88: Wanderings upon the Sea

Nero came by to continue his true relation of the voyage.  Now he has a secretarie, I fear it may never end.

“We was not long at sea (he sayt) when another storm scattered our ships.

“That night we heared shots fired by one in distress, and went to give what aid we could.  The Mathew – a Spanish ship refitted for our purpose – had lost her foremast and her bowsprit, and her mainmast was loose.  All were in great peril of their lives.

“She carried six or seven hundred mariners and gentlemen.  Too many to take onto the Garland, but our Earl went in our pinniss [pinnace] to beg the captain to bring hisself and as many as he could to us.

“The captain sayt: No.  As I believe all knew he would, for this were a matter of honour.

“It’s not in our Earl’s nature to abandon his friends.  We passed that day with them while all strove to make the Mathew fit to sail home.

A black and white cat standing on its hind legs to look at ropes and tackle on a sailing ship.“I called to a cat who was making a survey of the damages that she could leap into our pinniss.

“But she sayt that were she to flee, it would strike such terror in the mariners they would give theirselves up for lost without more ado.

“At end of day we had no choice but to leave them to Fortune and set course to catch our fleet.  And so we came to Finistair [Finisterre].

“There we heared Essicks’ new ship had taken so much water they left off pumping and bailing, and sought to stop the leaks with pieces of beef and linen cloths wrung together.

“We had but the remains of our fleet.  The Mathew gone, the Andrew feared lost, and no word of our Rear-Admiral Sir Water Rawly.  We later learnt his mainyard cracked, and he was forced that night to run westward before the wind.  Some twenty sail followed his light, not knowing owt was amiss.

Sir Water Rawly, better known as Sir Walter Ralegh

“No hopes now of burning the Spanish fleet as it lay in harbour.  

“Then Sir Water sent word that he’d met with an English captain who told him the fleet had gone to waft the West Indian treasure ships home through the iles of Asores [Azores].

“All now know this captain was a villain.  Seafarers, like poets, may be free to fable, but he told a wicked lie.  He was from Southampton.  Need I say more?

“We stayed among the Asores for some days.  Most dwelling there are Portugals.  Their islands were usurped by Spain, so they bear us no malice.  Sir Water joined us, and all took on vittles.

“To my remembrance, ’twas then we saw by moonlight that piece of falseness men call a rainbow.  They marvelled at it, saying it was the colours of fire.

“Any cat could have told them it had many hues of blue.

“About this time there was a calm, and with it great heat.  I lay baking and breathless in what shade I could find.

“They few men that could swim slipped overboard to cool theirselves.  When they clamb back I – also hoping to be cool – lay in the puddles they left on the hatches.  That did nowt but salt and boil me, and cause my fine black coat to rust.

“There was word that the treasure ships would pass more southward of the Asores than was their custom.  Or might not come at all.  Few believed that, and we ranged our ships from north to south to give them warm welcome.

“Next, we had newes of a great ship sighted, so the Garland was commanded westward.

“In the dark of night when men can see nowt, mine eyes and nose told me the Rainbow and two more were with us.  Soon I lost them.

“Then we heared the sound of guns.  The treasure ships were come.”

A 16th Century map of the Azores, from ‘The Naval Tracts of Sir William Monson’ vol II (1902) – Internet Archive.

Here Nero brake off, and sayt he wisht to take refreshment.

My niece sayt, “You’ve not told us of the question put to the learned doctor that touched upon our Earl.”

“A small thing,” sayt Nero, very grand.  “A mere interlude.  First, I mean to tell of action at sea.”


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe ships that Nero refers to as the Matthew and the Andrew were the San Mateo and the San Andrés, captured the previous year at Cadiz.  The idea of a full attack on the port of Ferrol had been abandoned, and the fall-back plan was to use these two ships (which the Earl of Essex referred to as “great carts”) to escort fireships into Ferrol to burn the Spanish fleet.

Without them there was no hope of achieving anything at Ferrol, so Essex moved to stage two of his fall-back plan: the treasure fleet, along with some raids upon the Spanish settlements in the Azores.  (His original strategy had included the capture of the island of Terceira.  That was no longer possible.)

It was at this stage, as Nero indicates, that things became confused and confusing.

The Mathew’s captain was Sir George Carew/Carey.  They made it to the French port of La Rochelle (where he estimated around 4000 people visited his ship), and thence to Portsmouth.  I understand the Andrew managed to return to England, too.

