Drake forged ahead and led the pursuit in turn. The Spaniards fought with desperate courage, still suffering ghastly losses. But, do what they could to bear up against the English and the wind, they were forced to leeward of Dunkirk, and so out of touch with Parma. This was the result of the Battle of Gravelines, fought on Monday the 29th of July, 1588, just ten days after Captain Fleming had rushed on to the bowling green of Plymouth Hoe where Drake and Howard, their shore work done, were playing a game before embarking. In those ten days the gallant Armada had lost all chance of winning the overlordship of the sea and shaking the sea-dog grip off both Americas. A rising gale now forced it to choose between getting pounded to death on the shoals of Dunkirk or running north, through that North Sea in which the British Grand Fleet of the twentieth century fought against the fourth attempt in modern times to win a world-dominion.
North, and still north, round by the surf-lashed Orkneys, then down the wild west coasts of the Hebrides and Ireland, went the forlorn Armada, losing ships and men at every stage, until at last the remnant straggled into Spanish ports like the mere wreckage of a storm.
‘THE ONE AND THE FIFTY-THREE’
The next year, 1589, is famous for the unsuccessful Lisbon Expedition. Drake had the usual troubles with Elizabeth, who wanted him to go about picking leaves and breaking branches before laying the axe to the root of the tree. Though there were in the Narrow Seas defensive squadrons strong enough to ward off any possible blow, yet the nervous landsmen wanted Corunna and other ports attacked and their shipping destroyed, for fear England should be invaded before Drake could strike his blow at Lisbon. Then there were troubles about stores and ammunition. The English fleet had been reduced to the last pound of powder twice during the ten-days’ battle with the Armada. Yet Elizabeth was again alarmed at the expense of munitions. She never quite rose to the idea of one supreme and finishing blow, no matter what the cost might be.
This was a joint expedition, the first in which a really modern English fleet and army had ever taken part, with Sir John Norreys in command of the army. There was no trouble about recruits, for all men of spirit flocked in to follow Drake and Norreys. The fleet was perfectly organized into appropriate squadrons and flotillas, such as then corresponded with the battleships, cruisers, and mosquito craft of modern navies. The army was organized into battalions and brigades, with a regular staff and all the proper branches of the service.