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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

But neither could the admiral proceed to Dunkirk


to attempt a landing on the

spot, since there were no preparations made there for defence and the English squadron was not fully manned. But this was not in the plan, and would, especially if it failed, have incurred a heavy responsibility. Medina Sidonia was only empowered and prepared to accept battle by sea if the English should offer it. His galleys, improved after the Venetian pattern, and especially his galleons (immense sailing ships which carried cannon on their different decks on all sides), were without doubt superior to the vessels of the English. When the latter, some sixty sail strong, came out of the harbour, he hung out the great standard from the fore-mast of his ship as a signal for all to prepare for battle. But the English admiral did not intend to let matters come to a regular naval fight. He was perfectly aware of the superiority of the Spanish equipment and had even forbidden boarding the enemies' vessels. His plan was to gain the weather-gauge of the Armada, and inflict damage on them in their course, and throw them into disorder. The English followed the track of the Armada in four squadrons, and left no advantage unimproved that might offer. They were thoroughly acquainted with this sea, and steered their handy vessels with perfect certainty and mastery: the Spaniards remarked with dissatisfaction that they could at pleasure advance, attack, and again break off the engagement. Medina Sidonia was anxious above all things to keep his Armada together: after a council of war he let a
great ship which lagged behind fall into the hands of the enemy, as her loss would be less damaging than the breaking up of the line which would result from the attempt to save her: he sent round his sargentes mayores to the captains to tell them not to quit the line on pain of death.[272]

On the whole the Spaniards were not discontented with their voyage, when after a week of continuous skirmishing they, without having sustained any very considerable losses, had traversed the English channel, and on Saturday the 6th August passed Boulogne and arrived off Calais: it was the first point at which they had wished to touch. But now to cross to the neighbouring coast of England, as seems to have been the original plan, became exceedingly difficult, because the English fleet guarded it, and the Spanish galleons were less able in the straits than elsewhere to compete with those swift vessels, It was also being strengthened every moment; the young nobility emulously hastened on board. But neither could the admiral proceed to Dunkirk, as the harbour was then far too narrow to receive his large ships, and his pilots were afraid of being carried to the northward by the currents. He anchored in the roadstead east of Calais in the direction of Dunkirk.

He had already previously informed the Duke of Parma that he was on the way, and had then, immediately before his arrival at Calais, despatched a pilot to Dunkirk, to request that he would join him with a number of small vessels, that they might better encounter the English, and bring with him cannon balls of a certain calibre, of which he began to fall short.[273] It is clear that he still wished to undertake from thence, if supported according to his views, the great attempt at a disembarkation which he was commissioned to effect. But Alexander of Parma, whom the first message had found some days before at Bruges, had not yet arrived at Dunkirk when the second came: the preparations for embarking were only then just begun for the first time; and they could scarcely venture actually to embark, as English and Dutch ships of war were still ever cruising before the harbour.


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