Simancas: April 1588, 11-20

Calendar of State Papers, Spain (Simancas), Volume 4, 1587-1603. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1899.

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, 'Simancas: April 1588, 11-20', in Calendar of State Papers, Spain (Simancas), Volume 4, 1587-1603, (London, 1899) pp. 263-269. British History Online [accessed 21 May 2024].

. "Simancas: April 1588, 11-20", in Calendar of State Papers, Spain (Simancas), Volume 4, 1587-1603, (London, 1899) 263-269. British History Online, accessed May 21, 2024,

. "Simancas: April 1588, 11-20", Calendar of State Papers, Spain (Simancas), Volume 4, 1587-1603, (London, 1899). 263-269. British History Online. Web. 21 May 2024,

April 1588, 11-20

12 April.
A. 234, Bib. Nat., Lisbon.
266. Document headed : "Relation sent by the Duke of Medina Sidonia to the President of Finance. Given to me to take to the Tower (fn. 1) by the Chamberlain of the President."
Statement made by Francisco de Valverde of St. Lucar, who arrived in this city of Lisbon to-day, 12th April 1588, as to what he saw in England and London, which place he left on the 12th March 1588.
Whilst he was on his way from the Indies, in the flotilla from New Spain under Don Juan Guzman, in the year 1586, on board one of his own ships of 150 tons, four English ships belonging to the Queen, and commanded by John Hawkins, attacked him off Cape St Vincent. He and 18 of his men were captured with his vessel and cargo of hides and dyewood, and were kept captive for 15 months. First, they took him to Portsmouth, where he was detained for three months ; then to Southampton, where he remained a month, and thence to London, where he stayed until the 12th March last, when he left for Spain with a passport from the Queen. He embarked in the Thames and came by way of Dieppe and Havre de Grace. He states that for the last four months the English have been busy collecting ships from all parts of the kingdom, and that Francis Drake was in London during that time. He has been informed that 40 ships of the following strength had been gathered in Plymouth ; namely, five belonging to the Queen, of 400 to 500 tons each, armed with bronze pieces and well fitted, the rest of the 40 ships being merchantmen of 150 to 200 tons, with some smaller ones, armed with cast-iron pieces, and well fitted and found.
Valverde relates that from the information he obtained by one of his own men, whom he sent for the purpose of inquiry, he learns that the 40 ships carried 8,000 fighting men and sailors, most of the former being harquebussiers. An epidemic was rife amongst them, which, although it was hushed up, was by many considered to be the plague ; and this caused the almost entire dispersal of the fleet, but the latter had now again been re-formed, and was awaiting orders.
In reply to the question as to whether the English were fitting out another fleet, and who was the commander, Valverde replied, that in the River Thames, at London, they had collected 20 ships, 12 of which belonged to the Queen, and were of 400 to 600 tons burden, the rest being merchantmen of 200 to 250, with some smaller. These ships had sailed from London a month ago under the Lord Admiral, and were cruising the Channel off the Scotch coast, as it was understood that the duke of Parma and the Spanish fleet intended to sail thither. This second fleet carried 8,000 or 9,000 soldiers and sailors.
Being asked whether the Queen intended to raise another fleet to reinforce the above, or go elsewhere, Valverde answered that she did not. On the contrary, they had only been able to collect the two fleets already mentioned with great difficulty, and the whole of the Queen's strength is comprised in them. She has no means left for fitting out another fleet of any importance, being extremely short of money.
Valverde was asked whether the men joined the fleet willingly, and replied that when Drake announced last summer that he was going to attack the Indian flotillas men flocked to him eagerly, and he could have armed 200 ships at that time ; but now they came very reluctantly and almost by force. In answer to the question whether they had much stores, he said yes. They had killed a great number of cattle and pigs, and had prepared other necessaries ; but, as the men had already been on board for three months, they had consumed most of the victuals, and fresh supplies were now being provided.
He was asked what were Drake's plans and destination, and replied that, when the fleet was first commissioned, it was said that the intention was to come and burn his Majesty's Armada, but that now he (Drake) and the rest of them were in suspense, as they feared on the one hand (the coming of the Spanish fleet), and were in hopes, on the other, that peace might be made, with which object three Commissioners left for Flanders two or three days before Valverde started from London. Some people were in expectation that peace might result, whilst others thought that the intention was only to entertain them (the English) and catch them unawares.
In reply to the question whether they (the English) had news of the Armada now being fitted out in Lisbon, and whether they were alarmed at it, he said yes, but that other persons said that they (the Spaniards) had neither soldiers nor sailors, the greater part of the men on the Armada having died, so they (the English) were in very good spirits.
He was asked whether they (the English) expected aid from anywhere, and replied that the prince of Condé had offered the Queen to bring over 12,000 Germans to her.
He was asked whether there were any Catholics (in England) who expected the coming of the Armada to help them, and replied that a large proportion of the country would join the Spaniards and King Philip ; and it was a common saying amongst the people that in this year '88, by God's grace, England would be brought to obedience to the Roman Catholic Church, and they were anxious to see the day.
