Simancas: May 1588, 21-31

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: May 1588, 21-31', in Calendar of State Papers, Spain (Simancas), Volume 4, 1587-1603, (London, 1899) pp. 299-306. British History Online [accessed 1 March 2024]

May 1588, 21-31

21 May.
Paris Archives, K. 1568.
299. Advices from London (Antonio De Vega).
On Tuesday midnight the French ambassador received news of the seizure of Paris by Guise. This news is rejoiced at here, as it ensures them against the king of France agreeing with the League, which is so much hated in England, and may cause him to join those of the "religion," Vendome, and the queen of England. At the time the ambassador received the intelligence the Queen had no information, as two couriers she had sent on Friday and Sunday had not returned. On Wednesday she sent Walsingham to the ambassador to beg him to assure her whether the rumour was true. The ambassador related what had occurred, and Walsingham then repeated what I wrote on the 17th, that he and the Treasurer had said. After much discourse upon the subject, Walsingham returned to the Queen, who is at Greenwich, and wrote a letter (to the ambassador) saying that her Majesty would be pleased to see him, and would await him next morning in the garden. He was obliged to go, and was with her from ten o'clock until nearly one. She assured him that if the King would join her and Vendome against the king of Spain and the League, she would place all her forces by sea and land in the struggle, and promised him "mountains and fountains" if he (the King) would join her. I have no doubt she will do her best to ensure herself against the League, which she fears so much.
She is sending a gentleman to the king of France, and the bearer of this letter accompanies him. He is a secretary of the ambassador, who is taking despatches giving an account of the Queen's offer. As the matter is important it should not be lost sight of, and it would be well to gain over this (the French) ambassador, which can easily be done through his brother-in-law, M. de la Châtre, and his wife.
They (the English) have received intelligence from their Commissioners that the duke of Parma had new and very ample powers to arrange peace, and that they (the Commissioners) had consented to go to Bruges without hostages. These people were rather pleased with the news.
Drake has come hither for the purpose I stated. He is the prime mover and author of it, and sometimes meets Don Antonio secretly at night to avoid suspicion. Don Antonio is so set upon sailing in this fleet that I believe he would do so even if the Queen forbade him, and I believe that he has arranged this with Drake. When Drake on a former occasion was going to the Indies, he solemnly swore to me that he would seek him (Don Antonio) in France, and take him whithersoever he pleased. He (Antonio?) afterwards came from Rochelle to Plymouth in consequence of a letter I wrote to him, but he was afraid to undertake the voyage, as Drake had so few men.
Don Antonio wishes either to go in the fleet, with or without permission, or else to retire.
The ships here are now about to unite at Plymouth, and the Admiral leaves to join his fleet to-morrow, with the object of taking it round to Plymouth. Drake leaves by post to-night, and as soon as the whole of the ships are collected at Plymouth the fleet will sail, the Admiral being in command, with Drake as Vice-Admiral. The destination will be the coasts of Spain and Portugal, and if the weather serves they will sail from Plymouth in a fortnight. It is well to report this in time, as they think that by subsequently sending half their fleet to the islands, the King will be obliged to send a force of ships thither to protect his flotillas. The Admiral will, they say, have 120 ships. I have no doubt he will have 100. The Queen has requested 10 more ships from the city of London.
21 May.
Paris Archives, K. 1568. French.
300. Advices from London.
The Admiral is now setting out to join Drake with 25 ships, namely, 20 from London and five of his own. He is said to have 7,000 soldiers and seamen with him. The London people have refused to serve under the Admiral, and wish to be commanded by Drake. This has been granted to them, so far as concerns their own payment, and not otherwise. (fn. 1) So that there is every appearance that they will not remain long on good terms together. They (i.e., the London people) were shipped two days ago.
Some soldiers have recently been sent from Ireland by the earl of Shrewsbury, but I do not know how many.
The news from France is causing general anxiety.
28 May.
Estado, 455.
301. Duke of Medina Sidonia to the King.
With regard to your Majesty's orders as to reinforcing the duke of Parma with men, I will act in accordance with what I can learn of the strength of the enemy, and the opportunity that may offer for meeting and defeating him at sea, before any operations are attempted on land. The opinions of those whom I have consulted here is that the best course would be to break up the enemy's sea force first. When this be done, as I hope, by the help of God, it will be if the enemy will meet me, the rest will be safe and easy, and I shall then be able to let the Duke have all the men he wants. If, however, the enemy lets me join him (Parma) and then waits for me to lend the Duke the men, he (the enemy) may unite his ships and fall upon me when our forces are separated. I will not run this risk, as I recognise the advantage of keeping the Armada intact, at least, until I have beaten the enemy. In this case, and in order to have our fleet always stronger than that of the enemy, I shall not be able to give the Duke so many men as your Majesty says. A certain number must always be discounted from the musters and statements furnished to your Majesty, as will be seen by the first muster I take after we are at sea. The last muster taken here does not satisfy me, as there are always opportunities for evasion in port.
