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The Story Of The Revenge
A REPORT OF THE TRUTH OF THE FIGHT ABOUT THE ISLES OF AZORES, THIS
LAST SUMMER, BETWIXT THE "REVENGE," ONE OF HER MAJESTIES' SHIPS,
AND AN ARMADA OF THE KING OF SPAIN (LONDON 1591), BY SIR WALTER
Because the rumours are diversely spread, as well in England as in
the Low Countries and elsewhere, of this late encounter between Her
Majesties' ships and the Armada of Spain; and that the Spaniards,
according to their usual manner, fill the world with their
vain-glorious vaunts, making great appearance of victories--when,
on the contrary, themselves are most commonly and shamefully beaten
and dishonoured--thereby hoping to possess the ignorant multitude by
anticipating and forerunning false reports, it is agreeable with all
good reason for manifestation of the truth to overcome falsehood and
untruth, that the beginning, continuance and success of this late
honourable encounter of Sir Richard Grenville, and other Her Majesties'
captains with the Armada of Spain, should be truly set down and
published without partiality or false imagination.
The Lord Thomas Howard, with six of Her Majesties' ships, six victualers
of London, the bark Ralegh, and two or three pinnaces riding at anchor
near unto Flores, one of the westerly islands of the Azores, the last of
August in the afternoon, had intelligence by one Captain Middleton of
the approach of the Spanish Armada, which Middleton, being in a very
good sailer, had kept them company three days before, of good purpose
both to discover their forces the more as also to give advice to my
Lord Thomas of their approach. He had no sooner delivered the news but
the fleet was in sight: many of our ships' companies were on shore in
the island; some providing ballast for their ships, others filling of
water and refreshing themselves from the land with such things as they
could either for money or by force recover. By reason whereof our ships
being all pestered and romaging, everything out of order, very light for
want of ballast, and that which was most to our disadvantage, the one
half part of the men of every ship sick and utterly unserviceable. For
in the Revenge there were ninety diseased: in the Bonaventure, not
so many in health as could handle her mainsail. For had not twenty men
been taken out of a bark of Sir George Caryes, his being commanded to be
sunk and those appointed to her, she had hardly ever recovered England.
The rest for the most part were in little better state.
The names of Her Majesties' ships were these as followeth: the
Defiance, which was admiral; the Revenge, vice-admiral; the
Bonaventure, commanded by Captain Crosse; the Lion, by George
Fenner; the Foresight, by M. Thomas Vavisour, and the Crane, by
Duffeild. The Foresight and the Crane being but small ships; only
the others were of the middle size; the rest, besides the bark Ralegh,
commanded by Captain Thin, were victualers and of small force or none.
The Spanish fleet, having shrouded their approach by reason of the
island, were now so soon at hand, as our ships had scarce time to way
their anchors, but some of them were driven to let slip their cables and
set sail. Sir Richard Grenville was the last weighed, to recover the men
that were upon the island, which otherwise had been lost. The Lord
Thomas with the rest very hardly recovered the wind, which Sir Richard
Grenville not being able to do was persuaded by the master and others to
cut his main sail and cast about, and to trust to the sailing of the
ship: for the squadron of Sivill were on his weather bow. But Sir
Richard utterly refused to turn from the enemy, alleging that he would
rather choose to die than to dishonour himself, his country, and Her
Majesties' ships, persuading his company that he would pass through the
two squadrons in despite of them, and enforce those of Sivill to give
him way. Which he performed upon divers of the foremost, who, as the
mariners term it, sprang their luffe and fell under the lee of the
Revenge. But the other course had been the better, and might right
well have been answered in so great an impossibility of prevailing.
Notwithstanding, out of the greatness of his mind he could not be
persuaded. In the meanwhile, as he attended those which were nearest
him, the great San Philip being in the wind of him, and, coming
towards him, becalmed his sails in such sort as the ship could neither
make way nor feel the helm: so huge and high carged was the Spanish
ship, being of a thousand and five hundred tons; who afterlaid the
Revenge aboard. When he was thus bereft of his sails, the ships that
were under his lee luffing up, also laid him aboard: of which the next
was the admiral of the Biscaines, a very mighty and puisant ship
commanded by Brittan Dona. The said Philip carried three tire of
ordinance on a side and eleven pieces in every tire. She shot eight
forth right out of her chase, besides those of her stern ports.
