The next year, 1589, is famous for the unsuc-cessful Lisbon Expedition. Drake had the usual troubles with Elizabeth, who wanted him to go about picking leaves and breaking branches before laying the axe to the root of the tree. Though there were in the Narrow Seas defensive squadrons strong enough to ward off any possible blow, yet the nervous landsmen wanted Corunna and other ports attacked and their shipping destroyed, for fear England should be invaded before Drake could strike his blow at Lisbon. Then there were troubles about stores and ammunition. The English fleet had been reduced to the last pound of powder twice during the ten-days' battle with the Armada. Yet Elizabeth was again alarmed at the expense of munitions. She never quite rose to the idea of one supreme and finishing blow, no matter what the cost might be.
This was a joint expedition, the first in which a really modern English fleet and army had ever taken part, with Sir John Norreys in command of the army. There was no trouble about recruits, for all men of spirit flocked in to follow Drake and Norreys. The fleet was perfectly organized into appropriate squadrons and flotillas, such as then corresponded with the battleships, cruisers, and mosquito craft of modern navies. The army was organized into battalions and brigades, with a regular staff and all the proper branches of the service.
The fleet made for Corunna, where Norreys won a brilliant victory. A curious little incident of exact punctilio is worth recording. After the battle, and when the fleet was waiting for a fair wind to get out of the harbor, the ships were much annoyed by a battery on the heights. " Norreys undertook to storm the works and sent in the usual summons by a parlementaire accompanied by a drummer. An angry Spaniard fired from the walls and the drummer fell dead. The English had hostages on whom to take reprisals. But the Spaniards were too quick for them. Within ten minutes the guilty man was tried inside the fort by drum-head court-martial, condemned to death, and swung out neatly from the walls, while a polite Spanish officer came over to assure the English troops that such a breach of discipline should not occur again.
Lisbon was a failure. The troops landed and marched over the ground north of Lisbon where Wellington in a later day made works whose fame has caused their memory to become an allusion in English literature for any impregnable base — the Lines of Torres Vedras. The fleet and the army now lost touch with each other; and that was the ruin of them all. Norreys was persuaded by Don Antonio, pretender to the throne of Portugal which Philip had seized, to march farther inland, where Portuguese patriots were said to be ready to rise en masse. This Antonio was a great talker and a first-rate fighter with his tongue. But his Portuguese followers, also great talkers, wanted to see a victory won by arms before they rose.
Before leaving Lisbon Drake had one stroke of good luck. A Spanish convoy brought in a Han-seatic Dutch and German fleet of merchantmen loaded down with contraband of war destined for Philip's new Armada. Drake swooped on it immediately and took sixty well-found ships. Then he went west to the Azores, looking for what he called 'some comfortable little dew of Heaven,' that is, of course, more prizes of a richer kind. But sickness broke out. The men died off like flies. Storms completed the discomfiture. And the expedition got home with a great deal less than half its strength in men and not enough in value to pay for its expenses. It was held to have failed; and Drake lost favor.
With the sun of Drake's glory in eclipse at court and with Spain and England resting from warfare on the grander scale, there were no more big battles the following year. But the year after that, 1591, is rendered famous in the annals of the sea by Sir Richard Grenville's fight in Drake's old flagship, the Revenge. This is the immortal battle of 'the one and the fifty-three' from which Raleigh's prose and Tennyson's verse have made a glory of the pen fit to match the glory of the sword.
Grenville had sat, with Drake and Sir Philip Sidney, on the Parliamentary committee which recommended the royal charter granted to Sir Walter Raleigh for the founding of the first English colony in what is now the United States. Grenville's grandfather, Marshal of Calais to Henry VIII, had the faculty of rhyme, and, in a set of verses very popular in their own day, showed what the Grenville family ambitions were.
Who seeks the way to win renown, Or flies with wings to high desire, Who seeks to wear the laurel crown, Or hath the mind that would aspire — Let him his native soil eschew, Let him go range and seek a new.
Grenville himself was a wild and roving blade, no great commander, but an adventurer of the most daring kind by land or sea. He rather enjoyed the consternation he caused by aping the airs of a pirate king. He had a rough way with him at all times; and Ralph Lane was much set against his being the commander of the 'Virginia Voyage' of which Lane himself was the governor on land. But in action he always was, beyond a doubt, the very beau ideal of a 'first-class fighting man.' A striking instance of his methods was afforded on his return from Virginia, when he found an armed Spanish treasure ship ahead of him at sea. He had no boat to board her with. But he knocked some sort of one together out of the ship's chests and sprang up the Spaniard's side with his boarding party just as this makeshift boat was sinking under them.
The last fight of the Revenge is almost incredible from the odds engaged — fifty-three vessels to one. But it is true; and neither Raleigh's glowing prose nor Tennyson's glowing verse exaggerates it. Lord Thomas Howard, "almost famished for want of prey,' had been cruising in search of treasure ships when Captain Middleton, one of the gentlemen-adventurers who followed the gallant Earl of Cumberland, came in to warn him that Don Alonzo de Bazan was following with fifty-three sail. The English crews were partly ashore at the Azores; and Howard had barely time to bring them off, cut his cables, and work to windward of the overwhelming Spaniards.