Drake Attacks Spanish Court of Cadiz - History

Drake Attacks Spanish Court of Cadiz - History


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The Spanish plans under Philip II to invade England were delayed when Sir Francis Drake attacked the Bay of Cadiz. Drake destroyed 10,000 tons of Spanish shipping and delayed the Spanish assault for a year.

Francis Drake’s Raids on Spanish Colonial Ports Netted Tons of Loot

In 1571 an anonymous merchant made his way through the tightly packed streets of Nombre de Dios, a town located on the Isthmus of Darien that separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Panama and the Pacific Ocean. Even though great parts of South America, including Nombre de Dios, were under the control of the Spanish Crown, the merchant in question was no Spaniard. He was English to the bone, and his name was Francis Drake, explorer, seafarer, soldier and privateer.

Drake was on a reconnaissance mission to the Spanish town, which, even though it only consisted of some 200 houses, was a vital nerve center in the Spanish colonial empire. A few months of the year Nombre de Dios played host to the grand treasure galleons of the Tierra Firme fleet that came to carry the gold and silver mined high in the inland mountains of Central America home to Spain. In other words, Nombre de Dios was a storage town for the vast amounts of gold bars and silver ingots that the Spaniards brought to the coast on an almost monthly basis.

It was exactly this treasure that interested Drake. Before leaving Nombre de Dios, he secretly established contact with the

Cimaroons, a band of escaped slaves who had sought refuge in the jungle. Whereas the Cimaroons despised their former masters because of years of enslavement, Drake’s hatred for Spain was grounded both in religion (he was a Protestant, while the Spaniards were Catholic) and in prior clashes with the Spanish military — one of them in 1568, a surprise attack near San Juan de Ulua, Mexico, nearly cost Drake his life.

Drake returned to England, where he beseeched Queen Elizabeth I for a letter of marque — a royal commission that would allow him to plunder Spanish ships and ports in the New World. The relationship between England and Spain during the Tudor period was very complicated, and mutual hostilities frequently flared into conflict. For many English and Spanish privateers, the letter of marque was all that distinguished them from criminal pirates. They used the situation to gain riches, for both countries were eager to harass each other’s maritime commerce at any opportunity. Drake was granted his commission, making the queen herself a shareholder in the expedition.

Captain Drake weighed anchor and set sail from Portsmouth on May 24, 1572, with two ships, Pasco and Swan, and some 73 Englishmen as his crew. He fully intended to raid Nombre de Dios just before the treasure ships arrived, at the time when the Spanish king’s treasure house would be at its richest. Drake’s log described Pasco and Swan as weighing around 100 tons between them and “richly furnished with victuals and apparels for a whole year, and no less heedfully provided with all manner of ammunition, artillery, artificers’ stuff and tools.”

After an uneventful journey across the Atlantic, Drake landed on the small and un­inhabited Isle of Pines in mid-June 1572. There, he revealed his plan of action to the crew and officers (among them, his brothers Joseph and John Drake). He had stowed three pinnaces in the storage rooms of his two ships, and these small canoelike, shallow-draft boats were now quickly brought out and made seaworthy. With these silent boats, Drake meant to slip into town quickly and unnoticed, hoping that a surprise attack might rout the Spanish militia.

After a few days’ rest the group of privateers set out in the moonlight armed with cutlasses, pistols, muskets and pikes. They beached their pinnaces around 3 a.m. and made their way undetected toward the harbor battery, which consisted of six guns. Having silenced the guards and secured the guns, Drake gave his final orders. He divided his men into two groups, one led by him and the other by his brother, John. John Drake’s group crept to the west end of the town where they attacked with roaring musket fire, flaming torches and ear-splitting trumpeting. The Spanish militiamen stumbled out of their barracks under the impression that they were being attacked by an entire army. John Drake and his men fired several volleys at the confused Spanish guards, and after a short-lived resistance the Spanish turned and ran from the fierce Englishmen.

The real goal of John Drake’s attack, however, was simply to create a diversion that would give his brother time to penetrate into the center of town. There, he and his men stormed the governor’s mansion, finding an enormous store of silver bars. Silver did not interest Francis Drake at that time, however — characteristically he had promised his men not just silver but gold, diamonds and pearls. So the band left the mansion and ran through the panic-stricken town toward the king’s treasure house.

