William Charles Henry Wood.

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And the little _Revenge_ ran on thro' the long sea-lane between.

Thousands of their soldiers look'd down from their decks and laugh'd,
Thousands of their seamen made mock at the mad little craft
Running on and on, till delay'd
By their mountain-like _San Philip_ that, of fifteen hundred tons,
And up-shadowing high above us with her yawning tiers of guns,
Took the breath from our sails, and we stay'd.

And while now the great _San Philip_ hung above us like a cloud
Whence the thunderbolt will fall
Long and loud,
Four galleons drew away
From the Spanish fleet that day,
And two upon the larboard and two upon the starboard lay,
And the battle-thunder broke from them all.

But anon the great San Philip, she bethought herself and went,
Having that within her womb that had left her ill content;
And the rest they came aboard us, and they fought us hand to hand,
For a dozen times they came with their pikes and musqueteers,
And a dozen times we shook 'em off as a dog that shakes his ears
When he leaps from the water to the land.

And the sun went down, and the stars came out far
over the summer sea,
But never a moment ceased the fight of the one
and the fifty-three.
Ship after ship, the whole night long, their
high-built galleons came,
Ship after ship, the whole night long, with her
battle-thunder and flame;
Ship after ship, the whole night long, drew back
with her dead and her shame.
For some were sunk and many were shatter'd, and so
could fight us no more -
God of battles, was ever a battle like this
in the world before?

For he said "Fight on! fight on!"
Tho' his vessel was all but a wreck;
And it chanced that, when half of the short summer night was gone,
With a grisly wound to be drest he had left the deck.
But a bullet struck him that was dressing it suddenly dead,
And himself he was wounded again in the side and the head,
And he said 'Fight on! fight on!'

And the night went down, and the sun smiled out far
over the summer sea,
And the Spanish fleet with broken sides lay round us
all in a ring;
But they dared not touch us again, for they fear'd that
we still could sting,
So they watch'd what the end would be.
And we had not fought them in vain,
But in perilous plight were we,
Seeing forty of our poor hundred were slain,
And half of the rest of us maim'd for life,

In the crash of the cannonades and the desperate strife;
And the sick men down in the hold were most of them
stark and cold,
And the pikes were all broken or bent, and the powder
was all of it spent;
And the masts and the rigging were lying over the side;
But Sir Richard cried in his English pride,
"We have fought such a fight for a day and a night
As may never be fought again!
We have won great glory, my men!
And a day less or more
At sea or ashore,
We die - does it matter when?
Sink me the ship, Master Gunner - sink her, split her in twain!
Fall into the hands of God, not into the hands of Spain!"

And the gunner said, "Ay, ay," but the seamen made reply:
"We have children, we have wives,
And the Lord hath spared our lives.
We will make the Spaniard promise, if we yield, to let us go;
We shall live to fight again, and to strike another blow."
And the lion there lay dying, and they yielded to the foe.

And the stately Spanish men to their flagship bore him then,
Where they laid him by the mast, old Sir Richard caught at last,
And they praised him to his face with their courtly foreign grace;
But he rose upon their decks, and he cried:
"I have fought for Queen and Faith like a valiant man and true;
I have only done my duty as a man is bound to do:
With a joyful spirit I Sir Richard Grenville die!"
And he fell upon their decks, and he died.

And they stared at the dead that had been so valiant and true,
And had holden the power and glory of Spain so cheap
That he dared her with one little ship and his English few;
Was he devil or man? He was devil for aught they knew,
But they sank his body with honour down into the deep,
And they mann'd the _Revenge_ with a swarthier alien crew,
And away she sail'd with her loss and long'd for her own;
When a wind from the lands they had ruin'd awoke from sleep,
And the water began to heave and the weather to moan,
And or ever that evening ended a great gale blew,
And a wave like the wave that is raised by an earthquake grew,
Till it smote on their hulls and their sails and their
masts and their flags,
And the whole sea plunged and fell on the shot-shatter'd
navy of Spain,
And the little _Revenge_ herself went down by the island crags
To be lost evermore in the main.

