Simancas: March 1592

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: March 1592', in Calendar of State Papers, Spain (Simancas), Volume 4, 1587-1603, (London, 1899) pp. 592-595. British History Online [accessed 1 March 2024]

March 1592

1592. 9 March.
Paris Archives, K. 1592.
609. Statement of what I, Gonzalo Gonzales del Castillo, a native of Granada, saw and heard whilst I was a prisoner in England.
On the 7th November, 1588, the hulk San Pedro el Mayor, of the squadron of Juan Gomez de Medina was driven on to the English coast on the territory of Sir William Courteney, where the said ship was plundered and the men on board of her taken prisoners. On the 11th November a commissioner arrived from the Queen, with orders that 12 of the prisoners were to be separated from the rest and kept in prison by themselves, fourpence each being allowed to them daily for their maintenance, the other prisoners only receiving one penny a day each.
On the 24th November of the following year, 1589, the Spanish prisoners were liberated by the Queen, with the exception of the 12 men whom she had given to Sir William Courteney. We were kept in close confinement by him, and he demanded 5,000 ducats for our ransom, which sum we could not pay, as we were all poor men. On the 11th August 1590 we were informed by Sir William Courteney that he required 12,000 ducats for our ransom, and as we could see no remedy for our trouble, we wrote to the Queen, praying that, as she had released all the other Spaniards in England, she would order us also to be liberated for a like sum as had been considered sufficient for the others of our countrymen. This letter came into the hands of Sir William Courteney, who thereupon imprisoned us closely, feeding us only on bread, pottage, and water. Seeing ourselves in these straits and in danger of death, we resolved to break out of prison and to appeal to the justices for redress, but they told us that they were unable to help us, as our owner was too powerful a person for them to meddle with. We were therefore sent back to our prison, where we remained suffering great hardship for seven months.
On the 7th February 1591 Sir William Courteney sent one William Blake, an Englishman, to this country of Brittany, to deal with the duke of Mercœur for our ransom, but he could come to no agreement about the same, as the sum demanded was then 25,000 ducats, so that the prisoners still remain there to this day.
On the 24th December 1591 I left Exeter for Brittany, but after we had sailed we encountered contrary weather, and were driven back into Dartmouth, where for seven weeks we awaited a fair wind.
On the 8th February of this year Francis Drake passed through the town by the post, having been summoned by the Queen.
On the 23rd orders came to this port to fit out the five ships belonging to the Queen which were there, likewise six that were in the port of Plymouth, for the purpose of sending them to the coast of Rouen and preventing the King (of Spain) from relieving the place. When the ships were ready to embark the infantry, it was found impossible to do so, as a very large number of those on the muster roll had absented themselves. Intimation of this was sent to court, and orders came that countrymen were to be pressed and embarked ; these being the sort of men whom arms do not arm.
I have conversed with many persons of all conditions, men and women, who have assured me of their good wishes for our success in England, and their zeal for the Catholic faith. If they had not openly avowed their sympathy it was only in order that they might not be deprived of their homes and property. Others there are who confess that they are Catholics, for which they have suffered many punishmen's, but nevertheless openly say that they will remain firm, and will die in the faith. Many complaints had been made of the large number of declared Catholics, and the Queen was petitioned to have them punished, but she had ordered that such complaints should not be made against them, and that they should be allowed to live freely as they wished.
They (the English) are in great fear of the galleys and of the commander thereof, whose name is well known to them as that of a good soldier and a skilful mariner. They are convinced that the galleys will some day attack them, as they (the galleys) go to the coast of Brittany, and the English coast is easier for them than that, the only difficulty being the passage across. They say the galleys will utterly destroy them, and there is nothing that alarms them so much.
There is a great lack of soldiers, as they have lost so many. I can bear testimony that of the 15,000 and more men who embarked for the Portugal expedition not 4,000 came back, owing to the pestilence in the ships, and the deaths and captures by the Spaniards. (fn. 1) Of the 4,000, moreover, who were sent from Plymouth to support the Prince (fn. 2) not 500 remain, and all the five ships sent to succour Rouen were lost in a storm with all hands. They are therefore obliged to raise troops from Holland and Zeeland. Whilst I was in that port there arrived a flyboat from the islands (of Holland) with about 80 men. They went with 20 more towards Rouen, and were all lost in a storm within a week.
They were much grieved at the loss of one of the Queen's galleons, called the Revenge. (fn. 3) They say that she was the best ship the Queen had, and the one upon which she relied the most.
They (the English) do not speak ill of our King ; they only say that if it were not for the Pope he would he the best Prince ever born. They most sincerely desire peace, for they say that if they have it not within two years they will all be irremediably ruined. They fear that his Majesty (i.e., Philip) may take a port in Brittany, and say that when once he gains a footing there he will be in England, because there are so many of his friends in the country that there will be nothing to prevent his conquering it. Francis Drake is very unpopular. The people of quality say that he is but of mean origin to have risen so high, and the people look upon him as the cause of the wars. He is, however, esteemed by the Queen, who favours him highly. They cannot bear to hear the name of Dom Antonio, whom they call king of Portugal, as they consider him the cause of the great loss of life in Portugal. They threaten to stone him, and it is said that the Queen keeps him in a castle which he does not leave. He is incredibly poor, and lacks both money and servants.
Don Pedro de Valdes lives, as hitherto, five miles from London. He was accused of an attempt to escape, and imprisoned for it, but Francis Drake, to whom he always applies, settled the matter, and he now goes hunting and to other pastimes, the same as before. The principal people are not well disposed towards him, as they allege that he was the cause of certain gentlemen (one of the Queen's generals and others of her Council) being executed, they belonging to the party of the King (of Spain). But this is incredible, for Don Pedro would rather have lost his life than mention it.
They (the English) are hourly expecting the arrival of a Spanish fleet, and frankly confess that England must fall into his Majesty's hands ; the cause of their downfall, they think, will be the galleys.
I left Dartmouth and was at Plymouth on the 5th February 1592. These are the best harbours possessed by the Queen, and her fleets are usually gathered therein. But at the present time there is no other fleet or warlike preparations there, other than I have said. This is the truth.—Blavet, 9th March 1592, Gonzalo Gonzales del Castillo.
Note.—The above document is printed also in "The Defeat of the Armada" (Naval Records Society). See also the English account of the capture and detention of these prisoners, in letter from Anthony Ashley to the Council, State Papers, Dom, CCXVIII.


  • 1. This refers to the abortive English expedition of 1589.
  • 2. Of Bearn.
  • 3. The loss off the Azores of the "Revenge," so famous in song and story, took place on the 1st September, 1591, when she was captured by the Spaniards after one of the most glorious fights recorded in the naval annals of England.