The art of navigation, though still crude, had by the 15th century so advanced that the sailor was no longer compelled to skirt the shore, with only rare ventures across open stretches of sea. The use of the compass, originating in China, had been learned from the Arabs by the crusaders, and is first mentioned in Europe towards the close of the 12th century. An Italian in England, describing a visit to the philosopher Roger Bacon in 1258, writes as follows: "Among other things he showed me an ugly black stone called a magnet ... upon which, if a needle be rubbed and afterward fastened to a straw so that it shall float upon the water, the needle will instantly turn toward the pole-star; though the night be never so dark, yet shall the mariner be able by the help of this needle to steer his course aright. But no master-mariner," he adds, "dares to use it lest he should fall under the imputation of being a magician." By the end of the 13th century the compass was coming into general use; and when Columbus sailed he had an instrument divided as in later times into 360 degrees and 32 points, as well as a quadrant, sea-astrolabe, and other nautical devices. The astrolabe, an instrument for determining latitude by measuring the altitude of the sun or other heavenly body, was suspended from the finger by a ring and held upright at noon till the shadow of the sun passed the sights. The cross-staff, more frequently used for the same purpose by sailors of the time, was a simpler affair less affected by the ship's roll; it was held with the lower end of the cross-piece level with the horizon and the upper adjusted to a point on a line between the eye of the observer and the sun at the zenith. By these various means the sailor could steer a fixed course and determine latitude. He had, however, as yet no trustworthy means of reckoning longitude and no accurate gauge of distance traveled. The log-line was not invented until the 17th century, and accurate chronometers for determining longitude did not come into use until still later. A common practice of navigators, adopted by Columbus, was to steer first north or south along the coast and then due west on the parallel thought to lead to the destination sought.
[Footnote 1: Dante's tutor Brunetto Latini, quoted in THE DISCOVERY OF AMERICA, Fiske, Vol. I, p. 314.]
With the revival of classical learning in the Renaissance, geographical theories also became less wildly imaginative than in the medieval period, the charts of which, though beautifully colored and highly decorated with fauna and flora, show no such accurate knowledge even of the old world as do those of the great geographer Ptolemy, who lived a thousand years before. Ptolemy (200 A.D.), in company with the majority of learned men since Aristotle, had declared the earth to be round and had even estimated its circumference with substantial accuracy, though he had misled later students by picturing the Indian Ocean as completely surrounded by Africa, which he conceived to extend indefinitely southward and join Asia on the southeast, leaving no sea-route open from the Atlantic. There was another body of opinion of long standing, however, which outlined Africa much as it actually is. Friar Roger Bacon, whose interest in the compass has already been mentioned, collected statements of classical authorities and other evidence to show that Asia could be reached by sailing directly westward, and that the distance was not great; and this material was published in Paris in a popular Imago Mundi of 1410. In general, the best geographical knowledge of the period, though it underestimated the distance from Europe westward to Asia and was completely ignorant of the vast continents lying between, gave support to the theories which the voyages of Diaz, Vasco da Gama, and Columbus magnificently proved true.
When the best sailors of the time were Italians, and when astronomical and other scientific knowledge of use in navigation was largely monopolized by Arabs and Jews, it seems strange that the isolated and hitherto insignificant country of Portugal should have taken, and for a century or more maintained primacy in the great epoch of geographical discovery. The fact is explained, not so much by her proximity to the African coast and the outlying islands in the Atlantic, as by the energetic and well-directed patronage which Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460) extended to voyages of exploration and to the development of every branch of nautical art. The third son of John the Great of Portugal, and a nephew on his mother's side of Henry IV of England, the prince in 1415 led an armada to the capture of Ceuta from the Moors, and thereafter, as governor of the conquered territory and of the southern province of Portugal, settled at Saigres near Cape St. Vincent. On this promontory, almost at the western verge of the known world, Henry founded a city, Villa do Iffante, erected an observatory on the cliff, and gathered round him the best sailors, geographers and astronomers of his age.
Under this intelligent stimulus, Portuguese navigators within a century rounded the Cape of Good Hope, opened the sea route to the Indies, discovered Brazil, circumnavigated the globe, and made Portugal the richest nation in Europe, with a great colonial empire and claims to dominion over half the seas of the world. Portuguese ships carried her flag from Labrador (which reveals its discoverers in its name) and Nova Zembla to the Malay Archipelago and Japan.
It is characteristic of the crusading spirit of the age that Prince Henry's first ventures down the African coast were in pursuance of a vague plan to ascend one of the African rivers and unite with the legendary Christian monarch Prester John (Presbyter or Bishop John, whose realm was then supposed to be located in Abyssinia) in a campaign against the Turk. But crusading zeal changed to dreams of wealth when his ships returned from the Senegal coast between 1440 and 1445 with elephants' tusks, gold, and negro slaves. The Gold Coast was already reached; the fabled dangers of equatorial waters—serpent rocks, whirlpools, liquid sun's rays and boiling rivers—were soon proved unreal; and before 1480 the coast well beyond the Congo was known.
The continental limits of Africa to southward, long clearly surmised, were verified by the voyage of Bartolomeo Diaz, in 1487. Diaz rounded the cape, sailed northward some 200 miles, and then, troubled by food shortage and heavy weather, turned backward. But he had blazed the trail. The cape he called Tormentoso (tempestuous) was renamed by his sovereign, Joao II, Cape Bon Esperanto—the Cape of Goad Hope. The Florentine professor Politian wrote to congratulate the king upon opening to Christianity "new lands, new seas, new worlds, dragged from secular darkness into the light of day."
It was not until ten years later that Vasco da Gama set out to complete the work of Diaz and establish contact between east and west. The contour of the African coast was now so well understood and the art of navigation so advanced that Vasco could steer a direct course across the open sea from the Cape Verde Islands to the southern extremity of Africa, a distance of 3770 miles (more than a thousand miles greater than that of Columbus' voyage from the Canaries to the Bahamas), which he covered in one hundred days. After touching at Mozambique, he caught the steady monsoon winds for Calicut, on the western coast of the peninsula of India, then a great entrepot where Mohammedan and Chinese fleets met each year to exchange wares. Thwarted here by the intrigues of Mohammedan traders, who were quick to realize the danger threatening their commercial monopoly, he moved on to Cannanore, a port further north along the coast, took cargo, and set sail for home, reaching the Azores in August of 1499, with 55 of his original complement of 148 men. They came back, in the picturesque words of the Admiral, "With the pumps in their hands and the Virgin Mary in their mouths," completing a total voyage of 13,000 miles. The profits are said to have been sixty-fold.
The ease with which in the next two decades Portugal extended and consolidated her conquest of eastern trade is readily accounted for. She was dependent indeed solely upon sea communications, over a distance so great as to make the task seem almost impossible. But the craft of the east were frail in construction and built for commerce rather than for warfare. The Chinese junks that came to India are described as immense in size, with large cabins for the officers and their families, vegetable gardens growing on board, and crews of as many as a thousand men; but they had sails of matted reed that could not be lowered, and their timbers were loosely fastened together with pegs and withes. The Arab ships, according to Marco Polo, were also built without the use of nails. Like the Portuguese themselves, the Arab or Mohammedan merchants belonged to a race of alien invaders, little liked by the native princes who retained petty sovereignties along the coast. But the real secret of Portuguese success lay in the fact that their rivals were traders rather than fighters, who had enjoyed a peaceful monopoly for centuries, and who could expect little aid from their own countries harassed by the Turk. The Portuguese on the other hand inherited the traditions of Mediterranean seamanship and warfare, and, above all, were engaged in a great national enterprise, led by the best men in the land, with enthusiastic government support.
After Vasco's return, fleets were sent out each year, to open the Indian ports by either force or diplomacy, destroy Moslem merchant vessels, and establish factories and garrisons. In 1505 Francisco de Almeida set sail with the largest fleet as yet fitted out (sixteen ships and sixteen caravels), an appointment as Viceroy of Cochin, Cannanore, and Quilon, and supreme authority from the Cape to the Malay Peninsula. Almeida in the next four years defeated the Mohammedan traders, who with the aid of Egypt had by this time organized to protect themselves, in a series of naval engagements, culminating on February 3, 1509, in the decisive battle of Diu.
Mir Hussain, Admiral of the Gran Soldan of Egypt and commander in chief of the Mohammedan fleet in this battle, anchored his main force of more than a hundred ships in the mouth of the channel between the island of Diu and the mainland, designing to fall back before the Portuguese attack towards the island, where he could secure the aid of shore batteries and a swarm of 300 or more foists and other small craft in the harbor. Almeida had only 19 ships and 1300 men, but against his vigorous attack the flimsy vessels of the east were of little value. The battle was fought at close quarters in the old Mediterranean style, with saber, cutlass, and culverin; ramming, grappling, and boarding. Before nightfall Almeida had won. This victory ensured Portugal's commercial control in the eastern seas.
