Count Ernst von Mansfeld proved a resourceful and tenacious opponent. Having failed to break through north-west Bohemia and join Jägerndorf in May 1621, he entrenched 13,000 men at Waidhaus on the Nuremberg–Pilsen road just inside the Upper Palatinate. The remaining 2,000 were posted in Amberg and Cham to cover his rear against the Bavarians while he faced Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly and Baltasar Marradas, who had collected over 18,000 Liga and imperial troops opposite him at Roshaupt (Rozuadov) across the pass. The two armies spent the next four months alternately assaulting and shelling each other’s encampments in the first of a series of protracted struggles that characterized the war as much as the better-known pitched battles. Tilly remained weak, despite his superior numbers, because Maximilian had withdrawn his best regiments to form a second Bavarian army at Straubing totalling 14,500 men. The soldiers were replaced by fewer numbers of militia, who performed badly in the prolonged positional warfare.
Maximilian’s preparations at Straubing were finally complete by mid-September 1621. Within a week he had taken Cham and was closing against Amberg, intending to trap Mansfeld against the mountains. With his customary negotiations going nowhere, Mansfeld broke out one stormy night and dashed to Neumarkt. Once Tilly had crossed the pass to join Maximilian, Mansfeld’s position became untenable and he raced westwards on 9 October, through Nuremberg to Mannheim, abandoning stragglers to arrive two weeks later with 7,000 unruly, unpaid troops.
His escape was embarrassing for Tilly, but an opportunity for Maximilian. The Upper Palatinate submitted without further resistance, freeing Tilly to pursue Mansfeld. Maximilian was concerned the Spanish might seize the entire Lower Palatinate and wanted to capture at least its capital Heidelberg as it was associated with the electoral title. Mansfeld escaped across the Rhine to ravage Lower Alsace, abandoning the area to the east to Tilly. Sickness and detachments had reduced the main Liga army strength to fewer than 12,000, and it was unable to take either Heidelberg or Mannheim, while Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba and the Spanish similarly failed to dislodge the British defenders in Frankenthal.
The resistance of his fortresses revived Frederick’s hopes and he travelled incognito through France to join Mansfeld at Germersheim on 22 April 1622. Georg Friedrich of Baden-Durlach declared his hand, handing over government to his eldest son and mustering his own troops at Knielingen, near modern Karlsruhe. Duke Christian had been unable to break through Count Jean Jacob Anholt’s cordon at the end of 1621, but did eject Wolfgang Wilhelm’s garrison from Lippstadt in the County of Mark in January. Dutch engineers helped transform the town into a major fortress, while Christian’s cavalry ransacked nearby Paderborn. The contents of the episcopal treasury were sold to buy arms and build the army to around 10,000 men.
Tilly faced the formidable task of defeating the three paladins before they could combine. New recruits had given him 20,000 men ready to besiege Heidelberg. Frederick and Mansfeld crossed the Rhine at Germersheim, plundering their way across the bishopric of Speyer, but found Tilly’s position at Wiesloch too strong. They fell back, hoping Georg Friedrich would join them. Tilly pounced at dawn on 27 April, catching them as they crossed the swollen Kleinbach stream at Mingolsheim 10km south of Wiesloch. Tilly had about 15,000 men with him, 3,000 less than Mansfeld. The Liga advance guard threw Mansfeld’s cavalry into confusion as they tried to cover the crossing of the rest of the army. Cohesion was lost as men raced for the bridge and the road became clogged with abandoned wagons. Tilly’s Croats set the village on fire, but a Protestant Swiss regiment held it long enough for the fugitives to regroup on a hill to the south. Mansfeld and Frederick had gone on ahead, but now returned and rode along the lines exhorting the men to redeem the honour lost at White Mountain. Tilly attacked over the bridge as his infantry arrived that afternoon, but Mansfeld counter-attacked with his cavalry from behind the hill and chased Tilly’s troops back through Mingolsheim until they were halted by the Schmidt infantry regiment of Liga veterans. Mansfeld’s rearguard remained on the hill until dusk, before following the rest of the army that had already retreated having lost 400 killed. Discipline was collapsing. Many of Mansfeld’s men had lost their shoes scrambling across the marshy stream and spent the afternoon stripping the dead. Tilly’s losses were greater, possibly 2,000, and he retired east to Wimpfen.
The first round had been a draw, but the advantage of numbers still lay with the paladins as Georg Friedrich joined Frederick and Mansfeld at Sinsheim on 29 April to give them a total force of 30,000. They wasted time besieging the small town of Eppingen, failing to crush Tilly before he was joined by Córdoba who had crossed the Rhine with 5,300 men. Short of supplies, Mansfeld marched to attack the Spanish garrison in Ladenburg that cut the road between Mannheim and Heidelberg, leaving a few regiments to give Georg Friedrich 12,700 men. Tilly dissuaded Córdoba from departing to save Ladenburg and persuaded him instead to attack the margrave, who was overconfident and unaware of the Spaniards’ arrival. They spent the night of 5 May 1622 deploying on a wooded hill south of Wimpfen. As he served a king, Córdoba took the place of honour on the right, while Tilly’s 12,900 Liga troops occupied the left. The overnight rain had cleared, leaving hot and sunny weather the following morning. The men rested in the shade, fortifying themselves with breakfast and a wine ration, while their artillery shelled the Baden army deployed to the south. Georg Friedrich had chosen a bad position in the right-angle formed by the Neckar and the marshy Bölliger stream that was to his rear, with a wood on his left and his right flank next to Ober Eisesheim village, just west of the Neckar. The entire front was covered by 70 wagons, some mounting small cannon, protecting 2,000 musketeers, with the remaining infantry drawn up behind. It appeared strong, but left little chance for retreat if things went wrong.
Tilly and Córdoba began a general advance at 11 a.m., but were forced back by heavy fire and retired to the shade of the trees. Georg Friedrich also broke for lunch, recalling his outposts, including those in the wood to his left. Córdoba immediately occupied this with Spanish musketeers. The battle resumed as Georg Friedrich sent infantry to retake the wood, while launching most of his cavalry in a surprise attack from Ober Eisesheim. Their advance was screened by the thick clouds of smoke from the ineffectual cannonade and dust thrown up by skirmishers riding about the plain between the two armies. Several Liga units broke and the entire left began to give way as Georg Friedrich’s riders fanned out along the hill, capturing the artillery. Men of the Schmidt regiment saw one of their comrades, who had left the ranks to relieve himself, suddenly ‘come running, holding his trousers in his hand and shouting: The enemy! The enemy!’ The regiment quickly formed a defensive hedgehog, pikes pointing in all directions, while some of its musketeers rushed to man four cannon to their left that the gunners had just abandoned.
Georg Friedrich’s cavalry lost cohesion as some swirled around the immovable Schmidt regiment, while others dashed after the units that had broken earlier. His infantry were still stuck behind their wagons, too far away to assist. Meanwhile, Córdoba’s musketeers had worked their way round the far end of the line and were threatening its rear. Numbers and experience eventually prevailed as the Liga and Spanish cavalry regrouped and pushed their opponents off the field by the late afternoon. The infantry launched a final assault around 7 p.m. on the wagon line. At that moment, some powder wagons to the rear exploded, sending more smoke into the evening sky and creating the myth of the white-robed woman urging the Catholics to victory. Despite being mainly militia, the Baden infantry resisted stoutly, the final detachment surrendering at 9 p.m. The assault cost Tilly and Córdoba 1,800 casualties, but Georg Friedrich’s army had ceased to exist. A quarter were illed or captured, and around half dispersed, leaving barely 3,000 to join Mansfeld, who finally captured Ladenburg on 8 May.
Mansfeld temporarily re-crossed the Rhine to chase away Archduke Leopold who was threatening his new base of Hagenau in Alsace. Duke Christian’s army at last approached the Main, but its route south to join Mansfeld lay through the lands of the ostensibly neutral, but secretly pro-imperial landgrave of Hessen-Darmstadt. Mansfeld returned from Alsace in early June and seized the landgrave to force him to give Christian passage. Córdoba re-crossed the Rhine with most of his men in the other direction, but Tilly was more than compensated by the arrival of General Caracciolo’s other Spanish corps from Bohemia, as well as Anholt who had been shadowing Christian’s march from Westphalia. This gave him 30,000 men, the largest force he had yet commanded. Having blocked Mansfeld’s march north at Lorsch on 10 June, Tilly boldly abandoned the area south of the Main to cross at Aschaffenburg and move past Frankfurt to catch Christian as he was crossing at Höchst, just west of the city on 20 June.
Mansfeld had managed to reinforce Christian with 5,000 men, but he was still outnumbered two-to-one. This time there was no repeat of the mistakes at Mingolsheim. Tilly methodically isolated the 2,000 infantry Christian had left at Sossenheim to delay him, relying on panic to do its work. The Höchst bridge became clogged with wagons and collapsed after only 3,000 had crossed. Christian ordered his cavalry to swim across, but many drowned. Disorder increased with the appearance of a Liga cavalry regiment sent just for that purpose. Höchst castle held out until 10 p.m., but Christian lost a third of his army, while many of the survivors were without weapons. Tilly repaired the bridge and continued the pursuit southwards the next day. Christian joined Mansfeld, who lost another 2,000 men covering their combined retreat to Mannheim. The rest of the baggage was captured, while Christian’s cavalry regretted the fine Westphalian hams they lost as they ditched their saddle-bags to get away.
The battle sealed the Palatinate’s fate. Georg Friedrich had already opened negotiations for a pardon, disbanding his remaining troops on 22 June, abdicating in favour of his son and returning the land taken from his relations. Mansfeld and Christian retreated to Hagenau. Under pressure from King James to placate the emperor, Frederick cancelled Mansfeld’s contract on 13 July 1622. Sending Anhalt in pursuit of Mansfeld, Tilly remained east of the river, retaking Ladenburg and finally capturing Heidelberg (on 15 September) and Mannheim (on 2 November) after long sieges. Duke Maximilian now held the entire eastern half of the Lower Palatinate and installed Heinrich von Metternich as governor.
Harried by Anhalt, Leopold and the 9,000 Cossacks who had just arrived, Mansfeld evacuated his loot from Hagenau and retreated with Christian through neutral Lorraine to Sedan. Relations between the two commanders were tense and they came close to fighting a duel. Renewed negotiations with all parties resulted in their gaining a contract to enter Dutch service for three months on 24 August. Ambrogio Spinola had concentrated 20,600 men to besiege Bergen-op-Zoom, the fortress that secured the Dutch salient south of the Rhine and supported the crippling blockade of Antwerp. The two paladins were supposed to assist in its relief, but this necessitated their dashing across Spanish territory. They had already lost 11,000 deserters since leaving Alsace and were down to 6,000 cavalry and 8,000 infantry, most of whom were mutinous and barely under orders. Córdoba had marched after them. He now overtook their columns and blocked the way at Fleurus, west of Namur, with 9,000 foot and 2,000 horse on 29 August. After repeated attacks, the Spanish right gave way and all who could sped past. The paladins lost all their baggage and artillery, and most of their infantry, but many of the cavalry reached Breda the next day. Wounded, Christian had his lower left arm amputated to the accompaniment of martial music, and he issued a commemorative medal inscribed Altera restat: I’ve still got the other one! Like Mingolsheim, the battle was hailed as a great Protestant victory, but it made little difference to the siege of Bergen, which was finally abandoned by Spinola on 4 October when it became obvious the Dutch could resupply the garrison by sea.
By late December 1810 Marshal Jacques Macdonald had stabilised the situation in the north of Spain and was again able to support Louis-Gabriel Suchet’s attempts to capture Tortosa. Suchet therefore moved to begin the siege on 16 December, and for once the Spanish failed to defend a strong fortress well. In fact, by 2 January 1811 the place was entirely in French hands.
This success immediately released Macdonald to carry out the siege of Lerida, whilst Napoleon ordered Suchet to take Tarragona, arbitrarily transferring half of Macdonald’s corps to Suchet’s command. At this, Macdonald promptly retired to Barcelona and left Suchet to it.
On 9 April 1811 the French were shocked to hear that the fortress of Figueras had again fallen into Spanish hands, once more threatening the supply route from France. The local Spanish insurgents had worked with a few patriots within the fortress to obtain copies of the keys to the gates and surprised the garrison before any resistance could even be attempted.
Macdonald sent the news to Suchet, asking him to abandon all thoughts of besieging Tarragona and instead to march north with his entire army. Suchet rightly pointed out that it would take him a month to march northwards, and suggested that Macdonald should seek help from France instead, given that the French border lay only 20 miles from Figueras. Suchet then began his march to Tarragona on 28 April, believing that this operation would draw the Spanish south in an attempt to relieve the place.
Napoleon promptly scraped together a force of 14,000 men at Perpignan, whilst General Baraguay d’Hilliers, commanding at Gerona, managed to collect another 6,000 men. Between them, this force of 20,000 men would seek to recapture Figueras, a task made much easier when the Spanish General Campoverde reacted exactly as Suchet had predicted and moved his force of 4,000 men by sea to help save Tarragona. He abandoned the 2,000 men of the garrison of Figueras to their fate and Marshal Macdonald then moved north to take personal command of the siege of Figueras.
Suchet began the siege of Tarragona on 7 May and three days later General Campoverde arrived by sea and bolstered the defenders with his 4,000 troops. The French were obliged to work very close to the coastline, which rendered their works vulnerable to fire from British and Spanish ships. To remedy this, the first batteries constructed faced the sea and their guns forced the warships to move further away. The French now concentrated their efforts on capturing Fort Olivo, a detached redoubt protecting the lower town. This was successfully stormed on the 29th.
Two further battalions of Spanish troops arrived by sea from Valencia, but General Campoverde sailed to seek further support, leaving General Juan Contreras in command. By 17 June the French had captured all the external defences of Tarragona and the siege was reaching a critical point; Contreras, despite having 11,000 men, simply failed to disrupt the French besiegers at all. On the 21st the lower town was successfully stormed, meaning that command of the harbour also fell to the French. Things now looked bleak for Contreras, particularly with Campoverde accusing him of cowardice from a safe distance away.
