Appendix III: Miscellaneous 1588

Pages 525-533

Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 10, 1603-1607. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1900.

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Miscellaneous 1588

1588. Original MSS. Biblioteca Ambrosiana. Milan, A. 156, p. inf. No. 7. 1. The preparations of the hostile fleets of Spain and England in the year 1587; together with an account of their fate.
The fleet that sailed to Lisbon, there to join the India fleet, numbered 35 sail; that is to say four galleons (including the Grand Duke of Tuscany's (fn. 1) ) fourteen Biscay ships (including two Flemish), the rest required to make up the thirty-five were ships and pinnaces (Patache). The fleet that came from Seville to Lisbon was composed of twelve galleys and four galleasses, seventeen great ships, and one belonging to the Republic of Venice, which was seized, discharged of the lead she was bringing from London, and kept as a magazine ship for the fleet. Item, fourteen smaller ships; item, eighteen ships and pinnaces; so that the total was seventy-five sail. Item, the India fleet which sailed into Lisbon numbered one hundred and eighty-five sail; it was reported in Lisbon that thirty of the best of these would be fitted out.
All the fleet was got ready with the greatest diligence against the month of March. It was not known precisely what was the destination of the fleet, but rumour ran that it was intended for England.
Item, they put together vast supplies of biscuits, meat, wine, and so on, all most carefully prepared. What gave them the greatest anxiety was the lack of sailors. With a view to raising them an officer was sent to all the ports, especially of Portugal, to order all sailors to present themselves, for they took to hiding, declaring that they would not serve the King of Castile, as they called him. A man who came to San Sebastiano reports that he heard from the Portuguese there resident that in the month of October three thousand Biscayans were to be embarked for Lisbon, and that they were building ten ships to carry grain to Lisbon.
Here follows the number of the troops in Lisbon. The army that left Portugal numbered six thousand men, three thousand from the garrison of the Portuguese seaports, one thousand five hundred from Castile, and another thousand five hundred Portuguese pressed into the service in consequence of the lack of men. When the fleet returned the Portuguese went to their homes. Of the four thousand five hundred Castilians five hundred went to Setubal (San Tural), which was without a garrison, and four thousand went to Lisbon, where the Marquis ordered them not to leave the galleons.
The army that came from Seville to Lisbon numbered about nine thousand men. Of these three thousand were sent aboard the twelve galleys, lying off Cape Galbe, intending to effect a junction with the rest of the fleet. The remaining six thousand were all at Lisbon, lodged for the most part on board ships and galleasses. Some of the officers asked for leave from Cardona to go and spend the winter at Cadiz, but this was refused them. Five hundred soldiers, raised in the city of Oporto and in Viena, were employed as garrison for those towns, while the troops originally there were ordered to Lisbon, in obedience to instructions brought by one of their officers, as they were veterans. They may have numbered three thousand men of Biscay; along with the three thousand men on board the galleys which were expected from Lisbon, about seventeen thousand men, all foreigners, not a single Portuguese among them; and the King of Castile reposed perfect confidence in them, so attached were they to him.
In most of the ports of Portugal the garrison was very small; in some there was not so much as a single soul, and what there was chiefly recruits, new come from Castile. The larger part of the men were in Lisbon. Item, in Lisbon lay a number of ships, galleons, galleasses, which, with those that came from Biscay, numbered one hundred and fifty sail, more or less. For these there was said to be a great dearth of seamen and gunners.
Such were the preparations for this great Armada, which went on growing and augmenting till it came to seem, to its creators and its chiefs, invincible on account of the number both of ships and of men, and it then set sail against England.
Copy of a letter sent from England to Don Bernardino di Mendozza, Spanish Ambassador in France.
“Monseigneur, when I last wrote to you giving ample information as to the state of this kingdom, and the continual expectation of that much-desired and promised succour in which we lived, I could never have dreamed that I should have such pitiable occasion to write, as I now must, owing to the miserable change which has taken place in the position of affairs in this country. I cannot refrain from informing you, though I do it with sighs as many as were our former hopes, of our evil plight, as true as it is pitiable in the judgment of myself and my compeers. Your Lordship has now for long been the principal authority, especially in France, for dealing with the affairs of his Catholic Majesty, and also you have been in high favour with all the powers of the Holy league, and with all those who in this kingdom profess obedience to the Catholic Church. I trust that a comparison between our past excessive hopes and our present absolute despair will breed in your mind some new and better scheme by which our state and that of our absent friends, at present so pitiable, may be raised and heartened by more sure expectation of better success than has hitherto attended us. For this reason I think it highly important to inform you precisely of the temper of this country, which has completely changed from that upon which we recently based our account, both inside and outside the kingdom.
