« AnteriorContinuar »
There was much enthusiasm as the beacon fires were kindled and the news of the approach of the Spaniards spread over the land. The citizens of London, young and old, were ready for the fray, and the volunteers who marched through the city on their way to the entrenched camp at Tilbury were hailed with deafening shouts; the great country squires gathered their retainers and swore to shed their blood in the Queen's service. But there was no proper organization. Leicester was the captain-general, and under him was Sir John Norris; but between these two there was no good will, and at the first receipt of the news about the approach of the Armada, Sir John quitted the camp at Tilbury and posted to Dover where it was expected Parma would land.
As the volunteer troops mustered at Tilbury it was found that many
of them were quite unused to service, having but a very indistinct notion of the use of their weapons, and worse still, it was found that no provision had been made for them, not even to the extent of a batch of bread or a barrel of beer!
As the Armada approached Calais, Leicester was informed that the soldiers at Dover began to leave the coast; they had not sufficient rations and their pay was over due. The officers, in many instances, behaved very little better than the men; some were getting home on pretence of sickness-in reality having no stomach for the fight; but the want of courage to do battle with the Spaniards was not the chief cause of these desertions. The gentlemen of England quarrelled among themselves, and the soldiers were so badly served, that it was no matter of surprise that they should lose heart. The dangerous parsimony of the queen and her
government was continued even when the Spaniards were in sight of our shores and when a few hours might have placed London at the mercy of Alexander Farnese.
At length the queen, fairly roused, shook off her timid counsellors and thrifty statesmen, and made some recompense for the long delay. She resolved to place herself at the head of the army, to draw around her royal person the chivalry of England; but Leicester strongly opposed this heroic but hazardous resolution.
"Now for your person," he said, "being the most dainty and sacred thing we have in this world to care for, a man must tremble when he thinks of it, especially finding your Majesty to have that princely courage to transport yourself to the uttermost confines of your realm to meet your
enemies and defend your subjects; I cannot, most dear queen, consent to that; for upon your well doing consists all and some for your whole kingdom, and therefore preserve it above all! yet will I not that in some sort so princely, and so rare a magnanimity should not appear to your people and the world as it is, and thus far, if it please you, you may do it to draw yourself to your house at Havering, and your army being about London, as at Stratford, Eastham, Hackney, and the villages thereabout shall be alway not only a defence but a ready supply to those counties, and may see both the counties and the forts. It is not above fourteen miles from Havering, and a very convenient place for your Majesty to lie in by the way. To rest you at the camp, I trust you will be pleased with your poor lieutenant's cabin, and within a mile there is a gentleman's
house where you may also lie. Thus you may comfort not only thousands there, but many more that shall hear of it, and thus far, but no further, can I consent to adventure your person."
The enthusiasm of the people heightened as the danger increased.
was a pleasant sight," says John Stowe, "to behold the cheerful countenances, courageous words and gestures of the soldiers, as they marched to Tilbury, dancing and leaping wherever they came, as joyful at the news of the foe's approach as if lusty giants were to run a race. And Bellonalike did the queen infuse a second spirit of loyalty, love, and resolution
into every soldier of her army, who, ravished with their sovereign's sight, prayed heartily that the Spaniards might land quickly, and when they heard they were fled begun to lament."
This regal spectacle, when the queen, with a military baton in her hand, rode along the lines at Tilbury, did not take place until eleven days after the destruction of the Armada; but it must be remembered that this destruction was not known with certainty in England, and that it was still expected that the Duke of Parma would attempt the invasion. The queen on her white palfrey, uttering the heroic and now familiar words, no doubt produced a great impression on the excitable minds of the soldiers-"Let tyrants fear; I have always behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good will of my subjects, and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved in the midst and heart of the battle, to live or die among you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honour and my blood even in the dust. I know that I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a kingaye, and a king of England, too; and think foul scorn that Parma, or Spain, or any prince in Europe should dare invade the borders of my realm to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms: I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns, and we assure you on the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the meantime my lieutenant-general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject, not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over these enemies of my God, my kingdom, and my people."
At that time the famous victory had been achieved by the elements. But if the English were in a great measure ignorant of this triumph, the court of Spain was in still profounder ignorance of all that had occurred. In his closet writing letters, amending dispatches, and duly attending to his devotions, was King Philip, confident of success. Already he regarded the kingdom of England as his own, and the Queen of England as his prisoner. Doubtless the Armada had swept the sea; doubtless Duke Parma had landed at Dover and marched to London; doubtless the
soldiery had won rich store of crowns in the sack of that opulent city; doubtless the priests were celebrating mass in St. Paul's cathedral, and Parma feasting royally at "Whytal." The only intelligence Philip received for a considerable time was concerning the fire-ships off Calais. Other rumours which reached him conveyed the idea of a great victory having been obtained. It was whispered that the Queen of England was already on her way to Rome to do penance barefoot before his holiness the Pope. It was averred that the Armada had captured four Dutch men-of-war and many English vessels; that in one engagement twenty-six English ships had been sunk and twenty-six captured; that every English admiral of renown had been killed, except Drake, who had escaped in a cock-boat; that the storm which had fallen on the Armada had compelled that gallant fleet to take possession of a port in Scotland, where it was refitting that in fact the Armada had maintained the credit of its name and the glory of its sovereign.
As for the Spanish ambassador at the court of France he was vainglorious in his assertions of success, and Seymour, the English ambassador, was anxious to be informed by his government as to the truth. "That which cometh from me," he said, "will be believed, for I have not been used to tell lies, and in very truth I have not the face to do it." So soon, therefore, as intelligence reached the authentic English envoy, a pamphlet was issued, not avowedly official, but at the same time known to be approved, in which the absurd assertions and vain assumptions of the Spaniards were amusingly ridiculed. When the King of France saw the pamphlet he offered a wager it was Stafford's doing and laughed at it heartily. The young courtier relishing the joke plagued poor Mendoza daily with petitions for some appointment in England, and suggesting the gift, for old acquaintance sake, of such trifling towns as York, Canterbury, or London!
Towards the end of August the news of defeat reached even the ears of King Philip. He wrote to Medina Sidonia, "At the very moment when I was expecting news of the effect hoped for from my Armada, I have heard the retreat from before Calais to which it was compelled by the weather; and I have received a very great shock, which keeps me in anxiety not to be exaggerated. Nevertheless I hope in our Lord that he will have provided a remedy, and that if it was possible for you to return upon the enemy to come back to the appointed post, and to watch an opportunity for the great stroke, you will have done as the case required;