After the Revenge was entangled with this Philip, four other boarded
her; two on her larboard and two on her starboard. The fight thus
beginning at three of the clock in the afternoon continued very terrible
all that evening. But the great San Philip having received the lower
tire of the Revenge discharged with crossbar shot, shifted herself
with all diligence from her sides, utterly misliking her first
entertainment. Some say that the ship foundered, but we cannot report it
for truth unless we were assured. The Spanish ships were filled with
companies of soldiers, in some two hundred besides the mariners; in some
five, in others eight hundred. In ours there were none at all beside the
mariners, but the servants of the commanders and some few voluntary
gentlemen only. After many interchanged volleys of great ordinance and
small shot, the Spaniards deliberated to enter the Revenge, and made
divers attempts, hoping to force her by the multitudes of their armed
soldiers and musketiers, but were still repulsed again and again, and
at all times beaten back into their own ships or into the seas. In the
beginning of the fight the George Noble of London, having received
some shot through her by the Armados, fell under the lee of the
Revenge, and asked Sir Richard what he would command him, being but
one of the victualers and of small force: Sir Richard bid him save
himself and leave him to his fortune. After the fight had thus without
intermission continued while the day lasted and some hours of the night,
many of our men were slain and hurt, and one of the great gallions of
the Armada and the admiral of the hulks both sunk, and in many other of
the Spanish ships great slaughter was made. Some write that Sir Richard
was very dangerously hurt almost in the beginning of the fight, and lay
speechless for a time ere he recovered. But two of the Revenge's own
company, brought home in a ship of lime from the islands, examined by
some of the lords and others, affirmed that he was never so wounded as
that he forsook the upper deck till an hour before midnight; and then
being shot into the body with a musket as he was a-dressing, was again
shot into the head, and withal his Chirurgion wounded to death. This
agreeth also with an examination taken by Sir Frances Godolphin, of four
other mariners of the same ship being returned, which examination, the
said Sir Frances sent unto Master William Killigrue, of Her Majesties'
But to return to the fight; the Spanish ships which attempted to board
the Revenge, as they were wounded and beaten off so always others came
in their places, she having never less than two mighty gallions by her
sides and aboard her. So that ere the morning, from three of the clock
the day before, there had fifteen several Armados assailed her; and all
so ill approved their entertainment, as they were by the break of day
far more willing to hearken to a composition, than hastily to make any
more assaults or entries. But as the day encreased so our men decreased,
and as the light grew more and more by so much more grew our
discomforts. For none appeared in sight but enemies, saving one small
ship called the Pilgrim, commanded by Jacob Whiddon, who hovered all
night to see the success; but in the morning, bearing with the
Revenge, was hunted like a hare amongst many ravenous hounds, but
All the powder of the Revenge to the last barrel was now spent, all
her pikes broken, forty of her best men slain and the most part of the
rest hurt. In the beginning of the fight she had but one hundred free
from sickness, and four score and ten sick, laid in hold upon the
ballast. A small troop to man such a ship, and a weak garrison to resist
so mighty an army. By those hundred all was sustained, the volleys,
boardings and enterings of fifteen ships of war, besides those which
beat her at large. On the contrary, the Spanish were always supplied
with soldiers brought from every squadron: all manner of arms and powder
at will. Unto ours there remained no comfort at all, no hope, no supply
either of ships, men, or weapons; the masts all beaten overboard, all
her tackle cut asunder, her upper work altogether rased, and in effect
evened she was with the water, but the very foundation or bottom of a
ship, nothing being left overhead either for flight or defence. Sir
Richard finding himself in this distress, and unable any longer to make
resistance, having endured in this fifteen hours' fight the assault of
fifteen several Armadoes, all by turns aboard him, and by estimation
eight hundred shot of great artillery, besides many assaults and
entries, and that himself and the ship must needs be possessed by the
enemy, who were now all cast in a ring round about him, the Revenge
not able to move one way or other but as she was moved with the waves
and billows of the sea, commanded the master-gunner, whom he knew to be
a most resolute man, to split and sink the ship, that thereby nothing
might remain of glory or victory to the Spaniards, seeing in so many
hours' fight and with so great a navy they were not able to take her
having had fifteen hours' time, fifteen thousand men, and fifty and
three sail of men-of-war to perform it withal, and persuaded the
company, or as many as he could induce, to yield themselves unto God,
and to the mercy of none else; but as they had, like valiant, resolute
men, repulsed so many enemies, they should not now shorten the honour of
their nation by prolonging their own lives for a few hours or a few
days. The master-gunner readily condescended and divers others, but the
captain and the master were of another opinion, and besought Sir Richard
to have care of them, alleging that the Spaniards would be as ready to
entertain a composition as they were willing to offer the same; and that
there being divers sufficient and valiant men yet living and whose
wounds were not mortal, they might do their country and prince
acceptable service hereafter. And (that where Sir Richard had alleged
that the Spaniards should never glory to have taken one ship of Her
Majesties', seeing they had so long and so notably defended themselves)
they answered that the ship had six foot water in hold, three shot under
water which were so weakly stopped, as with the first working of the sea
she must needs sink, and was besides so crushed and bruised as she could
never be removed out of the place.