Alfonso d'Albuquerque, greatest of the Portuguese conquistadores, succeeded Almeida in 1509. Establishing headquarters in a central position at Goa, he sent a fleet eastward to Malacca, where he set up a fort and factory, and later fitted out expeditions against Ormuz and Aden, the two strongholds protecting respectively the entrances to the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. The attack on Aden failed, but Ormuz fell in 1515. Albuquerque died in the same year and was buried in his capital at Goa. His successor opened trade and founded factories in Ceylon. In 1526 a trading post was established at Hugli, near the mouth of the Ganges. Ormuz became a center for the Persian trade, Malacca for trade with Java, Sumatra, and the Spice Islands. A Portuguese envoy, Fernam de Andrada, reached Canton in 1517—in the first European ship to enter Chinese waters—and Pekin three years later. Another adventurer named Mendez Pinto spent years in China and in 1548 established a factory near Yokohama, Japan. Brazil, where a squadron under Cabral had touched as early as 1502, was by 1550 a prosperous colony, and in later centuries a chief source of wealth. Mozambique, Mombassa, and Malindi, on the southeastern coast of Africa, were taken and fortified as intermediate bases to protect the route to Asia. The muslins of Bengal, the calicoes of Calicut, the spices from the islands, the pepper of Malabar, the teas and silks of China and Japan, now found their way by direct ocean passage to the Lisbon quays.
A few strips along the African coast, tenuously held by sufferance of the great powers, and bits of territory at Goa, Daman, and Diu in India, are the twentieth century remnants of Portugal's colonial empire. The greater part of it fell away between 1580 and 1640, when Portugal was under Spanish rule. But her own system of colonial administration, or rather exploitation, was if possible worse than Spain's. Her scanty resources of man power were exhausted in colonial warfare. The expulsion of Protestants and Jews deprived her of elements in her population that might have known how to utilize wealth from the colonies to build up home trade and industries. Her situation was too distant from the European markets; and the raw materials landed at Lisbon were transshipped in Dutch bottoms for Amsterdam and Antwerp, which became the true centers of manufacturing and exchange. Cervantes, in 1607, could still speak of Lisbon as the greatest city in Europe, but her greatness was already decaying; and her fate was sealed when Philip of Spain closed her ports to Dutch shipping, and Dutch ships themselves set sail for the east.
[Footnote 1: PERSILES AND SIGISMUDA, III, i.]
But the period of Portugal's maritime ascendancy cannot be left without recording, even if in barest outline, the circumnavigation of the globe by Fernao da Magalhaes, or Magellan, who, though he made this last voyage of his under the Spanish flag, was Portuguese by birth and had proved his courage and iron resolution under Almeida and Albuquerque in Portugal's eastern campaigns. Seeking a westward passage to the Spice Islands, the five vessels of 75 to 100 tons composing his squadron cleared the mouth of the Guadalquivir on September 20, 1519. They established winter quarters in the last of March at Port St. Julian on the coast of Patagonia. Here, on Easter Sunday, three of his Spanish captains mutinied. Magellan promptly threw a boat's crew armed with cutlasses aboard one of the mutinous ships, killed the leader, and overcame the unruly element in the crew. The two other ships he forced to surrender within 24 hours. One of the guilty captains was beheaded and the other marooned on the coast when the expedition left in September. Five weeks were now spent in the labyrinths of the strait which has since borne the leader's name. "When the capitayne Magalianes," so runs the contemporary English translation of the story of the voyage, "was past the strayght and sawe the way open to the other mayne sea, he was so gladde thereof that for joy the teares fell from his eyes."
He had sworn he would go on if he had to eat the leather from the ships' yards. With three vessels—one had been shipwrecked in the preceding winter and the other deserted in the straits—they set out across the vast unknown expanse of the Pacific. "In three monethes and xx dayes they sailed foure thousande leagues in one goulfe by the sayde sea called Pacificum.... And havying in this tyme consumed all their bysket and other vyttayles, they fell into such necessitie that they were in forced to eate the pouder that remayned thereof being now full of woormes.... Theyre freshe water was also putryfyed and become yellow. They dyd eate skynnes and pieces of lether which were foulded about certeyne great ropes of the shyps." On March 6, 1521, they reached the Ladrones, and ten days later, the Philippines, even these islands having never before been visited by Europeans. Here the leader was killed in a conflict with the natives. One ship was now abandoned, and another was later captured by the Portuguese. Of the five ships that had left Spain with 280 men, a single vessel, "with tackle worn and weather-beaten yards," and 18 gaunt survivors reached home. "It has not," writes the historian John Fiske of this voyage, "the unique historic position of the first voyage of Columbus, which brought together two streams of human life that had been disjoined since the glacial period. But as an achievement in ocean navigation that voyage of Columbus sinks into insignificance beside it.... When we consider the frailness of the ships, the immeasurable extent of the unknown, the mutinies that were prevented or quelled, and the hardships that were endured, we can have no hesitation in speaking of Magellan as the prince of navigators."
[Footnote 1: THE DISCOVERY OF AMERICA, Vol. II, p. 210.]
2. SPAIN AND THE NEW WORLD
It is generally taken for granted that the great movement of the Renaissance, which spread through western Europe in the 15th and the 16th centuries, quickening men's interest in the world about them rather than the world to come, and inspiring them with an eagerness and a confident belief in their own power to explore its hidden secrets, was among the forces which brought about the great geographical discoveries of the period. Its influence in this direction is evident enough in England and elsewhere later on; but, judging by the difficulties of Columbus in securing support, it was not in his time potent with those in control of government policy and government funds. The Italian navigator John Cabot and his son Sebastian made their voyages from England in 1498 and 1500 with very feeble support from Henry VII, though it was upon their discoveries that England later based her American claims. Even in Spain there seems to have been little eagerness to emulate the methods by which her neighbor Portugal had so rapidly risen to wealth and power.
But the influence of revived classical information on geographical matters was keenly felt; and the idea of a direct westerly passage to India was suggested, not only by Portugal's monopoly of the Cape route, but by classical authority, generally accepted by the best geographers of the time. The Imago Mundi of 1410, already mentioned, embodying Roger Bacon's arguments that the Atlantic washed the shores of Asia and that the voyage thither was not long, was a book carefully studied by Columbus. Paul Toscanelli, a Florentine physicist and astronomer, adopting and developing this theory, sent in 1474 to Alfonso V of Portugal a map of the world in which he demonstrated the possibilities of the western route. The distance round the earth at the equator he estimated almost exactly to be 24,780 statute miles, and in the latitude of Lisbon 19,500 miles; but he so exaggerated the extent of Europe and Asia as to reduce the distance between them by an Atlantic voyage to about 6500 miles, putting the east coast of China in about the longitude of Oregon. This distance he still further shortened by locating Cipango (Japan) far to the eastward of Asia, in about the latitude of the Canary Islands and distant from them only 3250 miles.
With all these opinions Columbus was familiar, for the list of his library and the annotations still preserved in his own handwriting, show that he was not an ignorant sailor, nor yet a wild visionary, but prepared by closest study for the task to which he gave his later years. His earlier career, on the other hand, had supplied him with abundant practical knowledge. Born in Genoa, a mother city of great seamen, probably in the year 1436, he had received a fair education in Latin, geography, astronomy, drafting, and other subjects useful to the master-mariner of those days. He had sailed the Mediterranean, and prior to his great adventure, had been as far north as Iceland, and on many voyages down the African coast. Following his brother Bartholomew, who was a map-maker in the Portuguese service, he came about 1470 to Lisbon, even then a center of geographical knowledge and maritime activity. Probably as early as this time the idea of a western voyage was in his mind.
Skepticism may account for Portugal's failure to listen to his proposals; and her interest was already centered in the route around Africa under her exclusive control. The tale of his years of search for assistance is well known. Indeed, while the fame of Columbus rests rightly enough upon his discovery of a new world, of whose existence he had never dreamed and which he never admitted in his lifetime, his greatness is best shown by his faith in his vision, and the steadfast energy and fortitude with which he pushed towards its practical accomplishment, during years of vain supplication, and amid the trials of the voyage itself. He had actually left Granada, when Isabella of Spain at last agreed to support his venture. In the contract later drawn up he drove a good bargain, contingent always upon success; he was to be admiral and viceroy of islands and continents discovered and their surrounding waters, with control of trading privileges and a tenth part of the wealth of all kinds derived.
With the explorations of Columbus on his first and his three later voyages (in 1496, 1498, and 1502) we are less concerned than with the first voyage itself as an illustration of the problems and dangers faced by the navigator of the time, and with the effect of the discovery of the new world upon Spain's rise as a sea power. The three caravels in which he sailed were typical craft of the period. The Santa Maria, the largest, was like the other two, a single-decked, lateen-rigged, three-masted vessel, with a length of about 90 feet, beam of about 20 feet, and a maximum speed of perhaps 6-1/2 knots. She was of 100 tons burden and carried 52 men. The Pinta was somewhat smaller. The Nina (Baby) was a tiny, half-decked vessel of 40 tons. Heavily timbered and seaworthy enough, the three caravels were short provisioned and manned in part from the rakings of the Palos jail.
Leaving Palos August 3, 1492, Columbus went first to the Canaries, and thence turned his prow directly westward, believing that he was on the parallel that touched the northern end of Japan. By a reckoning even more optimistic than Toscanelli's, he estimated the distance thither to be only 2500 miles. Thence he would sail to Quinsay (Hang Chow), the ancient capital of China, and deliver the letter he carried to the Khan of Cathay. The northeast trade winds bore them steadily westward, raising in the minds of the already fear-stricken sailors the certainty that against these head winds they could never beat back. At last they entered the vast expanse of the Sargasso Sea, six times as large as France, where they lay for a week almost becalmed, amid tangled masses of floating seaweeds. To add to their perplexities, they had passed the line of no variation, and the needle now swung to the left of the pole-star instead of the right. On the last day of the outward voyage they were 2300 miles to the westward according to the information Columbus shared with his officers and men; according to his secret log they were 2700 miles from the Canaries, and well beyond the paint where he had expected to strike the islands of the Asiatic coast. The mutinous and panic-stricken spirit of his subordinates, the uncertainty of Columbus himself, turned to rejoicing when at 2:00 A.M. of Friday, October 12, a sailor on the Pinta sighted the little island of the Bahamas, which, since the time of the Vikings, was the first land sighted by white men in the new world.