87:  Nero Goes Forth

A black cat (Nero) peeking round a door.My niece and I were at our reading when Nero crept in.  You would think he were born in this house, so apt is he to find a door to slip through.

He should have been a spy cat, not a sea cat.

He told us he had not yet finished the heroickal verses he means to give out at our Field, but begged me to set down in ink his true account of the voyage.  Else it may be lost.

“Willingly,” sayt I, “for I wish to know more of my lord’s doings.”

Nero settled hisself.  This (in brief) is what he sayt.

“After my old master went from this world, leaving me (as I then believed) with nowt but a place in Linkin’s household, I resolved to seek death or honour at sea.

“From Portsmouth I took ship to Plymouth where our fleet lay.  There, I saw men employed earlier as mariners being put ashore, though that left our ships ill-manned.  These men knew not one rope from another.

“I heared our Earl say that scant as his knowledge is, even he could see some were unfit for service at sea.

“On the key I made the akwayntance of a cat who’d come ashore from the Rainbow.

“She told me the press-masters took bribes and let the proper mariners go.  She did not blame the mariners.  They knew they’d get nowt from the Queen for their pains but scant vittles and sour ale.

“That was not newes to me.  For not only does Queen Puss [Bess] distain us, her pen men defraud us.  They care not that we hazard our lives while they lie snug at home.

“Then my new friend sayt our expedition might come to nowt!

“It was ever her captain’s custom before a voyage to seek advice from a learned doctor.  This doctor had warned of great peril for our General.  And true, Essicks’ ship was leaking before he reached Plymouth.

“Also, the doctor himself had thought to accompany her captain, but had seen from his figures that there would be great winds, sickness and the like.

“I arrkst my she-friend if she meant to stay ashore, but she believed her captain and her ship would come safe through.

“And I sayt my captain was my old shipmate John Trout [Troughton], a man who knows his trade.

“So she and I left Plymouth in good heart.  As did our Earl.

detail-from-a-painting-by-willem-van-diest-c1600-1678-public-domain-via-wikimedia-commons“All now know this learned doctor spake true.  The like weather at this time of year was never seen, but we weren’t driven back to port.  What some called a tempest was to us no more than a stiff gale.

“We kept with Lord Thoms Howit’s ships and came to the coast of Spain. 

“We waited for the others there, and gave the Spaniards good sight of us.  They did not come out to fight.  We believed they were not readie.

“Then a pinniss [pinnace] brought word from Essicks that we was not to let them see us or do owt till he joined us.  Too late for that.

“So Lord Thoms Howit ordered that we run to Plymouth on the wind that would not let the other ships set forth again.  And there we lay, whilst vittles were consumed and almost all our soldiers sent home.

“In truth, my she-friend and I agreed that were it not for our reputations, we would have gone ashore and not returned to our ships.  Then came a fair wind, and we went forth.”

An Elizabethan Pinnace, from ain illustration in Julian S. Corbett's 'Drake and the Tudor Navy' (1917) via the Internet Archive.
An Elizabethan Pinnace, from an illustration in Julian S. Corbett’s ‘Drake and the Tudor Navy’ (1917) via the Internet Archive.

By the time I’d writ this, my foot and leg aked.  I told my niece (listening prick-eared) that she should take up our pen.

But Nero sayt he too was wearie, and would return to end his account on the morrow.

No word of thanks to me.

I was near to telling Nero that I was not his secretarie when he added, “My she-friend from the Rainbow told me of another who sought advice from the doctor.  Her question touched upon our Earl.  I hope I may remember it when next we meet.”

Oh, that cat’s an arrant knave.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe captain of the Rainbow was Sir William Monson (c1568-1643), who’d been knighted the previous year at Cadiz.

He went to Oxford University aged about thirteen, but ran away to sea when he was sixteen.  He had a long and adventurous career.  Later in life he wrote his account of the war at sea. Edited by the naval historian Michael Oppenheim, it was published in five volumes between 1902 and 1914 by the Navy Records Society.

Sir William Monson was a regular client of the astrologer and medical practitioner Simon Forman (1552-1611) who kept careful notes of his consultations and whose clients represented a cross-section of society.

John Troughton/Traughton, captain of the Garland, had sailed with Sir John Hawkins and Sir Francis Drake on their last, disastrous expedition to the West Indies in 1595/96, and sent a report of it to Sir Robert Cecil.

Nero wasn’t the only poet on this voyage (if he went, that is).  John Donne, who’d been to Cadiz the previous year, was also there, probably on the Earl of Essex’ ship.