The Story Of The Revenge





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;
nd 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'

privy chamber.

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 enemy.

[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