The reports your Majesty sends me from England confirm those already received. Although their forces appear to be growing somewhat, I will not slacken but will redouble my care, if possible, trusting to the mercy of God, that if the enemy will face us he will meet the fate he always has done when he has encountered your Majesty's forces. If I find no obstacle in the way, I will not divide the Armada or seek the enemy, but will push forward to join hands with the duke of Parma. When your Majesty's forces are united and we know where the enemy is, we will set about our task in the best way possible to ensure success on land. I look upon this as quite easy when we have beaten the enemy at sea. Everybody says this, and your Majesty is better aware of it than anyone. In case, as your Majesty says, that Drake with his fleet should fortify himself at Plymouth, or any other port, in order to let me pass on, and then come out and attack me at sea, between his fleet and their other one which they have sent against the Duke, I have taken every precaution, as will be seen by the formation I have ordered to be adopted. Either of the two horns of our formation, with their supports, and two of the galleasses which accompany the first four ships, would be able to cope with one of the enemy's fleets ; whilst I with the rest of our vessels leading, could deal with the fleet in front of us, my centre being supported by the vessels I have appointed for the purpose, and the other two galleasses which are attached to my flagship. In this order and formation, with every precaution and foresight, we will, with the help of God, proceed on our voyage.
With reference to the enemy's attacking me after the troops have been landed, I have already told your Majesty what I think should be the course pursued until I have joined the Duke, and have ascertained exactly the strength of the enemy at sea, upon which he will mainly depend. If I can defeat the enemy at sea before landing a single man, we can then easily agree as to the best thing to be done. We must also not lose sight of the need for promptness, on account of the victuals, about which I am anxious, both because of those shipped being very stale, and because they are spoiling and rotting fast. The number of men, too, is very large, and the cost great, and although your Majesty has prudently ordered fresh supplies to be collected, there is always the risk of delay, etc. ; so that for every reason we should finish the business promptly. If, as your Majesty says, we should, after joining the Flanders force, find the enemy's fleet shut up in some port where it may be attacked and defeated both by land and sea, we will in union with the Duke adopt the course which appears best. If the English take the troops out of their fleet to defend the places attacked by the duke of Parma (or even if they do not do so), and I am able to fall upon their ships and beat them in port, I will not fail to do so. Everything we may do or attempt shall be carefully considered, so as to attain the success which I trust that God in His mercy will vouchsafe, and which we may expect from the saintly object with which your Majesty has undertaken this enterprise.
I understand generally that I am to follow your Majesty's instructions strictly, so far as circumstances will permit, and I take special note that, even if the enemy comes into these parts, I am to proceed on my voyage without regard to anything, until I have completed my task.
The weather is not good, and a N.N.W. wind is blowing, but I have sent some ships down the river, and some more went down to-day with a great deal of trouble. They are at anchor on the bar. If a land wind blows to-morrow morning I will go down with the rest of the fleet. Not an hour has been, or shall be, lost.—On the royal galleon, 28th May 1588.
Note.—Two days afterwards (30th May) the Duke writes to the King three leagues out at sea, informing him of the sailing of the Armada, urging his own services in the preparations, and begging that favour should be shown to his children "whom he has left so poor." On the 1st of June another letter was written, by the same to the same, complaining of the slowness of the hulks, and giving an account of the navigation up to that time. The next letter is dated the 10th June, and gives an account of the dismasting of the hulk "David Chico," which the Duke has sent to the coast of Galicia for repair. The Duke has at last decided to send Captain Moresin to the duke of Parma, with news of the Armada, and information that it has been decided for the Armada to remain off the coast of England until advices from Parma reach the Duke. Provisions are bad and short, the hulks slow, the weather contrary, and a long voyage may be anticipated. The victuals are so rotten and stinking that many have been thrown overboard to save the men from pestilence. Is in great trouble at this. Begs the King to order fresh supplies to be sent after them. On the 13th the Duke was off Cape Finisterre, all well. Calls a council every day that the weather permits, and is getting every man familiar with his duty. Will as soon as he passes Finisterre have every bed, box, partition, or other incumbrance cleared from the decks. The next letter is dated on the 14th and informs the King that the victuals are so bad and short that the Duke has sent a letter to the governor of Galicia begging him to seize all food he can get on land or sea, and send it after the Armada. Another letter dated 18th June follows. Head winds still keep the fleet back. Pilots advise the Duke to enter Corunna or Ferrol, but he avoids doing so for fear of the soldiers and sailors deserting, "as usual." Has sent to Corunna for fresh provisions ; and in the meanwhile was waiting for supplies and a fair wind off Cizarga. On the following day, 19th June, the Duke writes from Corunna, that he with a portion of the fleet has been forced to enter that port by stress of weather, and lack of water and food. The rest of the Armada was unable to reach port until too late to enter that night, and was expected by the Duke to come in the next morning. During the night and on the 20th a heavy storm arose and scattered the ships that were outside, inflicting great damage upon many of them, and driving them into various ports of Biscay, Asturias, and Galicia.
