Wednesday, 16 November 2011

English boats attack the Spanish Galleon San Lorenzo

During the battles against the Spanish Armada in 1588 the galleass San Lorenzo ran aground. The first of the boats to get within musket shot of the galleass was the longboat from the Margaret and John packed with 40 men under the command of Richard Tomson. The boats from the Ark Royal came up next with about 60 men in her. Tomson takes up the story:

“These two boats came hard under the galleass sides, being aground; where we continued a pretty skirmish with our small shot against theirs, they being ensconced within their ship and very high over us, we in our open boats and far under them, having nothing to shroud and cover us; they being 300 soldiers, besides 450 slaves and we not, at the instant, 100 persons, Within one half hour it pleased God, by killing the captain with a musket shot, to give us victory above all hope or expectation; for the soldiers leaped overboard by heaps on the other side and fled with the shore, swimming and wading. Some escaped with being wet; some, and that very many, were drowned. The captain of her was called Don Hugo de Moncada, son to the Viceroy of Valencia. He being slain, and the seeing our English boats under her sides and more of ours coming rowing towards her some with ten and some with eight men in them, for all the smallest shipping were the nearest the shore, put up two handkerchers upon two rapiers, signifying that they desired truce. Hereupon we entered her, with much difficulty, by reason of her height over us, and possessed us of her. For the space of an hour and a half, as I judge, each man seeking his benefit of pillage until the flood came that we might haul her off the ground and bring her away.”

It is only fair to point out that not all the witnesses go along with one aspect of Tomson’s version. Tomson states that only his boat and that from the Ark Royal were engaged in the fight with the galleass, and implies that they were still the only boats engaged when the Spaniards surrendered. The other boats were, he says, “coming rowing towards her”. Others stated that they were alongside the San Lorenzo when her crew surrendered. It is likely that the reasons for this was that the men were vying for a share of the loot. At this date only those who took part in the actual capture were entitled to a share of any prize money on offer - it would be some decades before the navy adopted the rule that anyone engaged in the battle would get a share.

An account by a Spanish prisoner has survived, though it is scanty. He say that “The Italian sailors and artillerymen, with some others, were the first to escape and fly to shore. And so many went that not more than 50 men stood by the captain to defend the ship.”  He also gives the detail that Moncado was killed by a musket ball that penetrated his brain through his eye.

Such minor discrepancies apart, the general picture is clear. The capture of the San Lorenzo took over an hour to accomplish, and the subsequent events on board up to two more hours. About 50 Englishmen had been killed or badly wounded, and some 30 Spaniards were casualties as well.

from the book THE SPANISH ARMADA - A CAMPAIGN IN CONTEXT by Rupert Matthews

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