The three vessels cruised southward, in the belief, expressed by the name Indian which they gave the natives, that they were in the archipelago east of Asia. Skirting the northern coast of Cuba and Hayti, they sought for traces of gold, and information as to the way to the mainland. The Santa Maria was wrecked on Christmas Day; the Pinta became separated; Columbus returned in the little Nina, putting in first at the Tagus, and reaching Palos on March 15, 1493.
Though his voyage gave no immediate prospect of immense profits, yet it was the general belief that he had reached Asia, and by a route three times as short as that by the Cape of Good Hope. The Spanish court celebrated his return with rejoicing. Appealing to the Pope, at this time the Spaniard Rodrigo Bargia, King Ferdinand lost no time in securing holy sanction for his gains. A Papal bull of May 3, 1493, conferred upon Spain title to all lands discovered or yet to be discovered in the western ocean. Another on the day following divided the claims of Spain and Portugal by a line running north and south "100 leagues west of the Azores and the Cape Verde Islands" (an obscure statement in view of the fact that the Cape Verdes lie considerably to the westward of the other group), and granted to Spain a monopoly of commerce in the waters "west and south" (again an obscure phrase) of this line, so that no other nation could trade without license from the power in control. This was the extraordinary Papal decree dividing the waters of the world. Small wander that the French king, Francis I, remarked that he refused to recognize the title of the claimants till they could produce the will of Father Adam, making them universal heirs; or that Elizabeth, when a century later England became interested in world trade, disputed a division contrary not only to common sense and treaties but to "the law of nations." The Papal decree, intended merely to settle the differences of the two Catholic states, gave rise to endless disputes and preposterous claims.
The treaty of Tordesillas (1494) between Spain and Portugal fixed the line of demarcation more definitely, 370 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands, giving Portugal the Brazilian coast, and by an additional clause it made illegitimate trade a crime punishable by death. Another agreement in 1529 extended the line around to the Eastern Hemisphere, 17 degrees east of the Moluccas, which, if Spain had abided by it, would have excluded her from the Philippines. After Portugal fell under Spanish rule in 1580, Spain could claim dominion over all the southern seas.
The enthusiasm and confident expectation with which Spain set out to exploit the discoveries of Columbus's first voyage changed to disappointment when subsequent explorations revealed lands of continental dimensions to be sure, but populated by ignorant savages, with no thoroughfare to the ancient civilization and wealth of the East, and no promise of a solid, lucrative commerce such as Portugal had gained. Mines were opened in the West Indies, but it was not until the conquest of Mexico by Cortez (1519-1521) laid open the accumulated wealth of seven centuries that Spain had definite assurance of the treasure which was to pour out of America in a steadily increasing stream. The first two vessels laden with Mexican treasure returned in 1523. Ten years later the exploration and conquest of Peru by Pizarro trebled the influx of silver and gold. The silver mines of Europe were abandoned. The Emperor Charles, as Francis I said, could fight his European campaigns on the wealth of the Indies alone.
But between Spain and her "sinews of war" lay 3000 miles of ocean. To hold the colonies themselves, to guard the plate fleets against French, Dutch, and English raiders, to protect her own coastline and maintain communications with her possessions in Italy and the Low Countries, to wage war against the Turk in the Mediterranean, Spain felt the need of a navy. Indeed, in view of these varied motives for maritime strength, it is surprising that Spain depended so largely on impressed merchant vessels, and had made only the beginnings of a royal navy at the time of the Grand Armada. Not primarily a nation of traders or sailors, she had, by grudging assistance to the greatest of sea explorers, fallen into a rich colonial empire, to secure and make the most of which called for sea power.
[Footnote 1: "For the kings of England have for many years been at the charge to build and furnish a navy of powerful ships for their own defense, and for the wars only; whereas the French, the Spaniards, the Portugals, and the Hollanders (till of late) have had no proper fleet belonging to their princes or state." Sir Walter Raleigh, A DISCOURSE OF THE INVENTION OF SHIPS.]
It is possible, however, to lay undue stress on the factor just mentioned in accounting for both the rise and the decay of Spain. Her ascendancy in Europe in the 16th century was due chiefly to the immense territories united with her under Charles the Fifth (1500-1558), who inherited Spain, Burgundy, and the Low Countries, and added Austria with her German and Italian provinces by his accession to the imperial throne. Under Charles's powerful leadership Spain became the greatest nation in Europe; but at the same time her resources in men and wealth were exhausted in the almost constant warfare of his long reign. The treasures of America flowed through the land like water, in the expressive figure of a German historian, "not fertilizing it but laying it waste, and leaving sharper dearth behind." The revenues of the plate fleet were pledged to German or Genoese bankers even before they reached the country, and were expended in the purchase of foreign luxuries or in waging imperial wars, rather than in the encouragement of home agriculture, trade, and industry. While the vast possessions of church and nobility escaped taxation, the people were burdened with levies on the movement and sale of commodities and on the common necessities of life. Prohibition of imports to keep gold in the country was ineffectual, for without the supplies brought in by Dutch merchantmen Spain would have starved, and Philip II often had to connive in violations of his own restrictions. Prohibition of exports to keep prices down was an equally Quixotic measure, the chief effect of which was to kill trade. Spain could not supply the needs of her own colonies, and in fact illustrates the truth that a nation cannot, in the end, profit greatly by colonies unless it develops industries to utilize their raw materials and supply their demands.
[Footnote 2: DAS ZEITALTER DER FUGGER, Vol. II, p. 150.]
For some time before the Armada Spain was on the downward path, as a result of the conditions mentioned. On the other hand, while the Armada relieved England of a terrible danger and dashed Spain's hope of domination in the north, it was not of itself a fatal blow. The war still continued, with other Spanish expeditions organized on a grand scale, and ended in 1604, so far as England was concerned, with that country's renunciation of trade to the Indies and aid to the Dutch.
But even if Spain's rise and decline were not primarily a result of sea power, still, taking the term to include the extension of shipping and maritime trade as well as the employment of naval forces in strictly military operations, there are lessons to be drawn from the use or neglect of sea power by both sides in Spain's long drawn-out struggle with Holland and England.
THE EXPANSION OF EUROPE, a History of the Foundations of the Modern World, by Prof. W. C. Abbot, 1918. THE STORY OF GEOGRAPHICAL DISCOVERY, J. Jacobs, 1913. SHIPS AND THEIR WAYS OF OTHER DAYS, E. Keble Chatterton, 1906. THE DAWN OF NAVIGATION, Thomas G. Ford, U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Vol. XXXIII., 1-3. THE DAWN OF MODERN GEOGRAPHY, 2 vols., C. Raymond Beazley, 1904.
PRINCE HENRY THE NAVIGATOR, C. Raymond Beazley, 1895. VASCO DA GAMA AND HIS SUCCESSORS, 1460-1580, K. G. Jayne, 1910. RISE OF PORTUGUESE POWER IN INDIA, R. S. Whiteway, 1910. CAMBRIDGE MODERN HISTORY, Vol. I., Ch. I. HISTORY OF THE INDIAN NAVY, Lieut. C. R. Low, 1877.
THE DISCOVERY OF AMERICA, John Fiske, 1893. SPAIN IN AMERICA, E. G. Bourne, American Nation Series, 1909. SPAIN, Martin Hume, Cam. Modern Hist. Series, 1898.
SEA POWER IN THE NORTH: HOLLAND'S STRUGGLE FOR INDEPENDENCE
The first sea-farers in the storm-swept waters of the north, at least in historic times, were the Teutonic tribes along the North Sea and the Baltic. On land the Teutons held the Rhine and the Danube against the legions of Rome, spread later southward and westward, and founded modern European states out of the wreckage of the Roman Empire. On the sea, Angles, Saxons, and Jutes in the 5th century began plundering the coasts of what is now England, and, after driving the Celts into mountain fastnesses, established themselves in permanent control.
These Teutonic voyagers were followed toward the close of the 8th century by their Scandinavian kindred to the northward, the Vikings—superb fighting men and daring sea-rovers who harried the coasts of western Europe for the next 200 years. There were no navies to stop them. "These sea dragons," exclaimed Charlemagne, "will tear my kingdom asunder!" In England no king before Alfred had a navy; and Alfred was compelled to organize a strong sea force to bring the invaders to terms.
Elsewhere the Vikings met little opposition. Wherever they found lands that attracted them, they conquered and settled dawn. Thus Normandy came into being. They swept up the rivers, burning and looting where they pleased, from the Elbe to the Rhone. They carried their raids as far south as Sicily and the Mediterranean coast of Africa, and as far north and west as Iceland, Greenland, and the American continent. In the east, by establishing a Viking colony at Nishni Novgorod, they laid the foundations of the Russian empire, and their leader, Rus, gave it his name. Following river courses, others penetrated inland as far as Constantinople, where, being bought off by the emperor, they took service as imperial guards.
