was greatly upset. 
Raleigh returned to England in early 1590.  John White had been busy attempting to arrange passage to Roanoke.  “The year 1590 was the year of the privateers.  The Lisbon expedition had provided more loss than gain to the nearly 150 armed merchantmen that had participated in it” (Quinn 315).  The privateering firms were eager to recoup their losses.  They “were busy preparing all the ships they could for purely plundering expeditions and did not care to be burdened with supplies for a colony that would have to be searched for on the North American coast when the time might be spent more profitably in a privateering cruise alone” (Quinn 315).  Needing to fulfill his commitments at Court, Raleigh did not have the time nor the financial means to outfit an expedition to Roanoke himself; but he was able to prevail again upon his friend and business associate William Sanderson. 
Raleigh told Sanderson to find a ship.  He purchased an 80 ton vessel, which he named the Moonlight.  The ship hadn’t the capacity to carry all of the provisions needed to transfer and establish White’s colony.  Additionally, she needed protection.  Raleigh was able to pressure John Watts “who, with his partners, formed one of London’s most powerful privateering syndicates,” into agreeing to provide additional cargo capacity and provide protection (Quinn 316).  The flagship of Watts’s little squadron of privateers was the Hopewell, captained by the experienced Abraham Cocke.  Rumors that Spain was yet preparing to invade persuaded Elizabeth to put a hold on the sailing of some of the privateers.  This had allowed Raleigh to force Watts “to agree to convoy both White and the supply ship Moonlight to North America if his ships were released without further delay” (Quinn 317).  Sanderson forced Watts to post a bond for 5,000 pounds to carry out his obligations to the settlers.
At the end of February White and a group of settlers arrived in Plymouth where the ships were about to sail.  Abraham Cocke refused to accept the settlers and their equipment.  Only White would be allowed to come aboard!  White had no time to complain to Raleigh or Sanderson, both of whom were in London.  Lee Miller wrote: “What an incredible choice!  White must know that if he leaves England without supplies, his arrival on Roanoke will be as good as nothing.  Three years wasted; he will return in exactly the same condition as when he left.  For this, he has spent agonizing years braving famine and storms, ridicule and pirate attack.  He has been shot and wounded.  If he boards Watts’s ship now without supplies, he will only share the colonists’ fate.   Was Walsingham behind it?  The decision might well have been made before his death.  Essex” (Miller 202)? 
White acquiesced.   
The Hopewell, the Little John, and the pinnace John Evangeliist left Plymouth Harbor March 20.  The Moonlight, delayed in sailing, would rendezvous with them in the Caribbean.
Sources cited:
Bawlf, Samuel.  Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake.  Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  2004.  Print.
Miller, Lee. Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony.  New York: Arcade Publishing, 2001.  Print.
Quinn, David Beers.  Set Fair for Roanoke.  Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1985.  Print.
Weir, Alison.  Elizabeth the Queen.  London: Vintage Books, 1998.  Print.