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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

The other from the Netherlands


Farnese's failure to effect a junction with Medina Sidonia has been always traced to personal motives; it was even said in England, at a later time, that Queen Elizabeth had offered him the hand of Lady Arabella Stuart, which might open the way to the English throne for himself. It is true that his enterprises in the Netherlands appeared to lie closest to his heart; even Tassis, who was about his person, remarks that he carried on his preparations more out of obedience than with any zeal of his own. But the chief cause why the two operations were not better combined lay in their very nature. The geographical relation of the Spanish monarchy to England would have required two separate invasions, the one from the Pyrenean peninsula, the other from the Netherlands. The wish to combine the forces of such distant countries in a single invasion made the enterprise, especially when the means of communication of the period were so inadequate, overpoweringly helpless. Wind and weather had been little considered in the scheme. In both those countries immense materials of war had been collected with extreme effort; they had been brought within a few miles of sea of each other, but combine they could not. Now for the first time came to light the full superiority which the English gained from their corsair-like and bold method of war, and their alliance with the Dutch. It was seen that a sudden attack would suffice to break the whole combination in pieces: Queen Elizabeth was said to have
herself devised the plan and its arrangement.

The Armada was still lying at anchor in line of battle, waiting for news from Alexander Farnese, when in the night between Sunday and Monday (7th to 8th August) the English sent some fire-ships, about eight in number, against it. They were his worst vessels which Lord Howard gave up for this purpose, but their mere appearance produced a decisive result. Medina Sidonia could not refuse his ships permission to slip their anchors, that each might avoid the threatening danger: only he commanded them to afterwards resume their previous order. But things wore a completely different appearance the following morning. The tide had carried the vessels towards the land, a direction they did not want to take; now for the first time the attacks of the English proved destructive to them: part of the ships had become disabled: it was completely impossible to obey the admiral's orders that they should return to their old position. Instead of this, unfavourable winds drove the Armada against its will along the coast; in a short time the English too gave up the pursuit of the enemy, who without being quite beaten was yet in flight, and abandoned him to his fate. The wind drove the Spaniards on the shoals of Zealand: once they were in such shallow water that they were afraid of running aground: some of their galleons in fact fell into the hands of the Dutch. Fortunately for them the wind veered round first to the W.S.W., then to the S.S.W., but they could not even then regain the Channel, nor would they have wished it; only by the longest circuit, round the Orkney Islands, could they return to Spain.

A storm fraught with ruin had lowered over England: it was scattered before it discharged its thunder. So completely true is the expression on a Dutch commemorative medal, 'the breath of God has scattered them' (_flavit et dissipati sunt_).

Philip II saw the Armada, which he had hoped would give the dominion of the world into his hand, return home again in fragments without having, we do not say accomplished but even, attempted anything worth the trouble. He did not therefore renounce his design. He spoke of his wish to fit out lighter vessels, and entrust the whole conduct of the expedition to the Prince of Parma. The Cortes of Castille requested him not to put up with the disgrace incurred, but to chastise this woman: they offered him their whole property and all the children of the land for this purpose. But the very possibility of great enterprises belongs only to one moment: in the next it is already gone by.

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