By Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
Last updated 2011-02-17
The ensuing battle, depicted here, is traditionally seen by English historians as a great English victory. In fact, the English failed to press their advantage. Sir Francis Drake's squadron led the attack, but Drake himself quickly slipped away from the fighting, presumably in search of prizes, drawing charges of 'cowardice or knavery' from fellow-commanders.
The English continued to use the wind, which remained in their favour, as it had been throughout almost the entire campaign, to hold off, much to the anger of the Spaniards, who would have been able to make use of their superior manpower had the English tried to board their vessels. Although overall the Armada had abundant stocks of shot, most of the front-line Spanish ships ran out of heavy ammunition before the English closed the range.
As a result, the English suffered almost no damage at Gravelines, and the Spanish relatively little. Towards seven o'clock in the evening, the English broke off the fight, probably because of the worsening weather and the apparently inexorable drift of the Armada towards the shoals. The following day, however, said the official Spanish account, 'From this desperate peril we were saved by God's mercy.'
The wind shifted. The Armada escaped northwards, essentially intact and effectively undefeated, scotched but not killed, bloodied but unbowed. The English commander thought he had 'plucked its feathers'. The Spaniards, though apprehensive about how long their fleet could remain battleworthy, were willing to renew the fight.
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