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Sir Richard Grenville, the Hero of Flores. page 2

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Grenville, when he left Virginia for Plymouth, took the opportunity of having a little fight with a richly laden Spaniard of 300 tons burthen, and arrived home rich. He had been unable to fulfil his promise to return in the spring, because Raleigh had a difficulty in raising money for the three ships and their outfit. When Grenville did reach Roanoke, he found all deserted and left in confusion, as if the colonists had been hunted away by a mighty army.

After scouring the country round and making inquiries of the Indians, Grenville left fifteen men on the island with provisions for two years, and set sail for England; but he did not omit to fill his coffers by an attack upon Spanish towns in the Azores, where he seized considerable store of booty.

Perhaps he was not only working for himself, but was thinking of his cousin Walter, who had already spent some forty thousand pounds on these two Virginian expeditions. These prizes did much to recoup him for his great expenses.

For the next five years we have little news of Sir Richard's doings, except that he swept the sea of pirates other than his own countrymen. But in 1591 he was sent out as vice-admiral with seven Queen's ships under Lord Thomas Howard, to intercept the Spanish fleet from the West Indies, which had wintered in Havannah the preceding year by royal order, lest it should fall into the hands of Hawkins and Frobisher. For Philip chose rather to hazard the perishing of ships, men, and goods than that they should become the prize of the English. He was also preparing a large naval force to protect and convoy his treasure; but as it happened the Earl of Cumberland was then off the coast of Spain, and learning their designs sent word to Lord Thomas.

The latter had left Plymouth early in March and made for the Azores; there they waited five months for the West Indian treasure-ships in vain. For Philip had heard of the expedition of Howard and Grenville, and had ordered the further detention of his ships at Havannah, until his fleet could go from Spain to defeat the English, and convoy the treasure safely home.

This was to be the greatest fleet sent out of Spanish ports since the Armada; it comprised over fifty sail, Portuguese, Biscayan, and Andalusian galleys, ten Dutch boats seized near Lisbon, and other smaller craft.

Lord Thomas Howard had six of her Majesty's ships, six victuallers of London, the barque Raleigh, and two or three pinnaces. They were riding at anchor near Flores, one of the westerly islands of the Azores, on an afternoon on the last day of August, when a ship hove in sight, speeding along under full sail.

Captain Middleton reported himself, arid announced that he had kept company with a large Spanish fleet three days before; he had crowded on all sail and hastened to bring the news.

As he spoke a cry was raised, "Sail-ho!" and there on the horizon they saw an unwelcome sight - a large force of Spanish war vessels.

It was unwelcome, not only because of their own small numbers, but also because many of the ships' companies were on shore in the island; some providing ballast for their ships, others filling in water and securing provisions. "By reason whereof," says Sir Walter Raleigh, "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 halfe part of the men of every shippe being sicke and utterly unserviceable; for in the Revenge there were ninety diseased: in the Bonaventure not so many in health as could handle her main-saile. The rest, for the most part, were in little better state."

The island had shrouded the approach of the Spaniards since they were first seen, and now the enemy hove in sight again full near, and our ships had scarce time to weigh their anchors, but some of them were driven to slip their cables and set sail.

Sir Richard was the last that weighed anchor, for he had waited to recover his men that were upon the island, who otherwise would have been lost - "Choosing," says Sir Richard Hawkins, "rather to sacrifice his life, and to pass all danger whatsoever, than to fail in his obligation, by gathering together those who were ashore; though with the hazard of his ship and company."

Raleigh and Hawkins agree in giving this high motive.

Sir William Monson says: "When the Lord Thomas warily, and like a discreet general, weighed anchor and made signs to the rest of his fleet to do the like, with a purpose to get the wind of them, Sir Richard Grenville, being a stubborn man, and imagining this fleet to come from the Indies, and not to be the Armada of which they had been informed, would by no means be persuaded by his master, or company, to cut his cable and follow his admiral; nay, so headlong and rash he was, that he offered violence to those that advised him so to do. But the old saying, that a wilful man is the cause of his own woe, could not be more truly verified than in him; for when the Armada approached, and he beheld the greatness of the ships, he began to see and repent of his folly, and when it was too late, would have freed himself of them, but in vain."

Severe criticism like this, imputing low motives, is in most cases overdone. How does Monson know that Grenville mistook the fleet for treasure-ships? it is a mere surmise, for which there is no evidence. Again, where does Sir Richard seem to repent of his folly? We have Sir Walter Raleigh's statement to the contrary; he says: -

"The Lord Thomas with the rest very hardly recovered the wind, which Sir Richard 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 his ship; for the squadron of Seville were on his weather-bow. But Sir Richard utterly refused to turn from the enemie, alledging that he would rather choose to die, than to dishonour himself, his country and her Majesty's ship: persuading his company that he would pass through the two squadrons in spite of them, and enforce those of Seville to give way."

Here we have the true motives in the mind of this proud seaman. First, he would not, for any fear of Spain, leave his men behind to be tortured by the Inquisition. Secondly, his pride in his country and his Queen forbade him to fly, however numerous the foe.

No doubt he was a stubborn man - he meant to do what he thought right, and also what he thought within his power to accomplish. He did not foresee the accident which rendered his ship helpless, for boldly he sailed right into the crowd of Spanish galleys; the foremost of them "sprang their luff'" and fell under his lee. As he sailed in and out, exchanging broadsides and avoiding collisions, "the great San Felipe, being in the wind of him and coming towards him, becalmed his sails in such sort that the ship could neither make way nor feel the helm; so huge and high-carged was the Spanish ship, being of 1500 tons."