You are aware that for a long time we have been living in the firm expectation of a change of government here. Then there were the entreaties and constant solicitations of the Catholic Sovereign and of other powers of the sacred League who promised to assault and conquer the country; and upon your solemn promises we have for long been persuaded that his Catholic Majesty had really embraced this high and glorious emprise, and from year to year we have looked for execution, fed by you and satisfied by continual messages, and frequently by earnest prayers and persuasions to keep our party in heart so that they should not waver, as many had done owing to the perpetual delays, but that they should hold themselves ready to join the foreign forces when they appeared on this enterprise. All the same the arrival of these forces, and especially of the naval forces, was put off, so constantly that by this spring we were out of all hope. Then came your letters assuring us positively that all the vast preparations of his Majesty, carried on for three or four years, were now complete, and beyond a doubt would reach those seas during this summer; and so overwhelming would that force be that no English fleet, nor indeed the fleets of united Christendom, could withstand or even face it. For further surety, and to put the conquest of England beyond all doubt, the powerful army under the Duke of Parma would be joined to the attacking force. He was to disembark and in a twinkling he would conquer the country, assaulted thus by sea and land. To all this were added many reasons for thinking that no great resistance either by sea or by land would be met with in England, but that the larger part of our followers would at once join the foreign forces; and indeed without some such help from inside I know that there was always a doubt lest the foreign forces should prove inadequate against England, which is surrounded by the might of the sea, and peopled by a robust and most powerful race (et in fatto senza tal aiuto di dentro io so che sempre si è dubitato che non sarebbono state hastanti tutte le forze straniere contro questo Regno, il quale d'intorno è circondato di forza del mare et popolato da una forte et potentissima natione). All this year up to this last month we have been living in hope of the arrival of this Armada to take sides and to join ourselves with it, to lend it all the help we could in full expectation of complete victory. But, ah! me, what mortal calamity has befallen us. We are all of us both in England and out of it compelled to deplore our sudden downfall from the height of inordinate joy to the profoundest abysm of despair. A headlong fall so suddenly brought about that I can assure you that we ourselves have been eyewitnesses of the same within eight or nine days in this past month of July. The disaster began after the appearance of the great Armada off the English coast, and continued until it was forced to fly from the coast of Flanders, near Calais, towards I know not what piercingly cold and icy region of the north. Then all our hopes, all our castles, as far as we can at present see, were converted from dreams of conquest into ruinous heaps, as though they had been shattered by an earthquake; the strongholds of our expectation that were built in the air or founded on the wave are most certainly gone, swept away by the blast. And so absolutely was such an event outside our calculations that as I think on it, I am seized with amazement, and know not what to make thereof, to see an undertaking built up so slowly thus suddenly laid low. And as one looks at it all round it cannot have been the work of man or of any earthly power, but the work of God only. And if that be so, and it can be attributed to none other than to the power of his Divine Majesty, we may conclude that he is very wroth against us for our sins.
I must not omit to say, and I can affirm it most positively, that nothing has wrought more damage to this enterprise than the untimely and hasty publication made in England (before the Armada was even ready to sail), by means of loose leaves scattered broadcast through the country, to make the people believe that the whole kingdom would be occupied and seized, the Queen exterminated along with the nobility and other persons of note who remained loyal to her, and sought to defend her by offering resistance to this attack—that all these with their whole families, estates, honours, houses, lands, were to be rooted out and their possessions divided among the Spanish. (Non lascierò perciò di dirvi et le posso affermare per certo, che non vi è stato cosa alcuna che habbia apportato maggior danno in questa impresa che la troppo frettolosa e intempestiva pubblicatione fatta in questo Regno (prima che l'armata di Spagna fusse in punto di far vela) di alcuni punti scritti stampati et seminati per tutto il paese, per far intendere al popolo che tutto il Regno sarebbe stato occupato et preso, la Reina esterminata, et che tutta la nobiltàinsieme con l'altre persone di riputatione che la obediscono et che l'avessero voluto diffendere col fare resistenza a questo assalto, sarebbono stati estirpati dalla . . . fin alla radice con le loro famiglie, stati, honori, et case e terre, le quali sarebbono in fra Spagnuoli state divise.)