- _Alfred, Lord Tennyson_.






The Dutch Wars, which lasted off and on for fifty years (1623-1673),
were caused by rivalry in oversea trade. In the sixteenth century the
Dutch and English had joined forces against the Portuguese, who had
tried to keep them out of the East Indies altogether. But when once
the Portuguese were beaten the allies fell out among themselves, the
Dutch got the upper hand, and, in 1623, killed off the English traders
at Amboyna, one of the Moluccas. War did not come for many years. But
there was always some fighting in the Far South East; and Amboyna was
never forgotten.

The final step toward war was taken when the British Parliament passed
the famous Navigation Act of 1651. By this Act nothing could be
brought into England except in English ships or in ships belonging to
the country from which the goods came. As the Dutch were then doing
half the oversea freight work of Europe, and as they had also been
making the most of what oversea freighting England had lost during her
Civil War, the Act hit them very hard. But they did not want to fight.
They had troubles of their own at home. They also had a land frontier
to defend. And they wanted to keep their rich sea freight business
without having to fight for it. But the British were bent on war.
They remembered Amboyna. They did not see why the Dutch should keep
other shippers out of the East Indies. And it angered them to see the
Dutch grow rich on British trade taken away while the British were busy
with a war.

When things are in such a state the guns almost go off by themselves.
Captain Young, with three ships, met three Dutch men-of-war in the
Channel and fired at the first that refused to salute according to the
Custom of the Sea. Then the great British admiral, Blake, fired at the
great Dutch admiral, van Tromp, for the same reason. A hot fight
followed in each case; but without a victory for either side. At
Dungeness, however, van Tromp with eighty ships beat Blake with forty,
and swept the Channel throughout the winter of 1652-3. But in
February, when the fleets were about equal, the British got the better
of him in the Straits of Dover, after a running fight of three days.
Blake being wounded, Monk led the fleet to another victory in May. But
the dogged Dutch were not yet beaten; and it was not till the last of
July that the final battle came.

Monk made straight for the Dutch line at six in the morning. For nine
hours the fight went on, the two fleets manoeuvring with great skill
and fighting furiously every time they came together. Each time they
separated to manoeuvre again some ships were left behind, fighting,
disabled, or sinking. The British attacked with the utmost courage.
The Dutch never flinched. And so noon passed, and one, and two o'clock
as well. Van Tromp's flag still flew defiantly; but van Tromp himself
was dead. When the fleets first met he had been killed by a
musket-shot straight through his heart. When they first parted the
flag for a council of war was seen flying from his ship. The council
of Dutch admirals hurriedly met, decided to keep his flag aloft, so as
not to discourage their men, took orders from his second-in-command,
and met the British as bravely as before. But after nine hours
fighting their fleet broke up and left the field, bearing with it the
body of van Tromp, the lion of the Dutch, and by far the greatest
leader who had as yet withstood the British on the sea.

[Illustration: SAILING SHIP. The Pilgrim Fathers crossed in a similar
vessel (1620).]

This great battle off the coast of Holland made the Dutch give in.
They were divided among themselves; the merchants keeping up a republic
and a navy, but the nobles and inland people wishing for a king and
army to make the frontier safe. The British, though also divided among
themselves, had the advantages of living on an island, of having
settled what kind of government they would obey for the time being, and
of having at the head of this government the mighty Cromwell, one of
the greatest masters of the art of war the world has ever seen.

Cromwell understood warfare on the sea, though his own magnificent
victories had been won on land. He also understood the three things
Britain needed then to make and keep her great: first, that she should
be strong enough to make foreigners respect her; secondly, that her
oversea trade should be protected by a strong navy; and thirdly, that
she should begin to found a British Empire overseas, as foreigners
always tried to shut the British out of their own oversea dominions.

