St George's Day - England's Military Heritage

In Military History

To celebrate St George’s Day this year we have put together a blog series looking at 6 key events in England’s military history. This penultimate blog is looking at the Anglo-Spanish War, specifically focusing on the last fight of the Revenge in 1591.

The Last Fight of the Revenge, 1591

Artwork by Tony Bryan

Extract from New Vanguard 149: Tudor Warships (2) by Angus Konstam

In the summer of 1591, the Revenge, commanded by Sir Richard Grenville, took part in an English expedition to the Azores. Lord Howard’s fleet was surprised by a much larger Spanish force, and while most of the English ships managed to escape, the Revenge was unable to follow them to safety. Grenville’s ship was overhauled, and soon the Revenge was surrounded by Spanish galleons, pouring shot into her at close range. The fight lasted for around 16 hours, the English crew repulsing numerous boarding attempts, while their ship lay battered and helpless. With the Revenge unable to fight back, and with most of his men killed or wounded, the dying Grenville finally surrendered his ship. The action was immortalized in verse by Lord Alfred Tennyson in The Revenge: A Ballad of the Fleet:

And the night went down, and the sun smiled out far over the summer sea,
And the Spanish fleet with broken sides lay round us all in a ring;
But they dared not touch us again, for they feared that we still could sting,
So they watched what the end would be.

The plate shows the action soon after dawn, when the Revenge was surrounded by three Spanish galleons: the San Barnabe on her port side and La Asuncion and La Serena pinning her bow. Having just driven off a fourth galleon pinned to her stern, the Revenge is exchanging fire with the rest of the Spanish fleet, massed in the darkness of her starboard beam.

Anyone interested in reading more should take a look at New Vanguard 149: Tudor Warships (2).

Previous: Wars of the Roses 1455-1485

  Next: English Civil War 1642-1651

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