Elizabethan Sea Dogs eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 154 pages of information about Elizabethan Sea Dogs.

CHAPTER XII

DRAKE’S END

Drake in disfavor after 1589 seems a contradiction that nothing can explain.  It can, however, be quite easily explained, though never explained away.  He had simply failed to make the Lisbon Expedition pay—­a heinous offence in days when the navy was as much a revenue department as the customs or excise.  He had also failed to take Lisbon itself.  The reasons why mattered nothing either to the disappointed government or to the general public.

But, six years later, in 1595, when Drake was fifty and Hawkins sixty-three, England called on them both to strike another blow at Spain.  Elizabeth was helping Henry IV of France against the League of French and Spanish Catholics.  Henry, astute as he was gallant, had found Paris ‘worth a mass’ and, to Elizabeth’s dismay, had gone straight over to the Church of Rome with terms of toleration for the Huguenots.  The war against the Holy League, however, had not yet ended.  The effect of Henry’s conversion was to make a more united France against the encroaching power of Spain.  And every eye in England was soon turned on Drake and Hawkins for a stroke at Spanish power beyond the sea.

Drake and Hawkins formed a most unhappy combination, made worse by the fact that Hawkins, now old beyond his years, soured by misfortune, and staled for the sea by long spells of office work, was put in as a check on Drake, in whom Elizabeth had lost her former confidence.  Sir Thomas Baskerville was to command the troops.  Here, at least, no better choice could have possibly been made.  Baskerville had fought with rare distinction in the Brest campaign and before that in the Netherlands.

There was the usual hesitation about letting the fleet go far from home.  The ‘purely defensive’ school was still strong; Elizabeth in certain moods belonged to it; and an incident which took place about this time seemed to give weight to the arguments of the defensivists.  A small Spanish force, obliged to find water and provisions in a hurry, put into Mousehole in Cornwall and, finding no opposition, burnt several villages down to the ground.  The moment these Spaniards heard that Drake and Hawkins were at Plymouth they decamped.  But this ridiculous raid threw the country into doubt or consternation.  Elizabeth was as brave as a lion for herself.  But she never grasped the meaning of naval strategy, and she was supersensitive to any strong general opinion, however false.  Drake and Hawkins, with Baskerville’s troops (all in transports) and many supply vessels for the West India voyage, were ordered to cruise about Ireland and Spain looking for enemies.  The admirals at once pointed out that this was the work of the Channel Fleet, not that of a joint expedition bound for America.  Then, just as the Queen was penning an angry reply, she received a letter from Drake, saying that the chief Spanish treasure ship from Mexico had been seen in Porto Rico little better than a wreck, and that there was time to take her if they could only sail at once.  The expedition was on the usual joint-stock lines and Elizabeth was the principal shareholder.  She swallowed the bait whole; and sent sailing orders down to Plymouth by return.

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Elizabethan Sea Dogs from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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