Their extraordinary voyages were made in boats that resemble so closely Greek and Roman models—even Phoenician, for that matter—as to suggest that the Vikings learned their ship-building from Mediterranean traders who forced their way into the Baltic in very early times. For example, the Viking method of making a rib in three parts is identical with the method of the Greeks and Romans. The chief points of difference are that Viking ships were sharp at both ends—like a canoe, were round-bottomed instead of flat, and had one steering oar instead of two. The typical Viking ship was only about 75 feet in length; but a royal vessel—the Dragon of the chief—sometimes attained a length of 300 feet, with sixty pairs of oars.
If the Vikings had had national organization under one head, they might well have laid the rest of Europe under tribute. In the 11th century, Cnut, a descendant of the Vikings, ruled in person over England, Denmark, and Norway. But their ocean folk-wanderings seem to have ended as suddenly as they began, and the effects were social rather than political. Where they settled, they brought a strain of the hardiest racial stock in Europe to blend with that of the conquered peoples.
The Hanseatic League
During the Middle Ages, peaceful trading gradually gained the upper hand over piracy and conquest. From the Italian cities the wares of the south and the Orient came over the passes of the Alps and down the German rivers, where trading cities grew up to act as carriers of merchandise and civilization among the nations of the north. The merchant guilds of these cities, banded together in the Hanseatic League, for at least three centuries dominated the northern seas.
Perhaps the most extensive commercial combination ever formed for the control of sea trade, the Hanseatic League began with a treaty between Luebeck and Hamburg in 1174, and at the height of its power in the 14th and 15th centuries it included from 60 to 80 cities, of which Luebeck, Cologne, Brunswick, and Danzig were among the chief. The league cleared northern waters of pirates, and used embargo and naval power to subdue rivals and promote trade. It established factories or trading stations from Nishni Novgorod to Bergen, London, and Bruges. From Russia it took cargoes of fats, tallows, wax, and wares brought into Russian markets from the east; from Scandinavia, iron and copper; from England, hides and wool; from Germany, fish, grain, beer, and manufactured goods of all kinds. The British pound sterling (Oesterling) and pound avoirdupois, in fact the whole British system of weights and coinage, are legacies from the German merchants who once had their headquarters in the Steelyard, London.
In the early 15th century the league attempted to shut Dutch ships from the Baltic trade by restricting their cargoes to wares produced in their own country, and by coercing Denmark into granting the league special privileges on the route through the Sound. This policy, culminating in the destruction of the Dutch grain fleet in 1437, led to a naval struggle which extended over four years and ended in a truce by which the Dutch secured the freedom of the Baltic. It was a typical naval war for sea control and commercial advantage, in which the Dutch as a rule seem to have got the better, and in which the legend first made its appearance of a Dutch admiral sweeping the seas with a broom nailed to his mast.
From this time the power of the Hansa declined. This was partly because the free cities came more and more under the rule of German princes with no interest in, or knowledge of, commerce; partly because of rivalry arising from the union of the Scandinavian states (1397) and the growth of England, France, and the Low Countries to national strength and commercial independence; and partly also because of the decline of German fisheries when the herring suddenly shifted from the Baltic to the North Sea. Underlying these varied causes, however, and significant of the far-reaching effect of changing trade-routes upon the progress and prosperity of nations, was the fact that, when the Mediterranean trade route was closed by the Turks, and also the route through Russia by Ivan III, the German cities were side-tracked. Antwerp and Amsterdam were not only more centrally located for the distribution of trade, but also much nearer for Atlantic traffic—an advantage which Germany has ever since keenly envied.
Long before the rise of the Low Countries as a maritime power, Ghent and Bruges had enjoyed an early preeminence owing to their development of cloth manufacture, and the latter city as a terminus for the galleys of Venice and Genoa. After the silting up of the port of Bruges (1432), Antwerp grew in importance, and in the 16th century became the chief market and money center of Europe. Its inhabitants numbered about 100,000, with a floating population of upwards of 50,000 more. It contained the counting-houses of the great bankers of Europe—the Fuggers of Germany, the Pazzi of Florence, the Dorias of Genoa. Five thousand merchants were registered on the Bourse, as many as 500 ships often left the city in a single day, and two or three thousand more might be seen anchored in the Scheldt or lying along the quays. Amsterdam by 1560 was second to Antwerp with a population of 40,000, and forged ahead after the sack of Antwerp by Spanish soldiers in 1576 and the Dutch blockade of the Scheldt during the struggle with Spain.
[Footnote 1: Blok, HISTORY OF THE PEOPLE OF THE NETHERLANDS, Part II, Ch. XII.]
This early prosperity of the Netherland cities may be attributed less to aggressive maritime activity than to their flourishing industries, their natural advantages as trading centers at the mouths of the Rhine, Scheldt, and Meuse, and the privileges of self-government enjoyed by the middle classes under the House of Burgundy and even under Charles the Fifth. Charles taxed them heavily—his revenues from the Low Countries in reality far exceeded the treasure he drew from America; but he was a Fleming born, spoke their language, and accorded them a large measure of political and religious freedom. The grievances which after his death led to the Dutch War of Independence, are almost personified in the son who succeeded him in 1555—Philip II, a Spaniard born and bred, who spoke no Flemish and left Brussels for the last time in 1573, dour, treacherous, distrustful, fanatical in religion; a tragic character, who, no doubt with great injustice to the Spanish, has somehow come to represent the character of Spain in his time.
The Dutch Struggle for Freedom
The causes of the long war in the Netherlands, which began in 1566 and ended with their independence 43 years later, is best explained in terms of general principles rather than specific grievances. "A conflict in which the principle of Catholicism with unlimited royal autocracy as Spain recognized it, was opposed to toleration in the realm of religion, with a national government according to ancient principles and based on ancient privileges,"—so the Dutch historian Blok sums up the issues at stake. The Prince of Orange, just before he was cut down by an assassin, asserted in his famous Defense three fundamental principles: freedom to worship God; withdrawal of foreigners; and restoration of the charters, privileges, and liberties of the land. The Dutch fought for political, religious, and also for economic independence. England gave aid, not so much for religious motives as because she saw that her political safety and commercial prosperity hinged on the weakening of Spain.
Resembling our American Revolution in the character of the struggle as well as the issues at stake—though it was far more bloody and desperate—the Dutch War of Independence was fought mainly within the country itself, with the population divided, and the Spanish depending on land forces to maintain their rule; but, as in the American war, control of the sea was a vital factor. For munitions, supplies, gold, for the transport of the troops themselves, Spain had to depend primarily on the sea. It is true one could continue on Spanish territory from Genoa, which was Spain's watergate into Italy, across the Mont Cenis Pass, and through Savoy, Burgundy, Lorraine, and Luxembourg to Brussels, and it was by this route that Parma's splendid army of 10,000 "Blackbeards" came in 1577. But this was an arduous three months' march for troops and still more difficult for supplies. To cross France was as a rule impossible; when Don Juan of Austria went to Flanders for the brief period of leadership ended by his death of camp fever in 1578, he passed through French territory disguised as a Moorish slave. By the sea route, upon which Spain was after all largely dependent, and the complete control of which would have made her task infinitely easier, she was constantly exposed to Huguenot, Dutch, and English privateers. These gentry cared little whether or not their country was actually at war with Spain, but took their letters of marque, if they carried them, from any prince or ruler who would serve their turn.
With this opportunity to strike at Spanish communications, it will appear strange that the Dutch should not have immediately seized their advantage and made it decisive. One curious difficulty lay in the fact that throughout the war Dutch shipping actually carried the bulk of Spanish trade and drew from it immense profits. Even at the close of the century, while the war was still continuing, nine-tenths of Spain's foreign trade and five-sixths of her home trade was in foreign—and most of it in Dutch—hands. Hence any form of sea warfare was sure to injure Dutch trade. The Revolution, moreover, began slowly and feebly, with no well-thought-out plan of campaign, and could not at once fit out fully organized forces to cope with those of Spain. The Dutch early took to commerce warfare, but it was at first semi-piratical, and involved the destruction of ships of their own countrymen.
The Sea Beggars—Zee Geuzen or Gueux der Mer—made their appearance shortly after the outbreak of rebellion. "Vyve les geus par mer et par terre," wrote the patriot Count van Brederode as early as 1566. The term "beggar" is said to have arisen from a contemptuous remark by a Spanish courtier to Margaret of Parma, when the Dutch nobles presented their grievances in Brussels. Willingly accepting the name, the patriots applied it to their forces both by land and by sea. Letters of marque were first issued by Louis of Nassau, brother of William of Orange, and in 1569 there were 18 ships engaged, increased in the next year to 84. The bloody and licentious De la Marek, who wore his hair and beard unshorn till he had avenged the execution of his relative, Egmont, was a typical leader of still more wild and reckless crews. It was no uncommon practice to go over the rail of a merchant ship with pike and ax and kill every Spaniard on board. In 1569 William of Orange appointed the Seigneur de Lumbres as admiral of the beggar fleet, and issued strict instructions to him to secure better order, avoid attacks on vessels of friendly and neutral states, enforce the articles of war, and carry a preacher on each ship. The booty was to be divided one-third to the Prince for the maintenance of the war, one-third to the captains to supply their vessels, and one-third to the crews, one-tenth of this last share going to the admiral in general command.
