In 1588, Sir Francis Drake made the The Revenge his flagship. The story is about its last battle and you will hear it told in a somewhat stirring poem
At Flores in the Azores Sir Richard Grenville lay,
First a little scene setting.
When Elizabeth I was Queen of England, her country was at war with Spain. This was a maritime war – that means it was fought at sea by their navies. Both countries built ships made of wood. The Spanish ships were very much bigger than the English ships. As you will learn from this story, BIG is NOT always BEST.
It was such an amazing battle that the famous English Poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson, wrote a poem called “The Revenge: Ballad of the Fleet” about it. Tennyson wrote the poem almost 300 years after the battle actually took place and it is important to remember that it is told from the English perspective, and in parts it’s not very polite about the Spanish…..
One day, in the year 1591, Admiral Lord Thomas Howard and Sir Richard Grenville were on an island called Flores, which is part of an a group of islands called the Archipelago of Azores . (These islands belong to Portugal.) A message was brought to these two men that a huge fleet of Spanish ships was seen heading towards the islands. The response of the two men was very different. Being an Admiral, Lord Howard was the commander of a number of ships – in fact – he had six ships under his command, one of which was The Revenge, which Sir Richard Grenville commanded as Captain. Six ships, when compared to Spain’s 53 very much bigger ships, was no contest that Lord Howard was willing to take on, and so he commanded that they get moving and leave the island as quickly as possible.
This is how the poem Called the Revenge begins. A pinnace, by the way, is a small ship.
And a pinnace, like a fluttered bird, came flying from far away:
“Spanish ships of war at sea! we have sighted fifty-three!”
Then sware Lord Thomas Howard: “‘Fore God I am no coward;
But I cannot meet them here, for my ships are out of gear,
And the half my men are sick. I must fly, but follow quick.
We are six ships of the line; can we fight with fifty-three?”
So that’s how the poem sets up the battle. I’ll just pause to explain a few things.
Sir Richard Grenville saw things in a different way from the Admiral, and decided not to flee with Thomas, but to fight. His crew were sick, and he thought that the Spanish Armada, which is what the Spanish navy was known as, would quickly overtake the ships and destroy them all, and so he had different tactic in mind. Instead of fleeing with the other five ships, Sir Richard Grenville decided to steer the Revenge straight towards the mighty Spanish Armada, and, perhaps he thought that while they had no chance of defeating the Armada, they could at least slow down their progress and give the other ships a chance to get away.
Then spake Sir Richard Grenville: “I know you are no coward;
You fly them for a moment to fight with them again.
But I’ve ninety men and more that are lying sick ashore.
I should count myself the coward if I left them, my Lord Howard,
To these Inquisition dogs and the devildoms of Spain.”
Nearly half his crew were lying sick and dying, on the island – at least ninety sailors, leaving him with just a hundred crew to sail the big sailing ship and to fight against the Spaniards, but he took all the sick men onto the The Revenge and laid them in the cabins below deck. They were grateful to Sir Richard for not leaving them to be taken prisoner by the Spaniards when they reached the island.
So Lord Howard passed away with five ships of war that day,
Till he melted like a cloud in the silent summer heaven;
But Sir Richard bore in hand all his sick men from the land
Very carefully and slow,
Men of Bideford in Devon,
And we laid them on the ballast down below;
For we brought them all aboard,
And they blest him in their pain, that they were not left to Spain,
To the thumbscrew and the stake, for the glory of the Lord.
So they set sail straight towards those huge Spanish Galleons or giant ships that towered above the Revenge like skyscrapers. There were two rows of Galleons – one to the left and one to the right and Sir Richard directed the Revenge right down the corridor between them. Well, you can imagine the Spanish sailors and soldiers surprise when they saw the little ship in their midst.
He had only a hundred seamen to work the ship and to fight,
And he sailed away from Flores till the Spaniard came in sight,
With his huge sea-castles heaving upon the weather bow.
“Shall we fight or shall we fly?
Good Sir Richard, tell us now,
For to fight is but to die!
There’ll be little of us left by the time this sun be set.”
And Sir Richard said again: “We be all good English men.
Let us bang these dogs of Seville, the children of the devil,
For I never turned my back upon Don or devil yet.”
Sir Richard spoke and he laughed, and we roared a hurrah, and so
The little Revenge ran on sheer into the heart of the foe,
With her hundred fighters on deck, and her ninety sick below;
For half of their fleet to the right and half to the left were seen,
And the little Revenge ran on through the long sea-lane between.
They, the great Spanish Armada, had FIFTY-THREE huge ships and the English, the English, ONLY ONE measly little boat. They had Hundreds of cannons and thousands of soldiers; the English, well they had about a hundred men on board and few cannons. What chance did they have against the MIGHTY SPANISH? The situation seemed so ridiculous that the Spanish started to laugh and mock the puny little craft. I think they didn’t know if they should feel sorry for the English – Had they lost their minds? – or be insulted by their sheer audacity.
Thousands of their soldiers looked down from their decks and laughed,
Thousands of their seamen made mock at the mad little craft
Running on and on, till delayed
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 stayed.
The Revenge kept going, on and on right down the long avenue that lay between the Spanish Galleons, that is, until it came under the shadow of the Armada’s biggest ship – the San Philip. It was so huge that the wind that propelled the Revenge, was blocked and the Revenge came to a sudden halt right there.
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.
There the battle began and the first cannon balls flew from Spanish ships to the Revenge and from the Revenge to the Spanish ships. Some of the Spanish ships moved away, not bothering to even fight. Hard as the Spanish came against Sir Richard’s men, they gave it back to them.
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 shattered, 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!”
