He­roes & com­man­ders

Spain and Eng­land could call on dis­tin­guished com­man­ders dur­ing their long but un­de­clared war

History of War - - ISSUE 51 -

Am­bi­tious no­ble­men saw the Span­ish wars as an op­por­tu­nity for glory and riches


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

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