It was at that point that things began to go wrong for the raiders. A group of Spanish soldiers opened fire, killing an English trumpeter and wounding Francis Drake in the thigh. The English privateer ran on, even though he was bleeding so profusely that blood filled his footprints in the sand, according to one of his companions. The group reached the treasure house, only to find the doors barred by a sturdy iron lock. Drake’s men were inclined to give up, but he urged them on with the words: “I have brought you to the treasure house of the world. If you leave without it you may henceforth blame nobody but yourself.”

That tirade motivated the Englishmen, who managed to break open the doors — only to find that the treasure house had been emptied six weeks beforehand. At that point Drake collapsed from loss of blood. Fearing a Spanish counterattack, the Englishmen gathered up their fallen leader and fled the scene, retreating into the thicket.

Francis Drake and his men sought refuge with the Cimaroons, the slaves who had fled from the Spaniards. Under their protection Drake regained his health and began to make plans. After being thwarted in his first plundering attempt, a lesser man than he might have given up and returned empty-handed. Instead Drake and his men raided the town of Vera Cruces and took up arms alongside Captain Guillaume le Testu, a French privateer operating in those waters with an 80-ton warship and about 70 men. During the fall of 1572, Drake camped some 50 miles east of Nombre de Dios, and his men built primitive houses that sheltered them during the rainy season. He raided a few Spanish settlements along the coast and led an expedition to plunder Spanish merchant ships that provided him with enough supplies to keep his men alive. When he returned to his base near Nombre de Dios in November, however, he learned that his brother John had been killed in an attempt to plunder a Spanish ship.

The bad luck didn’t stop there. Soon the poor living conditions and the wet season began to claim his men through yellow fever — including his other brother, Joseph, who died of the disease right after New Year’s Day 1573.

As soon as the wet season ended, Drake, still refusing to give up, led his men out of their camp and abandoned one of his ships, since there were not enough men left to crew it. He led his survivors through the marshy South American jungle until they reached Panama City. There, outside the city boundaries, they took shelter and waited. Drake knew that the treasure ships from Peru would arrive in Panama City and unload their precious cargo onto mule trains to be taken to other cities in the New World, where the loot would be placed aboard new galleons and shipped to Spain.

As he had in Nombre de Dios, Drake relied on the element of surprise for attacking the mule trains. He gave his men orders to take shelter along the road used by the mules and their drivers. When everything was ready, the English waited in ambush with cocked pistols and sharpened cutlasses.

The mule train came into view, and the Englishmen prepared themselves to jump out and frighten off or kill the mule drivers and the small escort. All those preparations were undone, however, when one of Drake’s men, who had been drinking, foolishly made a premature attack at the head of the column. That frightened off the rest of the mule train, which fled back into the protection of the city.

Having failed again, Drake, together with his Franco-English privateers and the Cimaroons, made his way back towards Nombre de Dios, where in April he learned that a train of some 190 mules was approaching the city loaded with silver from the Spanish mines inland. Drake and his allies surprised that train, drove away the 50 Spanish guards and found that every mule carried around 300 pounds of pure silver. Drake’s losses were insignificant compared to the treasure he could claim for England. Only one Cimaroon was killed, and Captain le Testu was wounded.

Drake decided that it was now time to return to Europe. The area was becoming dangerous, as the Spaniards had put a price on his head and a fleet was cruising up and down the coast looking for him. Escaping the fleet, he crossed the Atlantic loaded with silver and other riches. One of his crewmen wrote:

Within 23 days we passed from the Cape of Florida to the Isles of Scilly, and so arrived at Plymouth on Sunday about sermon time, August 9, 1573, at what time the news of our Captain’s return, brought unto his friends, did so speedily pass over all the church, and surpass their minds with desire to see him, that very few or none remained with the preacher, all hastening to see the evidence of God’s love and blessing towards our Gracious Queen and country, by the fruit of our Captain’s labour and success. Soli Deo Gloria.

Drake’s treasure amounted to some 15 tons of silver ingots and about 100,000 pounds sterling in silver coins. The coins alone would be worth more than $25 million today. Even though they did not receive the entire treasure themselves, Drake and his 30 surviving men were now extremely wealthy.