This was so badly taken in general that the hearts of the people of all degrees were moved, some by wrath and some by fear; and all, without exception, were resolved to expose their lives in their own defence.
These hostile designs were publicly printed and circulated throughout the kingdom, and took deep hold in the heart of the entire population. Then in addition to these and such like, and to give confirmation to these formidable prognostications, there were added certain other books printed in Spain and translated into French, as it was said by order of your Lordship. These contained long and minute descriptions and catalogues of the armies and fleets of Castile, Andalusia, Biscay, Guipusca, Portugal, Naples, Sicily, Ragusa, and other parts of the Levant, and a detailed account of all the munitions of the Armada, which seemed to be sufficient for the conquest of many kingdoms. Our enemies were not slow to publish so convincing a proof of the common ruin, in order to rouse the minds of the English nobility against Spain. This was a wicked invention to show that the capture not merely of England, but of all Great Britain was intended. For in the description of the Armada there was noted a large number of Princes, Marquises, Counts, and gentlemen under title of adventurers, and many captains and commanders without any specific command; all these, it was said, had embarked upon this journey with a view to taking the place of the English and Scottish nobility. This device obtained far more credit than it deserved. The force was in truth very great, but these reports exaggerated it to such an extent that all Christendom could not have put together a greater armament against the Saracens or Turks.
The Queen, being thus warned, and relying not only on the affection of her people, of which she was sure, but also on their irritation, brought together all her forces to combat the threatened ruin. Then with incredible speed one saw every corner of this kingdom swarming with armed men, both horse and foot; so well captained, so well trained and broken to war, that such a sight had never been seen before in this land. Nor was money spared in making provision of horses, of arms, of all things necessary for the campaign. There was no lack of sappers, of transport, of victuals in every county in the kingdom without exception; all waiting for the coming fleet; and every man volunteered for the defence of his fatherland. This common cause urged all to contribute liberally; there was no time to think of economies when face to face with an attack that threatened universal ruin. To east, to south, to north, an army of twenty thousand men was assembled, and fifteen thousand of them well armed. The total was forty thousand armed men; nor was there a port exposed to a landing, that could not be supported by twenty thousand men within a couple of days, with all their horse, artillery, and other munitions of war, and under the leadership of the nobility. More than this, the principal gentlemen of each county were ordered to put their vassals in the field. As these gentlemen were powerful, well established, and very rich, the forces thus brought together seemed ample to repel whatever foe.
I am deeply pained to have to write thus, but I do so to show you in the liveliest colours how utterly deceived we have hitherto been by information obtained from people who had neither knowledge nor sufficient proof of how matters really stood. I myself admit that I was deceived on certain points, and chiefly in my expectation that on the appearance of a hostile force threatening a landing, there would be found only a small handful of men ready to resist, and those raw, inexperienced, ignorant of all that pertains to war, and barely armed. I pictured to myself that we should have a large number of gentlemen of our religion, as you are aware we reckoned, when you were in England, and although many are since dead, and there are not as many tens now as there were hundreds then, still we thought we should find some men of resolute mettle who, for the Catholic cause, would have made sudden seizure of the houses, families, and forces of the heretics and foes. But now, such is our misfortune, that it has pleased God, for our sins I believe, and to chasten our pride and presumption, to plant in the hearts of all men here, be they Catholic or heretic, one thought, one passion, resistance to this threatened conquest, and it is clearly seen that in all this ardour to furnish arms, contributions of money and of munitions, there is not, nor can there be discerned, the smallest difference between Catholic and heretic. This idea, the defence of the Queen's dominions, has roused such an universal sympathy, emulation, consent in all sorts and conditions of men without regard to religion, that each one is ready to fight the foe as though they were but one heart, one man. All the same some few great gentlemen (whose names have been furnished to you on the list of the Catholics) have been sent to the island of Ely, and on the rumour of the Armada have been restricted in their freedom while the attack was pending, but it is certain that this step was not taken from any fear that these gentlemen would join the enemy, but solely to prove to our friends, both in Spain and Flanders, and above all to yourself, who is most unjustly held to be the chief author and instigator of this enterprise, that they need not count on any assistance for this attack. And I myself now recognise that if any of our party, be he in Spain, Flanders, or elsewhere, counted upon assistance against the Queen or her cause, he would have found himself grossly mistaken when the Armada effected a landing; for I myself have heard that the principal gentlemen retained in the Isle of Ely have themselves written with their own hand to the Council, offering their lives in defence of the Queen, whom, without any reserve, they affirm to be their sovereign Queen, against all