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The Spanish Armada, 1588
The Spanish Armada, a vast fleet of 134 ships large and small commanded by the Duke of Medina Sidonia, left Lisbon on its ill-fated expedition to subdue England on 30th May 1588. Immediately heavy weather drove it south and forced it to put into Corunna for repairs, and it was not until 29th July that it was first sighted off the Lizard. The opening shots of what was to be a protracted action lasting almost a week were fired off the Eddystone on 31st July and, continuously harried by the English, the Armada finally arrived off Calais on the evening of 6th August. At midnight the following night, the English attacked with fireships causing the Spaniards to cut their cables and flee before the wind. After a major action at Gravelines on 8th August, the Armada's commander realised the great invasion gamble had failed and ordered his fleet to sail north around the British Isles in order to get home to Spain as best it could. To quote the legend decorating the medal commemorating the English victory, "God blew and they were scattered", atrocious weather finished what the English fleet had begun and by the time Sidonia's flagship arrived at Santander on 23rd September, exactly half of his ships had been lost along with innumerable Spanish lives, many of them on the inhospitable coasts of Scotland and Ireland.
The most famous Scottish graveyard was Tobermory Bay, on the Isle of Mull, where it was long believed, quite erroneously, that an Armada 'treasure' ship had foundered. In point of fact, the Armada was simply an invasion fleet transporting soldiers and carried no treasure in the accepted sense; curiously however, the myth of the fabulously rich 'Tobermory Galleon' persisted for several centuries and many expeditions to locate and recover the so-called 'treasure' were mounted without any success. On one such expedition during the 1950's, the cannon offered in this lot was recovered by Commander Crabbe R.N., but modern research has now identified the Tobermory wreck as that of the San Juan de Sicilia, a ship of the Levantine Squadron from Ragusa (Dubrovnic). Measured at 800 tons, she was armed with 28 guns of varying calibre, carried 279 soldiers in addition to her crew of 63, and was commanded by Don Diego Tellez Henriquez. One of the larger vessels in the Armada, she was in the forefront of the action off Portland Bill (2nd August) and then at Gravelines where she was so badly mauled that her decks were awash with blood and observers saw that she left a red wake behind her in the sea. Having miraculously found refuge in Tobermory Bay, she was actually sunk there thanks to the efforts of one John Smollett, a secret agent employed by Sir Francis Walsingham (Elizabeth I's Secretary of State and head of her 'intelligence' service). Walsingham had heard from his network of spies that an Armada vessel was lying in Tobermory Bay under the protection of the local laird, M'Lean of Dowart, and sent Smollett north to deal with the threat. Smollett tricked his way aboard the San Juan and laid a slow-burning fuse in the powder room which, when the contents exploded, killed everyone on board, including Henriquez, and destroyed the ship where she lay.