Although he and his crewmen netted a 20,000-pound sterling share of the loot, Captain le Testu was less fortunate than Drake. Opting to lie low with two of his men until he recovered from his wounds, he was found by the Spaniards, who killed him and displayed his head in Nombre de Dios.

Later in life Drake led several more raids on the Spanish colonies in the New World and circumnavigated the globe on his ship The Golden Hind. He also received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth for services rendered to his country.

Travelers’ tales and rumors claim that not all of Drake’s treasure made it back to England, that he hid a large part that he did not wish to share with the queen and the shareholders in his expedition. There is no proof of that story — only the myth that a fortune in silver coins, packed in several skin-bags or weighed-down barrels, lies somewhere on the bottom of Nombre de Dios Bay.

This article was written by Nicky Nielsen from Haslev, Denmark and originally published in the January/February 2007 issue of Military History magazine. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Military History magazine today!


A Right to the Throne

One reason for Philip’s focus on the English throne was that he had already held it once. As the husband of Mary I, he had been King of England and had seen the opportunity to bring the country into his Catholic empire. When Mary died without leaving a child, the throne reverted to Elizabeth, and Philip’s chance was lost. However, he was left with a sense of entitlement to the English crown.

Philip II of Spain c. 1580, National Portrait Gallery, London


The Sir Francis Drake Collection: H. P. Kraus and the Building of the Drake Collection

Sir Francis Drake, English explorer and naval strategist, circumnavigated the earth from 1577-1580. During these travels, Drake visited the Caribbean and the Pacific claiming a portion of California for Queen Elizabeth and waging battles against the Spanish. These voyages also revealed significant new geographical data about the New World and added greatly to Queen Elizabeth's treasury. This collection comprises important primary and secondary source materials accumulated about Drake's voyages throughout the then Spanish territory of the Americas.

Hans Peter Kraus was an avid collector and bibliophile who became one of the most important antiquarian book dealers of the twentieth century. A native of Vienna, Austria, Kraus immigrated to New York in 1939 and lived in the United States until his death in 1988. In 1940 he established the rare book firm H. P. Kraus, Inc., with his wife, Hanni. Mr. Kraus was also chairman of the board of Kraus-Thomson Organization, Ltd, a publisher. He became a trustee of the Yale Library Associates, a member of the Grolier Club, a Life Fellow of the Morgan Library, a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, and an Officer of the Ordre de la Couronee (Belgium).

This collection of Drake items is the second major gift that Mr. and Mrs. Kraus made to the Library. In 1970 they donated 162 manuscripts relating to the history and culture of Spanish America in the colonial period (1492-1819), which contain a wide range of information both about Spanish colonial history and the territories included in the present-day United States. These materials are available for use by scholars in the Library's Manuscript Division.

This Drake collection, assembled in only twelve years, complements the earlier gift with detailed information on important aspects of Spanish colonial history in the Americas. It also sheds new light on the consequences for Spain of Drake's raids on Spanish trade ships and on settlements in the Caribbean and the Pacific. The combination of the other rich Library collections from this period and the resources of the neighboring Folger Shakespeare Library make Washington a preeminent center for the study of the Elizabethan era [1558-1603].

In the 1968 James Ford Bell Lecture, Kraus explained how a chance comment about the enormous profit reaped by Sir Francis Drake and Queen Elizabeth from Drake's around-the-world voyage piqued his interest and led him to study the navigator's life. The more that he learned, the more fascinated he became, and he resolved to put together a collection of contemporary materials related to Drake and his legendary journeys.

"&hellipI had not realized how difficult it would be to build up a Drake collection. I wanted to gather only original and contemporary sources, in printed books, in autographs and manuscripts, in maps, in portraits, or in medals. The motive for my collecting was to learn about Drake in the same way as anyone living in Europe during his lifetime would have done&hellipThis was a beautiful conception, but the material seemed to be so scarce that at times I felt inclined to give up the whole idea."