He said that they (the English) had discovered the sea-route to the Moluccas by the north, which would be a great disadvantage to his Majesty's interests.
He was asked whether he had seen any of the English ports, and if there were any fortifications in them, and replied that he only saw that they were raising bulwarks at Portsmouth made of sundried bricks and faggots, to serve for defence in case of need. He said the fort there contained about 200 men. He said also that the English had been informed from Portugal that, in addition to the supplies there was 500,000 ducats in money in the Armada, and that his Majesty had arranged for sight bills on Lisbon for 300,000 ducats to be sent, which money had already been sent thither. As, however, three or four days would pass before it could be encashed, the departure of the Armada would be delayed until the day of St. Philip and Santiago, when, if the wind served, it would sail. This news was also brought by the courier who arrived from Lisbon on the 27th April, bringing a letter dated 24th from the Cardinal Archduke to Father Castro of this College, (fn. 2) which, amongst other things, says that on that day, Sunday, day of St. Mark, (fn. 3) the royal standard was carried to be consecrated. The motto on it is "Exurge Domine et vindica causam tuum," and the standard was given by the ladies of Portugal. The Cardinal Archduke accompanied it from the cathedral to the church of St. Domingo, and his Holiness has already sent his benediction. On one side of the standard is the Virgin and the infant Jesus in her arms, and the devotion of all is aroused at the sight of Christ and the mother of God. On the ship's flags is painted a figure of Our Lady, of immense size, so that it may be seen by the soldiers.
It was said that some women had gone on board the Armada in the guise of men, whereupon the duke of Medina caused a search to be made and found 30.
It is also said that, although the Pope and many Italian potentates, including the duke of Savoy, have offered to assist the King, he has declined their offers ; saying that this is to be the last enterprise he will undertake in his life, and he has determined to offer it to God, for His service, and the exaltation of the Catholic faith.
14 April.
Paris Archives, K. 1567.
267. Bernardino de Mendoza to the King.
Since my latest reports from England, of 25th ultimo, sent to your Majesty in my last, I have received a letter dated 28th from an Englishman in London, which I now enclose. I have also another, dated 3rd instant, confirming the news that Drake had not sailed, which news is further confirmed by the new confidant. The Admiral is at Court, and the four largest of the Queen's ships are now ready for sea. The English ambassador has made public the memorandum I enclose herewith of the tonnage of the Queen's ships, with their guns and the men required to handle them—a much larger number than exists in England. A special envoy from Bearn had arrived in England.
The English ambassador here has had audience of the King which lasted more than an hour. This seems significant of an understanding with the Englishwoman, as the King could only give so short a time to the other ambassadors. The King during the audience spoke in so low a tone that those in the cabinet could only hear that he asked the ambassador whether his mistress wished to make him (the King) a Huguenot. Perhaps this was said on purpose for those who were listening to hear.—Paris, 14th April 1588.
268. Bernardino de Mendoza to the King.
In my last I reported what the new confidant told me the English ambassador would submit to the King. The answer given to him by the King was, that he would consult his mother with regard to the Queen's offer of help if he would declare himself against the League, and he would send the reply later. This was taken by Secretary Pinart, and in substance was that the King would be much obliged to the Queen if she would persuade Bearn to become a Catholic. if the Queen did not allow any other than her religion in her own country, it was only reasonable that the king of France should endeavour to do the same in his dominions. This was all, with no more pro and con.
Sampson opened Don Antonio's letters for Constantinople, and found in them what is set forth in his "advices." He (Sampson) is of opinion that if he (Don Antonio) could escape from England, he would go to Constantinople. Diego Botello writes to Sampson, telling him to try to obtain from the Queen-Mother 400 or 500 crowns to help Don Antonio to escape from England, as he cannot do so without the money ; he being in great need. Sampson has not thought well to make the demand, and Guadagni does not recommend him to do so. He thinks that however much Don Antonio wished to leave England now he could not do so without the Queen's permission.—Paris, 14th April 1588.
Note.—In a private autograph letter from Mendoza to Juan de Idiaquez of same date, and enclosed in the above, he expresses a wish to hear from the King of the departure of the Armada so that he, Mendoza, may be able to urge for permission to retire. He prays Idiaquez to forward his desires in this respect. He is in poor health and straightened means.
269. Bernardino de Mendoza to the King.
Since sealing the accompanying despatches I have received the enclosed reports from England. They are from the same man as wrote on the 28th ultimo, an intelligent person.