The events of commerce warfare, though they often involve desperate adventures and hard fighting, are not individually impressive, and the effectiveness of this warfare is best measured by collective results. On one occasion, when a fleet of transports fell into the hands of patriot forces off Flushing in 1572, not only were 1000 troops taken, but also 500,000 crowns of gold and a rich cargo, the proceeds of which, it is stated, were sufficient to carry on the whole war for a period of two years. Again it was fear of pirates (Huguenot in this case) that in December of 1568 drove a squadron of Spanish transports into Plymouth, England, with 450,000 ducats ($960,000) aboard for the pay of Spanish troops. Elizabeth seized the money (on the ground that it was still the property of the Genoese bankers who had lent it and that she might as well borrow it as Philip), and minted it into English coin at a profit of L3000. But Alva at Antwerp, with no money at all, was forced to the obnoxious "Hundreds" tax—requiring a payment of one per cent on all possessions, five per cent on all real estate transfers, and 10 per cent every time a piece of merchandise was sold—a typical tax after the Spanish recipe, which, though not finally enforced to its full extent, aroused every Netherlander as a fatal blow at national prosperity. To return to the general effect of commerce destruction, it is estimated that Spain thus lost annually 3,000,000 ducats ($6,400,000), a sum which of course meant vastly more then than now. When the Duke of Alva retired from command in 1578, the pay of Spanish troops was 6,500,000 ducats in arrears.
Among the exploits of organized naval forces, the earliest was the capture of Brill, by which, according to Motley, "the foundations of the Dutch republic were laid." Driven out of England by Elizabeth, who upon the representations of the Spanish ambassador ordered her subjects not to supply the Beggars with "meat, bread or beer," a fleet of 25 vessels and 300 or 400 men left Dover towards the end of March, 1572, with the project of seizing a base on their own coast. On the afternoon of April 1, they appeared off the town of Brill, located on an island at the mouth of the Meuse. The magistrates and most of the inhabitants fled; and the Beggars battered down the gates, occupied the town, and put to death 13 monks and priests. When Spanish forces attempted to recapture the city, the defenders opened sluice gates to cut off the northern approach, and at the same time set fire to the boats which had carried the Spanish to the island. The Spanish, terrorized by both fire and water, waded through mud and slime to the northern shore. During the same week Flushing was taken, and before the end of June the Dutch were masters of nearly the entire Zealand coast.
In the north the Spanish at first found an able naval leader in Admiral Bossu, himself a Hollander, who for a time kept the coast clear of Beggars. In October, 1573, however, 30 of his ships were beaten in the Zuyder Zee by 25 under Dirkzoon, who captured five of the Spanish vessels and scattered the rest with the exception of the flagship. The latter, a 32-gun ship terrifyingly named the Inquisition and much stronger than any of the others on either side, held out from three o'clock in the afternoon until the next morning. Three patriot vessels closed in on her, attacking with the vicious weapons of the period—pitch, boiling oil, and molten lead. By morning the four combatants had drifted ashore in a tangled mass. When Bossu at last surrendered, 300 men, out of 382 in his ship's complement, were dead or disabled.
Though not yet able to stand up against Spanish infantry, the Dutch in naval battles were usually successful. In the Scheldt, January 29, 1574, 75 Spanish vessels were attacked by 64 Dutch under Admiral Boisot. After a single broadside, the two fleets grappled, and in a two-hour fight at close quarters eight of the Spanish ships were captured, seven destroyed, and 1200 Spaniards killed. The Spanish commander, Julian Romero, escaped through a port-hole, is said to have remarked afterwards, "I told you I was a land fighter and no sailor; give me a hundred fleets and I would fare no better."
In September following, Admiral Boisot brought some of his victorious ships and sailors to the relief of Leyden, whose inhabitants and garrison had been reduced by siege to the very last extremities. The campaign that followed was typical of this amphibious war. Boisot's force, with those already an the scene, numbered about 2500, equipped with some 200 shallow-draft boats and row-barges mounting an average of ten guns each. Among them was the curious Ark of Delft, with shot-proof bulwarks and paddle-wheels turned by a crank. As a result of ruthless flooding of the country, ten of the fifteen miles between Leyden and the outer dyke were easily passed; but five miles from the city ran the Landscheidung or inner dyke, which was above water, and beyond this an intricate system of canals and flooded polders, with forts and villages held by a Spanish force four times as strong. The most savage fighting on decks, dykes, and bridges marked every step forward; the Dutch in their native element attacking with cutlass, boathook and harpoon, while the superior military discipline of the Spanish could not come in play. But at least 20 inches of water were necessary to float the Dutch vessels, and it was not until October 3 that a spring tide and a heavy northwest gale made it possible to reach the city walls. In storm and darkness, terrified by the rising waters, the Spanish fled. The relief of the city marked a turning-point in the history of the revolt.
During the six terrible years of Alva's rule in the Netherlands (1567-1573) the Dutch sea forces contributed heavily toward the maintenance of the war, assured control of the Holland and Zealand coasts, and more than once, as at Brill and Leyden, proved the salvation of the patriot cause. Holland and Zealand, the storm-centers of rebellion, were not again so devastated, though the war dragged on for many years, maintained by the indomitable spirit of William of Orange until his assassination in 1584, and afterward by the military skill of Maurice of Nassau and the aid of foreign powers. The seven provinces north of the Scheldt, separating from the Catholic states of the south, prospered in trade and industry as they shook themselves free from the stifling rule of Spain. By a twelve-year truce, finally ratified in 1609, they became "free states over which Spain makes no pretensions," though their independence was not fully recognized until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The war, while it ruined Antwerp, increased the prosperity of Holland and Zealand, which for at least twenty years before the truce were busily extending their trade to every part of the world.
Growth of Dutch Commerce
The story of this expansion of commerce is a striking record. The grain and timber of the Baltic, the wines of France and Spain, the salt of the Cape Verde Islands, the costly wares of the east, came to the ports of the Meuse and Zuyder Zee. In 1590 the first Dutch traders entered the Mediterranean, securing, eight years later, the permission of the Sultan to engage in Constantinople trade. In 1594 their ships reached the Gold Coast, and a year later four vessels visited Madagascar, Goa, Java, and the Moluccas or Spice Islands. A rich Zealand merchant had a factory at Archangel and a regular trade into the White Sea. Seeking a reward of 25,000 florins offered by the States for the discovery of a northeast passage, Jacob van Heimskirck sailed into the Arctic and wintered in Nova Zembla; Henry Hudson, in quest of a route northwestward, explored the river and the bay that bear his name and died in the Polar Seas.
Statistics, while not very trustworthy and not enlightening unless compared with those for other nations, may give some idea of the preponderance of Dutch shipping. At the time of the truce she is said to have had 16,300 ships, about 10,000 of which were small vessels in the coasting trade. Of the larger, 3000 were in the Baltic trade, 2000 in the Spanish, 600 sailed to Italy, and the remainder to the Mediterranean, South America, the Far East, and Archangel. The significance of these figures may be made clearer by citing Colbert's estimate that at a later period (1664) there were 20,000 ships in general European carrying trade, 16,000 of which were Dutch. Throughout the 17th century Dutch commerce continued to prosper, and did not reach its zenith until early in the century following.
In the closing years of the 16th century several private companies were founded in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Zealand to engage in eastern trade. These were combined in 1602 into the United East Indies Company, which sent large fleets to the Orient each year, easily ousted the Portuguese from their bases on the coast and islands, and soon established almost a monopoly, leaving to England only a small share of trade with Persia and northwest India. The relative resources invested by English and Dutch in Eastern ventures is suggested by the fact that the British East Indies Company founded in 1600 had a capital of L80,000, while the Dutch Company had L316,000. By 1620 the shares of the Dutch company had increased to three times their original value, and they paid average dividends of 18 per cent for the next 200 years.
In this Dutch conquest of eastern trade, like that of the Portuguese a century earlier, we have an illustration of what has since been a guiding principle in the history of sea power—a national policy of commercial expansion sturdily backed by foreign policy and whenever necessary by naval force. The element of national policy is evident in the fact that Holland—and England until the accession of James I in 1603—preferred war rather than acceptance of Spanish pretensions to exclusive rights in the southern seas. The Dutch, like the Portuguese, saw clearly the need of political control. They made strongholds of their trading bases, and gave their companies power to oust competitors by force. As a concession to Spanish pride, the commerce clause in the Truce of 1609 was made intentionally unintelligible—but the Dutch interpreted it to suit themselves. As for the element of force, every squadron that sailed to the east was a semi-military expedition. The Dutch seaman was sailor, fighter, and trader combined. The merchant was truly, in the phrase of the age, a "merchant adventurer," lucky indeed and enriched if, after facing the perils of navigation in strange waters, the possible hostility of native rulers, and the still greater danger from European rivals, half his ships returned. The last statement is no hyperbole; of 9 ships sent to the East from Amsterdam in 1598, four came back, and just half of the 22 sent out from the entire Netherlands.
From time to time, either to maintain the blockade of the Scheldt and assist in operations on the Flanders coast, or to protect their trade and strike a direct blow at Spain, the Dutch fitted out purely naval expeditions. One of the most effective, from the standpoint of actual fighting, was that led by van Heimskirck, already famous for Arctic exploration and exploits in the Far East. In 1607 he took 21 converted merchantmen and 4 transports to the Spanish coast to protect Dutch vessels from the east and the Mediterranean. Encountering off Gibraltar an enemy force of 11 large galleons and as many galleys under Alvarez d'Avila, a veteran of Lepanto, he destroyed half the Spanish force and drove the rest into port, killing about 2000 Spanish and coming out of the fight with the loss of only 100 men. Heimskirck concentrated upon the galleons and came to close action after the fashion which seems to have been characteristic of the Dutch in naval engagements throughout the war. "Hold your fire till you hear the crash," he cried, as he drove his prow into the enemy flagship; and the battle was won after a struggle yard-arm to yard-arm. Bath admirals were killed.
