Linkin and I were private when we spake of my lady Moll’s troubles. He gave other newes at our Field.
He sayt our ships that will go against Spain left the Thames and came along our coast, slowed only by ill winds. Along the way they took on soldiers. All good men, not rogues and vagabonds.
Our Dutch friends who helped us in our victory at Cadiz have brought their ships to join us.
“And,” sayt Linkin, “Siffrans Fear [Sir Francis Vere] came with one thousand or more of his soldiers from the Low Countries, where they aid the Dutch against the Spanish. But here’s scandal for you.”
We pricked our ears.
“Essicks and Siffrans once were friends. And though Essicks strives to keep all sweet, there’s a coolness come betwixt them.
“Essicks commands this expedition. Below him, Lord Thoms Howit and Sir Water Rawly have command at sea.
“Siffrans Fear thought to command on land, as he did at Cadiz. But no. Lord Mountjoy has that honour, though he knows scarce more of war than what he’s read in books.
“Essicks sayt ’twas not his choice, but Her Majestie’s. And he made Siffrans a Marshall, and told him that’s a better place than Mountjoy has.
“Siffrans was not appeased. He sayt that Queen Puss would not force Essicks to do owt that was not of his choosing.
“But who thinks Queen Puss does all that Essicks wills?” arrkst Linkin, rhetorickal. “Not I, though I wish she would.”
“Who is this Mount Joy?” came a call.
“A friend to our Earl,” sayt I. “And to Essicks.”
My saucie niece whispered, “Say rather, who is Joy? His horse or Her Majestie?”
Linkin heared her. He sayt, “Neither. Better that Mountjoy were named Mount Penny. She’s own sister to Essicks.”
The lady Penelope is also a friend to my lord. Linkin grows too bold in his slanders.
I sayt, “Queen Puss likes Lord Mountjoy. Who knows if Essicks spake true when he sayt the choice was hers? But small wonder Siffrans Fear is offended. Who would not be?”
Our kitchen cat arrkst, “When shall they quarrel with the Spanish rather than each other? And our Earl prove his valour?”
“When all are readie at Plymouth,” sayt Linkin. “But the winds are contrary.”
Many looked for Nero then. Linkin hears the town talk, but ’tis Nero who knows of the sea.
He was not among us. None could nose him. We was mazed.
Then Linkin sayt that Nero, ill-humoured when last we met, had kept away to spite us.
My niece feared he’d made away with hisself. “He may have drank poison,” sayt she. “Or leapt from a most high place and not arranged hisself upon the air to make safe landing. Perchance he fell upon a sword.”
“Self-murder is forbid us by the Queen Cat of Heaven,” sayt I.
“True,” called an old cat. “But when we know our days are done we may refuse all meat and drink, and so haste our end.”
Our kitchen cat sayt, “Perchance our black and melancolick friend has died for grief.”
(She has heared too many woeful ballads.)
I sayt, “Cats have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them. But not for grief.”
But now I’m troubled, too. And I pray there are no winds so contrary that they trouble my lord’s ship Garland.
Gib probably wrote this in June/July 1597, around the same time as the fleet finally left Plymouth. The historian Paul E. J. Hammer describes it as “…the best prepared Elizabethan expeditionary force – even better than that of 1596…”
Their first action was to be the destruction of the Spanish fleet preparing at the port of Ferrol for yet another attempt on England.
The force consisted of 17 of Queen Elizabeth’s ships (including two Spanish galleons, captured the previous year at Cadiz) plus armed merchantmen, transport and supply ships, and the Dutch squadron of around 24 ships. Probably 120 to 170 ships in all.
The English ships were divided into three squadrons, one commanded by the Earl of Essex, one by Lord Thomas Howard (Vice Admiral), and one by Sir Walter Ralegh (Rear Admiral).
The transports carried around 5,000-6,000 soldiers. England had no standing army that could be sent abroad, but relied on professionals who’d served overseas, volunteers, and “rogues and vagabonds” scooped off the streets. Essex had no use for the last group.
He’d therefore put in place a system that drew on and developed the structure of the local militias to provide territorial forces. The militias’ role had been to defend their counties if the need arose. How did the men from along the south coast feel about being taken when harvest time was approaching? Reactions were probably mixed. The London levies might have been happy; Londoners loved Essex.
While Queen Elizabeth had been loathe to approve much overseas service for Lord Mountjoy, he was not as inexperienced as Linkin suggests.
There was also Sir Francis Vere (grimly resolved to do his duty) with his veterans from the Netherlands, and the gentlemen “voluntaries” who equipped themselves and went for adventure, loot, and even a knighthood.
At Cadiz the Lord Admiral and the Earl of Essex had knighted about 60 men, and “Cadiz knights” became something of a joke. One man remarked that some had done no more than march into Cadiz’ marketplace on a hot day, wearing back and breastplates and carrying their pikes.