On 26 June, however, things improved for the Spanish commander. A number of troop ships arrived with a few hundred Spanish troops on board; better still, some 1,200 British troops1 commanded by Colonel John Skerrett also arrived, having been sent by General Graham at Cadiz to aid the defence. Skerrett landed that evening and surveyed the defences with the Spanish; it was unanimously agreed that Tarragona was no longer tenable. As Graham had specifically ordered that the British troops were not to land unless Skerrett could guarantee that they could safely re-embark, he rightly decided to abandon the attempt and sailed with the intention of landing further along the coast and subsequently joining with Campoverde’s force. But this was a depressing sight for the Spanish defenders and undoubtedly damaged their already fragile morale. In fact, the very day that breaching batteries opened fire on the walls, a viable breach was formed by the afternoon and was promptly stormed. Within half an hour all the defences had given way and the French infantry swarmed into the town. A terrible orgy of rape and murder followed, and it is estimated that over 4,000 Spaniards lost their lives that night, over half of them civilian. At least 2,000 of the Spanish regulars defending the town had been killed during the siege and now some 8,000 more were captured.
The capture of Tarragona earned Suchet his marshal’s baton; it had destroyed the Spanish Army of Catalonia and severely hampered British naval operations along the coast. By contrast, Campoverde was soon replaced by General Lacy, who took the few remaining men into the hills to regroup.
Suchet marched northwards to Barcelona, ensuring that his lines of communication were secure. On discovering that Macdonald was progressing well with his siege at Figueras, he turned his attentions to capturing the sacred mountain stronghold of Montserrat, which fell on 25 July. The damage to Spanish morale proved more important than the physical retention of this monastic stronghold. On 19 August Figueras was finally starved into submission after a four-month siege, thus re-opening the French supply routes. Napoleon was delighted by the news but he promptly reminded Suchet that he was yet to capture Valencia.
The Spanish forces under General Lacy continued to make forays, even into France, and attempted to disrupt French communications with predatory raids by both land and sea. These operations restored somewhat the shattered morale of the Spanish guerrillas and the flame of insurrection, so nearly snuffed out, continued to flicker and occasionally flare up, giving the Spanish some hope. Macdonald was recalled to France, another Marshal of France finding eastern Spain a step too far.
Despite his own strong misgivings, Marshal Suchet again marched south for Valencia with a force of some 22,000 men. General Joaquin Blake, commanding some 30,000 men, was tasked with opposing him but simply allowed him to march there without resistance. Suchet’s force arrived at Murviedro on 23 September and, having signally failed in a foolish attempt to storm the fortress of Saguntum by direct escalade, the French army sat down before it and patiently awaited the arrival of the siege artillery, only opening fire on 17 October. Suchet attempted a second costly assault without success and looked nervously over his shoulder at the insurrections breaking out in his rear. However, at this point General Blake decided that he must advance to protect Saguntum; having collected no fewer than 40,000 men, he attacked Suchet on 25 October and was soundly beaten for his troubles, losing over 5,000 men. The garrison of Saguntum, acknowledging that there was now no hope, surrendered the following day. Blake had simply given Suchet’s troops hope, when in fact they had none.
Suchet now continued his march on towards Valencia. Arriving on the north bank of the Guadalquivir river, he found Blake facing him again, encamped on the southern bank with some 30,000 men. Having only 15,000 men with him, Suchet formed an encampment here and awaited reinforcements, with which he could advance to prosecute the siege of Valencia.
Napoleon, badly underestimating the British army under Wellington, but simultaneously recognising the importance of capturing Valencia, ordered King Joseph’s army to further supplement Suchet’s operations. Marshal Marmont’s army, facing Wellington, was also weakened when Napoleon ordered him to send Suchet 12,000 men. These developments would have a very significant effect on Wellington’s operations a few months later, in early 1812.
The promised reinforcements arrived with Suchet in late December and he immediately advanced to prosecute the siege of Valencia on the 26th, successfully completing the investment of the city by that evening. By 1 January work had begun on preparing siege batteries, which were armed and ready to proceed by the 4th.
Blake moved his troops from his fortified camp in the hills into the city, but the prospects for a successful defence appeared to be very poor. There was already a severe shortage of food and the morale of the Spanish troops was so low that they were deserting en masse. Suchet added significantly to their discomfort by bombarding the city with shells until the morale of the defenders finally collapsed. Blake was forced to agree to surrender on 9 January, with around 16,000 Spanish soldiers laying down their arms.
The almost impregnable fortress of Penissicola, garrisoned by some 1,000 Spanish veterans, was now besieged, the siege guns beginning a heavy bombardment on 28 January. Despite being well supplied with food and stores by the British navy, and his troops proclaiming their determination to fight on, General Garcia Navarro, the fortress commander, seems to have lost all hope after Valencia fell. A letter describing his fears was captured by the French and used to exert enormous pressure on a man obviously unable to cope; when a forceful summons was sent in on 2 February, the commandant surrendered without delay. Almost the entire east coast of Spain was now in French hands.
The ‘Spanish Road‘, linking Spain’s northern territories with those in Italy and the Peninsula. In an ambitious undertaking, Spain used the Spanish Road to reinforce her position in the Netherlands with the new Army of Flanders in 1567.
Though called a ‘road’, this vital artery in fact still involved a journey by sea from Spain’s Mediterranean coast to Genoa that, like Rome, was part of Spain’s informal empire. Troops, money and supplies were convoyed by the Genoese galley squadron that formed an unofficial part of Spain’s Mediterranean fleet. From Genoa, the men marched north to Milan, centre of Spanish power in northern Italy, where they were refreshed and often joined by recruits from Spain’s Italian possessions. The main route ran from the fortress of Alessandria in the south-west Milanese lands across to Asti in Piedmont, a territory belonging to the duke of Savoy who was an ally until 1610. The road forked here, with one branch running north-west via Pinerolo which gave access to the Alpine pass of Mont Cenis and thence to Savoy proper and the upper Rhône, from where the soldiers could march north into the Franche-Comté. A subsidiary track ran along the Val de Susa west of Turin and over the Mont Genèvre. Alternatively, the men could head directly from Milan north up the Ivrea valley and cross by the Great or Little St Bernard passes through Aosta, down the Arve valley in Upper Savoy to Geneva, and then north-east along the Jura into the Franche-Comté. The three routes converged there and then headed north across the duchy of Lorraine into Luxembourg and the front. Sea transport from La Coruña covered about 200km a day, compared to the 23km a day average soldiers took to march the 1,000km from Milan to Flanders, but the overland route was safer and Spain sent over 123,000 men this way between 1567 and 1620, compared with 17,600 by sea.
The French Wars of Religion
Concern for the Road drew Spain deeper into French and Savoyard internal affairs during the 1580s, rather in the manner that the Dutch and other powers were sucked into German quarrels. In Spain’s case, however, involvement did escalate into major war, because France posed a much greater potential threat than any German territory.
France had entered a dynamic period of expansion following its victory over England in the Hundred Years War. The Valois kings consolidated royal control over the central provinces, while subduing previously autonomous border regions: Normandy in 1450, Provence in 1481, Brittany (1491), Bourbonnais and Auvergne (1523) and Saluzzo (1548). Attempts to seize Burgundy after the death of its last duke in 1477 sparked a long-running war with the Habsburgs that widened with Charles VIII’s invasion of Italy in 1494. Though this conflict ended with eventual French defeat by 1559, the country’s population had doubled across the previous century and continued to grow, reaching 19 million by 1600. The ability of the French crown to exploit this potential was hamstrung by its weakness following Henri II’s accidental death in a tournament in 1559. Government passed to his widow, Catherine de Medici, who acted as regent for a succession of the late king’s young sons: Francis II (1559–60), Charles IX (1560–74) and Henri III (1574–89). Aristocrats and others who had lost out during the previous century of growing royal power now sought to reassert their influence, under the leadership of the princes of the blood. These grandees were related by intermarriage with the royal family but excluded from rule by the principle of hereditary succession and the crown’s desire for more exclusive authority. Religion complicated matters since many princes and their provincial clients became Huguenots around 1560, embracing the French version of Calvinism, while their rivals remained Catholic. A series of bitter feuds, known as the French Wars of Religion, developed after 1562 and eroded royal authority by exposing the Valois’ inability to guarantee the peace.
International peace was no longer threatened by French aggression but by the danger that the kingdom’s implosion would suck neighbouring countries into its civil war. This was a particular problem for the Empire where princes claimed the right to recruit soldiers to assist friendly Christian powers as one of their German Freedoms. While recruitment was regulated by imperial legislation forbidding it against the emperor or the public peace, territorial fragmentation made it hard to prevent princes collecting troops for their relations or friends across the frontier. The Huguenot leaders had already appealed to the German Protestant princes in April 1562 for assistance, receiving 4,000 cavalry in the first of seven German military expeditions totalling over 70,000 men. Other soldiers were provided by the Protestant princes for the Dutch rebels, but the Catholics were equally active, supplying Spain with 57,200 men between 1567 and 1575 alone, while a further 25,000 Germans served Sweden and Denmark during their war of 1563–70. These figures illustrate the Empire’s importance, because it provided more troops than any of the other unofficial participants in the French and Dutch wars. Around 20,000 Britons served in the Huguenot and Dutch forces between 1562 and 1591, while 50,000 Swiss fought for the French crown and 20,000 for the Huguenot rebels over roughly the same period. The Palatinate was the prime mover behind German recruitment for the Huguenots, since its elector converted to Calvinism in 1560 and part of its territory lay close to the terminus of the Spanish Road. Germany’s rising population ensured that the princes had the men, but they relied on the Huguenots and their international sponsors to pay for them. The money invariably arrived late and never covered the full cost. Consequently, German intervention was intermittent and short-lived, with most expeditions lasting only a few months and ending in a shambles.
Lorraine and Savoy
Recruitment also exposed the princes to retaliation from the French Catholics who formed the League (Ligue), or ‘Holy Union’ as they preferred, in 1584 when it became obvious that the only plausible heir to Henri III, the last Valois, was Henri de Bourbon, king of Navarre and Huguenot leader. The League was a vehicle for the powerful Guise family, who were related to the Valois and controlled north-eastern France around Champagne, as well as the largely French-speaking duchy of Lorraine which was formally part of the Empire. The Guise considered themselves to be the guardians of French Catholicism and were keen to prevent anyone occupying the French throne who might want to curb their political autonomy. Their territories made them a major factor in Habsburg strategic thinking, since their cooperation was essential to secure the last stretch of the Spanish Road, as well as blocking any hostile French moves towards Alsace and the Rhine. Philip II’s decision to subsidize the League from December 1584 transformed what had been a series of seven fierce but brief civil wars into a protracted international struggle lasting until 1598. The situation within France simplified as the different factions polarized into two opposing camps, each with powerful foreign backers. England complemented its involvement in the Dutch Revolt by allying with Henri de Navarre in 1585 and funding the largest German expedition to date that lasted five months from August 1587. The League retaliated by invading the Protestant territories west of the Rhine, burning 62 villages in Mömpelgard alone.
Lorraine’s involvement was matched by that of Savoy, another territory maintaining a precarious autonomy on the Empire’s western periphery Savoy narrowly escaped being another victim of French expansion during the early sixteenth century, thanks to Habsburg intervention that forced France to return its territory in 1559 after 23 years of occupation. Duke Emanuele Filiberto saw France’s subsequent troubles as a chance to escape the tutelage of foreign kings. He moved his capital from Chambéry in Savoy across the Alps to the relative safety of Turin in Piedmont in 1560, and began fostering a more distinct identity. Italian was declared the official language, the prized Holy Shroud was moved to Turin in 1578, and writers were paid to elaborate the myth that the new capital had been founded by a wandering Egyptian prince and so pre-dated Rome and Troy. These moves were given a nationalist gloss by nineteenth-century writers, especially once the House of Savoy became kings of the newly united Italy in 1860. The family had no such grandiose plans in the sixteenth century, concentrating instead on securing recognition as the equals of other European royalty and capturing enough new territory to sustain its independence. It became a matter of pride to recover Geneva, which had been lost during the French invasion of 1536 and subsequently became an independent Calvinist republic, while its hinterland in the Vaud joined the Swiss Confederation. The duke also planned to move south over the Ligurian Apennines to seize Genoa and gain access to the sea. There were also hopes of pushing westwards into Provence and the Dauphiné, as well as east into Milan. Such ambitions could not be achieved alone, and Savoyard policy relied on capitalizing on its strategic position as ‘gatekeeper of the Alps’. In addition to controlling the Tenda Pass between Nice and Piedmont south of Turin, all three routes of the southern section of the Spanish Road ran across its territory.
The accession of Carlo Emanuele I in 1580 saw the start of a more aggressive policy. The new duke has been dismissed as an opportunist, darting in and out of Europe’s wars over the next forty years. However, his frequent shifts of international alignment were forced upon him since he could not afford to pin his fragile independence too closely to any one power, and his goals of dynastic aggrandizement remained constant underneath. The failure to retake Geneva in 1582 convinced him of the need for a powerful ally and he married Philip II’s daughter, Catalina Michaela, in 1585, agreeing to back his father-in-law’s intervention in France. In 1588 he recaptured Saluzzo in the upper Po valley just east of the Alps that had been lost to France forty years earlier. He retook the Vaud the following year, but another attempt on Geneva ended in failure, prompting him to redirect his efforts against Provence and the Dauphiné, thinking they would be easier pickings.
Supported by the Savoyard invasion of the south, the Catholic League was able to take Paris in May 1588 in defiance of Henri III’s orders. The king’s assassination by a Catholic militant on 2 August 1589 removed the last constraints on the League, which began a vicious persecution of the Huguenots. The League’s apparent success was its undoing, since it lacked its own candidate for the vacant throne. Most moderate Catholics regarded Henri de Navarre as their legitimate sovereign, but the prospect of him being recognized as king was a major challenge to Spain’s reputation. Not only was he a heretic, but he was locked in his own dispute with Spain, which had annexed half of Navarre in 1512. Having used the League and Savoy to fight the war by proxy, Philip II now intervened directly by ordering Parma’s invasion of Artois in 1590 – the act which had such a serious impact on the conduct of the Dutch War. The Palatinate and Saxony organized the seventh and last German expedition in 1591–2 to assist Henri, but the king gained his crown largely through his conversion to Catholicism in July 1593, reportedly saying ‘Paris was worth a mass’. Though his conversion alienated the more militant Huguenots it allowed the far more numerous moderate Catholics to join him, and his formal coronation as Henri IV in February 1594 was followed by his entry into Paris a month later. Philip II’s health was failing and in the face of mounting setbacks he was unable to prevent Pope Clement VIII from welcoming Henri back into the Catholic church in August 1595. The new king copied Spain’s methods with regards to the papacy, relaxing opposition to papal jurisdiction over the French church and swiftly building up a faction of around twenty cardinals. Though Spain remained the dominant factor in Rome, it was no longer the only player in town, especially as France’s rising influence allowed the pope to increase his own freedom by playing one power against the other.
