Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 15.djvu/445

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Drake
Drake
439

Europe, notwithstanding the absurd lies that were printed and circulated at Paris by the Spanish ambassador. Howard's ship, it was said, had been taken; he himself had barely escaped in a small boat; Drake was a prisoner; never had been a more complete victory. A version of this gazette in English, with an appropriate commentary, was issued under the title of ` A Pack of Spanish Lies ' (Harl. Misc. iii. 368; Somers Tracts, i. 453), and called forth that curt and scornful narrative of fact which some have attributed to Drake (Barrow, p. 318), though others, with greater probability, to Ralegh (Hakluyt, vol. ii. pt. ii. p. 169). Drake could write powerfully enough on occasion, and many of his letters are full of quaint humour; but nothing stsinds in his own name which warrants our believing him capable of such a prose epic as ` The Last Fight of the Revenge.'

The alarm of the invasion being once at an end, the queen began to think of reprisals, and before the end of August had signified her desire ` for the intercepting of the king's treasure from the Indies. The matter was referred to Howard and Drake, who answered that there were no ships in the fleet able to go such a voyage till they had been cleaned, which could not be done till the next spring tides (27 Aug.) But though this particular attempt was not made, others were, especially by the Earl of Cumberland [see Clifford, George]; and in the following spring an expedition against the coasts of Spain and Portugal, of such magnitude that it amounted to an invasion, was placed under the joint command of Drake and Sir John Norreys, his old companion in Ireland. It consisted of six of the queen's capital ships, with a great many private ships of war and transports, numbering in all about 150, and carrying, what with seamen and soldiers, 23,375 men (Cal, State Papers, Dom., 8 April 1589). So far as mere numbers went, it was most formidable, but it suffered from the three terrible mistakes of being victualled with the same parsimony that had threatened to ruin the fleet the year before, of being under a divided command, and of leaving the sea, where we had proved our superiority, to fight on land, where our soldiers had but scant experience. After being detained a whole month at Plymouth by adverse winds, it was already short of provisions when it put to sea on 18 April. The first attempt was made on Corunna, where, on the 24th, the shipping was burnt and the lower town was taken and plundered; from the upper town, however, the attack was repulsed, mainly, it is said, through the exertions of Maria Pita, the wife of a Spanish officer (Southey, p. 213). On 10 May the troops were re-embarked, and, having been carried down the coast, were again landed on the 19th at Peniche, whence they marched on Lisbon, where Drake promised to meet them with the fleet ` if the weather did not hinder him.' He was not able, however, to advance further than Cascaes, of which he took possession, blew up the castle, and seized on a large number of Spanish and neutral ships, including some sixty belonging to the Hansa laden with corn and naval stores. The soldiers, having failed in their attempt on Lisbon, came down to Cascaes and there embarked, though not without some little loss. On the return voyage they met with very bad weather, were seventeen days before they could reach Vigo, and then in the greatest distress, their men dying fast from sickness and want. Nor could they obtain any relief at Vigo, the town having been cleared out in expectation of their coming. They vented their angry disappointment by setting it on fire, and re-embarked. Their effective force was reduced to two thousand men, and it was agreed that Drake should fill up the complements of twenty of the best ships and take them to the Azores, in hopes of falling in with the homeward-bound fleet from the Indies, while Norreys, with the rest, should return to Plymouth. A fortunate meeting with the Earl of Cumberland relieved some of their most pressing necessities; but they had scarcely parted company when a violent storm scattered their squadrons. The queen's ships alone held with Drake, who determined to make the best of his way to Plymouth, where he anchored in the end of June. The booty brought home was considerable, but the loss of life was appalling. Strenuous efforts were made to conceal this by misstating the numbers which originally started, and possibly exaggerating the numbers which had deserted. But if it is true that about six thousand only returned, it would seem that the Spanish estimate of sixteen thousand dead was not so egregiously wrong as the chronicler of the voyage wished it to appear (Hakluyt, vol.ii.pt. ii.p. 134). The real advantage was that the vast destruction of shipping and stores put an end to all proposals of an invasion from Spain ; and though some dissatisfaction was murmured at the apparently meagre results obtained at such a cost, the queen signified her approval of the conduct of the two generals, and charged them ` to express her thanks to the colonels, captains, and inferior soldiers and mariners, who had shown as great valour as ever nation did ' (7 July)

For the next few years Drake was actively but peacefully employed on shore. He con-