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Collection Sir Francis Drake (Kraus Collection)

The "Invincible" Armada, 1588

Despite the Drake Caribbean raid--despite the hostilities at Cadiz--despite the preparation of the great Armada in the harbor of Lisbon--the diplomats continued to negotiate up to the very last moment. A fascinating glimpse at this process is given by a hitherto unknown letter of the English diplomat Dr. Valentine Dale (d. 1589), which he sent to Sir Francis Walsingham, "Principall Secretarie to the Q:[een's] Ma[jes]tie". Dale was a member of a diplomatic mission to Flanders, sent there to negotiate with Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma (1545-1592), Spanish commander in the Netherlands.

Dale had an excellent grasp of the realities of the situation. As we see from the text (reproduced on p. 141), he was aware that the invasion of England depended on the Spaniards obtaining command of the sea; if this was not forthcoming, England could be sure that the Spanish will to fight would be broken by the great expense of maintaining the invasion army.

Dale was a man who could speak to the point; once when Parma ironically suggested that they negotiate in French, since Elizabeth called herself Queen of France, Dale replied that they should communicate in Hebrew, since Philip claimed the title of King of Jerusalem.

The unpublished letter is from the collection of Robert Beale (1541-1601), Clerk of the Privy Council, and brother-in-law of Walsingham. Most of Beale's great collection of Elizabethan state papers is in the British Museum, but some of his papers turned up in the collection of William Upcott (d. 1845); at the Upcott sale (1846) they were acquired by Sir Thomas Phillipps. The present letter is part of Phillipps no. 12115 in his catalogue.

On the 25th of July, when this letter was written, the Armada was approaching the English coast--it began its cruise up the Channel on July 30th.

The Dale Letter

My duetie yn most humble wyse remembred.

I fynd myselfe much bounden unto you many ways: My LL[ords] shall delyver things w[i]th far greater credit and regard, and so ys yt used yn al the treaties yn the worlde per viam recess [us] w[hi]ch is a manerly terme made as yt were a manerlyn departure and not a breaking of[fl. And for my part I was troubled much w[i]th the colique in my stomacke when I was at Bruges and now I am come to a flat fit of an ague everie night. I beseche you enforme her Ma[jes]tie thereof.

To o[u]r mater: yt may please you, was yt not playne enough spoken when the Duke sayd he was but a servant and a souldio[u]r and must doe his Masters comandement and that a battail lost by the Q[ueen] was the losse of her crowne? And me thought I sayd roundly enough one battail was not enough to carie awaye the mater and that the Duke might know by his Masters owne countrie.

I used no collections of myselfe. When we fynd better whatsoever one particular man enformeth I wil beleve hyt rebus sic stantibus as they doe, but if the navie of Spayne come not forwarde and they can not get over their men from hence w[i]thout the navie, and that their great armie lieth uppon their landes, there may be some more reasonablenes yn them.

Ut amicitiae ita causae Principum non discindendae sed dissuendae sunt. And thus I take my leave yn al duetiful maner. At Bourborough the xxvth of July 1588.

Yo[u]r h[onour's] most humble [servant]  [signed] Valentine Dale.


Since the writing hereof we have had conference according unto her Ma[jes]ties l[ette]res: but find as we did. And what is felt there God knoweth--Her Ma[jes]tie must not have vs pro derelicto.

Dr. Dale's letter to Walsingham on the "peace" negotiations of 1588. [8].

The Armada campaign of 1588 was the sole instance of Drake's serving, in his adult years, as a subordinate commander. The reason for this was that the social structure and conventions of his day (and later) kept high command in the hands of the nobility. The Lord High Admiral of England, Howard of Effingham, though he had little or no experience in battle, took the command of a squadron with Drake as his immediate subordinate.