Kraus was thwarted in part by centuries of government secrecy. Spain and England were officially at peace during the period of Drake's famous voyage his armed intrusions into Spanish territories and his taking of plunder were unable to be acknowledged by the British. Drake's journal of the trip had been given directly to Queen Elizabeth and never again seen. The first written account of Drake's voyage did not appear until 1589 in some copies of Richard Hakluyt's The Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation. A first edition of this volume, including the six leaves inserted in 1592 that describe Drake's circumnavigation, is part of the Kraus gift to Library.

The only discussion of Drake's voyage during Elizabethan times appeared in a small book published eight years before the Hakluyt narrative, in January 1581. A copy of the book included in this gift is the only such book known. This account celebrates Drake's return with a "Discourse in commendation of the valiant as virtuous minded Gentleman, Maister Frauncis Drake, with a reioycing of his happy adventures," by the writer Nicholas Breton.

One of the crowning pieces of the Kraus Collection is a letter written by Gerard Mercator to Abraham Ortelius in 1580, in which he speculates on the route that Drake took around the world. The letter reveals how little was known then about the earth, even by the two greatest mapmakers of the time.

One of the greatest cartographic treasures of the Elizabethan era is part of this collection--Nicola van Sype's engraved map of the circumnavigation, entitled "La Herdike Enterprinse Faict par le Signeur Draeck D'Avoir Cirquite Toute la Terre." Believed to date from 1581, this map is derived from the Whitehall map, a large wall-map of the world that previously hung in Whitehall Palace. Presented to Queen Elizabeth probably by Drake, the map has since been lost.

Another early map, "World Map, in Two Hemispheres, Engraved or Struck on Silver and Bearing the Track of Drake's 1577-1580 Circumnavigation on the Earth," shows the route of Drake's circumnavigation with America on one side and Europe and Asia on the other. Two of these silver maps are in the Kraus Collection--one of them provides the date 1589 in a small cartouche and is the only known copy to name Michael Mercator, Gerard's son, as the cartographer and engraver.

The earliest extant American military architectural drawings are also here: two views of the fortress at San Juan de Ulua (Vera Cruz) Mexico, around 1570. Drake and John Hawkins, sailing under Hawkins's command from England in 1567, were caught in the harbor of San Juan de Ulua when a convoy of ships from Spain arrived. Although a truce was worked out to allow the Spaniards safe passage into the harbor and to let the English reprovision and repair their vessels, the Spanish broke the truce once in the harbor and attacked the English. Most of Hawkins's men and ships were lost, although Drake and Hawkins eventually made it back to England separately. It was a lesson that Drake never forgot nor forgave and it was shortly after this battle that Don Cristobal de Eraso proposed the enlargement and enhancement of the fortifications shown in this view and ground plans of San Juan de Ulua.

Other unique manuscript materials shed additional light on internal events in Spain during this crucial period: a 1586 holograph draft of a reply by the Duke of Medina Sidonia directed to Philip II, King of Spain, concerning the defense of Spanish America and a 1587 letter to Medina Sidonia signed by King Philip. The king's letter, written in response to news of Drake's attacks in Cadiz Bay, urges Medina Sidonia to leave Cadiz if Drake attempts to take the city and demonstrates the intimate contact between the duke and the Court. The king added, in an apparently hastily penned postscript in his own hand: "I would be more greatly worried about this situation if you were not in charge therefore I expect it will have a good outcome." Medina Sidonia was soon after appointed by the king to command the Spanish Armada, which Drake defeated in 1588.

The Kraus Collection includes the finest contemporary portrait of Sir Francis Drake. Unsigned, it is attributed to Jodocus Hondius, the Flemish cartographer, by George Vertue, the British engraver and antiquary. This eighteenth century-portrait apparently was never circulated in Drake's time, as only two contemporary impressions are known, both of them unfinished. Vertue obtained the original copper plate from Drake's descendants and completed it largely by adding shading in the background.

The illustrated catalog entitled Hans P. Kraus, Sir Francis Drake, A Pictorial Biography published in 1970 uses the maps, engravings, and other items in the collection to give an illustrated account of Drake's voyages. The catalog portion of the publication gives a detailed description and provenance of the items.


This Man Stopped Showing Up at Work for at Least 6 Years

A Spanish court fined a man a year’s salary following allegations that he did not show up to his government job for at least six years, according to reports.