With Henri IV accepted as king, the League looked increasingly like a Spanish puppet and its leaders defected one after another, leaving Spain to fight alone. Henri formally declared war on Spain in January 1595, invading the Franche-Comté and cutting the Spanish Road. Spain had to re-route this section further east into the Empire via Saarbrücken. Two years later, Field Marshal Lesdiguières drove the Savoyards from the Dauphiné and captured the Maurienne and Tarantaise valleys, cutting the southern end of the Road. Spain launched a counter-attack from the Netherlands, capturing Amiens after bitter fighting, but it was clear its intervention in France had proved counterproductive. Both sides accepted papal mediation, leading to the Peace of Vervins in May 1598, whereby Spain recognized Henri IV, returned Amiens and Calais, and compelled Lorraine to surrender occupied Metz, Toul and Verdun. The French evacuated Savoy and put the question of Saluzzo to papal arbitration.
Savoy offered to surrender its French-speaking possessions between the Rhône and Saône if it could keep Saluzzo – a possession that completed its hold on the western Alps. The proposal alarmed Spain, because it would expose the Road as it left the Alpine valleys and skirted Calvinist Geneva. Carlo Emanuele was secretly encouraged to hold out for better terms by the offer of Spanish military assistance. Henri lost patience and sent 20,000 men back into Savoy before any Spanish help could arrive, and Carlo Emanuele cut his deal with France with the Treaty of Lyons on 17 January 1601, ceding his French-speaking subjects in return for Saluzzo. The Road narrowed to the Chezery valley between Mont Cenis and the two-span bridge at Grésin over the Rhône, west of Geneva, and its vulnerability was demonstrated when France temporarily closed it in July 1602. Spain tried to reopen the Geneva route deeper in the mountains by sponsoring Carlo Emanuele’s assault that December: the famous ‘escalade’ that failed to retake the city and led to rapidly deteriorating relations between Spain and Savoy. Keen to maintain good relations with a resurgent France, Savoy placed growing restrictions on Spain’s use of the Grésin route, finally expelling the soldiers guarding it in 1609. The political reorientation was completed in a formal alliance with France the following year. Spain needed another way over the mountains.
The Swiss Passes
Concern for the western route had already prompted Spain to sign a treaty with five of the seven Catholic Swiss cantons in May 1587 to use the St Gotthard pass. This was the only practical way across central Switzerland and ran through the Catholic cantons east of lakes Luzern and Zug, and then down the Reuss valley to the Rhine. From here, soldiers could march through the friendly Austrian possessions of the Breisgau and Upper Alsace and rejoin the original Road north via Lorraine to Luxembourg. The only alternative way through central Switzerland via the Simplon Pass to the upper Rhône was long and could be blocked by the powerful Protestant canton of Bern. The governor of Milan managed to renew the 1587 treaty in 1604, but the Catholic Swiss were growing nervous over the revival of French influence, and one of the original signatories refused to sign. Though the Catholic cantons had formed a holy alliance in 1586, they had no desire to fight their Protestant neighbours. Swiss politics were a tangle of local relationships, like those in the Empire, where conflicting interests inhibited polarization into sectarian violence. The renewed treaty obliged Spain to march its troops in detachments of two hundred men at two-day intervals, with their weapons loaded separately in wagons. Spain used the St Gotthard route six times between 1604 and 1619, but the Catholics of Uri and Schwyz closed it temporarily in 1613, preventing the governor of Milan from drawing on German recruits during the war with Savoy. These were not conditions that a great power could tolerate for long.
It was possible to send men by sea through the Adriatic to Trieste and then across Inner Austria and the Tirol to the Rhine. However, this was not only very long but liable to disruption by Venice, a power that frequently opposed Spanish policy in Italy. Venice also controlled the Brenner Pass, which offered the best access to the Tirol from Italy. Only three routes remained between these eastern routes and the central Swiss passes. One road ran north from Milan over the Splügen Pass, east of the St Gotthard, and down the Upper Rhine past Chur and Lake Constance to the Breisgau. East of the Splügen lay the Engadin valley that exited through the upper reaches of the Inn into the Tirol. Finally, there was the 120km corridor of the Valtellina that ran north-east from Lake Como to enter the Tirol either through the Stelvio Pass, open between June and September, or the slightly lower Umbrail, generally passable throughout the year. Though further east, the Valtellina offered a faster route, taking roughly four days to cross, compared to ten days over the St Gotthard.
All three routes were in the hands of the Rhetian free states, more commonly known as the Grisons, or Grey Leagues. Rhetia was a federation of three alliances loosely associated with the Swiss Confederation, but also nominally allied to the Austrian Habsburgs. Like the Swiss, Rhetia had emerged from a network of alliances among the Alpine communities that rejected Habsburg rule during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The actual Grey League controlled the far upper reaches of the Rhine, including the city of Chur, whose bishop refused to join. The Holy House League held the Engadin valley of the upper Inn, while the smaller Ten Parish League bordered on the Tirol in the north-west. All three were composed of self-governing communes that sent representatives to a council to coordinate external relations. The Grey League held a majority, but agreement of at least two of the three alliances was necessary for binding decisions. Rhetia’s strategic significance derived from conquests it made from Milan in 1500–32. The mountaineers had not only taken the Valtellina but also the county of Chiavenna at its southern end: this controlled access both southwards into Milan and northwards along the Splügen and Engadin routes.
Like Switzerland, Rhetian government was not democratic in the modern sense. A significant part of the population was disenfranchised, and while the inhabitants of Chiavenna and the Valtellina had been left with self-government, they were treated as conquered territories and denied any representation in the Rhetian council. Social tensions grew more pronounced as population growth placed increasing pressure on the relatively meagre local resources by the 1570s. Communal government fell into the hands of the ‘Big Johns’ (Grosse Hansen), networks of families who secured a controlling stake in the village councils and increasingly assumed noble titles and lifestyles. As in Switzerland, the decentralized political structure ensured that local control translated into greater opportunities for wealth and influence at a higher level. Foreign powers were prepared to pay handsomely for favourable decisions in the Rhetian council to open the passes or permit military recruitment among the overpopulated villages. External influence encouraged factions aligned to different powers, heightening existing tensions. Conflicts in the council passed back to village level as the Big Johns used their influence in the local law courts to pursue personal vendettas. This struck at the heart of the communal ideal upon which Rhetian (and Swiss) society was based, since the primary purpose of all early modern association was to preserve the public peace and the courts were intended to uphold this. The spread of Lutheranism complicated this from the 1520s, as many families converted, while others remained Catholic. Protestants regarded their faith as an expression of independence from Habsburg jurisdiction and that of the bishop of Chur. Their disenfranchised southern subjects (the Sudditi) in the Valtellina clung to Catholicism as an expression of their own identity. Linguistic differences reinforced these divisions, since the northerners spoke German, while the southerners spoke Italian.
Matters worsened as the Rhetian church fell under Calvinist influence and began insisting on greater supervision at parish level to enforce the reformation of life just as the Capuchins and other missionaries sent by Cardinal Borromeo and the bishop of Chur arrived to promote Catholic renewal. The Rhetian leadership felt increasingly beleaguered, not least because their three alliances were outnumbered by their subject populations in Chiavenna and the Valtellina. These grew increasingly restless, revolting in 1572 and 1607. Matters were further complicated by the fact that the majority of the inhabitants of the actual Grey League also remained Catholic, while the 4,000 Protestants living in the Valtellina felt very insecure. It is scarcely surprising that the Calvinist political leadership equated Catholicism with subversion and used its influence in the local courts to instigate a campaign of persecution from 1617.
Fuentes, the governor of Milan, induced the Rhetians to permit small detachments of Spanish soldiers to transit the Valtellina after 1592, but the council then promised exclusive access to the French in December 1601 and signed a similar agreement with Venice two years later. The governor retaliated, building Fort Fuentes at the top of Lake Como to block the entrance into Chiavenna in 1603 and imposing a grain embargo. The Rhetians remained unmoved, so that by 1610, Spain was without a satisfactory route across the Alps. Fortunately, this was now less pressing since the conclusion of the Twelve Years Truce with the Dutch.
This Portuguese courtier was born at Vila Viçosa toward the
end of the 15th century. His father had been a loyal retainer in the household
of Bragança, so young Martim was first made a page to Duke Jaime’s son,
Teodosio. He later became a page under the crown prince Joao, who would ascend
the Portuguese throne in December 1521 as King Joao III.
At that time, de Sousa was absent with the retinue that
accompanied the widowed Queen Leonor de Austria back to her native Spain. He
stayed on there to serve under the emperor Charles V and fought against the
French. De Sousa also married a Spanish lady, Ana Pimentel, with whom he would
have five children. In 1525, he was recalled to Portugal by Joao III. De
Sousa’s cousin Antonio de Ataide, a childhood friend of the young monarch, was
ennobled as Conde de Castanheira and appointed ambassador to France. His
influence helped de Sousa obtain the titles of prado and alcoentre, as well as
a knight- hood in the Ordem de Cristo.
De Sousa also displayed an interest in mathematics and
navigation. He started studying in 1527 under the young royal tutor Pedro Nunes
who was named royal cosmographer two years later. De Sousa’s interest helped
him obtain command of the Brazilian expedition when it was proposed by his
cousin to the king in 1530. De Sousa’s two years of exploration were judged so
satisfactory that he was rewarded on his return with the title of governor
general of the Portuguese East Indies.
He set sail from Lisbon on March 12, 1534, to assume office
in the Far East. His first term proved highly successful, with the creation of
a fortress at Diu in Cambodia and vigorous campaigns against the rajah of
Calcutta. Therefore, after de Sousa’s tenure expired in 1538, he was named for
a second time late in 1541. His squadron reached Goa by May 6, 1542, but his
second administration was marred by corruption and dissension. The Portuguese
even fought among themselves, and de Sousa was recalled in 1545. He returned
under suspicion of financial irregularities and was never again employed by the
Crown. He died in Lisbon on July 26, 1564.
As Spain’s settlers forsake their original Antillean
outposts for the rich new kingdoms of the American mainland, traders from other
western European nations begin drifting into the void. Madrid will vainly
attempt to stem this transatlantic traffic into the West Indies, increasing the
envy already taking hold against the Spaniards for their rising fortunes. Old
World conflicts soon are transposed to the New World, beginning during the first
half of the 16th century, when the rulers of Spain and France fight a series of
intermittent conflicts known collectively as the Habsburg-Valois Wars (so named
for their respective dynastic surnames). These are largely territorial disputes
originating in Italy and Flanders that flare into open conflict during
1494-1495, 1499-1505, 1508-1514, 1515-1516, 1521-1526, 1526-1529, 1536-1538,
1542-1544, and 1552-1559, but which actually constitute an almost continuous
period of strife from 1494 to 1559.
The coronation of 20-year-old Charles V as Holy Roman
Emperor in October 1520 intensifies this rivalry because-already being king of
Spain and duke of the Netherlands-his dominions now completely encircle France.
The ensuing round of hostilities from 1521 to 1526, called the First
Franco-Spanish War, features numerous depredations by French privateers off the
coasts of Spain, the Canaries, and the Azores Islands as they waylay vessels
bound to and from the Americas. One such pair of ships, bound from recently
conquered Mexico with exotic Aztec spoils, is captured in 1522 by Giovanni da
Verrazano or Verrazzano-a Florentine-born navigator in the service of Jean Ango
of Dieppe-and the fabulous beauty of the spoils helps to persuade François I to
sponsor his own exploration of North America in quest of a Northwest Passage to
Verrazano makes landfall with his 50-man, 100-ton caravel
Dauphine near what will later be- come known as the Carolinas in late February
or early March 1524, coasting northward and penetrating through the Narrows
into what is today New York City’s Upper Bay, hoping that it might prove to be
the ephemeral waterway leading to Cathay. After a brief survey, he exits and
continues his continental exploration as far northeastward as Newfoundland
before regaining Dieppe on July 8 and submitting a favorable report to the
king. However, it is not until after that monarch is captured at the Battle of
Pavia and compelled to sign the Treaty of Madrid on January 15, 1526, and then
responds by forging the so-called Cognac or Clementine League on May 2-uniting
France with Florence, Venice, Pope Clement VII, and eventually England-that
another three-year round of fighting explodes and the first French corsairs
actually strike out across the ocean to make at- tacks in the West Indies
MARCH 1526. The 130-ton Spanish galleon San Gabriel of
Rodrigo de Acuña, separated by storms from Juan Garci Jofre de Loaysa and Juan
Sebastian de Elcano’s seven-ship expedition bound from La Coruña (Galicia) into
the South Pacific via the Strait of Magellan, is attacked by three French vessels
off the coast of Brazil before anchoring
off Santa Catarina Island on March 26 to
recuperate over the next few months.
LATE 1527. After touching at Puerto Rico, the English ship
Mary of Guildford under the explorer John Rutt or Rout-who has previously
visited Newfoundland and the North American shoreline in quest of the fabled
Northwest Passage-arrives at the city of Santo Domingo to trade and is amiably
received by the city’s Spanish inhabitants. However, after the authorities in
the harbor castle fi re a round at Rutt’s anchored ship, he stands back out to
sea, disembarking nearby a few days later with 30 or 40 armed men seeking to
barter goods for provisions. When this request is refused, the Englishmen pillage
a plantation and then depart.