The Spanish Armada of 1588, called derisively by non-Spaniards "The Invincible Armada", sailed from Lisbon in May, but adverse winds and storms delayed its appearance off southwest England until July 30. The Spanish plan was to sail up the Channel; to join with transport vessels which would ferry the army of the Duke of Parma across from the Spanish Netherlands to England, to land the troops and defeat the English, and to have Philip resume his reign as King of England, a title he had acquired by his marriage to Mary Tudor.

Drake's 1587 attack had certainly delayed the sailing of the Armada, and his destruction of supplies for it also contributed to its defeat. Nevertheless, it did reach the shores of England in good order, and hard fighting was also necessary to insure victory over it. Throughout this week and a half of confused naval maneuvers and battles, Drake was in the thick of the conflict. He captured a disabled galleon, Nuestra Señora del Rosario , on July 30, with Don Pedro de Valdés, one of the main commanders of the Armada, on board.

Drake was again outstanding in his dashing attack on Medina Sidonia's flagship, San Martín de Portugal , on August 8th, the day when the Armada suffered heavy damage and was scattered in the North Sea.

The defeat of the Armada was one of England's greatest victories and one of the world's decisive battles; it was the "beginning of the end" of Spain as the dominant nation in Europe, and the beginning of English ascendancy.

Typical of an officer's commission issued for the Armada campaign is the one reproduced to the right, dated June 15, 1587. While this officer, Pedro de Sotomayor, was recruited specifically to serve against Drake following the latter's raid on Cadiz, we are doubtless correct in assuming that he was held on to serve in the Invincible Armada campaign of 1588.

The commission reads in part (trans.):

Inasmuch as I have ordered that a large Armada be assembled in the port and river of Lisbon, in order to go and seek out the one that has sailed from England and cruises through the seas of these my kingdoms...Don Pedro de Sotomayor, I have decided to assign you in the said Armada ten escudos of ten Castilian reales each as remuneration to serve under the Marquess of Santa Cruz, my Captain-General of the Ocean and of the troops of my Kingdom of Portugal...

Before the Armada sailed, Medina Sidonia drew up a set of General Orders which were printed, and distributed to the ships of the fleet. Displayed below are the caption title and first paragraph of those orders; the manuscript docket on this copy, which reads "Instruction Jen[era]l q[ue] se dio al ar[ma]da. año. 1588" is in the handwriting of the Duke of Medina Sidonia.

The orders include regulations for the discipline of the soldiers and sailors; for signals to and from the flagship, San Martín de Portugal ; for the position of supply and escort ships in the fleet; for the issue of rations; for fire prevention; etc.

We have not found any bibliographical record of any other copy of these orders; the text has been previously published, however.

A copy of Medina Sidonia's General Orders must have fallen into the hands of the English, perhaps through a spy, perhaps captured in one of the Armada ships which they took. It was speedily translated into English and published in the same year.

A remarkable original source for the history of the Armada is a set of engravings (issued about 1590), made by Augustine Ryther after drawings by Robert Adams. They depict successive stages of the action. Michael Lewis, in his work The Spanish Armada , 1960, says of them, "The best contemporary evidence (of the Armada's sailing order) comes from the set of charts drawn by the artist Adams and engraved in 1590. They show the Armada in the form of a quarter moon, its convex curve pointing up-Channel, its horns trailing west". Professor Garrett Mattingly remarks that "his (Adams') eleven charts are unusually accurate for the period during which the English and Spanish fleets were in contact". ( The Armada , 1959, p. xiv).

Only five sets of these engravings are recorded by Hind ( Engraving in England , 1, 142) of which two sets, like the one reproduced, have only eight of the twelve engravings. The present set is, however, in fine contemporary coloring; only two other sets so colored are known.

The drawings by Robert Adams were also the source for the designs of a magnificent set of tapestries which were made for Lord Howard of Effingham, Lord High Admiral of England, and commander of the English naval forces against the Armada. In 1616 the tapestries were sold by Howard to King James I, and for the next two centuries they hung in the House of Lords; they were lost in the Westminster Palace fire of 1834.

