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The Spanish Armada and English ships in August 1588, (unknown, 16th-century, English School)

Hungry for Domination: The Surprise Attack of the Spanish Armada on Cornwall

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King Philip II of Spain was always hungry for new adventures and conquering new lands. His greatest competition were the English, who also dreamed of world domination. Thus, the King of Spain went forth and decided to try to conquer England.

On July 26, 1595, the fleet led by Pedro de Zaubiar with the support of Carlos de Amesquita left Port Luis harbor in Brittany. Four galleys – the Capitana, Patrona, Peregrina and Bazana, and three companies of auquebusiers, under the command of Carlos de Amesquita, followed the great strategy by Zaubiar to conquer part of England and they started their way to the North.

Illustration of an Arquebusier.

Illustration of an Arquebusier. ( Public Domain )

Auquebusiers were soldiers armed with a primitive muzzle loaded matchlock, which was later superseded by the musket. Galleys were ships that were mainly propelled by oars, but they also had two masts to support the skills of the ships’ sailing. They were very good for sailing, transport, and fighting, so they were in use until the 19th century.

Early form of arquebus; a hand cannon with hook.

Early form of arquebus; a hand cannon with hook. ( Public Domain )

The people who led the fleet to the kingdom of Queen Elizabeth I were already considered heroes and were very famous and appreciated by the King as sailors and strategists.

People who Surprised the Proud Fleet of the Queen

Pedro de Zubiar was a trusted soldier and sailor for the King. During his career, which started in 1568, he was a famous defender against the English ships. He won several battles, and the most impressive achievement in his career took place during the relief of Blay in 1592, when he captured six English ships. After the end of the war with the English, he was put in command of 18 ships charged with transporting troops. While traveling, his ships met a Dutch fleet, which contained 80 ships. During the battle, Zubiaur was hardly wounded, but lost two ships and 400 men.

He passed away in Dover, an area in protection of the English, who were allied to Spain in those days. His body was transported to Bilbao and buried there.

Carlos de Amesquita was a huge support for Zubiar during the battle. His life is lesser known than Zubiar's, and Amesquita is mostly famous because of his brave and impressive actions in Cornwall.

Elizabeth I and the Spanish Armada, an unsigned painting mistakenly attributed to Nicholas Hilliard.

Elizabeth I and the Spanish Armada, an unsigned painting mistakenly attributed to Nicholas Hilliard. ( Public Domain )

Resources say that the English expected the attack of the Spanish fleet, but believed it would be a much bigger group of ships and far later than it actually happened. On the way to England, the Spanish sunk the French barque ship, which was manned by the English crew and transporting cargo to England. The sailors who survived sent the following message, which arrived to London on July 26: ''A French bark arrived there reports 200 Spanish ships and galleys to be riding at anchor at Ferrol, bound for England, where they intend landing 2,200 men; three other Spanish ships also arrived at Ferrol from Ireland, and delivered munitions, powder, shot &c. to the enemy; they would all be ready to sail within 15 days''.

Even the experienced captain Francis Drake, whose fleet was guarding the waters which belonged to the Queen, didn't realize the danger.

Sir Francis Drake whilst playing bowls on Plymouth Hoe is informed of the approach of the Spanish Armada. Bronze plaque by Joseph Boehm, 1883, base of Drake statue, Tavistock.

Sir Francis Drake whilst playing bowls on Plymouth Hoe is informed of the approach of the Spanish Armada. Bronze plaque by Joseph Boehm, 1883, base of Drake statue, Tavistock. ( Public Domain )

The Battle

On August 2, the fleet arrived at Mount's Bay. After sailing 300 miles, the group of soldiers who arrived on the galleys made an attack which could be likened to commando raids. Before they attacked, the English seemed to believe that they had arrived only with political purposes. The battle started when Carlos de Amesquita was greeted by the English official Richard Burley of Weymouth.

The battle took only a few hours. The English fleet and army were led by Francis Drake and John Hawkins, and the Spanish found them completely unprepared for the fight. The local army reacted with panic, not strength. As a result, only Francis Godolphin, Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall and a band of 12 men remained to defend the land.

 

[Left] Sir Francis Drake in Buckland Abbey 16th century, oil on canvas ( Public Domain ), by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, [Right] Sir John Hawkin ( Public Domain )

After the battle, the Spanish looted and burned the area of Penzance, Mousehole and Newlyn for a couple of days. In just the town of Penzance, it was recorded that more than 400 houses were burnt to the ground. When they had destroyed and stolen everything they could, the Spanish understood that they are too weak to create a structure in Cornwall, so they sailed away back to Brittany. They planned to return to England with a bigger force.

The Spanish burn Penzance.

The Spanish burn Penzance. ( Public Domain )

On August 4, 1595, the Spanish soldiers held a traditional Catholic mass. They promised God that they would return to England to build a new Catholic church and conquer the rest of the country. Then they left the smoldering ruins behind them. They didn't take prisoners on the ships. A few days later, on August 10, they landed in Port Luis after sinking two Dutch ships and damaging many others. The Spanish nation believed that they would conquer all of England in the near future.

The Aftermath of the battle

After the battle, the English were angrier than ever before. Very soon, Francis Drake took his fleet to the coasts of Spain and attacked every possible city from the northern La Coruna to the southern Cadiz. Times of peace between England and Spain became possible many years later, but they were rivals in the Americas for many centuries.

The Battle of Cornwall was an important part of the wars between these two countries in the 1500s. Spain and England were strong rivals, trying to defeat each other in a fight for domination in Europe. Francis Drake attacked Spain, and Spain answered. It seemed that the fight between the two countries that conquered huge lands of the Americas would never be resolved. People in Cornwall still remember the story of how close they were to being Spanish.

Defeat of the Spanish Armada, 8 August 1588.

Defeat of the Spanish Armada, 8 August 1588. Source: Public Domain

Featured image: The Spanish Armada and English ships in August 1588, (unknown, 16th-century, English School) Source: Public Domain

By Natalia Klimczak

Comments

Cousin_Jack's picture

Then Francis Basset received his peerage as Baron de Dunstanville in 1779 for marching the Cornish to Plymouth to strengthen the marine fortifications from the French and Spanish fleets. Didn’t realise until reading this story that Cornwall had more than one encounter with the Spanish, thanks for pointing that out.

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