However, Howard had a problem, which was to affect his judgement for the worse that day. His constant requests for more gunpowder and cannonballs had been met with some resistance from the officials at court whose duty it was to arrange payment for such munitions. They had sent Howard everything he had asked for, but had been demanding to know why he was not capturing more Spanish ships. In vain did Howard point out that they were engaged in a new form of naval warfare: one that involved battering the enemy with guns not boarding his ships. The courtiers did not understand. They still envisaged battles fought in the old style and thought that a lack of captured ships meant a lack of victory.
Howard was under pressure. So when he saw the San Lorenzo, flagship of the galleass squadron, crippled and alone it proved to be too much for him. As a squadron flagship the San Lorenzo could be counted upon to have noblemen on board who would make important prisoners, a pay chest that would make good booty and her capture would bring prestige enough to silence those courtiers who had never fought at sea.
No doubt the galleass had to be taken, but in her crippled condition - her rudder was gone and she had sustained some damage to her hull in a collision during the night - she could not have put up much of a fight. Howard should have left her to others, but he did not. Desperate to capture a rich prize, he went for her himself. It was one of the few mistakes that Howard was to make in his long and successful career, but it turned out to be a serious one.
By turning the Ark Royal away from the general chase, Howard took his entire squadron out of the battle. Not only that, but the San Lorenzo soon headed for the shallows where she could slip over the sands, but Howard’s warships could not. The English guns could not be brought to bear and fell silent just at the moment when they would have been most use among the scattered ships of the Armada.
from "The Spanish Armada - a Campaign in Context" by Rupert Matthews.
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