And as the matter was thus in dispute and Sir Richard refusing to
hearken to any of those reasons, the master of the Revenge (while the
captain wan unto him all the greater party) was conveyed aboard the
general Don Alfonso Bassan, who, finding none over-hastie to enter the
Revenge again, doubting least Sir Richard would have blown them up and
himself, and perceiving by the report of the master of the Revenge his
dangerous disposition, yielded that all their lives should be saved, the
company sent for England, and the better sort to pay such reasonable
ransom as their estate would bear, and in the mean season to be free
from gally and imprisonment. To this he so much the rather condescended
as well as I have said, for fear of further loss and mischief to
themselves, as also for the desire he had to recover Sir Richard
Grenville, whom for his notable valour he seemed greatly to honour and
When this answer was returned and that safety of life was promised, the
common sort being now at the end of their peril, the most drew back from
Sir Richard and the master-gunner, being no hard matter to disuade men
from death to life. The master-gunner, finding himself and Sir Richard
thus prevented and mastered by the greater number, would have slain
himself with a sword had he not been by force withheld and locked in his
cabin. Then the general sent many boats aboard the Revenge, and divers
of our men, fearing Sir Richard's disposition, stole away aboard the
general and other ships. Sir Richard thus overmatched, was sent unto by
Alfonso Bassan to remove out of the Revenge, the ship being marvellous
unsavoury, filled with blood and bodies of dead and wounded men like a
slaughter house. Sir Richard answered that he might do with his body
what he list, for he esteemed it not, and as he was carried out of the
ship he swooned, and reviving again, desired the company to pray for
him. The general used Sir Richard with all humanity, and left nothing
unattempted that tended to his recovery, highly commending his valour
and worthiness, and greatly bewailed the danger wherein he was, being
unto them a rare spectacle, and a resolution seldom approved. To see one
ship turne toward so many enemies, to endure the charge and boarding of
so many huge Armados, and to resist and repel the assaults and entries
of so many soldiers, all which and more is confirmed by a Spanish
captain of the same Armada, and a present actor in the fight, who being
severed from the rest in a storm, was by the Lyon of London, a small
ship, taken, and is now prisoner in London.
The general commander of the Armada was Don Alphonso Bassan, brother to
the Marquesse of Santa Cruce. The admiral of the Biscaine squadron was
Britan Dona; of the squadron of Sivill, Marques of Arumburch. The hulks
and fly-boats were commanded by Luis Cutino. There were slain and
drowned in this fight well near two thousand of the enemies and two
especial commanders, Don Luis de sant John and Don George de Prunaria de
Mallaga, as the Spanish captain confesseth, besides divers others of
special account, whereof as yet report is not made.