In 1739, a series of engravings by John Pine was issued depicting the tapestries. They are of equal importance with the Armada engravings as a historical source, as we may be sure that the designs had been examined and approved by Howard.

The fourth of the Armada series of engravings depicts the Spanish fleet proceeding up the English Channel, off Start Point, with the English fleet in pursuit.

The little group in the lower middle of the plate is of special interest; it depicts the flagship of the Andalusian division (with General Pedro de Valdés aboard) being captured by Sir Francis Drake. The Spanish ship, Nuestra Señora del Rosario , is shown with its bowsprit and foremast broken off and floating in the water. Just northwest of it is Drake's ship, the famous Revenge.

The Spanish and English fleets off Start Point, one of the John Pine engravings of the Armada tapestries, 1739. [53].

Of this engraving by John Pine after the Howard-House of Lords tapestries, showing the same scene as in the chart on the previous page, we reproduce the center pictorial portion only, omitting the elaborate decorative borders.

Charles Howard (1536-1624), the Lord High Admiral, second Lord Howard of Effingham by 1598 had become Earl of Nottingham; his autograph is shown below on a Privy Council order of August 17, 1598. Other signatories are:

Thomas Sackville (1536-1608), Baron Buckhurst; he later was the first Earl of Dorset and was a noted poet and dramatist of the Elizabethan era;

Roger North (1530-1600), the second Baron North;

Robert Cecil (1563-1612), later the first Earl of Salisbury, was one of the great Elizabethan statesmen and, under James I, became virtually Prime Minister;

Sir Thomas Egerton (1540-1603), later Viscount Brackley;

George Carey (1547-1603), Baron Hunsdon;

William Knollys (1547-1632), later Earl of Banbury; Knollys and Carey commanded bodies of land troops during the Armada campaign.

Early the next year a scouting ship was sent to the coasts of Spain and Portugal to report on the status of the returned Armada ships and to obtain information on the state of defense, for the impending English counterattack. The commander of this ship, a Mr. T. F., sent back the above letter. He says he has "bene emploied by my Generals Sir John Norris and Sir Frauncis Drake...for discoverie"; "concerning the last Fleete (the Armada)...there are come home but nine and thirtie...most of the men that came home died immediately at their landing...the Duke of Medina is banished the Court for ever..." He then tells of a brisk skirmish between his ship and some Spanish galleys off Lisbon, and how he captured there a ship laden with Greek wines; this had been sent to Plymouth--"she is but come to a reasonable market",i.e. , the wines and ship were being confiscated as war booty. It is certain that this intelligence report much influenced the Drake-Norris expedition (see pp. 159-167) as one of its principal objectives was to seek out and destroy the remaining Armada ships.

Tristran Winslade, an English Catholic refugee on the continent, supplied intelligence information on his native county of Devonshire to King Philip of Spain. In it, he speaks of noted Devonians such as Drake ("Draco"), Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Sir John and Sir Richard Hawkins, Sir Richard Grenville, and others. He denounces them as robbers and pirates.

To the right is the rather crude map of England which Winslade supplied to Philip; it includes little detail except in southwestern England, where Winslade was urging Philip to make an invasion.

The manuscript, which is unpublished, is undoubtedly a preparatory intelligence paper for one of Philip's two later attempts to invade England, in 1595 and 1597. These were:

  1. 1595. An actual landing was made in Cornwall, and Penzance was destroyed.
  2. 1597. A large fleet was sent against England, but it was dispersed by a storm, and it returned to Spain without accomplishing anything.

The 1595 Drake-Hawkins expedition to America was seriously delayed by the invasion attempt of that year, as it was feared that a large-scale landing of Spaniards was being planned, and the English government wanted to keep their ships on hand for such an event.

Further testimony concerning the Armada of 1597 is contained in "The depositione of Peeter Lemman". Lemon's figures of 300 ships, 100 galleys and 120,000 men for the flotilla are, of course, much too high, but is it certain that it was a very large fleet, and it has been stated that it was even larger than the 1588 Armada, which consisted of about 130 vessels.

