Drake Hawkins and the Armada

Historical Perspectives

Sir John Hawkins
Sir Francis Drake
The Galleon
The Armada

Sir John Hawkins, b. 1532, d. Nov. 12, 1595,

was a famous English naval commander of the Elizabethan era. Born into a family of seafarers at Plymouth, he made his earliest voyages to the Canary Islands as a young man. He married Katherine Gonson, whose father was treasurer of the navy, in 1559. After Gonson's death (1577), Hawkins assumed the post and introduced notable improvements in shipbuilding and naval administration.

Between 1562 and 1569, Hawkins led three expeditions in which black slaves were taken from Africa for sale to Spanish colonies in the West Indies. On the third voyage (1567-69), in which his kinsman Francis DRAKE took part, he was involved in a major battle with a Spanish fleet at San Juan de Ulua, off the coast of Mexico, and lost many of his men and ships. Hawkins commanded a portion of the English fleet that defeated the SPANISH ARMADA in 1588. He died at sea on an unsuccessful expedition to the West Indies; Drake died during the same expedition.
Stanford E. Lehmberg

Sir Francis Drake,

the most famous English seaman of the Elizabethan Age, is best known for his exploits against the Spanish and his circumnavigation of the world. Drake was born in Devonshire about 1541 to a poor, staunchly Protestant farming family. He went to sea as a youth, aided by his relations, the Hawkins family of Plymouth. He took part in a slave-trading expedition to the Cape Verde Islands and the West Indies in 1566. The next year he sailed under John HAWKINS on an expedition that was attacked by the Spanish at San Juan de Ulua (Vera Cruz, Mexico); only the ships commanded by Hawkins and Drake escaped to return to England. Drake scouted the Panama region in 1570 and returned there the next year, when he bombarded several coastal cities and captured much gold and silver. Temporary duty in Ireland followed.

The deterioration of relations with Spain led Queen ELIZABETH I to back an expedition to sail around the world, a feat that had been accomplished only once before, by a Spanish expedition under Ferdinand MAGELLAN. Drake was placed in charge of five small ships and about 160 men and left Plymouth in December 1577. The voyage was a difficult one. Drake had to put down a mutiny off the Patagonian coast and abandoned two small storeships. It took 16 days to pass through the Strait of Magellan; one ship abandoned the quest and returned to England and another disappeared during a storm. Thus, by the time he reached the Pacific, Drake was left with only one ship, the Golden Hind. He traveled up the coasts of Chile and Peru raiding Spanish shipping and sailed far to the north before returning south to touch land in the San Francisco area; he claimed the surrounding region for England and named it New Albion. Drake then set off across the Pacific; he traded in the Spice Islands (Moluccas) and signed treaties with local rulers. He returned to England via the Indian Ocean and the Cape of Good Hope, reaching Plymouth on Sept. 20, 1580, laden with treasure and spices. For his accomplishments, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I.

Drake served as mayor of Plymouth for some years. In 1585, however, he was given command of a large fleet that sacked Vigo, in Spain, then crossed the Atlantic to capture and plunder Cartagena and Santo Domingo and to destroy St. Augustine, in Florida. In 1587 he led a raid on Cadiz that destroyed the stores and many of the ships of the Spanish fleet. This exploit delayed the attack of the SPANISH ARMADA for a year. Drake played a major role in the successful English defense against the armada in 1588 and was acclaimed as England's hero. But his forces were defeated at Lisbon in 1589, and for some years he remained in Plymouth. A final voyage to the West Indies, begun in 1595, was totally unsuccessful; Drake died off the coast of Panama on Jan. 28, 1596.
Bruce B. Solnick

The Armada

was a great Spanish fleet assembled in 1588 as part of the attempt by PHILIP II to invade England. Philip had come to believe that only conquest could halt English aid to the rebels against Spain in the Low Countries or stop the English depredations in the New World. The plan was to send a fleet of 130 ships commanded by the duque de Medina Sidonia (1550-1619) to cover an invasion force from Flanders under Alessandro FARNESE. This plan proved strategically unsound and beyond Spain's logistical capabilities.

When the outgunned and inadequately provisioned Armada appeared off Plymouth on July 30, it was met by an English fleet of equal or superior strength. In spite of the efforts of Francis DRAKE, Martin FROBISHER, John HAWKINS, and other English captains, the Spanish maintained their order of battle and lost only two ships before arriving at Calais. The rendezvous with Farnese failed, however. Lacking adequate ships of his own and blockaded by Dutch rebels whose shallow-draft flyboats easily eluded the Spanish galleons, Farnese could not embark his troops. Then, on August 8, English fire ships drove the Armada out of its Calais anchorage. The Spanish regrouped and fought another action off Gravelines, but they were now out of ammunition. Realizing that the situation was lost, Medina Sidonia sailed north around Scotland and Ireland and returned to Spain. He suffered heavy losses because of disease and shipwreck.

The defeat of the Armada did not affect the naval balance of power: England had been a major sea power before 1588, and the Spanish fleet was quickly rebuilt afterward. It did demonstrate that Spain lacked the power to impose religious unity on Europe.
William S. Maltby

The galleon

was a large, 3- or 4-masted ship developed during the 15th and 16th centuries as a merchant vessel and warship. During the latter 16th century, it was the standard vessel of European navies (see NAVAL VESSELS). Galleons were more slender than previous sailing ships, their lines resembling those of the oared GALLEY; and they were built without the earlier overhanging forecastle that had made sailing to windward almost impossible. Sir John HAWKINS streamlined the English galleons ever further, and it was his light, maneuverable fleet that defeated the heavier ships of the SPANISH ARMADA.

With the development of the galleon, naval battle tactics were revolutionized. Where earlier ships had to use oarsmen to bring them within boarding range of the enemy, the galleon could hold its position into the wind and use its broadside banks of cannon to shell enemy ships lying at a distance.

[Texts: Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia]