The Invincible Armada and Elizabethan England

By Garrett Mattingly | Go to book overview

did not know was that had the fleets met off the Spanish coast and the English adopted the same tactics they later used off the Eddystone, as they surely would have done, they would have fired every shot in their lockers before they had done the Spanish any appreciable harm, and would have been obliged to scuttle home in search of more munitions, while the Spanish could have marched grandly into the Channel. Partly by prudence and partly by luck, Elizabeth's preference that the battle, if there had to be one, should be fought in home waters, was a major contribution to English victory.

As spring advanced, the Queen finally yielded to the pleas of her captains and agreed that if they thought it best they might seek out the Spanish fleet on the coast of Spain, but the same difficulties with weather and supplies that delayed the Spaniards also delayed the English, and when Drake and Howard finally set off to look for the enemy, they encountered in the middle of the Bay of Biscay a stiff wind from the south, fair for England but the foulest possible for Spain. They were obliged to run back to Plymouth. So the battle was fought in the Channel after all, where the English, by their knowledge of the local waters and their nearness to fresh supplies and reinforcements, had the best chance of victory. "God blessed us," Howard wrote afterward, "with turning us back."

The same wind that drove the English back to Plymouth brought the Armada out, and by Saturday, July 30, after having been scattered by a gale, the cumbrous mixed force of warships, armed merchantmen, troop transports, and freighters was gathering itself together again off the Lizard. About the strength and composition of the two fleets there is actually very little doubt. The Armada sailed from Lisbon with 130 ships, but one freighter, of no value as a fighting ship, got no farther than Corunna. In stormy Biscay the four galleys turned back, and one strong ship, the vice-admiral of the Biscayan squadron, ran into a French haven for repairs and took no further part in the campaign. One other freighter may also have failed to rejoin, so that no more than 124 sail, perhaps only 123, began the

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The Invincible Armada and Elizabethan England
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  • Suggested Reading 33
  • Plates 35
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