Lemon was a junior officer in Drake's last voyage; he was in charge of the "Garland's pinnace" with a crew of nine men, and was captured on Dec. 21, 1595, off the northern coast of South America, near Santa Marta, by galleys operating out of Cartagena. From there Lemon and his men were sent to San Lucar, the port of Seville, arriving there at the end of September, 1596. There, he tells us, he attempted to enlist some of his crew in the 1597 Armada, but his offer was rejected. He himself then escaped (he must have spoken Spanish fluently), going to Seville, Madrid, and Bayonne; at the latter port he sailed for England, arriving at the Cornish port of Fowey on Nov. 6, 1596. He was taken immediately before Richard Carew, noted as a historian, poet, and miscellaneous writer, who was in command of a regiment charged with the defense of Cowsand Bay at the entrance to Plymouth Harbor.

Lemon's deposition bears his signature at the end. It is apparently unknown and unpublished ; only the heading and part of the last paragraph are reproduced here. Below is a transcript of the parts reproduced:

The depositone of Peeter Lemman of Mylbrooke taken by Richard Carew of Antony in Cornwayle the 7th of November 1596.

The report there goeth that the whole fleete shalbe . 300 . sayle of ships. 100. gallies and . 120000 menn for the conquest of Ingland and he heard the Captain amonge them saye, they desired not more of God but that they might have quick landing.  Peter Lemon

The Dutch were just as interested as the English in the outcome of the Armada campaign, as an English defeat would have been followed speedily by the ruin of the Netherlands. In the biography by J. Orlers and H. de Haestens of Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange (1567-1625), the Armada defeat is described as one of the principal events of his life. The engraving from that work shows the final battle between the English and Spanish fleets, off Gravelines. On the cliffs behind Dover we see the signal fires which warned of the Armada's passage along the coasts of England.

Maurice, one of the greatest military commanders of the house of Orange, was instrumental in securing Dutch independence from Spain.

Feneke Muñoz' manuscript treatise on galleys, 1603. [16].

The most disappointing of the ships which took part in the Armada were the galleys. This campaign demonstrated their almost complete uselessness. A treatise on galleys and galley warfare by Carlo Feneke Muñoz, written in 1603, discusses their part in the 1588 campaign [16].

Translation of a Portion of the Muñoz Treatise

In the year 1588 the General [i.e., Don Diego Medrano, commanding the galleys] was directed to open the orders he was given only on sighting the Lizard, on the coast of Cornwall; when he made this headland he carried out these directions and found that he was ordered to set another course, one that conflicted with all the requirements both of seamanship and tactics--the more obviously so in view of the advantageous position he was in. For instance, he had made the coast where required, in a very favorable spot; he had the tides with him; he had the advantage of the wind; and through their neglect he had surprised the enemy, who were taken unawares by his arrival. And therefore I am certain that if he had been left to himself he would have carried out his operations like a good seaman, always keeping the enemy fleet in his sights, if that accursed order had not impeded him...

To celebrate the defeat of the Armada, a number of medals were issued. The most famous of these is the one with the legend: "1588. Flavit Jehovah et Dissipati Sunt" (with the word "Jehovah" in Hebrew letters) = "God blew, and they were scattered". The obverse displays a church building, symbolizing the Protestant Church, remaining unmoved in a storm (symbolizing the Armada invasion).

Another medal (reproduced here from examples in silver and copper), shows a wrecked galleon, and on the obverse some people praying.

Another large silver medal displays a scene of some sinking ships on one side; on the other it satirizes the Pope, King Philip, and other clerics and rulers, who are shown with bandages over their eyes, and with their feet resting on a bed of sharp spikes.

These popular medals occur again in the Armada engravings of 1739, where John Pine incorporated them in the decorative borders.