To the west lie the beautifully wooded slopes of Mount Edgecumbe, and glancing onwards we see the masts of some of the men-of-war in the Hamoaze, an estuary of the Tamar.
The town-Hall of Plymouth is very fine, and its painted windows record the adventures of the West-country Hero, Drake.
It was on the Hoe that Sir Francis Drake and the captains of the Fleet were playing a game of bowls, when that true-hearted mariner, Captain Thomas Fleming, came to him with news of the approach of the Spanish Armada, which he had seen - a mighty shadow looming over the sea - on the French coast, and had put on all sail and urged his vessel to the English shore at her greatest speed, to forewarn the nation of the advent of her deadly foe.
Philip of Spain had declared war against Elizabeth, and fitted out the most formidable fleet that ever put to sea to invade England. It consisted of 132 large ships, averaging 448 tons each, accompanied by numerous powerful galleys, armed with heavy guns, and smaller vessels of every description. This fleet carried a force of 32,639 men, of whom 8,776 were seamen, and 2,088 galley slaves. The remainder was formed of the best troops of Spain. Twelve of the great ships were called the Apostles, and a hundred priests were dispersed through the consecrated armament, that had been blessed by the Pope.
The Duke of Medina Sidonia, who commanded this mighty force, might well have reckoned on certain and complete victory over a nation which possessed so small a navy (the growth of only two reigns), utterly unequal, apparently, to contend with the powerful ships of Spain. Had his confidence proved well grounded, the probable! , fate of England may be divined from the fact that the cruel Spaniards brought with them strange instruments of torture (which are still preserved in the Tower of London), to be used on the conquered people. In Spain no doubt existed of the success of the expedition. Nursery songs and popular ballads already celebrated the anticipated victory. Our readers may be amused by reading the following translation of a little Spanish girl's song at this eventful period, written by a great Spanish dramatist:-
The Lord High Admiral of Elizabeth's navy was Lord Charles Howard, of Effingham, a man who united caution with valour.
No sooner had the tidings of the sailing of the Armada (which were sent by a spy of Sir Francis Walsingham) reached him, than he left the Downs in all haste, with as many ships as he could procure, and twenty merchant vessels, and reached Plymouth on the 23rd of May, where he was joined by the man who had done much by his warfare against Spaniards in the American Seas to provoke the war - Sir Francis Drake.
We must be pardoned if we digress for a moment to say a few words about this English "sea king" of Elizabeth's days; for assuredly, with the exception of Nelson, England has no greater sea-worthy on her roll of fame. Drake, after repeatedly fight. ing with, and defeating the Spaniards in the West Indies, had, in 1587, with thirty sail of men-of-war, destroyed ten thousand tons of shipping in Cadiz Bay, which he called "singeing the King of Spain's whiskers." He was a man of low stature, but well set, with brown hair, a fair complexion, and a cheerful open countenance. Elizabeth distinguished him by especial favour. She had knighted him after his return from his celebrated voyage round the world, undertaken in his own ship, and she warmly upheld the dignity she had conferred.
There is a funny story told, that Sir Bernard Drake, resenting the assumption by the new knight of the Drake arms, grossly insulted the brave sea captain. The queen instantly took up the quarrel, and bestowed a coat of arms of her own devising upon her favourite. It was "sable, a fess wavy between two pole-stars argent;" and for his crest a ship on a globe, attached to a cable which was held by a hand issuing from the clouds; to the rigging was suspended by the heels a red wyvern, the arms of the jealous Sir Bernard. No doubt this queenly and womanly "taking of his part" assured Elizabeth an entirely devoted servant in the admiral. And she had need of brave and loyal subjects.
Put we must return to the fight with the Armada. As soon as he had victualled his fleet, which by this time amounted to ninetynine ships, the Lord Admiral set sail and cruised about on the watch for the enemy between Ushant and Scilly, thus keeping the entrance to the Channel.
Meanwhile, Lord Henry Seymour, in the narrow seas, observed, with forty sail of English and Dutch ships, the movement of the Duke of Parma. Throughout England, too, men watched anxiously,; beacons were ready on every hill and lofty tower to warn the nation of the near approach of the Spaniards, who would be opposed by so unequal a force on the sea that few hoped the country would escape another invasion.
But by-and-by came a rumour that the Armada had been dispersed in the gales of wind which had recently prevailed; that the whole fleet had been destroyed; and that there was no longer cause for fear, or at least none for present alarm, as the attack could not be repeated till the summer of the next year.
In this, as in most reports, there was a mixture of truth and falsehood. The Armada had been overtaken by a storm off Cape Finisterre, and had received some injury, but not of any great importance. However, the English gladly believed the rumour, which relieved their anxiety; and Lord Charles Howard was ordered to dismantle four of his largest ships.