The admiral of the hulks and the ascention of Sivill were both sunk by
the side of the Revenge; one other recovered the road of Saint Nichels
and sunk also there; a fourth ran herself with the shore to save her
men. Sir Richard died, as it is said, the second or third day aboard the
general, and was by them greatly bewailed. What became of his body,
whether it was buried in the sea or on the land, we know not: the
comfort that remaineth to his friends is that he hath ended his life
honourably in respect of the reputation won to his nation and country,
and of the same to his posterity, and that being dead he hath not
outlived his own honour.
For the rest of Her Majesties' ships that entered not so far into the
fight as the Revenge, the reasons and causes were these. There were of
them but six in all, whereof two but small ships; the Revenge engaged
past recovery; the Island of Flores was on the one side, fifty-three
sail of the Spanish divided into squadrons, on the other, all as full
filled with soldiers as they could contain. Almost the one half of our
men sick and not able to serve; the ships grown foul, unroomaged, and
scarcely able to bear any sail for want of ballast, having been six
months at the sea before. If all the rest had entered all had been lost.
For the very hugeness of the Spanish fleet, if no other violence had
been offered, would have crushed them between them into shivers. Of
which the dishonour and loss to the queen had been far greater than the
spoil or harm that the enemy could any way have received.
Notwithstanding, it is very true that the Lord Thomas would have entered
between the squadrons, but the rest would not condescend; and the master
of his own ship offered to leap into the sea rather than to conduct that
Her Majesties' ship and the rest to be a prey to the enemy where there
was no hope nor possibility either of defence or victory. Which also in
my opinion had ill-sorted or answered the discretion and trust of a
general to commit himself and his charge to an assured destruction
without any hope or any likelihood of prevailing, thereby to diminish
the strength of Her Majesties' Navy and to enrich the pride and glory of
[The story of Sir Richard Grenville's last fight has been told many
times in prose and verse. Sir Walter Raleigh tells it in the prose epic
from which the foregoing is taken; Froude made it the subject of one of
his essays, Gerald Massey and Lord Tennyson have both exploited it in
ballads of power and beauty. These ballads are too long for quotation
here, but there are some stanzas in Gerald Massey's poem which may be
"Signalled the English admiral,
'Weigh or cut anchors.' For
A Spanish fleet bore down in all
The majesty for war,
Athwart our tack for many a mile,
As there we lay off Florez Isle,
With crews half sick; all tired of toil.
"Eleven of our twelve ships escaped;
Sir Richard stood alone!
Though they were three and fifty sail--
A hundred men to one--
The old Sea Rover would not run,
So long as he had man or gun;
But--he could die when all was done.
* * * * *
"Ship after ship like broken waves
That wash up on a rock,
Those mighty galleons fall back foiled
And shattered from the shock.
With fire she answers all their blows;
Again, again in pieces strows
The girdle round her as they close.
"Through all that night the great white storm
Of worlds in silence rolled;
Sirius with green-azure sparkle,
Mars in ruddy gold.
Heaven looked with stillness terrible
Down on a fight most fierce and fell--
A sea transfigured into hell.
"Some know not they are wounded till
'Tis slippery where they stand;
Then each one tighter grips his steel
As 'twere salvation's hand.
Grim faces glow through lurid night
With sweat of spirit shining bright:
Only the dead on deck turn white.
"At daybreak the flame-picture fades
In blackness and in blood;
There, after fifteen hours' fight,
The unconquered sea-king stood,
Defying all the powers of Spain:
Fifteen armadas hurled in vain,
And fifteen hundred foemen slain.
"About that little bark Revenge
The baffled Spaniards ride
At distance. Two of their good ships
Were sunken at her side;
The rest lie round her in a ring
As round the dying lion-king
The dogs afraid of his death-spring.
* * * * *
"Old heroes who could gladly do,
As they could greatly dare;
A vesture very glorious
Their shining spirits wear,
Of noble deeds! God give us grace,
That we may see such face to face,
In our great day that comes apace."
We will only add here that the Revenge foundered a few days after the
fight with two hundred Spaniards on board her, and conclude with Sir
Richard Grenville's last words, "Here die I, Richard Grenville, with a
joyful and quiet mind, for that I have ended my life as a true soldier
ought to do, fighting for his queen, religion, and honour; my soul
willingly departing from this body, leaving behind the lasting fame of
having behaved as any valiant soldier is in his duty bound to
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