Portugal, broken by the Spanish yoke, could offer little resistance in the Far East. In 1606 a Dutch fleet of 12 ships under Matelieff de Jonge laid siege to Malacca, and gave up the attempt only after destroying 10 galleons sent to relieve the town. Matelieff then sailed to the neighboring islands, and established the authority of the company at Bantam, Amboyna, Ternate, and other centers of trade.
Other fleets earlier and later promoted the interests of the company by the same means. English traders, with scanty government encouragement from the Stuart kings, were not as yet dangerous rivals. A conflict occurred with them in 1611 off Surat; and at Amboyna in 1623 the Dutch seized the English Company's men, tortured ten of them, and broke up the English base. For more than a century Holland remained supreme in the east; she has retained her colonial empire down to the 20th century; and she did not surrender her commercial primacy until exhausted by the combined attacks of England and France. Less successful than England in the development of colonies, she has stood out as the greatest of trading nations.
THE VIKING AGE, H. F. Du Chaillu, 1889.
THE HANSA TOWNS, H. Zimmerman, 1889. HISTORY OF COMMERCE, Clive Day, 1913 (bibliography). CIVILIZATION DURING THE MIDDLE AGES, George Burton Adams, 1918. CAMBRIDGE MODERN HISTORY, Vols. I and II.
Dutch Sea Power
MOTLEY'S RISE OF THE DUTCH REPUBLIC (still the best source in English for political and naval history of the period). HISTORY OF THE PEOPLE OF THE NETHERLANDS, P. J. Blok, trans. Ruth Putnam, 1898-1912. HISTORY OF COMMERCE IN EUROPE, W. H. Gibbins, 1917. THE SEA BEGGARS, Dingman Versteg, 1901. SOME EXPLOITS OF THE OLD DUTCH NAVY, Lieut. H. H. Frost, U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings, January, 1919.
ENGLAND AND THE ARMADA
By reason of England's insularity, it is an easy matter to find instances from even her early history of the salutary or fatal influence of sea power. Romans, Saxons, Danes swept down upon England from the sea. By building a fleet, King Alfred, said to have been the true father of the British navy, kept back the Danes. It was the dispersion of the English fleet by reason of the lateness of the season that enabled William the Conqueror, in the small open vessels interestingly pictured in the Bayeux tapestry, to win a footing on the English shore.
But during the next three centuries, with little shipping and little trade save that carried on by the Hansa, with no enemy that dangerously threatened her by sea, England had neither the motives nor the national strength and unity to develop naval power. She claimed, it is true, dominion over the narrow waters between her and her possessions in France, and also over the "four seas" surrounding her; and as early as 1201 an ordinance was passed requiring vessels in these waters to lower sails ("vail the bonnet") and also to "lie by the lee" when so ordered by King's ships. But though these claims were revived in the 17th century against the Dutch, and though the requirement that foreign vessels strike their topsails to the British flag remained in the Admiralty Instructions until after Trafalgar, they were at this time enforced chiefly to rid the seas of pirates—the common enemies of nations. During this period there were a few "king's ships," the sovereign's personal property, forming a nucleus around which a naval force of fishing and merchant vessels could be assembled in time of war. The Cinque Ports, originally Dover, Sandwich, Hastings, Romney and Hythe, long enjoyed certain trading privileges in return for the agreement that when the king passed overseas they would "rigge up fiftie and seven ships" (according to a charter of Edward I) with 20 armed soldiers each, and maintain them for 15 days.
An attack in 1217 by such a fleet, under the Governor of Dover Castle, affords perhaps the earliest instance of maneuvering for the weather-gage. The English came down from the windward and, as they scrambled aboard the enemy, threw quicklime into the Frenchmen's eyes. At Sluis, in 1340, to take another instance of early English naval warfare, Edward III defeated a large French fleet and a number of hired Genoese galleys lashed side by side in the little river Eede in Flanders. Edward came in with a fair wind and tide and fell upon the enemy as they lay aground at the stem and unmanageable. This victory gave control of the Channel for the transport of troops in the following campaign. But like most early naval combats, it was practically a land battle over decks, and, although sanguinary enough, it is from a naval stand paint interesting chiefly for such novelties as a scouting force of knights on horseback along the shore.
The beginnings of a permanent and strong naval establishment, as distinct from merchant vessels owned by the king or in his service, must be dated, however, from the Tudors and the period of national rehabilitation following the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) and the War of the Roses (1455-1485). One reason for this was that the employment of artillery on shipboard and the introduction of port-holes made it increasingly difficult to convert merchant craft into dependable men-of-war. Henry VIII took a keen interest in his navy, devoted the revenues of forfeited church property to its expansion, established the first Navy Board (1546), and is even credited with the adoption of sailing vessels as the major units of his fleet.
From Oar to Sail
The use of heavy ordnance, already mentioned, as well as the increasing size and efficiency of sail-craft that came with the spread of ocean commerce and navigation, naturally pointed the way to this transition in warfare from oar to sail. The galley was at best a frail affair, cumbered with oars, benches and rowers, unable to carry heavy guns or withstand their fire. Once sailing vessels had attained reasonable maneuvering qualities, their superior strength and size, reduced number of non-combatant personnel, and increased seaworthiness and cruising radius gave them a tremendous superiority. That the change should have begun in the north rather than in the Mediterranean, where naval and military science had reached its highest development, must be attributed not only to the rougher weather conditions of the northern seas, and the difficulty of obtaining slaves as rowers, but also to the fact that the southern nations were more completely shackled by the traditions of galley warfare.
Yet for the new type it was the splendid trading vessels of Venice that supplied the design. For the Antwerp and London trade, and in protection against the increasing danger from pirates, the Venetians had developed a compromise between the war-galley and the round-ship of commerce, a type with three masts and propelled at least primarily by sails, with a length about three times its beam and thus shorter and more seaworthy than the galley, but longer, lower and swifter than the clumsy round-ship. To this new type the names galleass and galleon were bath given, but in English and later usage galleass came to be applied to war vessels combining oar and sail, and galleon to either war or trading vessels of medium size and length and propelled by sail alone.
The Spanish found the galleon useful in the Atlantic carrying trade, but, as shown at Lepanto, they retained the galley in warfare; whereas Henry VIII of England was probably the first definitely to favor sail for his men-of-war. An English navy list of 1545 shows four clumsy old-fashioned "great-ships" of upwards of 1000 tons, but second to these a dozen newer vessels of distinctly galleon lines, lower than the great-ships, flush-decked, and sail-driven. Though in engagements with French galleys during the campaign of 1545 these were handicapped by calm weather, they seem to have held their own both in battle and in naval opinion. Of the royal ships at the opening of Elizabeth's reign (1558), there were 11 large sailing vessels of 200 tans and upwards, and 10 smaller ones, but only two galleys, and these "of no continuance and not worth repair." In comment on these figures, it should be added that there were half a hundred large ships available from the merchant service, and also that pinnaces and other small craft still combined oar and sail.
[Footnote 1: DRAKE AND THE TUDOR NAVY, Corbett, Vol. I, p. 133.]
In England the superiority of sail propulsion was soon definitely recognized, and discussion later centered on the relative merits of the medium-sized galleon and the big "great-ship." The characteristics of each are well set forth in a contemporary naval treatise by Sir William Monson: the former with "flush deck fore and aft, sunk and low in the water; the other lofty and high-charged, with a half-deck, forecastle, and copperidge-heads [athwortship bulkheads where light guns were mounted to command the space between decks]." The advantages of the first were that she was speedy and "a fast ship by the wind" so as to avoid boarding by the enemy, and could run in close and fire effective broadsides between wind and water without being touched; whereas the big ship was more terrifying, more commodious, stronger, and could carry more and heavier guns. Monson, like many a later expert, suspended judgment regarding the two types; but Sir Walter Raleigh came out strongly for the smaller design. "The greatest ships," he writes, "are the least serviceable...., less nimble, less maniable; 'Grande navi grande fatiga,' saith the Spaniard. A ship of 600 tons will carry as good ordnance as a ship of 1200 tons; and though the greater have double her number, the lesser will turn her broadsides twice before the greater can wind once." And elsewhere: "The high charging of ships makes them extreme leeward, makes them sink deep in the water, makes them labor, and makes them overset. Men may not expect the ease of many cabins and safety at once in sea-service."
[Footnote 1: WORKS, Oxford ed. 1829, Vol. VIII, p. 338.]
These statements were made after the Armada; but the trend of English naval construction away from unwieldy ships such as used by the Spanish in the Armada, is clearly seen in vessels dating from 1570-1580—the Foresight, Bull, and Tiger (rebuilt from galleasses), the Swiftsure, Dreadnought, Revenge, and others of names renowned in naval annals. These were all of about the dimensions of the Revenge, which was of 440 tons, 92 feet over all, 32 feet beam, and 15 feet from deck to keel. That is to say, their length was not more than three times their beam, and their beam was about twice their depth in the hold—the characteristic proportions of the galleon type.
The progressiveness of English ship construction is highly significant, for to it may be attributed in large measure the Armada victory. Spain had made no such advances; in fact, until the decade of the Armada, she hardly had such a thing as a royal navy. The superiority of the English ships was generally recognized. An English naval writer in 1570 declared the ships of his nation so fine "none of any other region may seem comparable to them"; and a Spaniard some years later testified that his people regarded "one English ship worth four of theirs."