But the admiral strenuously objected to this proposal, and offered to maintain the ships at his own charge rather than to diminish his force. The event showed the correctness of his prevision. Distrusting the reported loss of the Armada, he sailed towards the Spanish coast to ascertain the truth for himself. He was still at some little distance from the land, when he received intelligence that the Spanish fleet, little injured by the gale, was on its way to England. There was not an hour to lose. The wind, happily fair for the return of the English admiral, was also favourable for the foe; and it must have been with no little excitement and anxiety that the Lord Admiral crowded all sail on his return to Plymouth.
He reached that port, however, in time to refit and revictual his fleet; for the weather was tempestuous, and the Armada had been again separated by a storm. On the 19th of July, a week after the return of the Admiral, Captain Thomas Fleming sailed with all speed into Plymouth Har. bour to announce that the Armada was at hand, and the news was brought, as we have said, to the Hoe when the gallant seamen were playing. They finished their game before returning to their ships; these men were not to be scared by a Spaniard. But the tidings roused all England. Every headland and hill, every beacon turret on the church towers sent up a fiery warning to call the people to arms; and every church steeple clashed out the loud alarm. In the animated strains of Macaulay,-
But the land preparations for defence were never required. No foeman's footstep was again to press English soil; and Englishwomen might still boast for many an age that they had never seen the smoke of a foreign invader's camp.
Lord Charles Howard put to sea instantly in the very teeth of the wind. A strong sou'-wester was blowing, and a man of feeble will might have found it impossible to clear the Sound in that wind; but the Lord Admiral succeeded in achieving the feat (though with six ships only) a few hours after the news reached him.
The next day, several other ships contrived to follow him, and at length, with fifty-four sail, he stood off-shore, awaiting the foe.
Very soon the great fleet of Spain was discovered, sailing up Channel before the wind; and never before had the English seas borne so terrible au armament. It extended in a line seven miles broad, and the ships looked, we are told, "like castles on the sea," while "the ocean," in the excited language of Lediard, "seemed to groan under the weight of their heavy burdens."
The Lord Admiral did not attempt rashly to stay their course: he waited for the remainder of his fleet, not yet out of the Sound, resolving to attack their rear when the line should gradually become separated.
On Sunday, July 21st, having a fleet of one hundred sail, Howard ordered a pinnace, well named the Defiance, to attack the Spaniards, intending to follow her instantly with his own ship, the Ark Royal.
And thus began one of the boldest, most important, and apparently most unequally contested of our great sea-fights. Lord Howard attacked a large ship, which he mistook for the Spanish Admiral's, and fought her gallantly, till several others dropping astern, and coming to her aid, the prudent admiral drew off for a time. Meanwhile the gallant Drake, Hawkins, and Frobisher were fully engaged with the rest of the fleet, and it soon became apparent that the light well-handled ships of England, though of such inferior size, were, through their rapid manoeuvres and swifter sailing, more than a match for their ponderous adversaries, whom they attacked continually, and always with success.
As the day closed, the admiral signalled to recall his fleet, deeming it prudent to wait for the forty ships which still lingered in Plymouth Sound.
As night darkened over the scene of the contest, the wind increased, and blew strongly, the sea was troubled, and the sky dark, and several of the Spanish ships ran foul of each other, and were much injured.
Sir Francis Drake, who had closely followed the Armada, took a galleon during the night, her crew having deserted her on account of her having lost her foremast and bowsprit, and he, also, with great gallantry attacked a large galleon that had got separated from her companions; it was commanded by Don Pedro de Valdez, who yielded to the valour of the Englishman. Drake had been accompanied in his daring chase by the Ark Royal, the White Bear, and the Mary Rose; and thus it chanced that when morning dawned, the admiral and his immediate followers were a long distance a-head of the body of the fleet, but they were not attacked by the Spaniards, nor did any fighting again take place till July 23rd, when the second engagement began.
The wind had now gone round to the north-east, and the Spaniards were consequently compelled to engage Howard's fleet; they bore down, therefore, at break of day on it. But the English, seeing their intention, tacked to the westward.
And then, divided and confused, with no apparent order of battle, the sea-fight began. The English shot told fatally on the huge targets offered by the sides of the galleons; while, owing to the diminutive size of the English ships (and we cannot help thinking to the bad gunnery of the Spaniards), the Spanish shot passed harmlessly over them, frequently striking the Spanish ships instead of those of their foes. Apart, however, from the manifest want of skill of the Spanish mariners and gunners, much of that day's success must be ascribed to the marvellous gallantry of the English, and to the way in which they handled their ships in a heavy sea, with the wind chopping round incessantly to every point of the compass.