foreign forces, even though sent by the Pope himself or on his orders; some, too, have offered to take their place in the front ranks along with their compatriots against all strangers. I have heard from a secret friend of mine at court that at one time the Council was inclined to set them at liberty, but as war was already alight by the assembly of the armada at Corunna and the concentration of the Duke of Parma in Flanders, and in view of the murmurs in London against the Catholics, they were retained in Ely. They live in the Palace and are allowed to go abroad for their sport, nor are they under any other restriction save that they may not leave Ely. And yet I believe that they still maintain their allegiance to the Church, which brings no risk of a capital sentence, they only pay a fine for absence from services, although the law exacts the confiscation of a portion of their revenues to the Crown. I cannot tell you what havoc has been wrought to our cause by the young and inexperienced, of little learning and less experience, who teach under the name of clerics. I am told by many that if these had been more moderate they would have won over many more to our cause; and I recommend for the future that more care should be taken and that the first comer who presents himself should not be thrust upon us.”
The writer then proceeds to give an account of the forces at the Queen's disposal. He complains of the false information furnished to the Catholics abroad, both as to the strength of the fleet, and also about the rumoured capture of Berwick by the King of Scotland. He wishes it had been true, but it was not. He warns his correspondent not to believe the Scottish bishops in France, who try to persuade him that anything good for the Catholic religion can be expected of the King of Scotland, who is so rooted in that cursed sect of Calvinism that there is no chance of re-conducting him into the bosom of the Church.” He complains of another “big lie” attributed to Mendozza, namely, that the Armada, when sailing up the Channel, had defeated the English. These two notable falsehoods, both attributed to Mendozza, greatly scandalize those who honour the Ambassador. For myself, in the interests of “your name, I have put it about that both are due to the inaccuracy of the French.”
He complains that the Ambassador has offended the Scotch by saying in public that the young King of that country had tricked his master, but that if the Armada were victorious, the King would lose his crown.
He returns to a discussion of the forces of the Queen, and the history of the Armada. He says that neither he nor those of his party in England ever expected the English fleet to attack the Spanish fleet, which report had painted as so powerful, “exceeding the Armada of Lepanto.” Drake and the admiral sailed out of Plymouth with fifty ships only; the rest remained inside the harbour.
He then briefly touches on the events of the fighting in the Channel. “From the hour of its departure from Lisbon, the Armada never had a single day of good luck until it was destroyed.” Blames the Spanish commanders for never waiting to pick up the stragglers.
Apologises for this long letter of unpleasant contents. “I imagine you will want to hear what chance there is of our retrieving our defeat next year. On this point I must say that I have secretly consulted with various people, and the general opinion is that for many a long day we can indulge in no hope of success. To ensure success the forces of the King must be both larger and better handled than they were this year. Your Lordship sees that this idea of attacking and conquering England was based upon some misconceptions; first that English ships were weak; second, that the Queen was unpopular; finally, and chiefly, that there was a great and powerful party ready to rise in favour of this Catholic religion. I fear that for these errors you will incur his Majesty's displeasure; though I have no doubt about your good intentions. But as these three expectations failed us this year you may rest assured that they will do the same next year.
I am aware that some of the persons about you on that side of the water may persist in upholding their opinion in spite of experience, but they do this in order to continue to draw the money assigned them by the King which constitutes their only means of living. I however will give a number of proofs that those who, like me, have seen the collapse of these expectations, have made no mistake. The English fleet has demonstrated its power this year, and has proved that it is able by its method of fighting (et che ella é bastante a fare testa col suo modo di combattere) to make head against a larger, nay even against double the number of galleons, carracks, galleasses, and galleys. Now there is no doubt but that the size of the English fleet will be greatly increased this year, for steps have been taken to supply all kinds of munitions, and a great quantity of wood has been prepared to build new ships during the coming months of November and December, both along the coast and in the Thames. These ships are to be built on the model of the ships seen in the Spanish Armada and in the arsenals of Spain (per fabricare un certo numero di navi di guerra simili a quelle che sono state vedute in quest' armata et i Castelli di Spagna). Besides this there will be many ships of Holland, Zealand, and Denmark, and other eastern countries, whereas this year there were only a few ships of Zealand that joined the English and helped to prevent the Duke of Parma from putting out; and now for that service there are twenty-four good ships under the command of Justin de Nassau, a man only too well disposed towards the English and sworn enemy of every Spaniard. Moreover it is calculated that upwards of forty ships of North Holland will put to sea, and in short one must calculate that the forces at the disposal of England will be twice as great this year as they were last.