SUMMER 1528. The French corsair vessel Sainte Anne out of La
Rochelle, which is guided by the Portuguese pilot Diogo Ingenios and
accompanied by a Spanish caravel seized off
Lanzarote in the Ca- nary Islands, traverses the Atlantic and appears
near Margarita Island, then briefly seizes the pearl fisheries on June 24 at
Apparently, this same pair of raiders later attacks and
sinks a Spanish caravel near Puerto Rico’s Cape Rojo on August 11 before
sacking and torching the inland hamlet of San German at the mouth of the Añasco
River the next day, then standing away back across the Atlantic by October. San
German’s residents rebuild and fortify their hamlet.
AUGUST 3, 1529. In Europe, Franco-Spanish relations are
temporarily patched up after a month of negotiations by the signing of the
Treaty of Cambrai (known as the “Ladies’ Peace” because it is
negotiated between Charles V’s aunt, Margaret of Austria, and the French queen
mother, Louise of Savoy).
DECEMBER 3, 1530. Portugal Claims Brazil. Fearful of French
designs upon Brazil, which include a few trading outposts that are already
beginning to dot its coastline, King Joao III decides to supersede Portugal’s
sporadic private eff orts to rescue Brazil by dispatching a royal expedition of
two ships, two caravels, and a galleon bearing 400 men under his retainer
Martim Afonso de Sousa and his brother Pero Lopes de Sousa.
This expedition arrives from Lisbon off Pernambuco on January 31, 1531, and sights
Cape Santo Agostinho the next day. Shortly thereafter, the Portuguese capture
three French ships laden with rare woods and other Brazilian produce. The
commodore thereupon detaches his subordinate Diogo Leite with two caravels to
reconnoiter northeastward from Pernambuco, and Joao de Sousa is sent back to Europe
with a report for the monarch; the main body departs southwestward by February
17 to continue its exploration. They enter Baia de Todos os Santos and
encounter a long-time Portuguese resident named Diogo Alvares Correia, who has
married a Paraguaçu woman and is known among the Indians as Cararmuru or the
“God of Thunder.”
APRIL 30, 1531. At midday, de Sousa’s expedition enters
Guanabara Bay-dubbed Rio de Janeiro three decades previously by Amerigo
Vespucci-and because of its vast, sheltered expanse and abundant resources, the
Portuguese explorer decides to pause and refresh his ships. A tiny fortification
is erected beside his careening beach, and peaceable relations are established
with the local Tamoio natives. When de Sousa finally departs on August 1, a
small group of Portuguese remain behind, although this foothold will not
prosper and is soon abandoned.
AUGUST 12, 1531. De Sousa’s expedition gains Cananéia Bay,
where other Portuguese and Spanish ships are found lying at anchor. Also found
is a decades-old resident named Cosme Fernandes, a Jewish convert and
university graduate-hence referred to as the Bacharel or
“Bachelor”-who was marooned by Vespucci’s expedition as long ago as
January 22, 1502. He has since married a Carijo princess. There is also a
deserter from Rodrigo de Acuña’s 1526 visit, named Francisco de Chavez.
Familiar with the native trade patterns, they in- form de
Sousa of rich mines lying far up the Iguaçu River in Incan territory, so the commodore
dispatches 40 harquebusiers and 40 crossbowmen up- stream on September 1 under
Capt. Pero Lobo Pinheiro, along with native auxiliaries and with de Chavez as
their guide-none of whom will ever return; they are instead lured out into the
Parana River and massacred by tribal warriors. Unaware of their fate, de Sousa
puts to sea again on September 26 to continue his reconnaissance as far
southwest as the River Plate estuary.
JANUARY 8, 1532. Having wrecked his flagship, de Sousa’s
depleted expedition returns into Cana- néia Bay to recuperate before setting
out southward 10 days later to establish a permanent Portuguese colony at what
is then known as the Porto do Escravos or “Slaves Port.”
Appearing outside its bar by January 20, de Sousa’s vessels
cross over after two storm-tossed days to begin erecting a fort and town, from
whence they hope to probe inland and finally reach the ephemeral mines of the
Incas. This settlement is christened Sao Vicente-January 22 being St. Vincent’s
feast day on the Church calendar.
MAY 12, 1532. Having departed from Sao Vicente to return to
Portugal for more colonists, a squadron under Pero Lopes de Sousa learns of a
30-man French outpost recently installed on Itamaraca Island by the Marseillan
privateer Jean Barrau du Perret, commander of the 120-ton Pelerine. He
therefore interrupts his homeward passage to capture it after an 18-day siege
and supplants this stronghold with a Portuguese garrison before proceeding out
across the Atlantic.
OCTOBER 10, 1532. De Sousa leads a group of settlers inland
from Sao Vicente guided by the Portuguese castaways Joao Ramalho and Antonio
Rodrigues-they have married the daughters of the local Guiana tribal chieftains
Tibiriças and Piquerobi and are therefore familiar with the terrain and trusted
by the natives. Pushing through the dense man- groves along the Quilombo River
Valley, they ascend the formidable Serra do Mar onto the Piratininga Plain to
found a second outpost (which will eventually become the modern city of Sao
JANUARY 1533. Joao de Sousa reaches Sao Vicente from
Portugal, bringing letters from the king informing Martim Afonso de Sousa that
he is to be relieved, but he is also to be rewarded with one of the 15 new
“hereditary captaincies” into which Brazil will be divided, depending
on whether he chooses to remain in the New World or return to Portugal.
MAY 1533. Martim Afonso de Sousa departs Sao Vicente,
leaving his brother Pero in charge of his properties while he returns to
Lisbon, where he will be promoted to governor general of the Portuguese East
Shortly before leaving Sao Vicente, Martim Afonso de Sousa
learns of the annihilation of Pero Lobo’s lost expedition up the Iguaçu River,
which he believes has been engineered by the Bacharel Cosme Fernandes and his
Spanish associates. He therefore suggests to the acting military commander who
is left behind-the mill owner and militia captain Pero de Gois da Silveira-that
they be arrested.
SUMMER 1533. A body of Portuguese troops under Captain de
Gois advances on Iguape to detain Fernandes, who has taken up residence there
with his family near his Spanish-born friend Ruy Garcia Mosquera. Apprised of
the Portuguese captain’s intent, the defenders rally their numerous retainers,
other disgruntled residents, as well as some 150 native archers, and prepare to
To better do so, Fernandes and Garcia Mosquera seize a
French privateer anchored off Cananéia and land its artillery to prepare an
ambush at a trench that they have dug, covering Icapara Bar outside Iguape
(modern Trincheira Bay). De Gois’s disembarkation is therefore crushed, 80 of
his troops being slain and himself wounded and captured, after which Fernandes
and Garcia Mosquera use his ship to mount a destructive counterattack against
Sao Vicente. They thereupon decamp beyond Portuguese jurisdiction, along with
French crossbowman of the Cartier-Roberval expedition
MAY 10, 1534. The 42-year-old explorer Jacques Cartier
arrives off Newfoundland with two ships and 61 men from Saint Malo (France),
searching for the Northwest Passage to Asia. After charting part of what are
today the shorelines of New Brunswick and Quebec, he returns to Europe by
AUGUST 9, 1535. Cartier returns to Newfoundland with his
120-ton flagship Grande Hermine, the 60-ton Petite Hermine, and the 40-ton
Émerillon and penetrates the Saint Lawrence Seaway as far south- west as
Hochelaga (modern Montreal) by October 2 before retiring to winter at the Saint
Charles River mouth (modern Quebec City). Although disappointed at not discovering
a passage all the way through to the Far East, the Frenchman is nonetheless
convinced that this new territory is “rich and wealthy in precious
stones,” so he kidnaps a dozen natives before weighing anchor on May 6,
1536, carrying them to Saint Malo by July 16. Cartier’s hope is to spark
interest in this new land and thus be granted Crown permission to found a
colony, which he mistakenly believes to be called Canada- actually the
Huron-Iroquois word for “village.”
LATE AUTUMN 1535. Relations between Paris and Madrid again
begin to deteriorate regarding disputes in Savoy and Milan, so numerous French
corsairs begin taking up station off the western approaches to Spain and
threatening returning ships- especially those bearing treasure from recently conquered
Peru. As a result, the Spanish Crown orders the establishment of an armada de
la guardia de la carrera de Indias or “guard fleet for the Indies
FEBRUARY 1536. War officially erupts between France and
Spain when the former occupies Savoy and penetrates the Piedmont, to which the
latter replies in June by invading Provence.
NOVEMBER 1536. A lone French corsair vessel cuts out a
Spanish ship anchored at Chagres (Panama).
JANUARY 1537. Emperor Charles V and King François I agree to
a short-lived truce.
FEBRUARY 1537. Apparently the same single French corsair
ship is sighted between Cartagena (Colombia) and Nombre de Dios (Panama), where
it captures a Spanish merchantman near the latter port as it is arriving with a
consignment of horses from Santo Domingo.
MARCH 15, 1537. This same French vessel materializes before
Havana, prompting Gov. Gonzalo de Guzman to order three of five 200-ton Spanish
merchantmen anchored in his port to sortie under Lt. Juan Velazquez. They
overtake and trap the shallow- draught intruder inside the harbor at Mariel
(then known as the “Puerto de Tablas”), only to run aground when the
French vessel escapes out to sea, and so are boarded when this raider reverses
course. Two of the Spanish prizes are burned and the third manned by the
triumphant Frenchmen, who return before Havana to extort ransom from its
hapless villagers. Other French trespassers are also sighted near Santo
MAY 31, 1537. A French corsair vessel enters Santiago de
Cuba’s harbor and carries off some merchantmen.
JUNE 14, 1537. A dozen Spanish warships and two caravels
sortie from Seville under Capt. Gen. Blasco Nuñez Vela, becoming the first fleet
of warships officially assigned to escort an outward-bound American convoy,
reinforce garrisons throughout the Caribbean, lift the blockade of Havana, and
then return to Spain.
OCTOBER 1537. A French ship and auxiliary out of Bayonne,
bearing a total of 150 men, arrive off the Lesser Antilles to prowl the Spanish
SPRING 1538. This pair of Bayonne ships raid Ocoa, Puerto
Hermoso, and La Yaguana (modern Léogane, Haiti), bringing maritime traffic off Santo
Domingo to almost a complete standstill.
APRIL 4, 1538. The large Bayonne ship pillages a Spanish
brigantine exiting from Santiago de Cuba, then the next day penetrates its
harbor and engages the caravel Magdalena of Diego Pérez as well as a small
two-gun battery ashore. The shallow draught of Pérez’s craft allows him to gain
the Frenchmen’s quarter, though, peppering the intruders with his four
culverins from 11:00 a. m. until they finally withdraw an hour past midnight on
April 6, having sustained about a dozen casualties. Three Spaniards die during
this fray, and the French ship eventually exits Santiago Bay three days later.
MAY 1538. A French corsair ship appears near Havana and robs
several houses and churches ashore. Upon learning of this attack at the
island’s capital of Santiago de Cuba, 500 miles farther east-southeast, the new
captain general, Hernando de Soto, dis- patches the military engineer Mateo
Aceituno with 100 men. Within a few weeks of their arrival, they throw up the
6-gun fort, Castillo de la Fuerza, to guard Havana’s entrance channel (see
“June 7, 1538” entry in “Expansion beyond Mexico”).
JUNE 1538. San German de Puerto Rico is sacked and burned by
80 French raiders from the Bayonne ship. During their retirement back toward
their boats, they are overtaken during a rainstorm by 30 mounted Spaniards, who
attack while the French- men’s powder is wet. Fifteen raiders are therefore
killed and another three taken prisoner, who then are exchanged for San
German’s looted church bells, plus other booty.
JUNE 15, 1538. In Europe, French and Spanish
plenipotentiaries agree upon a 10-year truce negotiated at Nice by Pope Paul
III, although it is some time before word of this cessation of hostilities
reaches the New World.
EARLY JUNE 1540. French corsairs disembark from a single
ship near San German de Puerto Rico, sacking and burning the town, along with
its outlying district.
AUGUST 1540. A leaking, 400-ton English ship with a French
pilot commandeers a Spanish merchantman laden with sugar and hides off Cape Tiburon
(southwestern Haiti), setting its crew ashore before transferring aboard their
prize. They then send their leaking vessel to the bottom and sail home in
MAY 1541. As Franco-Spanish relations again be- gin to fray
over differences regarding the succession in Milan, a 35-man French corsair
ransacks a Spanish caravel off Puerto Rico. This same craft then sinks another
victim off Mona Island before disembarking some men to loot ashore. It proceeds
next to Cape de la Vela (Colombia) and robs a Spanish caravel of 7,000-8,000
ducats’ worth of pearls at Portete.
AUGUST 1541. Cartier returns to Canada with five ships,
having brought an advance contingent of a few hundred settlers from France to
establish a foothold for a new colony. The titular head of this enterprise-the
impoverished, 41-year-old courtier Jean-François de La Rocque, Seigneur de
Roberval-is to follow next year with many more colonists, hoping in the process
to rebuild his fortune by serving as “lieutenant general of Canada”
and exploiting its rich mineral deposits.
While awaiting his arrival, Cartier erects a small fort
called Charlesbourg Royal at Cap Rouge, nine miles above present-day Quebec
City, and explores the Saint Lawrence River until wintertime.
EARLY DECEMBER 1541. Thirteen well-armed French vessels
ransack a Portuguese caravel off Guyana, then are joined by three other vessels
to press deeper into the Caribbean and pillage the coastlines of Margarita
Island, Curaçao, and the entrance to the Lake of Maracaibo (Venezuela).
JUNE 8, 1542. Roberval reaches Newfoundland with the ships
Valentine, Sainte Anne, and Lechefraye, bringing 100 more French colonists to
join Cartier at Charlesbourg Royal (Quebec). Instead, he is surprised to meet
his subordinate in the Newfoundland harbor of Saint John’s. Cartier had earlier
abandoned this advance foothold because of the harshness of the past winter and
the hostility from the Iroquois. Cartier refuses Roberval’s order to return to
Canada with him, instead continuing toward France with his own survivors.
Undismayed by Cartier’s disobedience, Roberval proceeds to
Charlesbourg Royal and reestablishes that outpost, then begins exploring
Canada. How- ever, although the population of his community is too numerous to
be directly assaulted by the Indians, many of the French settlers are ill
prepared to withstand the ensuing winter, and so they suffer cruelly from cold,
famine, and disease. The next September (1543), they are retrieved by a rescue
mission under Paul d’Austillon, Seigneur de Sauveterre, and France’s North
American aspirations will be entirely forsaken for the next 60 years.
