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manned ships at his own expense, and the seaport towns sent out their vessels. In the end, some 197 ships were got together, though many of them were only small barques and pinnaces. In number they exceeded the Spanish fleet, but their tonnage only amounted to 30,144, whilst that of the Armada was 59,120. In all his preparations, Lord Howard was aided by the advice of the great English seamen, Drake, Hawkins, and Frobisher. Drake was appointed Vice-Admiral, and got together a fleet of sixty vessels at Plymouth. Most of these were volunteer barques manned with the brave seamen of Devon and Cornwall.
Meanwhile Sir Walter Ralegh was chiefly engaged in making preparations to defend the coast and repel an invasion, should the Spaniards be able to land. His advice seems to have been much listened to in the Queen's councils. He made large levies of the men of the Stannaries, and did all he could to strengthen the defences of the isle of Portland, of which he was governor. At Tilbury an army was gathered together under Leicester; and here Elizabeth, roused at last to the sense of her danger, and full of courage to meet it, tried to impart her own confidence to her soldiers. “Let tyrants fear,” she said. “I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good will of my subjects. I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble
THE ARMADA FIGHT.
woman; but I have the heart of a king, and of a king of England too, and think it foul scorn that Parma, or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which, rather than any dishonour should grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.”
The Invincible Armada left Lisbon towards the end of May. But the weather was against it, and the huge ships were unwieldy and difficult to manage. The commander, the Duke of MedinaSidonia, was no great seaman, and his incompetence helped to delay the voyage. It was not till Friday, the 19th of July, that the Armada sighted the Lizard Point. The Spaniards hoped to surprise the English fleet; but they had been seen by a Cornish pirate, named Fleming. He put out all sail, and sped to Plymouth to give warning.
No time was lost in getting ready. The next morning Howard sailed out of Plymouth with sixty-seven vessels to await the coming of the Spaniards. Some of the fleet were off Dover, and vessels were scattered all along the south coast to keep watch. On the 20th of July, Howard saw the Spanish fleet pass by Plymouth. In obedience to the commands of Philip II. they were on their way to effect a meeting in the Channel with the Prince of Parma. Howard let them pass, and then pursued them, to attack and harass their rear. It would have been folly on the part of the English to risk a general engagement; but in chance skirmishes the swiftness with which their small, light vessels could move, gave them great advantages over the heavy galleons of the Spaniards. The little English ships, hanging on the rear of the mighty Armada, seized their opportunity, darted in amongst the unwieldy vessels, attacked and damaged them, and were gone before the Spaniards had time to retaliate.
The Spaniards, when they perceived the nimbleness of the enemy, arranged themselves in the form of a half moon, and slackened their sails, so that they might keep together, and that none of the ships might fall behind. When severely battered by the English shot, the Spanish ships gathered so close together for safety that one of the biggest galleons had her foremast damaged, and was left behind. This great ship, with four hundred and fifty men on board, fell into the hands of Drake, who treated his prisoners right honourably. He found also great treasure of gold in the ship.
The English fleet grew daily greater as it pursued the Armada, for ships and men came to join it out of all the harbours of England. They came “flocking as to a set field, where immortal fame and glory was to be attained, and faithful service to be performed unto their prince and country.”
Sir Walter Ralegh joined the fleet on the 23rd July. He had probably been delayed on land by his preparations. Little is known of the part he played when with the fleet; but we cannot doubt
THE ARMADA FIGHT.
that where all were brave he was amongst the bravest. Some, excited with the first successes of the English, advised Howard to grapple with the enemy's ships and board them. Referring to this in his History of the World, Ralegh says: "Charles Lord Howard, Admiral of England, would have been lost in the year 1588, if he had not been better advised than a great many malignant fools were that found fault with his behaviour. The Spaniards had an army aboard them, and he had none. They had more ships than he had, and of higher building and charging ; so that had he entangled himself with those great and powerful vessels he had greatly endangered this kingdom of England; for twenty men upon the defence are equal to a hundred that board and enter. Whereas then, contrariwise, the Spaniards had an hundred for twenty of ours to defend themselves withal. But our Admiral knew his advantage, and held it, which had he not done, he had not been worthy to have held his head.”
On the 24th July a council of the commanders was held, and the English fleet was divided into four squadrons, under Lord Howard, Sir Francis Drake, Captain Hawkins, and Captain Frobisher. On the 25th there was severe skirmishing off the Isle of Wight, in which Frobisher and Hawkins behaved themselves so valiantly, and withal so prudently, that on the following day the Lord Admiral rewarded them with the order of knighthood. As the two fleets passed through the Straits
of Calais, crowds of Frenchmen, Walloons, and Flemings gathered on the coast of France to see the wonderful sight. Never before in the history of the world had such an array of ships been seen. The Spanish fleet anchored off Calais; for the Duke of Medina-Sidonia had received messengers, telling him that Alexander of Parma would be ready in a dozen hours or so to embark from Dunkirk, and join him.
Meanwhile the English fleet had been joined by twenty ships which had been keeping guard over the mouth of the Thames. Howard now saw that he could no longer avoid an engagement. If he was to strike a decisive blow at the Spaniards, he must do it before they were joined by Parma. On the 28th of July, therefore, he took eight of his worst and basest ships, and filled them with gunpowder, pitch, brimstone, and other combustibles, and setting them on fire, sent them, at two o'clock in the morning, the wind and the tide being favourable, into the midst of the Spanish fleet. The Spaniards were roused from their sleep in the dead of the night by these terrible burning apparitions, and were thrown into such perplexity and horror, that, cutting their cables and hoisting their sails, they betook themselves very confusedly into the main sea.
In the confusion the ships ran against one another; and some were damaged by collision, others were burnt by the fire-ships, and the remainder were driven northwards along the Flemish