According to this account, if the Armada from Lisbon has gone to England, the very fact of its entering Plymouth will cause all the ships that Drake has there to surrender. Experience has proved that I have never been mistaken in my assertion that the English frontiers are weaker than is usually believed. An instance of this is that, even in London, so few men can be raised, where they expected to be able to raise 50,000.—Paris, 14th April 1588.
Note.—Enclosed in the above despatches of 14th April there is a letter from Mendoza to Martin de Idiaquez, saying that the French Ministers were spreading the rumour that Philip II. had gone mad, and that in future the Infanta Isabel would sign all papers. They thought therefore that Spanish money aid to the League would not now be given, and that the League would be easily overcome. Mendoza relates the disingenuous questions about the Infanta Isabel's health, and the King's (Philip's) continued industry with his papers, addressed to him by Catharine de Medici. Mendoza is very indignant at these rumours, which he ascribes to a deep laid plan to disconcert and weaken the League.
16 April
(N.S.) Paris Archives, K. 1568.
270. Advices from London (Antonio De Vega?).
I reported at length on the 8th ultimo. They are certainly now in great fear here that his Majesty's preparations are intended to be used against this country, and they expect the arrival of his forces in May. They are therefore making ready both by sea and land. In addition to the measures I have already detailed, they (the English) have ordered all persons of quality in the country to provide arms to fit out a certain number of men each, according to their capability, a list of the arms required of them being sent to each person. The arms are then given to poor men who are unable to purchase them. A large number of men will thus be raised. It is said that here, in the neighbourhood of London, 20,000 will be obtained without taking the city guard. I doubt this, however, as they (the city guard) are already formed into a corps. In other parts of the country Colonel Norris has been ordered to muster and drill the men, and a muster has been called for the 19th. London and the other coast towns have been compelled to furnish a certain number of ships of war, to the total number of 80 sail, armed and victualled for four months. London promised 20, the towns on the north coast 20, the south coast 20, and the west coast 20 ; which were to be ready in 15 days, at the cost of the inhabitants, each of whom was assessed at so many pounds sterling. For every pound's worth of property they possessed they had to pay 2s (fn. 4) These ships, with the others they have, will be formed into two fleets, one of 88 sail under Drake, which will be near Plymouth in the Channel. I do not think that this fleet will go, as they say, to Spain or Portugal, or even to Cape Finisterre. The other fleet will remain between Dover and Calais under the Lord Admiral, and will consist of 80 sail, namely, 30 he now has, 20 from London, and 30 to come from Holland. This will be 168 sail in all. Forty commissioners have been appointed in London to expedite and inspect the preparation of the ships. The Queen is much afraid of the League, as she sees that their forces are being concentrated in Picardy, and she fears they will seize Havre de Grace and Boulogne. She sent for the French ambassador on Palm Sunday and begged him to write to the King about it. She had a great many explanations to give him, and caressed him greatly. In the course of her conversation with him she said that she very well understood the intentions of the League, both towards herself and towards the King (of France) ; but that the world should see that she had omitted no effort to make peace with the king of Spain. She had sent her Commissioners, and was now allowing them to go whithersoever the duke of Parma wished. She said she would for the sake of peace make concessions greatly against her own dignity, and the ambassador swears that she and Leicester and the Admiral (who comes backwards and forwards every five or six days to see Walsingham) were trembling with fear whilst she was talking with him.
I have considered it necessary to convey all this speedily, in order, if his Majesty wishes for peace (which I do not believe) that he should stand firm, as the Queen will now concede more than ever before ; whilst if, on the contrary, the expedition is to be carried out, it will be well that they (the Spaniards) should not be deceived as to the armaments here. Tn the manner I have stated a great fleet will be raised, although Drake, to whom full powers have been granted at Plymouth, writes that there are not so many sailors and soldiers to be obtained as are required, and he requests that 40,000 cruzados may be sent to him for the purpose. The truth is that everywhere the men run away, because they know that this time they are going to fight and not to plunder, as usual.
I cannot send particulars of tonnage, as the ships are being fitted out in various ports, but the 20 in London are as follows: four of 300 to 400 tons and the rest from 100 to 250 tons. There will be very few of over 200 tons from the other ports, as most of the best have already been appropriated. An Englishman has come from Viana in 12 days. He was in Lisbon and saw the Armada, and brings with him a full list of everything. Care should be taken of those who are in Lisbon, and no French ship should be allowed to leave there or any other port. (fn. 5) No ship at all should be allowed to sail before the Armada, so that the date of the departure of the latter shall not be known.
(The writer gives particulars of some inquiries made with regard to him by Walsingham. He is suspected, and in fear for his life. He begs for leave to depart. He expresses his conviction that Stafford and Escobar (fn. 6) are those who have informed the Queen about him. He will not leave without orders, even though he loses his life.)