Eighteen vessels of Lord Charles Howard's small fleet had been furnished by volunteers, and were the ships of English gentlemen who were willing to spend gold and blood in the cause of national liberty. One of these, a pinnace called the Delight, was commanded by a gentleman named William Cope, who performed prodigies of valour. He had the honour of falling gallantly in the action, and has thus placed his name for ever on the roll of England's glory. A noble death in a just cause! There were numerous others who fought, perhaps as bravely, but whose names, as they survived the contest, have not come down to us.
The English took a large Venetian ship, and several other prizes, and fought till their ammunition was exhausted, and the admiral had to send on shore for a fresh supply. Unable, therefore, to continue the engagement on the 24th inst., it was impossible to obtain a decisive advantage, but the admiral took the opportunity afforded him by the pause in active measures to put his fleet in better order for battle. He divided it into four squadrons - the first to be commanded by himself in the Ark Royal; the second, under Sir Francis Drake, in the Revenge; the third, under Sir John Hawkins, in the Victory; the fourth, under Captain Frobisher, in the Triumph.
And now the Armada and the pursuing English fleet had sailed so far up the Channel, that the invaders could see the shores of the beautiful Isle of Wight, and the distant spires on the mainland. A calm had hushed the hitherto raging waters, but Sir John Hawkins had contrived to lay the Victory alongside of a Portuguese galleon. A single combat ensued between the ships, both fleets looking on; the Spaniards scornfully sure, no doubt, of their comrades' victory, - for had not the storms and the difficulties of these hateful English waters alone rendered them unable to overcome so weak a foe? - the English proud of the daring of their champion.
It was a well-contested fight on both sides - and many a brave heart lay hushed on either deck as it ended; but the Eng lish boarded the St. Ann, swarming up her sides like an army of ants, and in a few moments the brave captain yielded his sword to Sir John Hawkins - the flag of Spain descended, and the white flag and red cross of St. George fluttered from the mast of the St. Ann. A ringing shout of victory - the terrible "hurrah" of the English - rose on the air, and was heard by the fishers and the anxious watchers on the shore; while the indignant Admiral of Spain ordered three of his largest galleases to the rescue of the Portuguese ship. Soon the huge vessels (towed to the spot by galleys) were pouring in a broadside on the apparently doomed Englishman. But Howard came to the aid of his brave officer, also towed by the galleys of his fleet, and the Royal Ark and the Golden Lion attacked the three galleases.
It was a fearfully unequal fight. 'The vessels were soon hidden from the anxious eyes of the English by a dense cloud of smoke; but when it dispersed, the cheers of the English seamen announced that the galleases were driven off and that the St. Ann was lost to Spain.
No decisive engagement followed this glorious fight, for the admiral had resolved, with his usual prudence, not to bring on a general battle till the Armada reached the Straits of Dover. And the English on shore still beheld with anxiety the mighty fleet of Spain majestically sailing along their coasts, while slowly in the rear followed the avenger.
Lord Charles Howard, to draw the foes from their anchorage, converted eight of his oldest vessels into fire - ships, and as soon as night had closed in on the 28th, he sent them, under the command of Captains Young and Prowse, amongst the Spanish ships. When as close to the Armada as they could well approach, the English set light to the combustibles these ships contained, and as the red flames rose in the gloom of the soft summer night, a panic seized the Spaniards, and they put to sea in haste - but only to encounter the Revenge, Victory, Mary Rose, and Dreadnought, which immediately attacked them. This last encounter was decisive. The Spaniards were completely defeated. A galleon called the St. Matthew was captured; another of the ships, named after the Apostle, the St.Philip, was cast away on the coast; and the Duke of Medina and the remains of his fleet were pursued round Scotland and Ireland by the Lord High Admiral till the 7th of August, when he returned to England with his victorious fleet.
The elements, also, had continued to fight for England. Off the coast of Ireland, ten more ships of the Armada were lostaltogether, forty large vessels never returned to Spain. The poor remainder reached their own shores in wretched case about the end of September; and Philip's confident hope of conquering England was crushed for ever by the sea-fights in the English Channel between his gigantic fleet and our gallant defenders.
The queen went in state to St. Paul's Cathedral, to return thanks for the safety of her kingdom and herself; and in grateful homage to Him who alone fights for His people, she caused a medal to be struck, bearing on it a fleet scattered by a tempest, and the legend:-
"He blew with His winds, and they were scattered."
A large bronze statue of Sir Francis Drake by Boehm (a replica of one given to Tavistock by the Duke of Bedford) was erected by public subscription on Plymouth Hoe, in 1884, and was unveiled by Lady Drake, as the representative of the family, on February 14th. There is now a National Memorial of the defeat of the Armada erected, which has medallion portraits of all the heroes of that great fight round the pedestal, with a figure of Britannia at the top. Plymouth and the west country are very proud of their great captains, amongst whole are reckoned some of the greatest of the subjects of Elizabeth.
We add Macaulay's spirited ballad on the event.