Britannia Biographies: Sir Walter Raleigh Part 13

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Biography of Sir Walter Raleigh by Christopher Smith

S I R      W A L T E R
 R A L E I G H
Part 13: The Attack on Cadiz

Sir Walter RaleighFor all the vision of empire inspired by Raleigh's Guyana expedition, the threat from Spain had not diminished and even seemed to be growing. England's Privateering attacks were now reducing due to the deaths of Drake and Hawkins and Spanish ships were able burn both Mousehole and Penzance in Cornwall, and threaten Ireland. Lord Burghley, the now all-powerful Chief Minister, decided that attack was the best means of defence and planned for Raleigh and his rival, Essex, to attack Cadiz. Elizabeth blew hot and cold over the idea but eventually she agreed and 5,000 sailors, 65,000 soldiers and 30,000 were raised, largely from Dutch sources. On 11th June 1596, Lord Admiral Howard in the Ark Royal, Essex as joint commander in the Duc Repulse, Raleigh in the Warspite and over a hundred other vessels sailed from Plymouth, with Sir Francis Vere as Marshal of the Army. It was a command nightmare.

To the surprise and terror of the Spaniards, these four enormous egos arrived off Cadiz on 29th June. Raleigh was ordered to stop the merchant ships slipping their moorings off Port Royal. Howard, instead of attacking the harbour, ordered his fully armed men into boats but the weight made them overturn and scores of helpless soldiers were sent to their deaths. Raleigh rowed over to the Duc Repulse, gave Essex and Howard a dressing down and persuaded them to begin the attack on the Spanish Fleet. Deep in the harbour of Cadiz the might of Spain lay at Raleigh's mercy; but, as the smoke thickened and the galleons cut their cables, Raleigh fell in excruciating pain. A cannon ball had struck the deck of the Warspite and his calf had been shredded into a bloody mess "interlaced with splinters". Raleigh watched as the Spanish ships tumbled into the sea, taking heaps of soldiers with them: as thick as coals out of a sack. The English troops then sacked the town. Sir Walter was carried ashore in a litter from which he watched the proceedings with contempt. The prize of the whole raid, however, were the rich merchant ships still moored in the harbour. Howard, Vere and Essex decided to attempt ransom these, but orders were issued by Phillip II of Spain, from Esenial, to have the Duke of Medina Sidona - the Armada commander of 1588 - order the entire fleet to be scuttled and burned. Twelve million ducats sank: a pointless sacrifice to uphold Spanish pride.

Raleigh returned to England and, on 1st June 1597, limped into the ageing Elizabeth's presence. Partly as a rebuke to the incompetent Earl of Essex, Sir Walter was reinstated as Captain of the Guard. A favourable appointment for Raleigh's friend, Lord Cobham, further widened the rift between the two men, which Cecil tried desperately to repair. Despite these new favours though, Sir Walter's wealth was beginning to dwindle. He had spent too much of his own money on attacking Spain in the Americas and his Babington lands and privateering fleet had been swallowed up in the expense. The second half of the 1590s were terrible years for everyone. Four summers of torrential rain rotted the harvests and, throughout the country, people were dying of starvation. Raleigh even found it prudent to make out a new will.

Part 14: Conflict with Essex    Copyright ©1999, LLC