Saturday, 1 November 2014

Rumours about the Spanish Armada, August 1588

Rumours about the Spanish Armada, August 1588

In August 1588 most people knew that a great naval battle had been fought between the Spanish Armada and the English fleet, but firm news on the result was hard to come by. Rumours raced across Europe. What is most interesting about the stories and gossip sweeping across Europe is in one way or another they all concern one man: Drake. Drake was said to be killed or captured in a dozen different ways. He had fled the battle in a rowing boat not only off the Isle of Wight, but also off the Wash, off Scotland and somewhere in the northern seas. Mendoza lit a great bonfire in the street outside his house in Paris to celebrate the end of the great El Draque. In Prague the Spanish ambassador, Don Guillen de San Clemente, had a mass sung and invited the local nobles to help him celebrate the news.

The Spanish ambassador in Rome, Count Olivarez, sought and obtained an audience with Pope Sixtus. Olivarez announced the news of Drake’s death and of the Armada’s victory. He asked the pope to have a special service held in St Peter’s. The pope agreed, but said he would rather wait until the news was confirmed by his own agents. William Allen, the priest who was to be appointed Cardinal of England if the invasion was successful, was not so cautious. He packed his bags and got ready to leave.

On 18 August the English Privy Council ordered what was known to be printed in the form of a booklet. It was printed in English and in French and by 21 August copies of the French edition were on the streets of Paris. But they came from England and few people believed the tales of an English victory. A few days later the Dutch printed their version of events, complete with reports from the captains of flyboats who had seen the Battle of Gravelines or seen the Spanish wrecks come ashore. Even the staunchest Catholic began to fear defeat.

But it was still impossible to be certain. Even if the Armada had suffered losses and headed north everyone, even the English, accepted that the Spanish fleet was still in being and sailing in strict formation. A new rumour swept Europe: the Armada had anchored in the Orkneys and was finishing repairs before sailing back south to rendezvous with Parma and his army. The English fleet, meanwhile, had been caught by a great storm while waiting off the Orkneys and had been destroyed. This was the version heard by Giovanni Mocenigo, Venetian ambassador in Paris. He wrote it down and sent it off to Venice in a letter dated 9 September. But he added dolefully: “Nobody here believe that the Armada will return.” He added that Parma had broken up his camps at Nieuport and Dunkirk. The soldiers were being employed in a few autumn raids into rebel Dutch lands, then going into barracks for the winter.

from "The Spanish Armada - A Campaign in Context" by Rupert Matthews
Get your copy HERE

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