Joaquín García, 69, served as a supervising engineer for the municipal water board in the Spanish city of Cádiz between 1996 and 2010 but by the end of his tenure had stopped going to work entirely, according to an El Mundo report. García had not been in his office in the last six years and did “absolutely no work” between 2007 and 2010, the court found.

The city’s deputy mayor, who had hired García, only realized the engineer’s absence when the city was scheduled to give García an award for his loyal service. &ldquoHe was still on the payroll,&rdquo Jorge Blas Fernández, the deputy mayor, said of his thoughts when he heard about the award. &ldquoI thought, where is this man? Is he still there? Has he retired? Has he died?&rdquo

Now, García instead faces a $30,000 fine&mdashthe equivalent to one year’s salary after taxes.

García, for his part, said in court that he did not keep regular hours but was still working.


Spanish Armada Sets Sail

In May 1588, after several years of preparation, the Spanish Armada set sail from Lisbon under the command of the Duke of Medina-Sidonia. When the 130-ship fleet was sighted off the English coast later that July, Howard and Drake raced to confront it with a force of 100 English vessels.

The English fleet and the Spanish Armada met for the first time on July 31, 1588, off the coast of Plymouth. Relying on the skill of their gunners, Howard and Drake kept their distance and tried to bombard the Spanish flotilla with their heavy naval cannons. While they succeeded in damaging some of the Spanish ships, they were unable to penetrate the Armada’s half-moon defensive formation.

Over the next several days, the English continued to harass the Spanish Armada as it charged toward the English Channel. The two sides squared off in a pair of naval duels near the coasts of Portland Bill and the Isle of Wight, but both battles ended in stalemates. 

By August 6, the Armada had successfully dropped anchor at Calais Roads on the coast of France, where Medina-Sidonia hoped to rendezvous with the Duke of Parma’s invasion army.


Great Events in British History: The Spanish Armada – The Twelve Days That Saved England

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Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the first issue of the Anglotopia magazine in February. Subscribe today to receive the next issue of our magazine and read about British History, Culture and Travel all in one place. We’re now taking pre-orders for Issue #3 due out in August.

In the latter half of the 16th century, Spain dominated Europe and the world. Once allies, Spain and England found themselves drifting apart. Following several uneasy decades, Philip sent his great Armada to England, intent on thwarting England’s expansion and returning her to the Catholic faith. The Royal Navy harnessed favourable weather conditions and deployed superior seamanship to thwart Spain’s ambitions and establish England as a formidable power at sea.

  • 1554 Philip marries Mary I and assumes the title of King of England and Ireland
  • 1558 Mary dies and Philip supports her sister Elizabeth’s claim to the throne
  • 1559 Philip proposes marriage to Elizabeth
  • 1584 Treaty of Joinville signed – Philip pledges money to help the Catholic League
  • 1585 Treaty of Nonsuch – Elizabeth pledges money to Protestant rebels in Netherlands
  • 1587 Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots
  • 1587 Sir Francis Drake attacks the Spanish Fleet at Cadiz
  • 1588 Philip sends Spanish Armada to attack England
  • Elizabeth I, Queen of England
  • Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham, Admiral of the Fleet
  • Sir Francis Drake, Vice Admiral
  • Sir John Hawkins, Rear Admiral
  • Philip II, King of Spain, Portugal, Naples and Sicily, Lord of the Habsburg Netherlands
  • Duke of Medina Sedonia, Admiral

He Blew With His Winds and They Were Scattered

According to British folklore, England’s celebrated mariner, Sir Francis Drake, was interrupted while playing bowls on the green at Plymouth Hoe with the news of the sighting of a great armada sailing up the English Channel. Despite the threat of Philip of Spain’s Grande y Felicísima Armada, Sir Francis carried on with his game, declaring that he had time enough to finish the game and thrash the Spanish afterwards. Drake’s insouciance may be a myth, but the arrival of the great Spanish fleet would not have been a shock. Relations between Spain and England had been drifting toward conflict for decades.

In the summer of 1588, Catholic Philip had finally had enough of England and sought to oust Elizabeth I. England’s Queen had become a focal point for Protestantism in Europe, she had meddled in Philip’s affairs in the Netherlands, and had given safe haven to privateers who attacked Spanish vessels.

