Gateway to the Classics: European Hero Stories by Eva March Tappan
European Hero Stories by  Eva March Tappan

The Invincible Armada

It is not strange that Philip of Spain was angry with Queen Elizabeth and the English for helping his subjects in the Netherlands to free themselves from his rule. He wished to punish the meddlesome English, to win the crown of England for himself, and to make England a Catholic country. He concluded that the best way to bring his wishes to pass was to prepare a great fleet to attack England. The Spanish word for fleet is armada; and he felt so certain of success that he named his fleet the In-vin'cible Ar-ma'da.

There were vast preparations in Spain. Ships had to be built and men brought together. Stores and arms and provisions must be collected, and men must be trained in managing the guns. Philip was in a great hurry. A messenger would travel post haste from the king to the fleet with the royal orders; and by the time he had turned about to go back to the king, another messenger would appear with perhaps quite different orders.

Of course the English heard what was being done, and they were greatly alarmed. Spain was the most powerful country of Europe, and England was much afraid of being conquered and made into a mere Spanish province. The English got together as strong a fleet as they could, but it was a queer mixture of vessels. There were warships, merchant ships, coasting vessels, and even fishing craft of all sorts and sizes. There was so much piracy in those days that most captains of merchant ships or even of little coasting vessels had some idea of a sea fight, and had arranged some means to defend themselves; so that the merchant vessels and the fishing boats were not helpless, but were a valuable addition to the few warships that the English could bring forward.


Queen Elizabeth.

Philip had supposed that the Catholics in England would welcome him. Instead of that, they stood by their country as firmly as the Protestants. The admiral of the English fleet was Lord How'ard, a Catholic, and the vice-admiral was Sir Francis Drake, a Protestant.


Spanish Armada Attacked by the English Fleet.

One summer day in 1588, the mighty Armada came sailing into the English Channel. The ships were arranged in the form of a crescent seven miles from tip to tip. The English fleet must have looked like a child going out to fight a giant, for the largest of the English warships were smaller than the smallest of the Spanish warships. The Spaniards had about 120 ships; the English about 170. The English vessels had less tonnage, but they had more guns. The battle began. The Spanish notion of a fight at sea was to fire a few guns, not into the hull, but into the rigging of the enemy's vessel to prevent it from escaping, then to close and carry on a hand-to-hand combat. Their warships were like great floating castles. They were most alarming to look at, but were clumsy and unwieldy. An old ballad says of one of them:—

This great Gal-le-az'zo

which was so huge and high,

That like a bulwark on the sea

did seem to each man's eye.

The English vessels were easy to manage and quick of motion. They were long and narrow and they could sail nearer the wind. If the English had been willing to stand still and let the Spaniards sail up to them in dignified fashion, close with them, and fight in hand-to-hand combat, perhaps the Spaniards would have won the day; but instead of so doing, the impertinent little English craft would sail under the very shadow of one of the floating castles, fire a shot or two, and long before the monster could turn about and train its guns upon the enemy, the little boat was bounding over the waves to treat another Spanish vessel in the same fashion.


Destruction of the Spanish Armada.

At length the Spaniards withdrew toward Calais. Soon after midnight they saw dark, shapeless masses drifting down upon them. Suddenly the things burst into flames. There were explosions from them, and long tongues of fire shot out and clutched one Spanish vessel after another. "Fireships! Fireships!" the Spaniards cried in terror. They cut their cables and made their way to the north, for between them and Spain lay the English fleet. If the Spaniards would ever see their homes, they must sail around the British Isles. But they had no pilots, no charts. Their ships were all more or less broken, and to make matters worse, they were soon caught in fearful storms. The Irish coast was strewn with Spanish wrecks. Not more than half of the Invincible Armada ever returned to Spain.


Queen Elizabeth Carried in State.

The English had now no need to be afraid of Spain. English vessels might sail wherever they liked. Before this, one reason for hesitating to plant colonies in America had been the fear of Spanish attacks, but now the English might plant colonies wherever they chose. It is no wonder that this feeling of freedom and independence aroused and stimulated them to do good work in many lines.

There were not only great naval fighters in England in those days, but there were such brilliant writers that the age of Elizabeth is called the Golden Age of English literature. Moreover, some of these very men-at-arms were also famous as writers. Sir Philip Sidney was not only one of the bravest of soldiers, but he also wrote some beautiful poems and a delightful romance called "Ar-ca'di-a." Sir Walter Ra'leigh was not only a soldier and courtier and explorer and colonizer, but he, too, wrote poems and a history of the world. Shake'speare, greatest of them all, wrote his wonderful plays; and he was also a cool, shrewd business man. Mil'ton, who lived a little later, was secretary to the ruler of England and also wrote "Paradise Lost," one of the most famous poems of the world. Truly, those were marvelous days, "the spacious times of great Elizabeth."


Why Philip wished to invade England. — The preparation of the Armada. — The English fleet. — Patriotism of the English. — The fight with the Armada. — The fireships. — The retreat of the Spaniards. — The independence of the English. — The Elizabethan literature. — Sidney. — Raleigh. — Shakespeare. — Milton.

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