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The Revenge Home
 The Battle
The Most Arrogant Man
The Revenge
A Waiting Game
Approach to Contact"Advancing with arogancia"
"So Full of Blood and Courage"
"Like a Logge on the Seas"
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Sir Richard Grenville and the Last Fight of the Revenge, 1591 - by John Barratt

Just after 5pm on August 30th 1591, off the island of Flores in the Azores, the opening shots were fired in one of the epic “last stands” of military history. The ferocious twelve -hour battle between Queen Elizabeth Ist’s finest warship, Revenge, captained by Sir Richard Grenville, and a massive Spanish fleet including King Phillip’s latest and most powerful warships, immediately aroused a controversy which has echoed down the centuries. Were Sir Richard’s ship and crew victims of a gross blunder or a suicidal and insane bid for glory by Grenville, or was the true story of the last fight of the Revenge rather different?

The Most Arrogant Man in the World
Despite his fame, Grenville is in some respects an enigmatic character, with large gaps in our knowledge of his life and activities. He was born in about 1542, three years before his father, Roger, died as captain of the ill-fated Mary Rose. Grenville gained early military experience fighting in Hungary against the Turks, and possibly in Ireland, but for almost twenty years afterwards he seems to have followed the life of a West Country gentleman. During this time, involved in enforcing government legislation, he was noted for his severity against English Catholics.

The Revenge
His flagship, Revenge, was seen by Spanish contemporaries as “one of the finest galleons in the world.” Built in 1577 by the leading English shipwright Matthew Baker of Deptford, Revenge had a long record of service in Ireland, the West Indies, and as Drake’s flagship during the Armada campaign, when she had been in the thick of the action. She had been one of the first of the new “race-built” galleons to be added to the English fleet. These were long, lean vessels, averaging around 500 tons, the high poop decks which had been a feature of older galleons replaced by a lower series of decks stepped down into the waist of the ship and with a much lower forecastle than had hitherto been usual.

A Waiting Game
When Howard’s squadron set sail for the Azores early in May 1591, the other principal ships were the flagship Defiance, a Queen’s ship similar to Revenge, the 600 ton warship Bonaventure and two or three smaller auxillaries. Over twenty more ships of all types were added at Plymouth, and the squadron set off on its stormy voyage to the Azores. Only one prize was taken , and, whilst off Cape St Vincent, news reached the English squadron that over £1/2 million of bullion from the New World had already been safely conveyed to Spain aboard a flotilla of fast frigates. This was a serious blow to Howard and Grenville, but the main treasure flotta had yet to arrive. It might still be expected to carry a vast amount of booty which would more than recover the costs of the expedition. Unknown to the English squadron, waiting restlessly off the Azores, the flotta left Havana on July 17th, but unloaded most of its bullion before sailing. Battered and scattered by storms, its leading elements would not reach the Azores before September.

Approach to Contact
Delayed by contrary winds, it was not until August 4th that the Spaniards got to sea. Their orders were to sail to the Azores to deal with the English squadron and then to escort the Indies flotta home. On August 20th the Azores island of Terceria came in sight.  There is little surviving information on the activities of the English squadron since its arrival in the Azores in mid-May. Although the islands were raided for provisions and any passing merchant ships seized, by August English supplies were running low and the crews considerably depleted by sickness. By the end of the month perhaps half of them were out of action. Among them were 90 of the crew of Revenge. Aware that the autumnal storms were approaching and time running short, Lord Thomas Howard decided to shift his operations to the southern tip of Spain. He gathered off Flores the 14-22 ships currently with the squadron, and after landing the sick to benefit from better conditions ashore, he set to work watering his ships and cleaning out their bilges, an operation which rendered them dangerously vulnerable to attack.

Advancing with Arogancia
But if, thanks to Bazan’s slow approach, the bulk of his prey had eluded him, Revenge was not so fortunate. Grenville, accompanied at first by two or three smaller ships, was about two nautical miles behind the rest of Howard’s squadron as the gap closed. He had two choices. One was to turn tail and run to the west between the rear of Bazan’s fleet and island of Flores. Contrary to what is sometimes suggested, this would have reflected no dishonour upon Grenville, but would have been seen as perfectly acceptable. The contemporary naval authority Sir William Monson judged that a “fortunate commander knew how in perill to escape, in place to pursue, in necessity to stand fast, in doubt to be quickly and prudently resolved.” The Revenge’s Master, the most experienced seaman aboard, evidently assumed that Grenville would do this, and ordered the mainsail to be set in readiness.

"So Full of Blood and Courage"
As darkness fell, Revenge was still holding her own, and the English sailors, their losses so far light, sang their customary evening psalm, their plainchant answered by repeated blasts from the Spanish trumpeters.  A brief pause, during which Grenville’s men snatched a hasty meal, was ended by a renewed assault, when Don Marcos de Aramburu’s San Cristobel joined the fight, ramming the stern of Revenge. As Spanish boarders swarmed aboard the English ship, desperate fighting followed, with Grenville in the thick of it. The increasing weight of Spanish numbers gradually forced the English back towards the waist of the ship. Several of Grenville’s men were killed and others badly wounded, including Sir Richard himself, who received a musket ball in the body.

"Like a Logge on the Seas"
As dawn broke, an uneasy quiet had fallen. Surrounded by enemy ships, Revenge lay "like a logge on the sees". Her masts and superstructure largely destroyed, "and in effect, evened as she was with the water, but the very foundation or bottom of a ship, nothing being left overhead either for flight or defence."  As daylight grew, the survivors of Revenge’s crew, perhaps 80-100 of whom remained able to fight, surveyed their desperate situation. Grenville, barely able to stand, remained defiant. Calling his men together, he "persuaded them, because they had like valiant, resolute men, repulsed so many enemies, they should not now shorten the honour of their nation by prolonging their lives for a few hours or a few days." Saying that the Spaniards "should never glory to have taken one ship of Her Majesty" Grenville ordered his Master Gunner to blow up Revenge. Many of the crew, caught up in the heat of the moment, agreed, but Captain Langhorn and the Master argued that it was their “duty to live to fight again and strike another blow.” The Spaniards, they said, would agree to reasonable terms, and Revenge was too seriously damaged to stay afloat for long.

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