HMS Revenge (1577)

HMS Revenge (1577)

HMS "Revenge", built at a cost of £4,000 at the Royal Dockyard of Deptford in 1577 by Mathew Baker, Master Shipwright, was to usher in a new style of ship building that would revolutionize naval warfare for the next three hundred years. A comparatively small vessel, weighing about 500 tons, being about half the size of the "Henri Grâce à Dieu", the "Revenge" was rated as a galleon. She carried 46 guns ranged along both sides of a single gun deck.

In 1587, Sir Francis Drake sailed to the Spanish coast and destroyed much materiel that the Philip II had accumulated in preparation for the Armada. In consequence, Spanish plans for the invasion of England were put off until the following year. In early 1588, Drake moved his flag from "Elizabeth Bonaventura" to the "Revenge", which was considered to be the best by far of the new ships.

On July 29 1588 the Battle of Gravelines (named after a Flemish town near Calais), was concluded as one of the fiercest and most decisive battles engaged in during these years. At the outset of the conflict, "Revenge" proved worthy of her reputation. Following "Revenge" at the head of the line, the English fleet engaged their broadsides into the Spanish Armada. Many Spanish vessels were severely damaged, although only a few sank or ran aground. However, it was only when fireships were sent in that the Spanish broke their formation and sailed into the North Sea. The English fleet monitored them until they drew level with Edinburgh, and then returned to port.

In 1589, "Revenge" again put to sea as Drake's flagship, in what was to be a failed attempt to invade Spanish controlled Portugal. With the ship in an unseaworthy condition, and without any prizes to his credit Drake fell out of favour with Queen Elizabeth and was kept ashore until 1594.

In 1590 "Revenge" was commanded by Sir Martin Frobisher in an expedition along the coast of Spain to intercept the Spanish treasure fleet.

"Revenge" came to her end in a glorious but bizarre episode that has become a legend. In order to impede a Spanish naval recovery after the Armada, Sir John Hawkins proposed a blockade of the supply of treasure being acquired from the Spanish Empire in America by a constant naval patrol designed to intercept Spanish ships. "Revenge" was on such a patrol in the summer of 1591.

Thus in 1591 under the command of Sir Richard Grenville, she took part in a 15-hour battle against overwhelming odds. The Spanish had dispatched a fleet of some 53 ships under Alfonso de Bazán, having under him Britandona and the Marquez de Arumburch. Intent upon the capture of the English at Flores in the northern Azores. On 7 September 1591, the Spanish fleet came upon the English while repairs to the ships caused the crews, many of whom were suffering an epidemic of fever, to be ashore. Most of the ships managed to slip away to sea. Grenville who had many sick men ashore decided to wait for them. When putting to sea he might have gone round the west of Corvo island, but he decided to go straight through the Spaniards, who were approaching from the eastward.

Overwhelming force was immediately brought to bear upon the ship, which put up a gallant resistance. For some time he succeeded by skillful tactics in avoiding much of the enemy's fire, but they were all round him and gradually numbers began to tell. As one Spanish ship retired beaten, another took her place, and for fifteen hours the unequal contest continued. Attempts by the Spaniards to board were driven off. The "San Philip", a vessel three times her size, tried to come alongside for the Spaniards to board her, but was beaten off. When morning broke on September 1st, the Revenge lay with her masts shot away and only sixteen men left out of a crew of two hundred and fifty.

"Out-gunned, out-fought, and out-numbered fifty-three to one", when the end looked certain Grenville ordered "Revenge" to be sunk. His officers could not agree with this order and a surrender was agreed by which the lives of the officers and crew would be spared. After an assurance of proper conduct, and having held off dozens of Spanish ships, "Revenge" at last surrendered, becoming the only English ship to be captured by the Spaniards in that Elizabethan conflict. The injured Captain Grenville died of wounds two days later aboard the Spanish flagship.

The captured "Revenge" never reached Spain, becoming a wreck, she sank along with about 200 Spaniards who had taken over the ship, along with a large number of the Spanish fleet in a dreadful storm of the Azores. The "Revenge" was cast upon a cliff next to the island off Terceira, where she broke up completely.

The action inspired a popular poem entitled "" by Lord Tennyson, which dramatically narrates the course of the engagement.

External links

* [http://www.royal-navy.org/ Royal Navy History - Institute of naval History - HMS Revenge]
* [http://seafarer.netfirms.com/2/revenge.htm HMS Revenge]
* [http://college.hmco.com/history/readerscomp/ships/html/sh_076500_revenge.htm Revenge]
* [http://www.online-literature.com/Tennyson/726/ "The Revenge: A Ballad of the Fleet", by Tennyson]


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