HMS Revenge won everlasting renown for its
dramatic role during the great war between England and Spain
which lasted from 1585 to 1604 and helped reshape the world.
In 1588, King Philip II of Spain decided to launch an invasion
of England for the purpose of subjugating and converting
the Protestant English. To accomplish this goal he assembled
an extraordinary fleet of 130 ships from all over Europe,
known as the Spanish Armada.
When word of this threat reached Queen Elizabeth,
she hastily organized a defensive force consisting of some
forty men-of-war. Heavily outgunned, her ships met those
of the Armada in the Straits of Dover as they were approaching
the English shore. In the ensuing battle, a miracle occurred.
The Spanish force was badly beaten and began to retreat
in the direction of the Irish Coast. In a further miracle,
they were overtaken by a fierce gale which devastated the
already damaged vessels, causing many to founder along the
rocky coastline. Others perished during the long retreat
back to Spain. Altogether, over a third of King Philip's
ships and half of his sailors perished. The English had
not lost a single ship. The entire nation gave thanks for
In 1591, fearful that Spain would organize
another attack as the war continued, Queen Elizabeth gave
support to a venture which would intercept the Spanish fleet
as it was about to return home from Havana heavily laden
with a two year collection of treasure and plunder from
Spanish-America. The attack was to be led by two of the
finest galleons in the Elizabethan Navy, the Revenge, captained
by Sir Richard Granville, and the Defiance.
The Revenge, built in 1577 was 130 feet overall
and displaced 440 tons. With her double line of gun-ports,
she was a tough and dangerous fighting machine. While serving
as Drake's flagship in the defense against the Armada, she
survived although her hull was pierced by at least 40 cannon-shot.
The English fleet arrived at the anchorage
of Flores in the Azores and awaited the arrival of the homebound
Spanish galleons. As the battle was joined, the Revenge
was the last ship to get underway and fell several miles
behind the fleet. Suddenly she was surrounded by five Spanish
warships which proceeded to close and then to board her.
Over the next 30 hours, a desperate battle ensued in which
no quarter was given. Virtually her entire crew of 153 was
killed or wounded, but Sir Richard, even though mortally
wounded, stubbornly refused to haul down his flag. Finally,
having fought to the end, the Revenge was captured, the
first ship of the Queen ever taken by Spain. She was renamed
La Venganza, only to perish in a storm while being sailed
back as a prize.
Even after 400 years, the last fight of the
Revenge remains one of the most heroic naval actions during
the era of fighting sail and may have been the most famous
sea battle in English history. Tennyson immortalized it
in his evocative poem "The Revenge: A Battle of the
Fleet" in which he wrote "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 fifty three."