In 1654 a fleet and army were sent against the Spanish West Indies;
for, though there was no war with Spain in Europe, there never was any
peace with Spaniards overseas. Cromwell's orders, like those of Pitt a
hundred years later, were perfect models of what such orders ought to
be. He told the admiral and general exactly what the country wanted
them to do, gave them the means of doing it, and then left them free to
do it in whatever way seemed best on the spot. But the admiral and
general did not agree. King's men and Cromwell's men had to be mixed
together, as enough good Cromwellians could not be spared so far away
from home. The leaders tried to stand well with both sides by writing
to the King; and every other trouble was made ten times worse by this
divided loyalty. Jamaica was taken. But the rest was all disgraceful

A very different force sailed out the same year under glorious Blake,
who soon let Spaniards, Italians, and Barbary pirates know that he
would stand no nonsense if they interfered with British vessels in the
Mediterranean. The Italian princes were brought to book, as the
Spaniards had just been brought to book at Malaga. Then Blake swooped
down on the Moorish pirates' nest at Tunis, sinking every vessel,
silencing the forts, and forcing the pirates to let their Christian
slaves go free. After this the pirates of Algiers quickly came to
terms without waiting to be beaten first.

Meanwhile the frightened Spaniards had stopped the treasure fleet of
1655. But next year they were so short of money that they had to risk
it; though now there was open war in Europe as well as in New Spain.
Running for Cadiz, the first fleet of treasure ships fell into British
hands after very little fighting; and Londoners had the satisfaction of
cheering the thirty huge wagon-loads of gold and silver booty on its
way to safekeeping in the Tower.

All that winter Blake was cruising off the coast of Spain, keeping the
seaways open for friends and closed to enemies, thus getting a
strangle-hold under which the angry Spaniards went from bad to worse.
In the spring his hardy vigil met with its one reward; for he learnt
that the second treasure fleet was hiding at Santa Cruz de Teneriffe in
the Canary Islands, within a hundred miles of north-western Africa.
Teneriffe was strongly fortified, as it was a harbour of refuge between
Spain and her oversea possessions, both East and West. It was also
very strong by nature, being surrounded by mountains, subject to dead
calms and sudden storms, and lying snugly at the inner end of a big
deep bay. But Blake knew the brave Spaniards for the lubbers they have
always been at sea. So, on the 20th of April, 1657, he ran in with
wind and tide, giving the forts at the entrance more than they
bargained for as he dashed by. Next, ranging alongside, he sank, drove
ashore, or set on fire every single Spanish vessel in the place. Then
he went out with the tide, helped by the breeze which he knew would
spring up with the set of the sun.

This perfect feat of daring skill, though sometimes equalled by the
Navy, has never been surpassed; and when Blake died on his way home the
people mourned their sudden loss as they have never mourned except for
Nelson and for Drake.




The Dutch quickly took up the East India trade dropped by the beaten
Spaniards, started their general oversea freighting again, and were
soon as dangerous rivals as before. The Dutch at home were very much
afraid of war, because their land frontier was threatened by France,
while their seaways were threatened by England. But they could not
make the Dutch East India Company keep its promises; for oversea
companies in those days were mostly a law to themselves; and, in this
case, the Dutch at home, though afraid to say so, quite agreed with the
Dutch overseas in wishing to shut out the British from all the rich
trade with the East. The new British Government, under sly and selfish
Charles II, was eager to show that it would care as much for British
sea trade as great Cromwell had. So it did not take long to bring on a

The first battle was fought on the 3rd of June, 1665, and won by the
British, who broke through the Dutch line. The Dutch retreat, however,
was magnificently covered by van Tromp's son, Cornelius; and the Duke
of York (brother to Charles II and afterwards himself King James II)
flinched from pressing home a finishing attack. Next year Monk, a
really great commander, fought the famous Four Days Battle in the
Downs, (11-14 June 1666). He was at first weaker in numbers than de
Ruyter, the excellent Dutch admiral; but he skilfully struck one part
of the Dutch line very hard before the rest could support it. On the
second and third days the Dutch, do what they could, were quite unable
to crush him. Both sides had some bad ships and bad crews; but as the
Dutch had more of these than the British had they suffered the greater
loss by flinching.