Though not larger than frigates of Nelson's time, these ships were crowded with an even heavier armament, comprising guns of all sizes and of picturesque but bewildering nomenclature. According to Corbett, the ordnance may be divided into four main classes based on caliber, the first two of the "long gun" and the other two of the carronade or mortar type.
[Footnote 1: DRAKE AND THE TUDOR NAVY, Vol. I, p. 384.]
I. Cannon proper, from 16 to 28 caliber, of 8.5-inch bore and 12 feet in length, firing 65-pound shot. The demi-cannon, which was the largest gun carried on ships of the time, was 6.5 inches by 9 feet and fired 30-pound shot.
II. Culverins, 28 to 34 caliber long guns, 5 inches by 12 feet, firing 17-pound shot. Demi-culverins were 9-pounders. Slings, bases, sakers, port-pieces, and fowlers belonged to this class.
III. Perriers, from 6 to 8 caliber, firing stone-balls, shells, fire-balls, etc.
IV. Mortars, of 1.5 caliber, including petards and murderers.
The "great ordnance," or cannon, were muzzle-loading. The secondary armament, mounted in tops, cageworks, bulkheads, etc., were breech-loading; but these smaller pieces fell out of favor as time went on owing to reliance on long-range fire and rareness of boarding actions. Down to the middle of the 19th century there was no great improvement in ordnance, save in the way of better powder and boring. Even in Elizabeth's day the heaviest cannon had a range of three miles.
These advances in ship design and armament were accompanied by some changes in naval administration. In 1546 the Navy Board was created, which continued to handle matters of what may be termed civil administration until its functions were taken over by the Board of Admiralty in the reorganization of 1832. The chief members of the Navy Board, the Treasurer, Comptroller, Surveyor of Ships, Surveyor of Ordnance, and Clerk of Ships, were in Elizabethan times usually experienced in sea affairs. To John Hawkins, Treasurer from 1578 to 1595, belongs chief credit for the excellent condition of ships in his day. The Lord High Admiral, a member of the nobility, exercised at least nominal command of the fleet in peace and war. For vice admiral under him a man of practical experience was ordinarily chosen. On shipboard, the only "gentleman" officers were the captains; the rest—masters, master's mates, pilots, carpenters, boatswains, coxswains, and gunners—were, to quote a contemporary description, "mechanick men that had been bred up from swabbers." But owing to the small proportion of soldiers on board, the English ships were not like those of Spain, which were organized like a camp, with the soldier element supreme and the sailors "slaves to the rest."
The Political Situation
The steps taken to build up the navy in the decade or more preceding the Armada were well justified by the political and religious strife in western Europe and the dangers which on all sides threatened the English realm. France, the Netherlands, and Scotland were torn by religious warfare. In England the party with open or secret Catholic sympathies was large, amounting to perhaps half the population, the strength of whose loyalty to Elizabeth it was difficult to gage. Since 1568 Elizabeth had held captive Mary Queen of Scots, driven out of her own country by the Presbyterian hierarchy, and a Catholic with hereditary claims to the English throne. Before her death, Philip of Spain had conspired with her to assassinate the heretic Elizabeth; after Mary's execution in 1587 he became heir to her claims and entered the more willingly upon the task of conquering England and restoring it to the faith. For years, in fact, there had been a state of undeclared hostility between England and Spain, and acts which, with sovereigns less cautious and astute than both Elizabeth and Philip, would have meant war. In 1585 Elizabeth formed an alliance with the Netherlands, and sent her favorite, Leicester, there as governor-general, and Sir Philip Sidney as Governor of Flushing, which with two other "cautionary towns" she took as pledges of Dutch loyalty. The motives for this action are well stated in a paper drawn up by the English Privy Council in 1584, presenting a situation interesting in its analogy to that which faced the United States when it entered the World War:
"The conclusion of the whole was this: Although her Majesty should thereby enter into the war presently, yet were she better to do it now, while she may make the same out of her realm, having the help of the people of Holland, and before the King of Spain shall have consummated his conquest of those countries, whereby he shall be so provoked by pride, solicited by the Pope, and tempted by the Queen's own subjects, and shall be so strong by sea; and so free from all other actions and quarrels—yea, shall be so formidable to all the rest of Christendom, as that her Majesty shall no wise be able, with her own power, nor with the aid of any other, neither by land nor sea, to withstand his attempts, but shall be forced to give place to his insatiable malice, which is most terrible to be thought of, but miserable to suffer."
These were the compelling reasons for England's entry into the war. The aid to Holland and the execution of Mary, on the other hand, were sufficient to explain Philip's attempted invasion. The grievance of Spain owing to the incursions of Hawkins and Drake into her American possessions, and England's desire to break Spain's commercial monopoly, were at the time relatively subordinate, though from a naval standpoint the voyages are interesting in themselves and important in the history of sea control and sea trade.
Hawkins and Drake
John Hawkins was a well-to-do ship-owner of Plymouth, and as already stated, Treasurer of the Royal Navy, with a contract for the upkeep of ships. His first venture to the Spanish Main was in 1562, when he kidnapped 300 negroes on the Portuguese coast of Africa and exchanged them at Hispanola (Haiti), for West Indian products, chartering two additional vessels to take his cargo home. Though he might have been put to death if caught by either Portugal or Spain, his profits were so handsome by the double exchange that he tried it again in 1565, this time taking his "choice negroes at L160 each" to Terra Firme, or the Spanish Main, including the coasts of Venezuela, Colombia, and the Isthmus. When the Spanish authorities, warned by their home government, made some show of resistance, Hawkins threatened bombardment, landed his men, and did business by force, the inhabitants conniving in a contraband trade very profitable to them.
On his third voyage he had six vessels, two of which, the Jesus of Lubeck and the Minion, were Queen's ships hired out for the voyage. The skipper of one of the smaller vessels, the Judith, was Francis Drake, a relative and protege of the Hawkins family, and then a youth of twenty-two. On September 16, 1567, after a series of encounters stormier than ever in the Spanish settlements, the squadron homeward bound was driven by bad weather into the port of Mexico City in San Juan de Ulua Bay. Here, having a decided superiority over the vessels in the harbor, Hawkins secured the privilege of mooring and refitting his ships inside the island that formed a natural breakwater, and mounted guns on the island itself. To his surprise next morning, he beheld in the offing 13 ships of Spain led by an armed galleon and having on board the newly appointed Mexican viceroy. Hawkins, though his guns commanded the entrance, took hostages and made some sort of agreement by which the Spanish ships were allowed to come in and moor alongside. But the situation was too tense to carry off without an explosion. Three days later the English were suddenly attacked on sea and shore. They at once leaped into their ships and cut their cables, but though they hammered the Spanish severely in the fight that followed, only two English vessels, the Minion and the Judith, escaped, the Minion so overcrowded that Hawkins had to drop 100 of his crew on the Mexican coast. Drake made straight for Plymouth, nursing a bitter grievance at the alleged breach of faith, and vowing vengeance on the whole Spanish race. "The case," as Drake's biographer, Thomas Fuller, says, "was clear in sea-divinity, and few are such infidels as not to believe doctrines which make for their own profit."
[Footnote 1: THE HOLY STATE, Bk. II, Ch. XXII.]
In the next three years, following the example of many a French Huguenot privateersman before him, and forsaking trade for semi-private reprisal (in that epoch a few degrees short of piracy), he made three voyages to the Spanish Indies. On the third, in 1572, he raided Nombre de Dios with fire and sword. Then, leaguing himself with the mixed-breed natives or cameroons, he waylaid a guarded mule-train bearing treasure across the Isthmus, securing 15 tons of silver which he buried, and as much gold as his men could stagger away under. It was on this foray that he first saw the Pacific from a height of the Cordilleras, and resolved to steer an English squadron into this hitherto unmolested Spanish sea.
The tale of Drake's voyage into the Pacific and circumnavigation of the globe is a piratical epic, the episodes of which, however, find some justification in the state of virtual though undeclared hostilities between England and Spain, in the Queen's secret sanction, and in Spain's own policy of ruthless spoliation in America. Starting at the close of 1577 with five small vessels, the squadron was reduced by shipwreck and desertion until only the flagship remained when Drake at last, on September 6 of the next year, achieved his midwinter passage of the Straits of Magellan and bore down, "like a visitation of God" as a Spaniard said, upon the weakly defended ports of the west coast. After ballasting his ship with silver from the rich Potosi mines, and rifling even the churches, he hastened onward in pursuit of a richly laden galleon nicknamed Cacafuego—a name discreetly translated Spitfire, but which, to repeat a joke that greatly amused Drake's men at the time, it was proposed to change to Spitsilver, for when overtaken and captured the vessel yielded 26 tons of silver, 13 chests of pieces of eight, and gold and jewels sufficient to swell the booty to half a million pounds sterling.
For 20 years the voyage across the northern Pacific had been familiar to the Spanish, who had studied winds and currents, laid down routes, and made regular crossings. Having picked up charts and China pilots, and left the whole coast in panic fear, Drake sailed far to the northward, overhauled his ship in a bay above San Francisco, then struck across the Pacific, and at last rounded Good Hope and put into Plymouth in September of the third year. It suited Elizabeth's policy to countenance the voyage. She put the major part of the treasure into the Tower, took some trinkets herself, knighted Drake aboard the Golden Hind, and when the Spanish ambassador talked war she told him, in a quiet tone of voice, that she would throw him into a dungeon.