MID-JULY 1542. In Europe, tensions once more escalate
between France and Spain, the Pyrenees becoming the scene of clashes one month
later, followed by open declarations of war by both nations before the end of
FEBRUARY 1543. Two French ships and a small auxiliary attack
San German de Puerto Rico, burning it and making off with four caravels lying
in its harbor. A pair of Spanish galleons and two lateen- rigged caravels on
the neighboring island of Santo Domingo are manned with 250 volunteers and set
out in pursuit under Ginés de Carrion, captain of the galleon San Cristobal.
Five days later he returns, having captured the enemy flagship and 40 of its
crew, while sinking the smaller French consort.
Despite this victory, San German’s inhabitants are too
frightened to return to their dwellings, preferring instead to relocate their
town to Santa Maria de los Remedios in Guadianilla Bay (modern Guayanilla).
JUNE 16, 1543. Antillean Sweep. Five French corsair ships
and a smaller consort bearing 800 men as- sault Venezuela’s Margarita Island,
then the next month burn the once-rich pearl-fishing town of Nuevo Cadiz on
adjoining Cubagua, whose population has already declined to scarcely 10 Spanish
inhabitants because of the exhaustion of its pearl beds and the devastation
suffered by a destructive hurricane on Christmas Day 1541. According to some
Spanish sources, these raiders are commanded by Roberval (“Robertval”
or “Roberto Baal”), but the French raiders may have borne commissions
from him or been intending to visit his Canadian colony on their homeward leg.
JULY 16, 1543. Four of these same large French corsair
vessels and a smaller consort arrive undetected before Santa Marta (Colombia),
landing be- tween 400 and 500 men the next noon to occupy the port. They remain
in possession for seven days, destroying everything of value before retiring
with four bronze cannons and other booty.
JULY 24-25, 1543. Under cover of darkness, the French
squadron-piloted into Cartagena’s bay by a Spanish turncoat embittered at a
punishment received from Lt. Gov. Alonso Vejines-deposits 450 raiders ashore,
who then carry this Colombian port with ease in a three-pronged attack. Its
newly consecrated bishop, Fr. Francisco de Santamaria y Benavides, and an
overawed populace surrender 35,000 pesos in specie, plus another 2,500 from the
royal coffers, before the enemy withdraws. The next month, the raiders are
anchored off Cape de la Vela, selling their booty to local residents.
SEPTEMBER 7, 1543. A single 20-man vessel detached from this
same French squadron pillages a rich Spanish merchantman off Santiago de Cuba,
then attempts a disembarkation, only to be repelled by its two-gun battery
under Andrés Zamora. The raider emerges from the bay and proceeds westward,
intending to reunite with its main force off Isla de Pinos. The French
squadron, meanwhile, seizes five vessels in early October that are anchored off
the new Spanish town of Santa Maria de los Remedios in Guadianilla Bay (modern
Guayanilla), although the raiders are prevented from disembarking.
OCTOBER 31, 1543. The reunited, homeward- bound French
squadron appears before Havana, disgorging more than 200 men at San Lazaro
Inlet. Advancing across open country, the invaders are checked by fire from La
Fuerza Fortress. They retreat toward their ships, leaving behind 20 dead. The
rovers then depart the Caribbean altogether via the Straits of Florida.
SEPTEMBER 18, 1544. After an imperial army has fought its
way to within sight of Paris, the Treaty of Crepy is signed in Europe, marking
an end to this latest round of Franco-Spanish hostilities. Although François I
has been constrained by this treaty to recognize Spain’s sovereignty in the
Caribbean, some fighting will still persist in the New World. Cuba and Puerto
Rico, in particular, continue to be harassed by French interlopers.
LATE OCTOBER 1544. Three French ships prowl past San Juan de
Puerto Rico, landing at depleted San German to pillage and burn the town. Off Cape
de la Vela (Colombia), another trio of French interlopers intercepts passing
vessels; they also sell contra- band items to local Spanish citizens. 1545.
Five French corsair vessels and a small auxiliary surprise the new Colombian
port town of Riohacha (constituted only as of February 2), seizing five Spanish
vessels lying in its roadstead. Unable to disembark, the raiders subsequently
arrange a truce with its residents, eventually selling them 70 slaves. A
similar visit by these same Frenchmen, albeit entirely peaceful, ensues at
Nicolas Durand de Villegagnon was born at Provins in the
Seine-et-Marne region of France sometime in 1510. His father was a local
magistrate, who was ennobled a few years later. He died when Nicolas was only
11 years old. Nicolas was already adept at Latin, and his mother sent the young
boy that same year to the Hotel de Auges in Paris. He studied at the religious
schools of La Manche and Montaigu in preparation for the University of Paris.
John Calvin was among his classmates.
Durand graduated from that university in 1530 with a law
degree and was admitted to the bar at Orléans. But his attempt to find a post
in the Parlement of Paris failed. As a result, he approached his uncle Philippe
Villers de l’Isle-Adam, grand master of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem,
and was admitted into that order the next year, which had just been granted the
island of Malta by King François I. (Although his proper name was Nicolas
Durand, Seigneur de Villegagnon, this knighthood meant that he became more
commonly known as “the Chevalier de Villegagnon.”)
Tall and athletic, the 21-year-old Villegagnon plunged into
military and naval pursuits. In 1534, he served as an observer in the fleet
gathered at Mallorca by the emperor Charles V to make an attempt against Tunis
or Algiers. Six years later, he was sent to the French ambassador in Venice
(incidentally befriending the poet François Rabelais). Villegagnon was given a
letter from the French king to the Turkish sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent,
and returned to Turin next year with his reply. He also presented François with
diagrams of the duke of Milan’s forts.
Pleased with his services, the French government included
Villegagnon among the 400 knights of Malta attached to Charles V’s expedition
against Algiers in 1541. Although only an observer, Villegagnon was wounded by
a lance thrust into his left arm. While convalescing in Rome, he published a
brief account of this campaign in Latin. The next year, he was sent to Budapest
to report on a clash between the emperor and the Turks. Villegagnon returned in
time to take part in the French defeat of the Milanese at Cerisoles and was put
in command of the castle at Ponte Stura until 1547.
That same summer, he was recalled by the new French king
Henri II to sweep the Brittany coast of English raiders. Villegagnon then
sailed his four galleys in 1548 around Scotland and up the River Clyde to
Dumbarton Castle to bring away the six-year-old Mary, Queen of Scots. More
sorties ensued against Scotland and Guernsey, until he was sent to Malta in 1551,
which was besieged by the Turks. While bringing back word of the order’s
victory, Villegagnon was briefly held in Cremona Castle by the Austrians.
Released thanks to the emperor, Villegagnon was appointed in
September 1552 vice admiral of Brittany, with orders to fortify Brest against
the English. While engaged in this work, he heard tales of Brazil, so made a
discreet visit to Cabo Frio two summers later. He learned that the Portuguese
avoided Guanabara Bay because of its hostile natives, so he decided to plant a
colony there. Returning to France, he made a four-hour presentation before
Henri and his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. The king agreed late in 1554,
granting 11,000 livres toward this project. Villegagnon raised the rest from
investors at Dieppe. However, his dream of a Utopian settlement in the New
World ended bitterly. He died at Beauvais on January 9, 1571.
JANUARY 17, 1546. More than 100 French raiders under one
“Hallebarde” disembark from a caravel and a smaller vessel. They
ransack Baracoa in northeastern Cuba, scattering most of its inhabitants
inland. The second of these Huguenot craft-after becoming separated in a
storm-proceeds westward to Havana, where it extorts 700 ducats to spare its
terrified citizenry’s dwellings.
APRIL 17, 1546. Hallebarde sneaks into Santi- ago de Cuba
under cover of darkness, boarding a Spanish caravel at dawn that has recently
arrived from Tierra Firme or the “Spanish Main” (modern
Venezuela-Colombia). In little more than one hour, he carries this vessel out,
with its crew still locked below decks, to loot at his leisure-an action
described as “of great daring” by Gov. Antonio de Chavez.
SPRING 1547. Two privately raised Spanish coast- guard
caravels capture a French ship off Mona Island. JULY 25, 1547. Henri II ascends
the throne of France.
SEPTEMBER 1547. A French ship approaches Santa Marta
(Colombia) but retires when its 16- man boat crew is lured inshore and
LATE MAY 1548. A French corsair vessel is sighted prowling
off Santo Domingo.
AUGUST 1548. A French two-master sneaks into the harbor at
Santa Marta under cover of darkness, and although crewed by only 40 men, sends
a boarding party to seize Pedro Diaz’s merchantman in its roadstead. The next
dawn, the rovers threaten to burn this prize if a ransom is not paid from the
town. When local garrison commander Luis Manjarrés calls out his militiamen,
the French bombard the town’s buildings throughout most of the day, killing two
Shortly thereafter, these same attackers seize two Spanish
caravels farther east off Cape de la Vela, as the caravels make from La Yaguana
(modern Léo- gane, Haiti) toward Nombre de Dios. Both Spanish craft are robbed
NOVEMBER 1548. A trio of French vessels are seen prowling
off San German de Puerto Rico, Mona Island, and Santo Domingo, allegedly wishing
to trade, though the region’s Spanish inhabitants remain too mistrustful to
AUGUST 1549. A French corsair galliot, propelled by 18 oars
per side, falls upon a homeward-bound Spanish convoy off Santo Domingo, cutting
out a ship laden with sugar and hides, a caravel bearing 150 slaves, plus two
smaller island traders.
NOVEMBER 1550. After pillaging a Spanish caravel off Dominica,
the 80-man French ship Sacre of Bordeaux under Capt. Menjouin de La Cabane and
a smaller consort attempt to snap up two stragglers from a nine-ship convoy off
Santo Domingo; they are repelled by its warship escort. Unfazed, the rovers
then descend upon La Yaguana (modern Léogane, Haiti) and rob a pair of Spanish
vessels of 20,000 pesos. They make off with one ship as a prize, eventually
sailing to Bayonne to dispose of their booty.
LATE DECEMBER 1551. The 42-year-old French Huguenot captain
Guillaume Le Testu of Le Havre, sailing past the Island of Trinidade after
exploring Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil, clashes with two Portuguese ships,
and his ship sustains heavy dam- age before winning free and returning to
APRIL 1552. With hostilities flaring up in Europe between
France and Spain, various disembarkations are made by French corsairs on Puerto
Rico and Santo Domingo, as well as interceptions of four Spanish merchantmen.
JUNE 18, 1552. A French ship becomes becalmed before Nombre
de Dios; its 14-man crew is captured.
AUGUST 29, 1552. Three Spanish warships and an auxiliary,
manned by 130 men-the coast-guard force for Hispaniola under Cristobal Colon y
Toledo, Columbus’s 29-year-old grandson-are lost in a hurricane, along with 16
vessels anchored in Santo Domingo’s harbor.
SEPTEMBER 1552. A French corsair ship and smaller consort
pillage a Spanish ship off Santo Domingo before retiring to Saona Island. These
same French- men then return to Santo Domingo’s southeastern shore to make off with
a ship recently launched at the Zoco River.
EARLY FEBRUARY 1553. A Spanish caravel serving as a dispatch
vessel or aviso is taken by French rovers off Mona Island.
MARCH 1553. Le Clerc’s Sweep. A French squadron from Le
Havre comprising the royal warships Claude under peg-legged Commo. François le
Clerc (alias “Jambe de Bois” or “Pie de Palo”), Espérance
under Jacques de Sores, and Aventureux under Robert Blondel arrive in the
Antilles accompanied by three large and four small privateers, plus two Spanish
prizes seized at Santa Cruz de la Palma in the Canaries. They bear a total of
800 men with which to raid Spain’s West Indian outposts.
San German de Puerto Rico, Mona and Saona islands, and Azua
are attacked in quick succession before Le Clerc deposits a large landing force
on April 29 to sack Monte Cristi on northern Santo Domingo and then La Yaguana
(modern Léogane, Haiti), after which the rovers stand back toward Puerto Rico.
Spanish residents among the islands feel powerless to resist, for not only are
four of these French craft galliots “whose oars ensure none can escape
” but half their total complement consists of harquebusiers. Laden
with hides, sarsaparilla, and other booty, the French raiders make a final
descent upon Santiago de Cuba before exiting the Caribbean in late May.
MARCH 1554. Having reentered the West Indies the previous
month, three French ships under Le Clerc and Sores appear before San Juan de
Puerto Rico, and on Palm Sunday-March 18-they raid more than three miles inland
near San German. Afterward, they take up station off Saona Island, intercepting
Spanish vessels, then later switch their base of operations to Mona Island.
APRIL 29, 1554. Off Cabo Frio (Brazil), the French ship
Marie Bellotte of Dieppe captures a Portuguese vessel.
JULY 1, 1554. Destruction of Santiago de Cuba. Le Clerc’s
subordinate, the Huguenot corsair Sores of La Rochelle, leads four ships and
four smaller auxiliaries into Santiago de Cuba harbor under cover of darkness
and slip 300 men ashore; they fall upon its sleeping residents and occupy the
city without resistance. Bishop Fernando de Uranga and a half- dozen other
prominent citizens are subsequently held hostage for almost a month and a half,
until a ransom of 80,000 pesos can be raised. The French thereupon destroy
Santiago’s fortress and burn several buildings before retiring on August 16,
sparing the church in exchange for all its silver plate.
LATE AUGUST 1554. The French privateers Barbe and Marguerite
under Vincent Bocquet of Dieppe, recently arrived in the West Indies, espy five
large merchantmen and nine caravels off San German de Puerto Rico who have
departed Santo Domingo around August 20 for Spain. Patiently tracking them
across the Atlantic for more than 40 days, as far as the Azores, Bocquet finally
seizes the caravel Tres Reyes Magos of the master Benito Garcia when it becomes
becalmed early in October, along with the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe of Alonso
Gonzalez and the Santiago of Diego Marin. The Santa Catalina of Francisco
Morales Camacho is furthermore ransacked before sinking, while the Maria of
Francisco Hernandez de Leon, the San Andrés of Alonso Cano, and the San Juan of
Rodrigo Madera all run aground in the Azores and lose most of their cargoes. The
triumphant rovers return home ladened with gold, cochinilla, and pearls,
leaving the shrunken remnants of this Spanish convoy to limp into Cadiz by
OCTOBER 1554. French blockaders encircle the entrance of
Santiago de Cuba.