To the above various letters the King replied from San Lorenzo on the 26th June, regretting the delay that had occurred, and urging the Duke in emphatic terms to justify the confidence the King has reposed in him, and not to lose another hour in resuming his voyage. The King hopes and believes that the Armada will have finally sailed from Corunna before the letter reaches there.
30 May.
Paris Archives. K. 1568.
302. Bernardino de Mendoza to the King.
I have written constantly to Julio, Sampson, and Vega, to do their best to keep Don Antonio in England, as your Majesty orders. They are all of opinion that it will be difficult for him to leave. With regard to the negotiations for closer alliance between England and France, Julio writes to say that the Queen had sent word to the King (of France) that the League had seized Boulogne ; and if he (the King) desires to regain it she will help him with her forces. I learn from the new confidant that the English ambassador had not sent the Queen's letter to the King, but himself had written a letter repeating its contents. The King sent a reply through Gondi, that the Queen had refused to intervene between him and the prince of Bearn when it was so important that a settlement should be arrived at, and at the present juncture he had no need of her assistance. I expect the reason why the King gave such an answer as this was, that Chateauneuf, the ambassador, had informed him (as I report in another letter) that she would certainly come to terms with your Majesty, if she had not already done so. This view is confirmed by a remark from Gondi to the (English) ambassador, that his mistress was going to settle peace with your Majesty. This was in answer to the English ambassador's saying, that at a time when the King was a fugitive from his own capital, (fn. 2) such an answer as that given by the King was very inopportune ; such an offer as that which the Queen made him would have been gladly accepted by the king of Spain or any other friendly Prince. Gondi replied that the king of Spain would cheat them if they made peace, whereupon the ambassador retorted, that if he did they (the English) would be the sufferers and not the French.
I hear from a trustworthy source, that, on the same day, the 23rd, that I saw the Queen-Mother, they sent word to the English ambassador that my audience with her had been for the purpose of offering your Majesty's mediation to bring the League to an agreement with the King, and they could then assist your Majesty in the English enterprise, the duke of Parma being instructed to hand over to the duke of Guise the troops he has ready, so that the latter might cross over to England. By this your Majesty may see the artful lies and chicanery they resort to here. I have written to Julio, giving him notice of this, in case the statement should reach England.—Paris, 30th May 1588.
30 May.
Paris Archives, K. 1567.
303. Bernardino de Mendoza to the King.
My last advices from England are dated 10th and 12th instant (new style). They report that the Admiral was to start from the Court for Portsmouth on the 10th (old style), where he would find the fleet ready for sea. He would then sail in company with Drake, the two fleets consisting of 150 sail. These news are given to me by the new confidant, who adds that Winter would remain with 40 sail to guard the Flemish channel. From other sources my advices from London, dated 12th instant, say that the total number of ships in the three fleets of the Admiral, Drake and Winter, did not exceed 120 in all, including those contributed by the towns. The 20 vessels offered by the city of London could not be ready for sea before the 25th May (old style), equal to our 6th June. The French ambassador writes to a similar effect, adding that no doubt the Queen would come to terms with your Majesty, and would give you some port from which your fleet could sail to subdue Holland and Zeeland. I have a letter from St. Malo dated the 16th instant. They had there fresh news of Drake, who was at Plymouth. Reports come from Flushing that the ships armed by the Dutch and Zeelanders had gathered there, for the purpose of impeding the duke of Parma's fleet from leaving port.
The death of the king of Denmark had much grieved the queen of England and her Council, as he was a very good friend to her and Bearn. He was to have been present at the meeting of Protestant Princes in Germany.