This it was that prevented him from forcing his way through the Armada. Raleigh says, no doubt the other course - sailing away from the foe - had been the better: "Notwithstanding, out of the greatness of his mind, he could not be persuaded." So the San Felipe and some others closed upon the unmoving Revenge; she could not stir upon the water, being becalmed. Amongst others that lay close to board her was the admiral of the Biscayans, a very large and strong ship; she carried three tier of guns on a side, and eleven pieces in every tier. She shot eight forth right out of her chase, besides those of her stern ports.

While the Revenge was entangled with this ship, four other vessels tried to board her, two on her larboard, and two on her starboard side.

The fight began at three in the afternoon and it did not end till dawn next morning, Grenville and his men fighting as Englishmen have seldom fought before or since. The great San Felipe received the lower tier of the Revenge, discharged with cross-bar shot into her bowels. She soon shifted herself from the Revenge with all diligence, "utterly misliking her first entertainment."

The Spanish ships were filled with soldiers, from two hundred in the smaller to eight hundred in the largest; in the Revenge there were only mariners, a few servants of the officers, and some gentlemen volunteers.

Ever and again attempts were made to board the Revenge, but always the Spaniards were beaten back in their own ships with yell and blow.

At first the George Noble of London stayed close by under the lee of the Revenge, having some shot through her. Her captain asked Sir Richard what orders he had for him, being but one of the victuallers and of small force: "Go, save thyself and thy crew, friend; leave me, I pray thee, to my fortune."

As the fight went on hour after hour, ever one ship coming on and going away hurt, while two others were ready to take its place, many of the crew of the Revenge were slain or hurt, and towards nightfall one of the great galleons of the Armada and the admiral of the hulks were both sunk, while the decks of other vessels were crowded with groaning wounded.

Sir Richard, though sore wounded himself, never forsook the upper deck. His eyes were everywhere, directing and encouraging and bidding his men think of the gracious Queen and their homes in fair England: "We are fighting for honour, lads, and our country and this good ship!"

An hour before midnight, Raleigh tells us, Sir Richard was shot in the body with a musket as he was dressing; anon he was shot also in the head shortly after, and withal his chirurgeon was wounded to death, as he stooped over him.

From three of the clock in the previous afternoon, fifteen several great galleons had assailed her, as well as many small barques. So ill did they like their treatment that ere the morning dawned they began to desire some terms of surrender to be offered. The men in the Revenge, too, as the day waxed and the light grew stronger, began to mark how their wounded increased and their fighting men grew scanty. They glanced out over the bulwarks and saw none but enemies baying them round, save one small ship, the Pilgrim, commanded by Jacob Whiddon, who hovered round all night to see what success should fall out; but in the dawning, being seen of the Spaniards, the Pilgrim was hunted away like a hare from a field of wheat amongst many ravenous hounds, all giving tongue and sending their fiery breath towards her; but she was a fast sailer, and by God's blessing escaped their clutches.

In the beginning of the fight the little Revenge had only one hundred men free from sickness and able to fight, fourscore and ten sick men lay in the hold upon the ballast. These hundred men had had to sustain the volleys, boarding, and hand-to-hand encounters for sixteen hours on end, whereas the Spaniards were well supplied with fresh men brought from every squadron; arms and powder they had at will, and the comfort of knowing they had strong friends near. The English saw no hope before them - only honourable death, if so be their ship's masts were all beaten overboard, all her tackle cut asunder, her upper works altogether razed, so that she was well-nigh brought even with the water, and could not stir except as she was moved by tide and wave. All her powder was now spent to the last barrel, all her pikes broken, forty of her best men slain, and most of the rest sorely hurt. For they had borne eight hundred charges of heavy artillery and rounds of small shot without number, and at last began to stare at one another as men desperate who have lost their last chance of life.

The Armada were now floating all round the Revenge, not too near, for they suspected danger from her still.

Then Sir Richard sent for the master-gunner, whom he knew to be a most resolute man, and bade him split and sink the ship.

"And Sir Richard cried in his English pride,
'We have fought such a fight for a day and a night
As may never be fought again!
We have won great glory, my men,
And a day less or more, at sea or ashore, -
We die - does it matter when?
Sink me the ship, Master Gunner, sink her, split her in twain!
Fall into the hands of God, not into the hands of Spain!'"
- Tennyson.

So Sir Richard sought to persuade the company, or as many as he could induce, to yield themselves unto God, and to the mercy of none else. The master-gunner readily consented, and so did divers others; but the captain and the master were of another opinion, and besought Sir Richard to have care of them, for many of them might live yet to serve their prince and country. They reminded him that the ship had six foot of water in her hold, three shot under water, which were so weakly stopped that with the first working of the sea she must needs sink; and she was, besides, so crushed and bruised that she could never be removed out of the place.

As the matter was thus in dispute, and as Sir Richard, where he lay, still refused to hearken to any reason, the master was convoyed aboard the General Don Alphonso Bacan, who promised that all their lives should be saved, the crew should be sent to England, and the better sort should pay such reasonable ransom as their estate would bear, and in the meantime might be free from galley or prison. The Don agreed to this so much the rather as he desired to get possession of Sir Richard, whom for his notable valour he greatly honoured and admired.

On this message being delivered, the crew naturally wished to accept the terms and drew back from the master-gunner, who, in a frenzy of grief for his admiral's dishonour, as he thought, drew his sword and would have slain himself on the spot, had not his friends withheld him from it by force and locked him into his cabin.

Then Don Alphonso asked Sir Richard to come out of the Revenge, the ship being marvellous unsavoury, filled with blood and dead bodies and wounded men, like any slaughter-house. To which Sir Richard replied that the Spaniard might do with his body what he list, for he esteemed it not. As they bore him out of the ship, he swooned; when he recovered, he was on the Spaniard's deck, and looking about him said, "I desire you, gentlemen, to pray for me."

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