French sweeps through the Caribbean in 1555.
MARCH 1555. Three French ships disembark 150 men on southern
Cuba, who march inland and burn Sancti Spiritus.
JULY 10, 1555. Sack of Havana. At dawn, two sails are
spotted near this port, piloted by a Spanish renegade. They disgorge several
score corsairs a mile and a half away at San Lazaro Inlet, under the Huguenot
leader Sores. They advance inland and take Havana’s 12-gun Fuerza battery from
the rear, burning its wooden door to gain access, and thereby compelling its
two-dozen defenders under alcaide Juan de Lobera to surrender by sunup of July
12. The French then occupy the town and bring four vessels into its harbor to
While in possession of Havana, Sores demands a ransom of
30,000 pesos, bread, and meat in ex- change for sparing its buildings, plus 500
pesos for every Spanish captive that he holds and 100 for each slave. Instead,
Gov. Dr. Pérez de Angulo (who has managed to escape into the interior) launches
a surprise assault at dawn of July 18 with 35 Spanish, 220 black, and 80 Indian
volunteers, only to have this attack repelled; the startled French corsairs
slaughter their 30 Spanish prisoners (all except Lobera).
The next morning, a wrathful Sores hangs numerous slaves by
their heels at prominent places along Havana’s outskirts, using them for target
practice in a brutal gesture intended to discourage any further Spanish
assaults. His men then level the town and buildings throughout its surrounding
countryside up to five miles inland before finally retiring back out to sea on
August 5 with the fort’s 12 cannons.
AUGUST 1555. French Huguenots land at Santa Marta, sacking
and burning its churches.
SEPTEMBER 30, 1555. A boatload of 12 French raiders from Guy
Mermi’s trio of ships-anchored off Mariel (Cuba)-cut out a Spanish caravel
laden with hides.
OCTOBER 4, 1555. Mermi’s trio of French ships penetrates
Havana’s harbor, landing 50 men to occupy its town. Discovering it to be still
defenseless since Sores’s raid in July, they are followed within a few days by
at least a dozen other intruders, who rest their crews and careen their
vessels. Foraging parties probe inland, securing some commercial booty-principally
hides-before putting back out to sea some three weeks later. This same month, a
French assault also occurs at Puerto Plata in northern Santo Domingo.
OCTOBER 25, 1555. In Europe, the emperor Charles V
abdicates, dividing his territories between his son, who becomes Philip II of
Spain and Sicily, and his brother Maximilian, who becomes the new Holy Roman
NOVEMBER 10, 1555. Villegagnon in Brazil. Two well-armed
vessels arrive outside Rio de Janeiro’s uninhabited Guanabara Bay (known to the
French as Iteronne or Geneve), having departed Dieppe on August 14 with a mixed
group of 600 Calvinists and Catholics under 45-year-old Nicolas Durand,
Seigneur de Villegagnon, knight commander of the Order of Saint John of Malta
and vice admiral of Brittany, who is bearing orders from Adm. Gaspar de
Chatillon, Comte de Coligny, to found a new settlement in this region to be
called France Australe or “Southern France” (also France Antarctique
or “Antarctic France”).
His colonists disembark on Ratier (modern Laje) Island, then
transfer northwest on November 13 to nearby Sergipe Island, the name of which
is in the process of being changed to Villegagnon (modern Villegaignon Island).
Atop this island, they erect a redoubt named Fort de Coligny, with a smaller
two-gun battery commanding its channel. A town named Henryville is also
founded, and a couple of relatively prosperous years ensue, with the settlers
planting crops and enjoying peaceable relations with their Tamoio and Tupinamba
The Portuguese governor general Duarte da Costa at Salvador
(Bahia) is informed early the next year by Sao Vicente’s regional governor Bras
Cubas about this French toehold, but the former treats the report dismissively,
believing the foreigners’ presence to be merely a transitory shore camp set up by
rovers. Upon realizing its permanent nature, though, King Joao III has his
ambassador Joao Pereira Dantas lay protests before the government in Paris and
on July 23, 1556, appoints the energetic Mem de Sa to replace the Brazilian
governor general. Mem de Sa takes ship from Lisbon in late April 1557 but is
slowed by a difficult Atlantic crossing.
The French colonists, in the meantime, have been reinforced
on February 26, 1557, by a second expedition of three ships under the flagship
Rosée that brings an additional 18 cannon and 300 people under Villegagnon’s
nephew Paris Legendre, Sieur de Bois le Compte le Meaux. Religious dissension,
however, also arrives with this second contingent, eventually fracturing the
colony’s harmony and prompting Villegagnon to revert to Catholicism. A group of
Calvinist dissidents departs aboard the old ship Jacques on January 4, 1558,
followed by Villegagnon himself in October 1559-four months be- fore Mem de
Sa’s first Portuguese descent.
EARLY 1556. A lone French vessel raids Santa Marta, Cabo de
la Vela, Puerto Plata, Havana, and Margarita Island.
FEBRUARY 5, 1556. In Europe, a truce-the Treaty of
Vaucelles-is arranged between France and Spain, which is meant to endure for five
years but promptly begins to break down when the French monarch Henri II sends
troops under Henri, Duc de Guise, to Italy that same spring in support of the
anti-Spanish machinations of Pope Paul IV.
SPRING 1556. Capt. Guillaume Mesmin of La Rochelle appears
in the Antilles with a large ship and smaller auxiliary, manned by 150 men in
total, and seizes a Spanish ship that becomes wrecked on Bermuda during its
SUMMER 1556. A couple of skirmishes occur off Jamaica, as
its local Spanish authorities succeed in capturing a few French smugglers who
have come to trade.
SPRING 1557. Hispano-French warfare resumes openly in
Europe, with an army invading France and defeating the forces of Henri II
outside St. Quintin by August 19.
NOVEMBER 17, 1557. On orders from the Crown directed to Chile’s
governor Jeronimo de Aldunate, the Spanish seaman Juan Fernandez Ladrillero
sets sail from the port of Concepcion with his ship San Luis and the San
Sebastian under Francisco Cortés de Ojeda to chart the Strait of Magellan. A
storm separates the vessels on February 15, 1558, the latter being lost and its
crew extemporizing a craft from their wreckage named San Salvador, aboard which
they regain Valdivia by October 1. Fernandez Ladrillero has meanwhile struggled
into the strait’s western entrance by late July 1558, charting much of its shorelines
before reemerging early in March 1559, returning into Valdivia by mid-June.
JANUARY 1558. After a storm-tossed Atlantic voyage, Mem de
Sa finally reaches Salvador (Bahia) to assume office as Brazil’s new governor
general. His first task is to dispatch his son Fernao de Sa to assist Capt.
Vasco Fernandes Coutinho at Espirito Santo, as well as to travel himself to
Ilhéus, as both captaincies are in the grip of native unrest.
SPRING 1558. French corsairs renew their West Indian
depredations, and the Spanish merchantman Ascension of Capt. Bernaldino Rizo is
taken off Saona Island. Four French ships out of Bayonne and Saint-Jean-de-Luz
also sack Puerto Caballos (modern Puerto Cortés, Honduras).
JUNE 1558. French vessels appear within Santiago de Cuba’s
vast harbor, occupying its desolated town for 10 to 12 days before receiving a
meager ransom of 400 pesos, then departing.
EARLY 1559. Seven French corsair vessels under Jean Martin
Cotes and Jean Bontemps appear off Santa Marta (Colombia), taking a small
amount of booty, against token opposition. APRIL 3, 1559. In Europe, the Treaty
of Cateau-Cambrésis is signed between Philip II of Spain and Henri II of
France, marking an end to the Habsburg- Valois Wars.
Gunboat General Blanco. Midsection cross-section frame
(drawn by one of the crew)
The Spanish Empire, once the greatest in the world, largely
disappeared during the Napoleonic era, leaving only a few colonies in Africa
(Morocco), the West Indies (Puerto Rico and Cuba), and the Pacific Ocean (the
Philippines and smaller island groups, among them the Carolines and Marianas).
During the latter years of the 19th century, anticolonial movements emerged in
the most important of Spain’s possessions, the Philippines and Cuba. Spain’s
Restoration Monarchy, which had been established in 1875, decided to put down
these insurgencies rather than grant either autonomy or independence. The
Spanish Army crushed the first outbreaks, the Ten Years’ War (1868-1878) in
Cuba, and the First Philippine Insurgency (1896-1897).
Spain attempted to gain support from the great powers of Europe
but failed to do so. The nation had no international ties of importance, having
followed a policy of isolation from other nations during many years of internal
political challenges, notably the agitation of Carlists, Basques, Catalonians,
and other groups. Wide- spread domestic unrest raised fears of revolution and
the fall of the Restoration Monarchy. Given these domestic challenges, Spain
did not involve itself in external affairs. The European powers, preoccupied
with great issues of their own including difficulties with their own empires,
refused to help Spain, having no obligations and no desire to earn the enmity
of the United States. Bereft of European support, Spain had to fight alone
against a formidable enemy.
Popular emotions influenced the Madrid government to some
extent; many Spaniards believed that the empire had been God’s gift as a reward
for the expulsion of the Moors from Europe and believed that no Spanish
government could surrender the remaining colonies without dishonoring the
nation. War seemed a lesser evil than looming domestic tumult.
GENERAL BLANCO Class gunboats
These steel-hulled vessels were built in 1895-96 at Cavite
for service in the Philippines against the insurgents. They were built in lieu
of the series of torpedo-boats that were originally planned in the 1887
The vessels of the GENERAL BLANCO class are as follows:
Following the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898, U. S.
Navy ships blockaded Manila until army forces could arrive. In August, army
troops captured the city. Over the next five months, gunboats helped U. S.
troops seize key positions around the islands. When the Philippine-American War
began in February 1899, naval gun- fire helped repulse Filipino attacks on
Manila. In the insurgency that followed, U. S. Navy gunboats provided essential
mobility to American troops and played a vital role in winning the Philippine-
American War. Indeed, gunboats were absolutely essential during an insurgency
that theoretically spanned some 7,000 islands and 500,000 square miles of
Rear Admiral George C. Remey, who commanded the Asiatic
Squadron, deployed its gunboats and other small warships to four patrol zones:
one on the island of Luzon; the second on the islands of Panay, Mindoro,
Palawan, and Occidental Negros; the third on the Moro country of the Sulu group
and southern Mindanao; and the last one on the Visayas group composed of Cebu,
Samar, Leyte, Bohol, Oriental Negros, and northern Mindanao from the Straits of
Surigao to the Dapitan Peninsula. Some gunboats patrolled as far away as Borneo
and China to cut off arms shipments to the Filipino guerrillas.
The gunboats patrolled Philippine waters to isolate Filipino
forces on individual islands and interdict the flow of arms and supplies to
them. The gunboats also supported ground operations with fire- power, escorted
troop transports, covered landings, and evacuated endangered garrisons. Ships,
particularly the army’s improvised troop transports, frequently ran aground,
and gunboats then helped pull them free, frequently under hostile fire. At
night, gunboats sailed deep behind insurgent lines, landing and retrieving
scouts who reported on enemy positions and strength. The gunboats maintained
communication with scattered army and marine garrisons and mobile columns and
delivered their supplies, pay, and mail.
To supplement its meager forces, the navy seized 13
former Spanish gunboats and converted yachts and other small civilian craft
to naval service. Most of these gunboats, particularly the converted yachts,
were of small size. They averaged about 90 feet in length and carried a variety
of weapons including 1-, 2-, and 3- pounder guns; 37-millimeter cannon; Colt
and Gatling guns, and various small arms. Among them, however, were a few
heavily armed warships such as the Petrel, an 892-ton, 176-foot gunboat armed
with four 6-inch guns that earned it the nickname “Baby Battleship.”
A landing force from the Petrel seized the important port of Cebu in the first
weeks of the war.
Despite the acquisition of Spanish and converted civilian
ships, the navy could rarely deploy more than two dozen gunboats to patrol the
thousands of islands and numerous navigable rivers of the Philippines.
Dispersed across the islands, gunboats generally operated singly or in pairs.
Fairly typical of gunboat operations were the final
campaigns to secure the island of Samar. Despite earlier campaigns there, including
a celebrated effort by Major Littleton W. T. Waller and 300 marines, Filipino
insurgents continued to operate on Samar, eluding U. S. forces in its dense
jungle and mountainous terrain. In January and February 1902, the gunboats
Frolic and Villalobos carried soldiers on a series of raids on Samar that
yielded valuable intelligence and led to the capture of Filipino commander
Vicente Lukban. Four more gunboats arrived in March, and these allowed their
commander, Lieutenant Commander Washington I. Chambers, to blockade the island,
cutting off vital supplies to the insurgents, particularly food, which Samar
imported from neighboring islands. In April, Chambers’s squadron embarked the
troops of Brigadier General Frederick D. Grant and carried them deep into the
island along its rivers. These forces overran the insurgents’ main camp and harried
them across the island in a three-week campaign that forced their surrender,
ending the war on Samar two months before the official proclamation of peace on
July 4, 1902.
As the war wound down, the navy shifted gunboats to other operations.
Some worked to suppress the slave trade among the Moros in the Sulu
archipelago, southern Mindanao, and southern Palawan. Others hunted pirates in
Philippine and Chinese waters. Gunboats thus played a vital role in the
Philippine-American War. Without them, conquest of the Philippines might well
have been impossible.
Engraving of the galley of the Adelantado of Castile,
Royal Palace (Palacio Real), Madrid.
A gentle breeze was blowing as dawn broke on Monday, 19
June, and so the Adelantado of Castile ‘set out that morning with nine ships in
pursuit of the enemy fleet, which was coming round Cape Saint Vincent’. As the
ships sailed out, ‘they encountered a French vessel that was fleeing from the
Armada with seventy Englishmen on board; the French were allowed to take
everything off them, which they did in such a way that they almost skinned them
alive’. That is how the tragic withdrawal of the English Armada began, and as
we shall see, their losses were just as great as during the Spanish Armada.
