22 Controversy at Cádiz
This successful raid was immediately followed by a scramble for glory – and an inquiry over where all the money had gone “RALEIGH AND ESSEX WERE EACH DETERMINED TO LEAD THE NAVAL ASSAULT INTO THE BAY OF CÁDIZ, AND ESSEX FUMED WHEN HE WAS ASSIGNED A BACKUP
Although a success, the aftermath of the 1596 campaign sparked political scandal back home
The 1596 raid on Cádiz was a lesson in the dangers of a divided command. Although Spanish leadership at Cádiz was also weak (the Duke of Medina Sidonia, who had commanded the Spanish Armada, was technically in command but seemed paralysed at the approach of the Anglo-dutch fleet) it did not come close to the levels of infighting and jostling for position seen in the English forces. Not only did this impact on the organisation and implementation of the raid, it had dire financial consequences – the personal rivalries may have been at the heart of the failure to capture the Spanish merchantmen in the harbour.
A matter of honour
The thirst for personal honour was not seen as objectionable at the time. Officers would compete brazenly for favour and glory, often to the detriment of the service itself. This was seldom more evident than at the capture of Cádiz, where it reached almost comical levels.
Raleigh and Essex were each determined to lead the naval assault into the Bay of Cádiz, and Essex fumed when he was assigned a backup role. Raleigh was so jealous of his position, he actually positioned his ship, the Warspite, broadside-on to the fleet to prevent other English ships from passing him but, being inexperienced in warfare, he was too far from the enemy to properly engage them (a big part of the reason casualties were so low among the English).
Sir Francis Vere attempted to attach a cable to Warspite and drag his own ship past it, but Raleigh, spotting the subterfuge, immediately cut the cable. Likewise, Essex’s insistence on getting involved in the naval engagement, when he was supposed to be readying troops for a landing, was cited by some as a cause for the delayed capture of the city and the subsequent loss of the merchant fleet.
The scramble for personal glory continued after the expedition started its voyage home. Just about every man who could pen or dictate a letter sent accounts of the fighting back to England – accounts that inevitably placed themselves at the centre of events.
The queen, seething at the loss of the main prize on offer, the fabulously valuable merchant fleet, quickly lost her patience with the posturing and declared it illegal to publish any account of the battle. She also instigated an inquiry into exactly how the main prize had been missed.
Army versus navy
Always willing to ignore authority, Essex attempted to publish his own “true relacion
[sic] of the action”, and resorted to distributing manuscript copies when this attempt failed.
Still, the war of words continued. There was a bitter dividing line between the army, which had sated its appetite for plunder in the city of Cádiz, and the navy, which had been left mostly empty-handed.
The tide of opinion in the court was against Essex, who was also unpopular for proposing the risky and probably unfeasible plan of seizing and holding permanent bases in Spain. The queen’s key advisors, Sir Robert Cecil (who became principal secretary of state in 1598) and his father, Lord Burghley, were distrustful of Essex. Consequently, they favoured his rivals, Raleigh and Howard. An official account of the raid on Cádiz (which was never published) played up Raleigh’s role at the expense of Essex, and Howard was made the Earl of Nottingham after returning home, sending Essex into a sulk.
“THE CONTROVERSY ONLY BEGAN TO DIE DOWN FOLLOWING THE EXECUTION OF ESSEX IN 1601”
The forgotten raid
The political infighting, simmering resentment over the loss of millions of pounds worth of prizes and increasing exasperation with the antics of Essex meant that the largely successful raid was temporarily expunged from history. A major work by the historian Richard Hakluyt, scheduled for publication at the end of 1598, was recalled to have a detailed account of the Cádiz expedition removed entirely.
The controversy only began to die down following the execution of
Essex in 1601. That same year a book by John Stow included a description of the raid very similar to that proposed by Hakluyt. After the death of the queen herself, the political bitterness had left the affair and the raid was resurrected as part of a new national myth, that of the daring ‘sea dogs’ of Elizabethan England.
The glory went to Raleigh, Drake and other notables such as Sir John Hawkins, while Essex, whose reputation was only slowly rehabilitating, was left out.
As a committed enemy of Essex, Sir Robert Cecil was able to influence the queen’s treatment of her old favourite
BELOW: Raleigh’s ship, Warspite, depicted on a collectible cigarette card in the act of engaging the Spanish at Cádiz Sir Walter Raleigh went to extraordinary lengths to prevent other commanders from sharing the glory at Cádiz