  • 1. That is, the Tower of Otombo, where the Portuguese State Archives are kept.
  • 2. The document would appear to be a copy made at the end of April 1588 for the information of some religious congregation in Spain, and this latter portion was added by the copyist.
  • 3. The day of St. Mark is the 25th April, not the 24th. The letter was doubtless written on the eve of St. Mark. The Consecration was on the 25th. There is an extremely curious account at Simancas of the ceremony ; and of the delivery of the standard to the duke of Medina Sidonia. It will be found printed entire in Fernandez Duro's "Armada Invencible." See Valverde and Santa Cruz's letter from London to Mendoza, 27th February 1588.
  • 4. A full account of the contributions of the City of London in men and money towards the defence of the country will be found in Lansdowue M.S. 56 (partly printed in Strypes' Stowe). Some curious particulars of the subsidies raised from other parts of the country, collected from various sources, are quoted in the introduction of "The names of those persons who subscribed towards the defence of this country at the time of the Spanish Armada, 1588." Edited by T. C. Noble : and also in Murdin's state papers.
  • 5. The King calls special attention to this passage.
  • 6. This is another good instance of the secret character of Philip's diplomacy. Vega, the Portuguese spy in England attached to Don Antonio s service, was ignorant that Antonio de Escobar, Don Antonio's agent in France, was also a paid spy in the interests of Spain.