Stripped and with their bodies lacerated by their French captors, these
Englishmen were the first of what was to become an almost unmanageable number
of prisoners that soon gave the Spaniards some serious logistical problems.
Later that same day, ‘a Flemish store ship appeared out at
sea and the Adelantado sent across Don Francisco Coloma and Don Juan
Puertocarrero with their galleys. They found about fifty Englishmen who were
readily handed over by the Flemish without a struggle. Both this ship and the
French vessel were allowed to sail for Lisbon.’ Not a great deal was gleaned
from interrogating the Englishmen. ‘It was understood from the English that the
fleet was heading for Cádiz, and in view of that the Adelantado asked
permission from the Cardinal Archduke to take all his galleys to stop the
enemy. His Highness granted the request provided that he did not take more than
nine of his galleys.’ And so as night fell on Monday, 19 June 1589, the
fearless Padilla stayed on course with his nine galleys in pursuit of the
English. At the same time, in Lisbon, fifteen caravels with extra men and
munitions were being made ready in order to reinforce the strategically important
Azores. It is clear that day by day the Spanish recovery was taking shape at
the same time that the defeat of the English was being planned, although, as
will be seen, adverse winds prevented the reinforcement flotilla for the Azores
from setting sail immediately.
The oars of the galley slaves followed the unvarying rhythm
set by the overseer. Stroke after stroke the blades of the oars emerged from
the water, were turned in the air and then thrust in the water once more. For
its part, the gentle northerly breeze helped the galleys’ oarsmen along as they
blindly pursued their objective through the darkness of the night. There were
only two cannons mounted at the prow and two at the stern on these ships, as
there was no room at the sides because of the oars and the low clearance above
the level of the sea. However, these cannons had been carefully chosen from
among the reinforced culverins of the period. They were long-range cannons and,
when fired from under five hundred metres, were very accurate, effective and
had great destructive force. In addition, over short distances the power of the
muskets and harquebuses could wipe out the decks, topsails, upper decks and
embrasures of enemy ships. In this way,
with these nine galleys he [Padilla] went in pursuit of
the enemy but without any sight of him, and three hours before daybreak he
found himself in the middle of the Armada. To confirm that was where he was, he
sent an Englishman, Captain Eduardo Grecio, in a skiff to talk to the nearest
ship, where they told him that they were not following the Admiral. From this
conversation it was clear that this was the whole fleet and they had been among
them without the enemy realizing it until dawn.
So dawn on 20 June found the nine galleys in the middle of
the scattered English Armada. It was time to intercept the stragglers, and so
Padilla placed his ship like a wedge between them and the rest of the fleet.
Sure enough, ‘the Adelantado endeavoured to position himself on the right side
of the wind and once he had done so he captured all the ships that were out of
position. With his galley he attacked three large supply ships, a tender and a
barge and other galleys came to his assistance, especially that of Don Juan
Puertocarrero.’ For its part ‘La Patrona, with Don Andrés de Atienza on board,
took a supply ship together with La Peregrina, Serena, Leona, Palma, and
Florida, and these two stayed with it until it was set alight.’ And so, one by
one, the ships that had become separated from the fleet fell into Padilla’a hands.
For his part, Alonso de Bazán ‘attacked a ship from Plymouth
which had fallen behind and in the boarding of the ship that followed its
Captain Caverley was killed with most of his men. Two other straggling ships
were attacked and sunk by the galleys. In one of them Captain Minshaw and his
crew fought heroically until they disappeared engulfed in flames.’ There is a
different report concerning the fate of Captain Caverley, which gives him as a
prisoner, for ‘having abandoned his ship, he escaped in a small boat and was
then captured’. Several documents record Bazán’s attack. This is how John
Evesham describes it:
On the morning of the 20th and with the sea in a state of
calm eight galleys headed in a windward direction towards us and attacked two
of our small ships that were said not to have been able to defend themselves
due to a lack of gunpowder and munitions. However, as far as I know and thanks
to God’s assistance these two escaped. Then the galleys attacked two other
small ships head on and upwind and they were caught and set alight and the
survivors taken prisoner. In addition, I was told that the William, commanded
by Mr Hawkins of Plymouth, whose men, so I heard, sailed off in a small boat,
was set fire to two or three times, although the fire went out. Then the
Admiral arrived and with one cannon shot ensured that the galleys left him
alone. But they pursued the small boat in order to capture the men and although
they failed to do so they sank it and all the men drowned. And the (the word ‘burnt’
is struck out) boat was sunk by our own men because there were not enough men
to sail it.
Other documents and writers recorded these attacks by the
galleys. For example, the Spanish press described it thus:
And so on the morning of the nineteenth of June [the
Adelantado] sailed out with nine ships in pursuit of the enemy fleet, which was
coming round Cape St. Vincent, and before any encounter they met up with a
further six galleys that joined forces with them, and when they came across the
enemy fleet they used their cannons against them on the twentieth and the
twenty-fifth of June, for there was little wind and they were able to do a
great deal of damage. They set fire to three ships, while others said five,
they sank two others and took prisoners from them all, causing a lot of damage
to the remainder but without the galleys incurring any serious damage in
The Portuguese press referred to three sunk and two set on
fire. Cabrera de Córdoba wrote of four sunk and an unspecified number of ships
burnt. Juan de Arquellada mentions seven sunk or set ablaze, while Duro had
four sunk by the Adelantado and three set on fire by Alonso de Bazán. Hume
wrote of three sunk or captured and one burnt. More recently, Kelsey wrote of
five or six ships lost. However, apart from González-Arnao, no attention was
paid to the fate of the ships captured earlier by the English Armada in
Cascais, which had come to form part of the fleet. In summary, on 19 June, two
of the merchant vessels seized by Drake and manned by captured crewmen were
released. One of them, the French one, made its own way to join the galleys. On
20 June, another four supply ships, also with English crewmen, were captured,
and in addition most probably a tender and a barge from among the vessels
seized by Drake. Between three and five English ships of low-tonnage – the most
numerous by far in the English fleet – were also destroyed and others were
damaged, a total of between nine and eleven ships and two smaller craft. About
seven hundred Englishmen were taken out of action, of whom one hundred and
thirty survived the attacks and were taken prisoner.
On 20 June 1589, the Spanish finally achieved what had been
denied them ten months earlier: boarding English ships. The galleys, old-world
Mediterranean vessels, had as their main weapon a sharp ram which punched into
the hull of enemy ships and acted as a boarding bridge. Galleys were attack
ships driven by the strength of the galley slaves or oarsmen and the courage of
the soldiers on board. The galley slaves were prisoners of war, men sentenced
by law or volunteers called buenas bollas (‘good loaves’) because they were
better fed. Artillery was mounted on the bow and aimed by steering the whole
ship. Propelled by oar and sail, they were more mobile than the heavy galleons,
and if there was no wind they could get behind them and bombard them or board
them, as happened at Cape Espichel.
While the rearguard was under attack, the rest of the fleet,
far from coming to their aid, took advantage of the fact that the Spanish were
distracted by their prey and they made their getaway. The English and the
Spanish were unanimous in their contempt for Drake’s extremely unhappy position
at this time. In a letter on 20 July, the Adelantado explained:
Even though there was little wind, it helped them to
crowd together and take refuge, and the cowardice shown by the whole fleet was
a sight to see. And it is clear that in this and in what the prisoners say
about the hail of bullets that rained down upon them, this was the work of God
to rid these heretics of their pride.
Fenner would not have disagreed with this description by
Padilla, for he called the resistance which they met as ‘shameful’.
Padilla treated the crew of the support ships well, as
indicated in his letter: ‘Some of the officers and sailors of the Flemish and
German ships that were seized will be set free because they were taken by the
enemy by force and brought to Spain. I do so without expecting anything in
return and I will give them payment because it is desirable to have them
willingly serve Your Majesty.’ Returning to the naval operations, ‘the two largest
supply ships were set on fire within range of Drake’s cannons and the same
action was taken with the other ships, but it wasn’t as effective and one was
sunk by the artillery of the flagship’. Meanwhile,
Drake’s flagship and another large flagship carrying the
infantry general, together with some other large ships, were trying to regroup
their fleet, which they were all so eager to do that it required little effort.
All five ships mentioned took part in the fighting, and the remaining vessels
nearby assisted them with artillery, especially the flagship, which was being
towed by two well-armed barges.
Losses in the galleys were surprisingly few, for ‘in all the
galleys there were no more than two dead and up to seventy wounded, the best
known of these a son of Juan Ruiz de Velasco’. The explanation for the
satisfactory part played by the galleys is explained as follows: ‘The speed
with which our harquebuses and artillery operated was of great importance and
did not allow the enemy to get into the fight. The enemy’s artillery caused no
damage to the galleys, although some bullets did reach the flagship and other
vessels.’ That campaign of attrition against the defeated English Armada ended
in the early afternoon, for ‘the fighting lasted from dawn until two hours
after midday, when the galleys withdrew to rest a while in view of the fact
that the enemy had regrouped’.
It was fear of the galleys that led to the dispersal of the
fleet. Evesham wrote of this fear in his account: ‘So we two did bear in as
near Bayona as we durst for fear of the galleys.’ Later the wind allowed the
English to move away from the coast:
At five in the afternoon the enemy sailed so far from the
coast that scarcely a ship could be seen, and at this the Adelantado went round
Cape St. Vincent to take on water because the galleys were in need of it, and
there he waited until the enemy went past, as it would have to do if it was
heading for Cádiz.
It was impossible to discover the intentions of the English
Armada from the nine prisoners taken during that morning. In fact,
Captains, Sub-lieutenants, English gentlemen and an
engineer were taken. They were asked many questions about the destination of
the fleet and they all said different things and they all agreed that no-one knows
but they suspect that it is heading for Cádiz. Others said that the Infantry
General will be returning to England with the whole fleet, and Drake, with Dom
António on board, is going with forty of the best ships to the Islands and the
Indies. On the one hand they are on the right track to go to the Islands and
for the fleet to go to England, and on the other hand it seems that if they had
to go (to England) they should have gone from Cascais when the Dutch and
Zealand and La Rochelle ships were allowed to go.
In any event, Padilla was not far off the mark when he gave
his opinion on the matter: ‘I also believe that their lack of personnel, due to
the number they have lost and those who have died and are dying from disease,
means that it is quite likely that they have to return.’
What was learned from these prisoners was the fleet’s total
lack of provisions:
They said that if they hadn’t seized the wheat-carrying
ships that were heading for Lisbon, they would have left their men in Portugal
without letting them on board, because they had nothing to give them. Now they
have to manage with gruel made from flour and boiled wheat, and more of them
fall ill every day. But the ones who get this to eat are the soldiers; the
sailors are much better fed.
We do not know how much in these statements is accurate, but
they are symptomatic of the malaise and demoralization that had passed through
the fleet from one ship to the next. It has already been mentioned that the
little food there was, was kept for Drake’s sailors. This fact is significant.
The proportion of sailors was already low when the English set sail, but now,
after so many setbacks and so much time at sea, packed together without even
basic conditions of hygiene and with disease rife on the ships’ decks, the
scarcity of sailors began to be a determining factor, as will later become
Moreover the prisoners were also aware of the desperate
attempts by Drake to secure assistance from the Muslims as promised: ‘They said
that Drake sent eight ships to Barbary with an ambassador of the Sharif who
came while the fleet was in Cascais.’ This information was corroborated in
part, for ‘the three galleys that had just arrived from Cádiz brought news that
they went round Cape St. Vincent’. Padilla independently drew his own
conclusions: ‘The Sharif will deceive him, as he does with all those who have
dealings with him.’ But what really moved the Adelantado of Castile was the
sight of the state to which the monastery of Santo Antonio had been reduced
after the English had passed through: ‘Next to Cascais there is a monastery of
discalced monks called Santo Antonio and its heartless neighbours broke up the
altar and the choir and did some further minor damage, and it grieved me
greatly to see it.’ Padilla was so affected by the sight of it that in his
letter to the King, he added:
And I vowed to God and to the Saint that if I am
successful against those heretics, I would endeavour to persuade Your Majesty
to restore it to its previous state, and if not, I would pay for it myself. May
it please Your Majesty to perform this kind act, because I feel that it would
be most pleasing to Our Lord.
However, the destruction of the monastery was but a prior
warning of the state in which the Iberians would find Cascais.
The military operations on 20 June exacerbated a problem
that would get even worse days later and that was the matter of the growing
number of prisoners:
Since I have been in charge of these galleys some
prominent captains have been taken and held on board, in addition to some
important French corsairs, and amongst the English that were taken on the 20th
there are also, as I have indicated, some men of standing, so that all told
there is a significant number of them and we have to keep a constant eye on them.
I ask Your Majesty to command that we be given assurances that they will be
placed somewhere where they are no longer our concern, and to determine the
treatment that shall be given to the English. They will be given rations like
the sailors, whether they are rowers or not. In my opinion this could be
justified for those who have been captured since the war started and they can
be given these rations for as long as they remain on the galleys, and unless
Your Majesty orders otherwise, they will be given volunteer rations. They are
dying off quite quickly, thereby leaving fewer of them for us to deal with.
This terrible commentary indicates the virulence of the
disease that took hold among the English expedition.
The action on the morning of 20 June brought about the
dispersal of the English Armada with a good number of ships going off course.
Thereafter it became difficult to continue to follow the path taken by the
fleet which was now largely broken up and dispersed. This situation has been
attributed to Drake’s inexperience or ineptitude in managing large fleets, for
due to the way he acted he exacerbated the damage inflicted by the galleys on
the English Armada, even though initially it was limited because the Spanish
galleys were few in number. Drake did not give sufficient priority to ordering
the fleet to divide into five squadrons, as had been agreed in Plymouth. On the
contrary, the pirate-cum-admiral, possibly unduly influenced by the laxity of
piracy when commanding his ships, allowed the Spanish attack to create
widespread chaos among the considerable number of English vessels because of
his neglect. That is when he lost track of many of them and they were lost
forever. One of these was the Gregory from London. On 20 June, this ship was
fired on by the galleys and could no longer keep up with the fleet. Or the case
of William Fenner, with his flagship of the recently arrived reinforcement
squadron, which became detached from the fleet after the attack by the galleys
and, in desperation, had to head to Madeira where it would later meet up with
other ships.38 In any event, the first squadron of the fleet to set sail, which
included Essex, the Dutch and the sick among others, gained the open sea before
the attack by the galleys and managed to head north. They were sighted a few
days later off the coast of Galicia.