In an era when most of the rulers of Europe were strangers to each other, Elizabeth of England and Philip of Spain were unusual in that they had met. For a time, they were related by marriage, although separated by religion. Elizabeth’s older half-sister Mary had married her cousin Philip in 1554 and he came to live in England. Both Mary and Philip were devout Catholics and their fervent wish was for England to return to the Church of Rome. Although Mary made her new husband King of England, he quit the country after Mary suffered a false pregnancy. She was left alone to try to impose Catholicism on her people, earning herself the infamous nickname “Bloody Mary” in the process.

Mary died in 1558 and Philip supported Protestant Elizabeth’s claim to the throne. Although the alternative candidate was a Catholic – Mary, Queen of Scots – she was married to the Dauphin of France and an Anglo-Franco alliance would greatly disturb the balance of power in Europe. Consequently, Philip felt that his interests were best served by Elizabeth being on the throne and by the two countries maintaining an alliance, thus sandwiching France between her two enemies and squashing any French ambitions of expansion. He felt that his role in bringing Elizabeth back to court during her sister’s reign, plus his backing of her succession to the throne, would endear him to Elizabeth. Indeed, he went so far as to propose marriage, notwithstanding her Protestantism. His marriage suit was rejected by Elizabeth yet despite the failure of the marriage plans, England and Spain were, for the time being, on good terms. Gradually, over the course of several decades, they drifted apart.

Over the years, tensions between England and Spain grew around two issues. The first was the Netherlands. The northern provinces of the Netherlands were Protestant and they rebelled against their Catholic ruler, Philip. In England, there was a good deal of sympathy for the Protestant rebels. Some of the Dutch rebels, who operated at sea, found safe haven in English ports. Elizabeth had these “Sea Beggars” banished in 1572, perhaps in an attempt to mollify Philip. In addition, after the rebels successfully broke away, they asked Elizabeth to be their ruler, an offer that she turned down. However, Elizabeth did undertake to provide money and troops in their struggle against Philip, largely because of his actions in supporting the Catholic League, which made allies of traditional enemies France and Spain, thus threatening England. She signed the Treaty of Nonsuch, which led to Philip declaring war on England, though for the meantime, he took no direct action.

The second bone of contention between Spain and England had always been the action of English and Dutch privateers against Spanish vessels. Elizabeth allowed the privateers to operate out of English harbours, much to Philip’s fury. The Queen had a good reason to unofficially back the privateers since she got a cut of the booty. In 1580, her half-share of Drake’s looted Spanish treasures was greater than the rest of her crown income for the entire year.

Once Philip declared war, Elizabeth and her advisors decided to take action. In 1585, Drake set out on an expedition in which he attacked Vigo in Spain. He then set off across the Atlantic to plunder the Spanish colonies in South America. Infuriated, Philip began to plan an invasion of England. When news of Philip’s plan reached England in the spring of 1587, Drake made a pre-emptive strike against the Spanish. He struck out for Spain and sailed into two ports at Cadiz and Corunna and “singed the King of Spain’s beard” – occupying the ports and sinking both naval and merchant vessels. He continued to harry the Spanish coast for a month, effectively delaying Philip’s invasion plans for more than a year.

Philip may have suffered a setback, but his resolve to invade England did not waver. Indeed, it probably hardened when Elizabeth had her Catholic cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, executed. Although Philip was the ruler of the world’s greatest power, he had no illusions that an invasion of England would be easy. The armada he assembled had around 160 ships, carrying some 8,000 sailors and 18,000 troops. Philip’s plan was for the fleet to sail to the Spanish Netherlands to meet an army of 30,000 soldiers and then proceed to England for the invasion.

As news of the departure of the Spanish Armada reached the English, they made a futile, last-ditch attempt at brokering a peace. With no prospect of averting the Armada, the English fleet awaited the Spanish at Plymouth. The English would have known what was bearing down on them – reports suggested that it had taken two days for the massive fleet to leave port. Nevertheless, the English, along with their Dutch allies, had more ships (though less guns) than the Spaniards. It was not superior numbers that encouraged Francis Drake’s brash confidence on Plymouth Hoe, it was that the English fleet had ships of a modern design that would allow new tactics to be deployed.

