Heroes & commanders
Spain and England could call on distinguished commanders during their long but undeclared war
Ambitious noblemen saw the Spanish wars as an opportunity for glory and riches
SIR FRANCIS VERE 1560–1609 ENGLISH ARMY
In a period where English military glory was reserved almost exclusively for the navy, Vere stood out as one of the finest soldiers of his day. Having made an uncertain start to his career under the hapless Earl of Leicester, he quickly carved out a formidable reputation, earning a knighthood in 1588.
Elizabeth’s strategy aimed to maintain the balance of power in Europe, and English forces fought alongside those of Maurice of Nassau in support of Dutch independence. It was a time of change on the battlefield (some historians see events of the period as nothing less than a military revolution) and Vere proved naturally suited to commanding men, adapting his small force of English soldiers to the new tactics employed by Maurice. His conspicuous participation in the raid on Cádiz in 1596 was followed by success at the Battle of Turnhout the following year, but his greatest triumph came at Nieuwpoort in 1600. In an aggressive campaign, Maurice of Nassau engaged a Spanish army riven by dissent and on the edge of mutiny, but the resulting battle was still a desperately close affair. Vere was given command of the best units in Maurice’s army but had to watch as his English units were overpowered by Spanish tercios (mixed formations of pikemen and arquebusiers). Even so, in dislodging the English, the Spanish forces became disorganised and were in turn routed by a cavalry charge.
Vere continued to serve in the Low Countries and was seriously wounded in 1602 at the Siege of Grave, when he was shot under his right eye. After a miraculous recovery he retired from active duty in 1604, turning his attention to writing his memoirs, which were published after his death.
An ineffectual commander, Medina Sidonia attracted criticism wherever he went
Sir Francis Vere died in 1609 and was buried in Westminster Abbey