In spite of everything, following the attack by the galleys
the majority of the fleet gradually managed to reassemble and so ‘on Tuesday
the 20th, at three in the afternoon, they reappeared above Cape Espichel and
the town of Sesimbra, whereupon the Duke of Aveiro took up arms in Setúbal,
where Your Highness had ordered him, and very bravely and diligently prepared
to resist’. All that Drake could do with the calm waters and the westerly
breezes was to bring his ships together and wait for favourable winds. The
English Armada could no longer undertake any action of significance and their
situation grew worse by the day. Moreover, they could no longer land on that
coast due to the maximum alert ordered by the Duke of Aveiro, ‘with most
captains having arms at the ready for any surprise attack’.
But with the English fleet now at sea, the Iberians focused
on Peniche, where five hundred men of the garrison that Norris had assigned on
28 May to provide cover if required were still waiting, with growing unease,
for a rescue flotilla to enable them to get away. But amid the chaos and
dispersion caused by the galleys and the sea conditions, the rescue ships did
not appear. Hence, ‘so that they could attack the enemy in Peniche and take
their artillery and prevent them from doing further damage … Dom Martinho
quickly wrote to His Highness and to the Counts Fuentes and Vila de Orta’. In
this way, ‘that same day (20th) Don Pedro de Guzmán and Don Sancho Bravo set
out with their mounted harquebusiers and horsemen under Gaspar de Alarcón, and
four hundred harquebusiers with Captains Castillo and Ocampo, heading for
Peniche where the enemy had left five hundred men’. That march from Lisbon had
to proceed at the pace of the infantry, so that it inevitably took them some
time to reach Peniche.
1.25 May. A council of war held off Peniche where it
is decided to undertake an expedition on land, ruling out a naval attack on
Lisbon on 26 May. Difficult disembarkation on Consolaçao beach; of the
thirty-two landing craft, fourteen went under with over eighty men drowned.
First skirmish on the beach: two hours and three charges with 250 Spanish and
150 Portuguese under Captain Alarcón and Juan González de Ateide. Death of
Captains Robert Piew and Jackson plus other men. Death of a standard-bearer and
fifteen Spaniards. 12,000 soldiers are landed.
2.27 May. Contact with the Portuguese at Peniche and
Atouguia. Preparations for the march. Attack by the cavalry of Captain Gaspar
de Alarcón: five dead plus one French prisoner who speaks Spanish: he reports
that the English Armada is bringing 20,000 men. Surrender of the fortress to
3.28 May. The English army reaches Lourinha, where it
has proved impossible to raise a Spanish–Portuguese army. Start of the Spanish
tactics to cut off supplies and communications. The army begins to starve.
4.28 May. Drake sets sail from Peniche to Cascais with
the whole fleet and 3,200 men. A further five hundred, left as a garrison in
Peniche, will be killed or captured.
5.28 May. Movement of Spanish troops transported in
galleys from Lisbon to São Julião and Oeiras to strengthen the naval front.
6.29 May. The English army reaches Torres Vedras.
Nobles in the area take flight. Fear in Lisbon. Locals who live outside the
walls take refuge in the city.
7.30 May. Iberian military parade in Queluz, where the
new headquarters has been set up.
8.30 May. Drake drops anchor between Cascais and São
Julião, adopting a crescent shape.
9.30–31 May. The English enter Loures. Dom António
announces that he will enter Lisbon on 1 June, the feast of Corpus Christi, but
on the night of 31 May there is a surprise Spanish attack with more than two
10.1 June. The English reach Alvalade. Arms are
distributed to the Portuguese infantry.
11.2–4 June. The English army reaches Lisbon. They are
bombarded from the Saint George castle. Billeting in Lisbon. On 3 June there is
a great attack of the besieged against the English barracks.
12.5 June. Night-time withdrawal by the army to
Cascais, pursued by Spanish detachments. More than five hundred dead.
13.15 June. Arrival of the Adelantado of Castile with
fifteen galleys and six fireships.
14.19–20 June. The English Armada sails on a westerly
wind, the galleys set off in pursuit and sink or capture nine ships, a tender
and a barge. The fleet is dispersed.
As dawn broke on Wednesday, 21 June 1589, it was clear that
the English Armada was still in sight of land. While the first detachment of
the fleet continued its slow voyage northwards, Drake was to spend that day
sailing into the light onshore wind and tacking off the coast before reaching
Cascais. For its part, the damaged Gregory, which was lost out at sea,
struggled to sail northwards, while Fenner, who was even more lost and who had
to endure a storm in the night, headed off to the islands of Madeira, which
were relatively close by. These names make up for the anonymity of many other
lost ships of which we know nothing further. Meanwhile, the fifteen caravels
that had been made ready in Lisbon to come to the aid of the Azores were unable
to set sail due to the calm seas and westerly winds. While all this was
happening at sea, with the Duke of Aveiro remaining on full alert on land, the
detachment of Guzmán and Bravo reached Torres Vedras, where they learned of the
situation at Peniche from Martinho Soares.
Westerly winds continued to blow on 22 June, and nothing of
significance changed at sea, although it did at Peniche. In fact, as Guzmán and
Bravo’s detachment reached Lourinhã on their way there, they received
a report from a spy at Peniche that the enemy were trying
to embark and take the artillery from the Tower. They all set off in haste
towards Peniche, where they discovered some of the enemy already embarked on a
small ship and a barge which were already in the water (and) about 40 of them
got on board, while of those still on land they killed or captured almost 300.
Although English sources do not appear to confirm that there
were any survivors apart from Captain Barton, there must have been some, for
‘although they were making haste, before they arrived they received news of the
embarkation, and so spurring on their horses as much as they could they arrived
with some two hundred yet to board and killed them or took them prisoner’.
About two hundred, therefore, remained on land, and they were killed or
captured together with others who were already on board. It is not known how
many others managed to escape, but if disease had not taken too great a toll in
the English garrison at Peniche, it could have been a sizeable number. What is
clear is that, given the great urgency to prevent the men from getting on
board, the only ones to arrive in time to prevent it were the cavalry. In any
event, the haste to embark was such that ‘a chest full of papers belonging to
Dom António was found, and amongst some important ones there was one written in
his own hand that described everything that had happened to him from the time
he had declared himself king to the day he arrived in this kingdom’. These
papers would help to thwart Dom António’s plans once and for all.
Following this bloody encounter, the Iberians reclaimed the
castle and its artillery. ‘In case any ships arrived, Pedro García’s company of
Maestre de Campo Francisco de Toledo’s regiment, remained in the castle.’ With
this new victory, ‘Don Pedro de Guzmán and Don Sancho Bravo, with their
infantry and cavalry, returned to Lisbon with about 60 prisoners.’ The failure
of the English expedition and the subsequent feeling of relief on the Iberian
side loomed larger by the day.
As he had on previous days, Drake continued to sail close to
the Portuguese coast during the morning of Friday, 23 June in order to make
progress northwards and that is how the English Armada found itself off the
coast at Peniche. He then sent in the rescue boats but, as fate would have it,
the men who had been looking for such a sign of deliverance from the
battlements of Peniche were no longer there. The ships – there were nine or ten
of them – were kept at bay from Peniche by cannon fire and they returned to the
fleet. Meanwhile, the English Armada was stretched out along the coast like the
net of a fishing trawler or the Santa Compaña that by night seizes anyone that
looks at it. Yet another merchant ship – a Hanseatic supply ship from Lübeck –
fell into their clutches that day. But the extraordinary thing was that its
captain was held on Drake’s Revenge until they reached Plymouth – perhaps
because it was a ship captured at sea and to prevent any attempt to escape.
Once he was back on the Peninsula, the captain, whose name was Juan Antonio
Bigbaque, wrote a very interesting account of what happened.
That day a north-east wind got up after all the calms and
westerlies and Drake set off for the open sea. That is when the fleet appeared
to head for the Azores; as Hume put it: ‘After sailing ostensibly for the
Azores, Drake turned back.’ But given the state of the fleet and the diverse
nature of its composition, to attempt such a voyage of conquest seemed like an
act of recklessness. Bigbaque, who witnessed the events, reported: ‘(Drake’s)
principal objective was to end up in the Cíes Islands, but because the weather
was so changeable from one day to the next, he decided to head for the island
of Madeira. He sent barges to inform all the ships of the fleet, but later when
the wind turned, he set course for Bayona and the Cíes Islands.’ With adverse
winds for the return to England, with the coast on a war footing and swarming
with galleys, with the great prize of merchant ships, and above all with the
state of the fleet worsening rapidly and making it increasingly necessary to
stop in order to recuperate, the Madeira Islands could be seen as an
appropriate place for a stopover after six perilous and pointless days at sea.
In any event, 23 June was the last day that the fleet was sighted from the
vicinity of Lisbon and Peniche.
With the English Armada out to sea, the Spanish were
suffering the same degree of uncertainty on Saturday, 24 June, as they had at
the beginning of May: not knowing where a new landing by the English might take
place. However, the situation was not the same, both on account of the drastic
reduction in the power of the English fleet and the arrival of Philip’s troops
in Portugal, including Juan del Águila’s infantry and Luis de Toledo’s cavalry.
Hence Fuentes ordered that
as an attempt could be made between the Douro and Minho
or in Galicia, it seemed advisable that the infantry and cavalry under Don Juan
del Águila and Don Luis de Toledo should be accommodated in Coimbra and the
surrounding area, for it is situated at the centre of the region and should the
need arise they can reach any part of the area.
The Count also ordered that ‘in order for the billeting to
be acceptable and convenient for the locals,’ everything should be done under
the supervision of the Count of Portoalegre, and ‘they should be given
excellent treatment there’.
On the same day, Fuentes sent two more caravels with men and
supplies to reinforce the two that were tailing the English Armada. In
addition, he began the recruitment of sailors for the new Armada that was being
prepared for the following year. For his part, Alonso de Bazán, who had been
called upon by the King for this new Armada, wrote to him on that day to say
that with the invaders now definitely gone from Lisbon, he would travel to the
As for the English, it was on the Saturday that Robert
Devereux, Earl of Essex, more or less unwittingly rendered one last service to
the expedition by providing Cerralbo with the same major headaches as he had
suffered in May and in the process making the Vigo estuary more vulnerable. In
fact, the first sighting of the first squadron of the English Armada occurred
on that day in the Rías Altas, off the Costa de la Muerte. It included the
favourite Devereux with many other nobles, a good number of English ships
carrying the sick and the discharged Dutch vessels. This sighting created a
counterproductive movement of Galician troops, for when Cerralbo thought that
the English Armada was going to attack Corunna again, he ordered the three
companies that were stationed in Pontevedra as reinforcements for Vigo and the
Rías Bajas to return at once to Corunna. It would have been far better in this
game of cat and mouse for these veteran soldiers to have remained in
Pontevedra, for this would have spared them gruelling and futile marches across
the Galician countryside that took them away from the place where the final
attack by the English Armada would be unleashed shortly afterwards.
On Sunday, 25 June, the northerly winds and rough weather
intensified. As night fell, Drake, who had sailed out to sea on 23 June, was
sighted off Oporto. These facts suggest that Drake took advantage of the
north-easterly wind on 23 June, sailed west-northwest at the start of what was
to be a long tacking movement (that led some to think that he was heading for
the Azores). At some point on 24 June, now at some distance from the coast and
with the wind from the north, the tacking took them several miles out to sea.
Following the change in direction and sailing into the wind as much as possible
in order to get as far north as he could, he started a new tack, this time back
towards the Portuguese coast. Finally, on 25 June, with the ships leaning hard
to starboard, he completed the tack which took him to within five miles of
Oporto. As far as the first squadron of the English Armada was concerned, it
tacked using the northerly wind to reach Finisterre, while trying not to lose
too much of the northern advance already made.
The northerly wind was still blowing on Monday, 26 June, and
Drake was tacking gently off the north coast of Portugal between Vila do Conde
and Esposende under the watchful eye of Pedro Bermúdez, commander of the
military garrison in that sector. The first squadron of the fleet was doing the
same off the Galician coast and was seen again that day from Finisterre. On the
Spanish side, that was the day that the fifteen caravels at last set sail to
reinforce the Azores. Meanwhile, the Gregory from London which, as mentioned
earlier, had been hit by the guns from the galleys days before, ‘was not
sailing as well as the rest’ and had got detached from the fleet, managed to
join up with them again. According to Evesham’s account that was also the night
when, in addition to the gradual dispersal of individual ships, the second
squadron of the English Armada was in turn split in two. Evesham described how
during the night Drake lit a beacon on the Revenge, which by daybreak had
disappeared along with sixty ships.
On Tuesday, 27 June, the wind continued to blow, resulting
in the virtual standstill of the English ships, which were becoming more and
more spread out as they tried to sail into the wind off the Portuguese and
Galician coasts. Tragically, they were being held back, with the vessels
beginning to look more like mortuaries owing to the relentless increase in
hunger, thirst, sickness and death.
By 28 June, most of the second squadron of the English
Armada was close to the Portuguese–Galician border between Viana and Caminha.
In fact, a number of ships showed signs of attempting to land on Ancora beach
next to the river. But the same day the wind veered to the south, and so they
were able to sail towards the estuaries which offered unparalleled respite for
any ship exhausted from being at sea. However, they did not all anchor in Vigo
as a number of them headed straight off to England. One of these was the
Gregory, which headed north after abandoning a lost supply ship that it had
come across and which decided to stay. Shortly afterwards, the Gregory came
across another ship on its own, the Bark Bonner from Plymouth, and they decided
to keep each other company on the tough voyage that awaited them on their
But on 29 June Drake finally managed to drop anchor off Vigo
and, throughout that day, a large number of ships came to join him there. In
conclusion, Drake had the wind in his favour to head for the Azores and against
him to return to England. But what he wanted was to go home and, from setting
sail from Cascais on 18 June until a southerly wind got up on 28 June, he had
tacked against the wind in order to make some headway north. And during that
time, disease and hunger began to seriously ravage the fleet.