On the fourth day Monk was helped by gallant Prince Rupert, cousin to
Charles II and by far the best of all the Stuarts. The Government of
Charles, afraid that Louis XIV would send the French to join the Dutch,
had just done one of those foolish things that are always done when
scared civilians try to manage fleets and armies for themselves. They
had sent Rupert off to guard against the French, thus risking a double
defeat, by weakening Monk in front of the Dutch and Rupert in front of
the French (who never came at all) instead of leaving the whole fleet
together, strong enough to fight either enemy before the two could
join. Rupert came in the nick of time; for, even with his fresh ships
to help Monk through this last and most desperate day, de Ruyter and
van Tromp were just enough stronger to win. But the fighting had been
so deadly to both sides that the Dutch were in no condition to go on.

Again there was some very bad behaviour on both sides, especially among
the court favourites. But Charles never thought of punishing these men
for deserting Monk, any more than he thought of honouring the memory of
Sir Christopher Myngs, Rupert's second-in-command, who fell, mortally
wounded, at the end of the fight, after having done all that skill and
courage could possibly do to turn the fortune of the day. Myngs was
one of those leaders whom men will follow anywhere; and in the diary of
Samuel Pepys, a good official at Navy headquarters in London, we may
see the shame of Charles shown up by the noble conduct of the twelve
picked British seamen who, after following Myngs to the grave, came
forward, with tears in their eyes, to ask this favour: "We are here a
dozen of us who have long served and honoured our dead commander, Sir
Christopher Myngs. All we have is our lives. But if you will give us
a fire-ship we will do that which shall show how we honour his memory
by avenging his death on the Dutch."

Even the King did his best for the fleet now, as he was afraid to meet
Parliament without a British victory. After immense exertions Monk and
Rupert met de Ruyter and van Tromp, with almost equal forces, on the
25th of July, at the mouth of the Thames, and closed in so fiercely
that there was hardly any manoeuvring on either side. Locked together
in a life-or-death struggle the two fleets fought all day long. Next
morning the British again closed in, and again the desperate fight
began. But several Dutch captains flinched this time; and so de
Ruyter, hoping the next shot would kill him, retired defeated at last.

The following year (1667) the Dutch came back and sank a British fleet
at Chatham; for Charles and his vile favourites were doing for the
British Navy what de Ruyter's flinching captains had been doing for the

The Peace of Breda ended this second Dutch war in disgrace. But the
Treaty of Dover, in 1670, brought on the third Dutch war with even
greater shame; for Charles now sold himself to Louis XIV, who thus
bought the Royal Navy for an attack on the Dutch, by which he and
Charles were to benefit at the expense of all the rest. The French and
British fleets, worked by the hidden hands of their two kings, grew
suspicious of each other and failed to win a victory. The Dutch fought
with the courage of despair and came through with the honours of war.
But, worn out by their efforts, and unable to defend themselves by both
land and sea, they soon lost their position as one of the Great Powers,
and have never won it back.


It may be said now to England, _Martha, Martha_, thou art busy about
many things, but one thing is necessary. To the Question, What shall
we do to be saved in this World? there is no other Answer but this,
Look to your Moat.

The first Article of an _Englishman's_ Political Creed must be, That he
believeth in the Sea. . . . We are in an Island, confined to it by God
Almighty, not as a Penalty but a Grace, and one of the greatest that
can be given to Mankind. Happy Confinement, that hath made us Free,
Rich, and Quiet.

_George Savile, Marquis of Halifax_, 1633-95.






In Chapter VI we saw how French and English once fought a Hundred Years
War to decide the French possession of all the land of France, and how
the French, having the greater army, won. Now, in these next seven
chapters we shall learn how they fought another Hundred Years War to
decide the command of the sea, and how the English, grown into a
British Empire and having the greater navy, won in their turn. Both
victories proved to be for the best. France and England both gained by
the first war; because the natural way for France to grow was all over
the land that is France now, while the natural way for England to grow
was not on the continent of Europe but in the British Isles. The
British Empire gained more than the French by the second war; but as
France could never have held an oversea Empire without a supreme navy,
and as she could never have a supreme navy while she had two land
frontiers to defend with great armies, she really lost nothing she then
could have kept. Besides, in the nineteenth century she won a great
empire in northern Africa, where her Mediterranean sea-power keeps it
safe. The British Empire, on the other hand, being based on world-wide
sea-power, is rightly placed as it is. So neither French nor British
are tempted to envy each other now; while their Hundred Years Peace,
followed by their glorious Alliance in the Great War, should make them
friends for ever.

