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"So Full of Blood and Courage"
by John Barratt

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.

Triumphant Spaniards tore the ensign from Revenge’s poop deck, and drove on across the main deck. But Grenville had drawn them into a trap. Suddenly he ordered the men surrounding him to throw themselves flat on the deck, as a devastating volley from Captain Langhorn’s soldiers in the forecastle tore through the mass of boarders. The reeling Spaniards were hurled back by Grenville’s counterattack, and fell back aboard San Cristobel, herself heavily damaged by fire from Revenge’s two stern-mounted culverins. Aramburu drew off, signalling with lanterns for assistance for his stricken ship.

Revenge had won another round, but losses among her crew had been heavy. The Master had "at least ten or twelve wounds, as well in his head as in his body". Spanish losses were also severe; aboard San Barnabe, which was still engaged in the firefight, "there [were] few who were not burned by fire or wounded, either a little or a lot, and others dead."

Aboard Revenge, the crew "prayed unto the Lorde to blesse us… and so we forgave one another and went to the battle. " But the fire from San Barnabe was steadily picking off the Englishmen. Grenville was among the casualties. He had refused to go below to have his musket wound treated, and the surgeon coming to treat him was killed by a musket volley, which also inflicted on Grenville a serious head wound , though he remained on deck, urging on his men.

San Barnabe was now joined by the Castillian warship Asuncion, "one of the King’s old galleons", commanded by Don Antonio de Manirique. Asuncion steered into a gap between the bows of Revenge and San Barnabe, a point generally regarded as the best place to board an enemy ship. As grappling irons took hold, Asuncion’s soldiers, led by Pedro de Pliego, began boarding, but came under heavy fire from the defenders of Revenge’s forecastle. A counter-charge drove the Spaniards back to Asuncion, but the respite was brief, as other Spanish ships coming up prepared to use Asuncion as a boarding bridge to reach Revenge. Next in line was the small flyboat La Serena, which arrived with such haste that she rammed and holed Asuncion, before attaching herself to Revenge’s bows and sending her own boarders into action. Once again they were hurled back by fire from the English forecastle, but there were now three Spanish ships attached to Revenge, and the helpless mass of vessels drifted slowly through the night as fighting continued into the early hours.

Interspersed with brief lulls in the action, waves of Spaniards continued their efforts to overwhelm Revenge "by the multitudes of their armed soldiers and musketeers, but were still repulsed again and again, and at all times beaten back into their own ships, or into the sea." No record survives of how many boarding attempts were made, some over Revenge’s bows and others perhaps by parties from small boats attempting to scale her sides, but all were flung back. On board Revenge, damage and casualties steadily mounted. Her decks were strewn with the dead and wounded of both sides, whilst her three masts were brought down by enemy fire. The poop and quarter decks were destroyed, and the defenders mustered on the main deck and forecastle. Grenville, blood running down his face, remained on deck, repeatedly calling out: "Fight on! Fight on! No surrender!" Their opponents admitted that the crew of Revenge were "the most valiantest people that was possible to meet withal in combat."

The Spanish ships continued to suffer damage, both from "friendly" fire and that of two guns mounted in the bows of Revenge. The already stricken Asuncion was further hit, and at some point in the early hours sank quite suddenly, with the loss of 100 of her crew. She was followed later by the damaged La Serena.

Although Sir Walter Raleigh would later claim that Revenge had been attacked by 15 enemy ships, it is clear that only five of Bazan’s fleet actually came alongside, the remainder forming a ring around the combatants, and possibly feeding in more troops for the boarding attempts.
Copyright 2001 by John Barratt.
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