Grenville's men were last. The Revenge had only 'her hundred fighters on deck and her ninety sick below' when the Spanish fleet closed round him. Yet, just as he had sworn to cut down the first man who touched a sail when the master thought there was still a chance to slip through, so now he refused to surrender on any terms at all. Then, running down close-hauled on the starboard tack, decks cleared for action and crew at battle quarters, he steered right between two divisions of the Spanish fleet till 'the mountain-like San Felipe, of fifteen hundred tons,' ranging up on his weather side, blanketed his canvas and left him almost becalmed. Immediately the vessels which the Revenge had weathered hauled their wind and came up on her from to-leeward. Then, at three o'clock in the afternoon of the 1st of September, 1591, that immortal fight began.
The first broadside from the Revenge took the San Felipe on the water-line and forced her to give way and stop her leaks. Then two Spaniards ranged up in her place, while two more kept station on the other side. And so the desperate fight went on all through that afternoon and evening and far on into the night. Meanwhile Howard, still keeping the weather gage, attacked the Spaniards from the rear and thought of trying to cut through them. But his sailing master swore it would be the end of all Her Majesty's ships engaged, as it probably would; so he bore away, wisely or not as critics may judge for themselves. One vessel, the little George Noble of London, a victualler, stood by the Revenge, offering help before the fight began. But Grenville, thanking her gallant skipper, ordered him to save his vessel by following Howard.
With never less than one enemy on each side of her, the Revenge fought furiously on. Boarders away! shouted the Spanish colonels as the vessels closed. Repel boarders! shouted Grenville in reply. And they did repel them, time and again, till the English pikes dripped red with Spanish blood. A few Spaniards gained the deck, only to be shot, stabbed, or slashed to death. Towards midnight Grenville was hit in the body by a musket-shot fired from the tops—the same sort of shot that killed Nelson. The surgeon was killed while dressing the wound, and Grenville was hit in the head. But still the fight went on. The Revenge had already sunk two Spaniards, a third sank afterwards, and a fourth was beached to save her. But Grenville would not hear of surrender. When day broke not ten unwounded Englishmen remained. The pikes were broken. The powder was spent. The whole deck was a wild entanglement of masts, spars, sails, and rigging. The undaunted survivors stood dumb as their silent cannon. But every Spanish hull in the whole encircling ring of death bore marks of the Revenge's rage. Four hundred Spaniards, by their own admission, had been killed, and quite six hundred wounded. One hundred Englishmen had thus accounted for a thousand Spaniards besides all those that sank!
Grenville now gave his last order: 'Sink me the ship, Master-Gunner!' But the sailing master and flag-captain, both wounded, protesting that all lives should be saved to avenge the dead, manned the only remaining boat and made good terms with the Spanish admiral. Then Grenville was taken very carefully aboard Don Bazan's flagship, where he was received with every possible mark of admiration and respect. Don Bazan gave him his own cabin. The staff surgeon dressed his many wounds. The Spanish captains and military officers stood hat in hand, 'wondering at his courage and stout heart, for that he showed not any signs of faintness nor changing of his colour.' Grenville spoke Spanish very well and handsomely acknowledged the compliments they paid him. Then, gathering his ebbing strength for one last effort, he addressed them in words they have religiously recorded: ' "Here die I, Richard Grenville, with a joyful and quiet mind; for that I have ended my life as a true soldier ought to do, that hath fought for his country, queen, religion, and honour. Wherefore my soul most joyfully de-parteth out of this body." . . . And when he had said these and other suchlike words he gave up the ghost with a great and stout courage.'
Grenville's latest wish was that the Revenge and he should die together; and, though he knew it not, he had this wish fulfilled. For, two weeks later, when Don Bazan had collected nearly a hundred more sail around him for the last stage home from the West Indies, a cyclone such as no living man remembered burst full on the crowded fleet. Not even the Great Armada lost more vessels than Don Bazan did in that wreck-engulfing week. No less than seventy went down. And with them sank the shattered Revenge, beside her own heroic dead.
Drake might be out of favor at court. The Queen might grumble at the sad extravagance of fleets. Diplomats might talk of untying Gordian knots that the sword was made to cut. Courtiers and politicians might wonder with which side to curry favor when it was an issue between two parties—peace or war. The great mass of ordinary landsmen might wonder why the 'sea-affair' was a thing they could not understand. But all this was only the mint and cummin of imperial things compared with the exalting deeds that Drake had done. For, once the English sea-dogs had shown the way to all America by breaking down the barriers of Spain, England had ceased to be merely an island in a northern sea and had become the mother country of such an empire and republic as neither record nor tradition can show the like of elsewhere.
And England felt the triumph. She thrilled with pregnant joy. Poet and proseman both gave voice to her delight. Hear this new note of exultation born of England's victory on the sea:
As God hath combined the sea and land into one globe, so their mutual assistance is necessary to secular happiness and glory. The sea covereth one-half of this patrimony of man. Thus should man at once lose the half of his inheritance if the art of navigation did not enable him to manage this untamed beast; and with the bridle of the winds and the saddle of his shipping make him serviceable. Now for the services of the sea, they are innumerable: it is the great purveyor of the world's commodities; the conveyor of the excess of rivers; uniter, by traffique, of all nations; it presents the eye with divers colors and motions, and is, as it were with rich brooches, adorned with many islands. It is an open field for merchandise in peace; a pitched field for the most dreadful fights in war; yields diversity of fish and fowl for diet, material for wealth; medicine for sickness; pearls and jewels for adornment; the wonders of the Lord in the deep for all instruction; multiplicity of nature for contemplation; to the thirsty Earth fertile moisture; to distant friends pleasant meeting; to weary persons delightful refreshing; to studious minds a map of knowledge, a school of prayer, meditation, devotion, and sobriety; refuge to the distressed, portage to the merchant, customs to the prince, passage to the traveller; springs, lakes, and rivers to the Earth. It hath tempests and calms to chastise sinners and exercise the faith of seamen; manifold affections to stupefy the subtlest philosopher, maintaineth (as in Our Island) a wall of defence and watery garrison to guard the state. It entertains the Sun with vapors, the Stars with a natural looking-glass, the sky with clouds, the air with temperateness, the soil with suppleness, the rivers with tides, the hills with moisture, the valleys with fertility. But why should I longer detain you? The Sea yields action to the body, meditation to the mind, and the World to the World, by this art of arts — Navigation.
Well might this pious Englishman, the Reverend Samuel Purchas, exclaim with David: Thy ways are in the Sea, and Thy paths in the great waters, and Thy footsteps are not known.
The poets sang of Drake and England, too. Could his 'Encompassment of All the Worlde' be more happily admired than in these four short lines:
The Stars of Heaven would thee proclaim.
If men here silent were. The Sun himself could not forget.
His fellow traveller.
What wonder that after Nombre de Dios and the Pacific, the West Indies and the Spanish Main, Cadiz and the Armada, what wonder, after this, that Shakespeare, English to the core, rings out:—
This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise;
This fortress built by nature for herself.
Against infection and the hand of war;
This happy breed of men, this little world;
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happy lands:
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.
This England never did, nor never shall,
Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror,
But when it first did help to wound itself.
Now these her princes are come home again,
Come the three corners of the world in arms.
And we shall shock them. Nought shall make us rue,
If England to herself do rest but true.