Traditional medieval naval warfare relied on heavy warships carrying soldiers. Battles at sea were conducted like battles on land. The opposing ships drew alongside, whereupon arrows and handguns would be fired, troops would board and fight in hand-to-hand combat. Philip’s men, aboard their large, ponderous galleons, were expecting just such a fight. In England, a new kind of naval warfare was being planned.

The English had designed an innovative lower, lighter vessel that was faster and more maneuverable than the top-heavy Spanish galleons. English ships carried few soldiers, relying on the sailors’ gunnery skills to overpower the enemy before boarding could occur. The block and tackle on the guns of English ships were designed for repeated fire and English gun crews were drilled to load and fire throughout a battle. Spanish ships had no such system. They relied on a gun being fired once, after which the gun crew would go on deck to prepare to board the enemy.

Drake’s preparation was set and he awaited the Spanish. A system of beacons strung out along the south coast was to relay the news of the sighting of the Armada to London. Drake’s ships put to sea and engaged the Spanish on 20 July near Eddystone Rocks. After several days of fighting, the Spanish defensive crescent shape formation held and neither side made any impact, other than a couple of Spanish ships colliding. The Spanish anchored up, still in their crescent formation, off Calais on 27 July, and Drake spotted an opportunity. He loaded up old ships with flammable materials to create fire ships which he sent towards the Spanish. Fearing explosions if the fire ships came too close, many of the Spanish captains cut their anchors. The defensive formation was thus scattered and the English closed in.

On 29 July, the English attacked the Spanish near the port of Gravelines. Their ploy was to draw Spanish fire while staying out of range, and then close for battle giving repeated broadsides. By staying windward to the Spanish, the English were able to damage the Spanish hulls as they heeled. Eventually, the English ran out of ammunition, but the Spanish were already in disarray and turned to flee northwards with the English in pursuit.

The English still feared an invasion, so it was imperative to keep the Spanish fleet away from the Netherlands and the Duke of Parma’s waiting army. On 8 August, Elizabeth travelled to Tilbury and gave a rousing speech to her troops to prepare them should the invasion force arrive. It never did.

Having turned north, the Spanish had the daunting prospect of sailing up the east coast of England, around Scotland and down past Ireland to get home. Many ships were badly damaged and there were inadequate supplies of food and water since such a journey had not been in Philip’s plan. The weather was stormy and there was no way of putting into safe haven as many of the fleet had cut their anchors. The journey took a dreadful toll with only 67 ships returning to Spain. Thousands of men died due to the weather, disease and starvation. The Spanish Armada was defeated and England was saved from invasion.

The defeat of the Spanish Armada boosted English pride and has become legendary. Little England facing invasion from the mighty Spain and emerging triumphant gave the British heart during subsequent invasion threats from Bonaparte and later Hitler. The defeat of the Armada is often regarded as laying the first foundations of the British Empire.

A statue of Sir Francis Drake stands on Plymouth Hoe, Plymouth, Devon, near the green on which he was said to have been bowling when he heard news of the sighting of the Spanish Armada.

The magnificent fort at Tilbury, in Essex, on the Thames Estuary, is very near the site where Elizabeth gave her famous rallying speech to the troops.

At Culmstock in the Blackdown Hills of Devon you can find Culmstock Beacon, a small stone structure built in 1588 to support one of the relay beacons to warn of the approaching Armada.

The Ulster Museum, Belfast, has an exhibition featuring artefacts rescued from three of the many Spanish ships that were wrecked off the coast of Ireland.

The Spanish Armada (2014) by Robert Hutchison is a narrative account of the battles at sea.

The Confident Hope Of A Miracle: The True History Of The Spanish Armada (2004) by Neil Hanson flows well and describes the background as well as the battle itself.

S J Parris’ spy, Giordanno Bruno, is investigating a traitor in Drake’s fleet in Plymouth in her 2014 novel Treachery.

“Battlefield Britain: The Spanish Armada with Peter and Dan Snow” is available on DVD.

“Elizabeth: The Golden Age “(2008) is a sumptuous production starring Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth and includes the Spanish Armada.