Though 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 dressed 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 feared that we still could sting,
So they watched 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 maimed 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 manned the Revenge with a swarthier alien crew,
And away she sailed with her loss and longed for her own;
When a wind from the lands they had ruined 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-shattered navy of Spain,
And the little Revenge herself went down by the island crags
To be lost evermore in the main.
This is a masterful achievement
of an epic poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson
known as a literary Ballad, containing
iambic trochee meter, ( stresses
from long to shot with a characteristic forward
echoing half rhymes
that drive the action through the verse lines
Its interesting rhyme scheme
of alternating rhyming verse ends
and rhyming couplets as well as
eight verse length stanza’s known
as Octaves also part of its formation
and make it highly complex.
Following the story of the English
fleet and the defeat of the Spanish Armada
with little resources. And the character voice
within the narrative verse of Sir Richard Granville
excellently read by Richard make it a highly gripping drama.
I didn’t like it
i supposed, the ship was sunk.
could be much better.
anyway., it was very nice to hear it
Dario Peru —
March 8, 2011
March 8, 2011
I hate it
March 9, 2011
I mean ate it sorry
March 9, 2011
elmo better than this story it sucks and its to long
March 9, 2011
This is such an exciting story. To think that it happened 420 yeqrs ago, when the world was so different, yet people were much the same. Sir Richard was brave and loyal. Lord Thomas Howard was cautious and sensible. The Spaniards were proud and yet admired Sir Richard for his courage. The sailors in the crew thought of their families at home, yet bravely obeyed orders.
Technology was very different. No radio, mobiles or modern weapons. Messages had to be carried by small fast ships, and fighting had to be at close quarters.
I think the story is well told, but it would have been better if the story and the poem had been printed in different fonts, so readers could tell more easily where the poem started and the description stopped.
Well done, Storynory!
March 9, 2011
Dear Ruth, many thanks for your interesting comments. I followed your excellent suggestion and now have put the notes in italics.
Wonderful!it’s sad and thick and how sir Richard died oh and the poem it gets tears in my eyes.people are werid to hate it .it’s a good story because the ship did’t sink at the end anyways I love it
March 11, 2011
Dear Fatima, I’m glad you like it. I think just the first couple of people to comment said that they “hate it” and that usually gets the response off to a slow start. The poems are a bit harder to understand than the stories, and never quite as popular with everyone, but the people who like them really like them at lot… so it’s all a balance.
What I’d really like to know is how people like the way we’ve woven in some explanation into the verse….
I like it, it was interesting and it is a really brave story. …. poor sir Richard
March 12, 2011
Thanks Nina. I’m glad you like it. It is a story of great courage. I think perhaps those who don’t like it find the vocabulary hard to understand as per the comment below (for which thanks too). We have a lot of visitors who don’t have English as a first language.
March 12, 2011 at 12:08 pm
i love cricket bertie i think u know me i am a pakistani cricket international player by the way in world cup which team is ur fave plese chose pakistan pray for us to bring the cup to pakistan
March 14, 2011
Its a bit long CURSE YOU POET
March 15, 2011
Great I loved it!
March 19, 2011
very nice story
March 19, 2011
I Didn’t Like It Because it was scarry.
March 22, 2011
this book is amazing really really amazing!!!
March 22, 2011
ummmm i am Spanish and my family didn’t really like it when they said that the children of the Devil can you make stories that can like make everyone happy? But anyways it is still a good story except for the part about the devils and how bad Spanish people are…?
April 4, 2011
But I didn’t really like it when the Spanish starts to mock the English people.
April 4, 2011
Dear Gabby, I wouldn’t worry about insults, it’s the cannon balls that hurt most ! the poem is pretty rude back to the Spanish. I’m glad you like it though. It’s an unusual and exciting poem.
I learned about this in history at Neuse Charter School…My LA teacher sent me here to help me with my reading…If the ship had sunk it might be a little bit better but alllll welllll……………..
November 2, 2011
This poem is called a epic, a long poem about a hero…….. No never mind it is a narrative poem!A poem tht tells a story!
December 7, 2011
I love this story
January 26, 2012
March 16, 2012
Nice story. I really like it.
September 13, 2012
December 14, 2012
such a informative epic it is! i like litrature and i get to know many informative thing while listing i want u to bring in ur web one of the best story of rose and the nightangel by oscar wild i like to read it many times but if u wil uplod it then i wil be realy gratful to u thx
Hard to understand did not realy understand what it was about.
March 19, 2013
i hate this
May 27, 2013
Oh, how I loved this poem! It is so amazing how the poet could tell the whole story in verse. I am really grateful that you guys put in the explanations because as much as I like to think that I could understand it all, I couldn’t have drawn out the full story without your helpful explanations. 🙂 You guys are so great to have stories and poems! My younger cousins couldn’t sit through it all, but almost the ones my age loved it! Thank you guys so much!
July 14, 2013
Natasha is sooo much better than you. you are sooo boring 🙁
Roka and Reso —
October 19, 2013
Dear Roma and Reso perhaps you are a little unfair on richard here… I think perhaps the poem is a little old fashioned and difficult but fun if younger into it. Richards reading is surely really good!
oh its a wonderful explanation and recitation. i really enjoyed a lot. thanks
December 3, 2013
September 30, 2014
Realli good! COOL!!!
October 21, 2014
Love it hate it you hav to read it!
Arianna and leah —
November 17, 2014
If you don’t want to say it then I want you to pay it!
Arianna and Lexie —
November 17, 2014
THIS ISN’T EVEN A POEM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! THIS IS A BAD STORY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IT DOESN’T EVEN RHYME THAT MUCH FOR THE REVENGE POEM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!