The Franco-British wars which began in 1689 and ended on the field of
Waterloo in 1815 are not called the Second Hundred Years War in books.
But that is what they were in fact. The British Navy was the chief
cause of British victory all through, and, as French and British always
took opposite sides, we may also call the whole of these seven wars by
the one name of "The French War," just as we have called the other wars
against our chief opponents "The Spanish War" and "Dutch War"; and just
as we might call "The Great War" by the name of "The German War."

Two more points must be well understood, or else we shall miss the real
meaning of our imperial history and the supreme importance of the Royal

First, there have been four attempts made in modern times by Great
Powers on the continent of Europe to seize the overlordship of the
World; and each time the Royal Navy has been the central force that
foiled the attack upon the freedom of mankind. These four attempts
have been made about a century apart from one another. The Spanish
attempt was made at the end of the sixteenth century. The first French
attempt was made by Louis XIV at the end of the seventeenth. The
second French attempt was made by Napoleon at the beginning of the
nineteenth. The German attempt was made at the beginning of the
twentieth. Though alike in the ambitions of their makers, these
attempts were most unlike in the way the wars were carried on; for,
while the Spaniards and Germans were monsters of cruelty, the French
were foemen worthy of the noblest steel.

Secondly, as we shall see in Chapter XVI, the middle of this long
French War was marked by the marvellous growth of the British Empire
under the elder Pitt; a man whose like the world had never seen before
and may not see again; orator, statesman, founder of empire, champion
of freedom, and one of the very few civilians who have ever wielded the
united force of fleets and armies without weakening it by meddling with
the things that warriors alone can do.

Louis XIV liked to be called the Sun King (_Roi Soleil_) and Great
Monarch (_Grand Monarque_). His own France was easily the first Great
Power in Europe. She was rich and populous. The French army was the
most famous in the world. French became the language of diplomacy.
Whenever two nations speaking different languages wrote to each other
about affairs of state or made treaties they did so in French, as they
do still. But all this was not enough for Louis. He wanted to be a
conqueror in Europe and beyond the seas. His people did not need
oversea trade and empire in the same way as the Dutch and British, did
not desire it half so much, and were not nearly so well fitted for it
when they had it. France was a kingdom of the land. But, no matter,
Louis must make conquests wherever he could.

Hoping to get England under his thumb he befriended James II, the last
Stuart king, whom the English drove out in 1688. James, less bad but
less clever than his vile brother Charles, had a party called
Jacobites, who wanted French help to set him on the throne again, but
no French interference afterwards. Most of Great Britain favoured the
new king, William III; most of Ireland the old one, James. This
greatly endangered British sea-power; for the French fleet had been
growing very strong, and an enemy fleet based on Ireland would threaten
every harbour in Great Britain from Bristol to the Clyde. More than
this, a strong enough fleet could close the Channel between the south
of Ireland and the north of France. There would then be no way out of
Great Britain on to the Seven Seas except round the north of Scotland.
But an enemy fleet strong enough to shut off Great Britain from the
short cuts north and south of Ireland would certainly be strong enough
to command the roundabout way as well; for it would be close to its
base on the west coast of Ireland, while ships coming round by the
north of Scotland would be far from their own. Thus Ireland, then as
now, was the key to the sea-door of Great Britain. Luckily for Great
Britain then, and for our Empire and Allies throughout the Great War,
keys are no good unless you have the hand to turn them. And, then as
now, the strong right hand that holds the key of Ireland was and is the
Royal Navy.

In 1689 William III had at last succeeded in forming the Grand Alliance
against Louis XIV, who now had enemies all round him except in little

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Online LibraryWilliam Charles Henry WoodFlag and Fleet → online text (page 8 of 19)