Sir Francis Drake’s attack on St. Augustine, 1586

Five years after leading the first English circumnavigation of the globe in 1577–1580, Sir Francis Drake led a raid against Spanish settlements in the Caribbean including Santiago, Santo Domingo, and Cartagena, as well as St. Augustine (in present-day Florida). This engraving, by Baptista Boazio, was made to accompany a book describing Drake’s 1586 expedition, A Summarie and True Discourse of Sir Francis Drake’s West Indian Voyage (published in 1588–1589). The illustration depicts the attack of Drake’s fleet of twenty-three ships on St. Augustine, which was captured and destroyed on May 28–30, 1586. Although Boazio was not on the voyage, he worked from firsthand accounts. The engraving is the earliest known surviving view of a New World city north of Mexico.

Drake operated as a privateer under a “letter of marque and reprisal” issued by Queen Elizabeth I. His operations were part of the long-standing and escalating tensions between Protestant England and Catholic Spain. The Boazio illustrations and A Summarie and True Discourse of Sir Francis Drake’s West Indian Voyage were published following the English victory over the Spanish Armada in 1588.


The 20th Century

Towards the end of the 19th Century, as occurred in almost all European vineyards, the black plague of phylloxera devastated the vineyards of the Jerez Region. An insect imported from America (Daktulosphaira vitifolii) provided the worst blow suffered in the history of wine-growing, destroying the Jerez vines and blocking their roots. The first outbreak had been detected several years earlier on numerous vineyards in other parts of Europe, thus by the time the insect spread to the Jerez Region the only solution to a problem of such magnitude was well known by all: uproot all the vines and replant with American rootstock varieties, resistant to the insect, upon which local varieties of vine were then grafted.

Recuperation of the vineyards was a relatively rapid process when compared to other regions in Europe and brought with it the definitive selection of the grape varieties which are still used to make sherry wines today.

The following years were prosperous ones and in the early decades of the 20th Century improvements in communications and transport allowed sherry wine to expand into international markets. It was during this period, however, that a new problem reared its head, one which had been latent for years but unnoticed by the sherry firms of Jerez: the usurping of the identity of Sherry Wine.

The British were unquestionably responsible for the increased popularity of Sherry throughout the world and not only did they pass on their enthusiasm for the beverage to their numerous colonies around the globe, but in those where it proved possible to produce wine they began to make drinks of certain style which were reminiscent of authentic sherry from Jerez, giving them names such as "Australian Sherry", "South African Sherry" and "Canadian Sherry". The problem of imitations had arisen, and one which unfortunately remains.

These are the years during which legislation begins to recognise such concepts as the protection of intellectual property and propose defence mechanisms against usurpation and imitation. A concept of enormous importance arose in this context: the Denomination of Origin. This was a concept which first appeared in the context of wine production and has since been applied to other food products.

In the latter half of the 19th Century the wine producers of the Jerez Region, true businessmen who were in many ways ahead of their time, had attended a series of international conferences which established the legal framework for the defence of Denominations of Origin.

It is not unusual, therefore, that when the first Spanish Wine Law was published in 1933 it made reference to existence of the Denomination of Origin Jerez and its Consejo Regulador, the first to be legally constituted in Spain.


In 1894 phylloxera arrived in the Sherry region. Its devastating effect meant ruin for many winemakers.
At the turn of the century, after a decline in exports and the phylloxera crisis, the sector proactively addressed the situation.
The railway arrives in Jerez, collecting wines directly from the bodegas.

Further Reading

The most complete account of Drake's circumnavigation is provided by his nephew, Sir Francis Drake, in The World Encompassed by Sir Francis Drake, published by the Hakluyt Society (1854). Primary material can be found in John Barrow, Life, Voyages, and Exploits of Sir Francis Drake, with Numerous Original Letters (1844). Julian S. Corbett, Drake and the Tudor Navy (2 vols., 1898 rev. ed. 1899), can be supplemented with more recent studies such as James A. Williamson, Age of Drake (1938 4th ed. 1960) and Sir Francis Drake (1966), and Kenneth R. Andrews, Drake's Voyages: A Reassessment of Their Place in Elizabethan Maritime Expansion (1967). For general background see J. H. Parry, The Age of Reconnaissance (1963). □


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