Now let us look at the second branch of our hopes; the idea that the Queen is hated by many people. This year has shown just the contrary. She has so borne herself in the recent action that her whole people praise and love her. She ordered the entire kingdom under arms; she collected every kind of provision of war and sent it to the ports where the enemy might effect a landing. She ordered her Council to negotiate a treaty with the Low Countries upon the best terms to be obtained, but continued to arm. When negotiations failed, which was joyful news to us Catholics, who thought that the Duke of Parma could without doubt pass the sea, she moved nearer to London, and took up her lodging almost in the suburbs, which greatly delighted the city. The city put together ten thousand armed men; and besides that there was an army of thirty thousand men lying on the Thames towards the sea, under the command of the Earl of Leicester. Thither the Queen went to dine, preceded by the sword and orb. Here I will make a pause, for it pleases me little to have to sing the praises of heretics.
To come to the last point on which our hopes were founded the expectation of a rising of Catholics upon the appearance of the Armada. The Catholic King was completely deceived in this, though it was the chief ground of his hopes; and many Spaniards have sworn that had it not been for such expectation they would never have set foot on board. Many of these who are now prisoners here curse your Lordship by name, and say that on the strength of the reputation you acquired for knowledge of England you have for years urged your master to this step, which ought to have been absolutely condemned in every wise and prudent discussion. You would also hear cursed the English refugees, whom they make no difficulty about calling scoundrels and traitors, who wished to sell their country to the King of Spain. The Spanish prisoners say that they expected to find no more resistance than they encountered from the handful of barefooted Indians, whom they met upon the first conquests in that country. But now that these same prisoners have been taken to London and have seen the power of the country they call it marvellous and invincible. I do not know if they say this as a genuine expression of their sentiments or to please the English, by whom they are well treated, and who are easily coaxed by flattery; but I do know that such speech is everyone's mouth, and they are marvellously enraged against those who persuaded their Sovereign to such an enterprise.
The prisoners have made enquiries about the English outlaws, who took refuge in Spain, such as some time back, Francis Inglefield, and more recently Lord Paget and his brother, and also about the Earl of Westmoreland, though he was known to be dissolute. They have received such answers that they are amazed that these persons should have been able to deceive the King and to get pensions unless it were on the grounds of charity and religious beliefs. It is true that they recall the story of how the King was taken in by a private person, Thomas Stuckley, an Irishman, who left his country on account of his debts and evil conduct; still he was instantly believed in Spain as soon as he gave himself the fine title of Duke, Marquis, Earl of Ireland, and was considered a man of ability and capable of rendering services against the Queen of England, until at last he was found out and banished.
I can see no hope of better success even after the Queen's death, as the whole population is banded against our religion. And I see nothing for it but to put the matter in the omnipotent hands of God and of all the Saints of Paradise, by means of our humble prayers; and, as far as this world is concerned, to apply for the counsel of our Lord and his Holy College of Cardinals, begging them to send to this country men of prudence and learning, who without meddling in affairs of State can keep the Catholic faith alive, and to grant some pecuniary help for those who are fined yearly for refusal to enter heretic churches. I repeat the phrase of the Psalmist “Et clamaverunt ad dominum in tribulatione eorum et de augustia eorum liberavit eos.” All other hopes are vain.
London, 11th August, 1588.
This letter I entrusted to be translated into French by a friend who fell ill; the work was committed to another who did not finish it till September.
He gives some further news of the Armada's rumoured course round Scotland and the casting away of some ships on the coast of Norway.
Last Sunday six hundred banners taken from the fleet were carried to St. Paul's churchyard and shown to the people. Thence they were taken to the cross in Cheapside and to London Bridge.
London, 20th September, 1588.


  • 1. As feudatory for Siena.