Julio writes to me that the queen of England is quite confident of the king of Scotland, as he had assured her that notwithstanding all the offers made to him on behalf of the Pope and your Majesty, he would not give way one iota on the question of religion. The king of Scotland had been on the English border to settle in person some points under discussion, and the Scottish ambassador assures me that he is informed that the earl of Huntly had taken a despatch, which was on its way to England, by which it was discovered that Douglas, a Scot at the English Court, was plotting for the seizure of the King's person ; which it is quite credible that the English may attempt.
The reports from London of the 10th (new style) are from my usual informant ; and the enclosed information about your Majesty's fleet is from Havre de Grace.—Paris, 30th May 1588.
30 May.
Paris Archives, K. 1568.
304. Bernardino de Mendoza to Martin de Idiaquez.
When the news from Havre de Grace (fn. 3) which I send to his Majesty arrived here, not only all the preachers, but the priests enjoined their congregations to pray for the success of your Majesty's Armada, which they knew now had sailed. The people showed great rejoicing at this, and prayed with great devotion to God to protect the Armada and send it victory. I am hourly expecting couriers to give me full details.
I forgot to say that on the day of the disturbance here (fn. 4) two captains of my quarter came to ask me to aid them with my servants, as I had many of them, and my house was in a position which might be made serviceable or otherwise to them. I replied that when it was a question of defending the Catholic religion, the person of his most Christian Majesty, or the preservation of the city, I should be as zealous as any burgess of Paris. They went away satisfied with this answer, but as one of the captains is a "politician" I suspect that the object was to discover something. Whilst I have been writing this the townsfolk have taken the passes of Charenton and St. Cloud, both up and down the river, in order to secure themselves as they see that the King is arming in good earnest.
I am so busy, and so many people write to me, that I do not know which way to turn, and cannot send my accounts at present. Pray send me credits. I have just got news from London, from the man who writes to Esteban Lercaro at Lisbon (i.e., Marco Antonio Messia), saying that Drake would very shortly sail with 90 ships.— Paris, 30th May 1588.
30 May.
B.M. Cotton Vesp. CVIII. English.
305. Relation of the Spanish Armada, (fn. 5) which departed from Lisbon the 30th May, as it is certified from there.
Hulks 40
Galleons 60
Great ships 30
Galleasses 4
Galleys 4
Pataches 24 (166 in all.)
Soldiers—Castilians 16,000
Portugals 3,000
Mariners 6,128 (27,128 in all.)
Friars in the Armada, 180.
General of the Armada ; the duke of Medina Sidonia. Commanders :—The prince D'Ascoli, count de Fuentes, count de Paredes, 25 Knights of the second order., sons of Marquises and Earls.
The said Armada is furnished with 1,493 artillery pieces.
The Number of the King of Spain's Shipping in the Low Country.
From Antwerp.—Three ships of 800 tons each, very well appointed, especially two of them ; the third, thought not able to brook the seas, being so weakly built by certain Genoese come from thence.
From Termonde.—Eight or ten boats or hoys for carriage.
From Ghent.—Twenty, or thereabouts, for carriage.
Gravelines, Dunkirk, Nieuport and Sluys.—As I have heard reckoned, they are able to furnish, with certain merchants come out of Spain thither, 60 men-of-war, but the most part small vessels, and some 30 or 40 hoys for carriage. So that in all they are able to furnish for men-of-war 82 boats, and for carriage 84 boats. Besides these, they have, at the least, 300 flat-bottomed boats, and a great number of little galleys and skiffs. They expect also good store of shipping out of Holland and Zeeland, according to my first advertisement to my lords of her Majesty's Privy Council. I have heard that they are promised certain ships from Calais, and that divers merchants of Denmark should furnish them of some.
Jo De Barnex. (fn. 6) (?)


  • 1. The meaning of this passage is probably that the portion of the fleet provided and manned at the cost of the city of London only should have the privilege of serving under Drake, and not the whole of the ships and men sailing from the port of London.
  • 2. "The Day of the Barricades," 12th May, Guise had entered the capital in defiance of the orders of the King, and Paris was in the hands of the fanatical mob in favour of Guise and the League. Henry III. thereupon fled from the Louvre and saw Parts no more.
  • 3. The news from Havre of 24th May was to the effect that several ships had arrived there, reporting having seen the Armada at various points between Lisbon and Ushant.
  • 4. The day of the Barricades.
  • 5. The above document is also printed in Laughton's "Defeat of the Armada," from State Papers, Domestic CCX. 25.
  • 6. The signature appears as written. There was an Englishman named Barnes with the duke of Parma ; perhaps he was the writer.