This red-bearded, short and thickset Devon skipper, bold of speech as of action, was now the most renowned sailor of England, with a name that inspired terror on every coast of Spain. It was inevitable, therefore, that when Elizabeth resolved upon open reprisals in 1585, Drake should be chosen to lead another, and this time fully authorized, raid on the Spanish Indies. Here he sacked the cities of San Domingo and Carthagena, and, though he narrowly missed the plate fleet, brought home sufficient spoils for the individuals who backed the venture. In the year 1587 with 23 ships and orders permitting him to operate freely on Spain's home coasts, he first boldly entered Cadiz, in almost complete disregard of the puny galleys guarding the harbor, and destroyed some 37 vessels and their cargoes. Despite the horrified protests of his Vice Admiral Borough (an officer "of the old school" to be found in every epoch) at these violations of traditional methods, he then took up a position off Saigres where he could harry coastwise commerce, picked up the East Indiaman San Felipe with a cargo worth a million pounds in modern money, and even appeared off Lisbon to defy the Spanish Admiral Santa Cruz. Thus he "singed the King of Spain's beard," and set, in the words of a recent biographer, "what to this day may serve as the finest example of how a small, well-handled fleet, acting on a nicely timed offensive, may paralyze the mobilization of an overwhelming force."
[Footnote 1: DRAKE AND THE TUDOR NAVY, Corbett, Vol. II, p. 108.]
The Grand Armada
At the time of this Cadiz expedition Spanish preparations for the invasion of England were already well under way, Philip being now convinced that by a blow at England all his aims might be secured—the subjugation of the Netherlands, the safety of Spanish America, the overthrow of Protestantism, possibly even his accession to the English throne. As the secret instructions to Medina Sidonia more modestly stated, it was at least believed that by a vigorous offensive and occupation of English territory England could be forced to cease her opposition to Spain. For this purpose every province of the empire was pressed for funds. Pope Sixtus VI contributed a million gold crowns, which he shrewdly made payable only when troops actually landed on English soil. Church and nobility were squeezed as never before. The Cortes on the eve of the voyage voted 8,000,000 ducats, secured by a tax on wine, meat, and oil, the common necessities of life, which was not lifted for more than two hundred years.
To gain control of the Channel long enough to throw 40,000 troops ashore at Margate, and thereafter to meet and conquer the army of defense—such was the highly difficult objective, to assure the success of which Philip had been led to hope for a wholesale defection of English Catholics to the Spanish cause. Twenty thousand troops were to sail with the Armada; Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma, was to add 17,000 veterans from Flanders and assume supreme command. With the Spanish infantry once landed, under the best general in Europe, it was not beyond reason that England might become a province of Spain.
What Philip did not see clearly, what indeed could scarcely be foreseen from past experience, was that no movement of troops should be undertaken without first definitely accounting for the enemy fleet. The Spanish had not even an open base to sail to. With English vessels thronging the northern ports of the Channel, with 90 Dutch ships blockading the Scheldt and the shallows of the Flanders coast, it would be necessary to clear the Channel by a naval victory, and maintain control until it was assured by victory on land. The leader first selected, Santa Cruz—a veteran of Lepanto—at least put naval considerations uppermost and laid plans on a grand scale, calling for 150 major ships and 100,000 men, 30,000 of them sailors. But with his death in 1587 the campaign was again thought of primarily from the army standpoint. The ships were conceived as so many transports, whose duty at most was to hold the English fleet at bay. Parma was to be supreme. To succeed Santa Cruz as naval leader, and in order, it is said, that the gray-haired autocrat Philip might still control from his cell in the Escorial, the Duke of Medina Sidonia was chosen—an amiable gentleman of high rank, but consciously ignorant of naval warfare, uncertain of purpose, and despondent almost from the start. Medina had an experienced Vice Admiral in Diego Flores de Valdes, whose professional advice he usually followed, and he had able squadron commanders in Recalde, Pedro de Valdes, Oquendo, and others; but such a commander-in-chief, unless a very genius in self-effacement, was enough to ruin a far more auspicious campaign.
Delayed by the uncertain political situation in France, even more than by Drake's exploits off Cadiz, the Armada was at last, in May of 1588, ready to depart. The success of the Catholic party under the leadership of the Duke of Guise gave assurance of support rather than hostility on the French flank. There were altogether some 130 ships, the best of which were 10 war galleons of Portugal and 10 of the "Indian Guard" of Spain. These were supported by the Biscayan, Andalusian, Guipuscoan, and Levantine squadrons of about 10 armed merchantmen each, four splendid Neapolitan galleasses that gave a good account of themselves in action, and four galleys that were driven upon the French coast by storms and took no part in the battle—making a total (without the galleys) of about 64 fighting ships. Then there were 35 or more pinnaces and small craft, and 23 urcas or storeships of little or no fighting value. The backbone of the force was the 60 galleons, large, top-lofty vessels, all but 20 of them from the merchant service, with towering poops and forecastles that made them terrible to look upon but hard to handle. On board were 8,000 sailors and 19,000 troops.
Dispersed by a storm on their departure from Lisbon, the fleet again assembled at Corunna, their victuals already rotten, and their water foul and short. Medina Sidonia even now counseled abandonment; but religious faith, the fatalistic pride of Spain, and Philip's dogged fixity of purpose drove them on. Putting out of Corunna on July 22, and again buffeted by Biscay gales, they were sighted off the Lizard at daybreak of July 30, and a pinnace scudded into Plymouth with the alarm.
For England the moment of supreme crisis had come, Elizabeth's policy of paying for nothing that she might expect her subjects to contribute had left the royal navy short of what the situation called for, and the government seems also, even throughout the campaign, to have tied the admirals to the coast and kept them from distant adventures by limited supplies of munitions and food. But in the imminent danger, the nobility, both Catholic and Protestant, and every coastwise city, responded to the call for ships and men. Their loyalty was fatal to Philip's plan. The royal fleet of 25 ships and a dozen pinnaces was reenforced until the total craft of all descriptions numbered 197, not more than 140 of which, however, may be said to have had a real share in the campaign. For a month or more a hundred sail had been mobilized at Plymouth, of which 69 were greatships and galleons. These were smaller in average tonnage than the Spanish ships, but more heavily armed, and manned by 10,000 capable seamen. Lord Henry Seymour, with Palmer and Sir William Winter under him, watched Parma at the Strait of Dover, with 20 ships and an equal number of galleys, barks and pinnaces. The Lord High Admiral, Thomas Howard of Effingham, a nobleman of 50 with some naval experience and of a family that had long held the office, commanded the western squadron, with Drake as Vice Admiral and John Hawkins as Rear Admiral. The Ark (800 tons), Revenge (500), and Victory (800) were their respective flagships. Martin Frobisher in the big 1100-ton Triumph, Lord Sheffield in the White Bear (1000), and Thomas Fenner in the Nonpareil (500) were included with the Admirals in Howard's inner council of war. "Howard," says Thomas Fuller, "was no deep-seaman, but he had skill enough to know those who had more skill than himself and to follow their instructions." As far as as possible for a commoner, Drake exercised command.
On the morning of the 31st the Armada swept slowly past Plymouth in what has been described as a broad crescent, but which, from a contemporary Italian description, seems to have been the "eagle" formation familiar to galley warfare, in line abreast with wide extended wings bent slightly forward, the main strength in center and guards in van and rear. Howard was just completing the arduous task of warping his ships out of the harbor. Had Medina attacked at once, as some of his subordinates advised, he might have compelled Howard to close action and won by superior numbers. But his orders suggested the advisability of avoiding battle till he had joined with Parma; and for the Duke this was enough. As the Armada continued its course, Howard fell in astern and to windward, inflicting serious injuries to two ships of the enemy rear.
A week of desultory running battle ensued as the fleets moved slowly through the Channel; the English fighting "loose and large," and seeking to pick off stragglers, still fearful of a general action, but taking advantage of Channel flaws to close with the enemy and sheer as swiftly away; the Spanish on the defensive but able to avoid disaster by better concerted action and fleet control. Only two Spanish ships were actually lost, one of them Pedro de Valdes' flagship Neustra Senora del Rosario, which had been injured in collision and surrendered to Drake without a struggle on the night of August 1, the other the big San Salvador of the Guipuscoan squadron, the whole after part of which had been torn up by an explosion after the fighting on the first day. But the Spanish inferiority had been clearly demonstrated and they had suffered far more in morale than in material injuries when on Sunday, August 7, they dropped anchor in Calais roads. The English, on their part, though flushed with confidence, had seen their weakness in organized tactics, and now divided their fleet into four squadrons, with the flag officers and Frobisher in command.
It betrays the fatuity of the Spanish leader, if not of the whole plan of campaign, that when thus practically driven to refuge in a neutral port, Medina Sidonia thought his share of the task accomplished, and wrote urgent appeals to Parma to join or send aid, though the great general had not enough flat-boats and barges to float his army had he been so foolhardy as to embark, or the Dutch so benevolent as to let him go. But the English, now reenforced by Seymour's squadron, gave the Duke little time to ponder his next move. At midnight eight fire hulks, "spurting flames and their ordnance exploding," were borne by wind and tide full upon the crowded Spanish fleet. Fearful of maquinas de minas such as had wrought destruction a year before at the siege of Antwerp, the Spanish made no effort to grapple the peril but slipped or cut cables and in complete confusion beat off shore.