Elizabethan Sea Dogs eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 190 pages of information about Elizabethan Sea Dogs.
coast.  A head wind forced Drake to anchor under the island of Veragua, a hundred and twenty-five miles west of Nombre de Dios Bay and right in the deadliest part of that fever-stricken coast.  The men began to sicken and die off.  Drake complained at table that the place had changed for the worse.  His earlier memories of New Spain were of a land like a ‘pleasant and delicious arbour’ very different from the ’vast and desert wilderness’ he felt all round him now.  The wind held foul.  More and more men lay dead or dying.  At last Drake himself, the man of iron constitution and steel nerves, fell ill and had to keep his cabin.  Then reports were handed in to say the stores were running low and that there would soon be too few hands to man the ships.  On this he gave the order to weigh and ‘take the wind as God had sent it.’

So they stood out from that pestilential Mosquito Gulf and came to anchor in the fine harbor of Puerto Bello, which the Spaniards had chosen to replace the one at Nombre de Dios, twenty miles east.  Here, in the night of the 27th of January, Drake suddenly sprang out of his berth, dressed himself, and raved of battles, fleets, Armadas, Plymouth Hoe, and plots against his own command.  The frenzy passed away.  He fell exhausted, and was lifted back to bed again.  Then ’like a Christian, he yielded up his spirit quietly.’

His funeral rites befitted his renown.  The great new Spanish fort of Puerto Bello was given to the flames, as were nearly all the Spanish prizes, and even two of his own English ships; for there were now no sailors left to man them.  Thus, amid the thunder of the guns whose voice he knew so well, and surrounded by consuming pyres afloat and on the shore, his body was committed to the deep, while muffled drums rolled out their last salute and trumpets wailed his requiem.



In the sixteenth century there was no hard-and-fast distinction between naval and all other craft.  The sovereign had his own fighting vessels; and in the course of the seventeenth century these gradually evolved into a Royal Navy maintained entirely by the country as a whole and devoted solely to the national defence.  But in earlier days this modern system was difficult everywhere and impossible in England.  The English monarch, for all his power, had no means of keeping up a great army and navy without the help of Parliament and the general consent of the people.  The Crown had great estates and revenues; but nothing like enough to make war on a national scale.  Consequently king and people went into partnership, sometimes in peace as well as war.  When fighting stopped, and no danger seemed to threaten, the king would use his men-of-war in trade himself, or even hire them out to merchants.  The merchants, for their part, furnished vessels to the king in time of war.  Except as supply ships, however, these auxiliaries were never a great success.  The privateers built expressly for fighting were the only ships that could approach the men-of-war.

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Elizabethan Sea Dogs from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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