Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation, by Richard Hakluyt

The escape of the Primrose a tall ship of London, from before the towne of Bilbao in Biscay: which ship the Corrigidor of the same Prouince, accompanied with 97 Spaniards, offered violently to arrest, and was defeated of his purpose, and brought prisoner into England.

Whereunto is added the Kings Commission for a generall imbargment or arrest of all English, Netherlandish, and Easterlings ships, written in Barcelona the 19 of May 1585.

It is not vnknowen vnto the world what danger our English shippes haue lately escaped, how sharpely they haue beene intreated, and howe hardly they haue beene assaulted: so that the valiancie of those that mannaged them is worthy remembrance. And therefore in respect of the couragious attempt and valiant enterprise of the ship called the Primrose of London, which hath obteined renowne, I haue taken in hande to publish the trueth thereof, to the intent that it may be generally knowen to the rest of the English ships, that by the good example of this the rest may in time of extremitie aduenture to doe the like: to the honor of the Realme, and the perpetuall remembrance of themselues: The maner whereof was at followeth.

Vppon Wednesday being the sixe and twentieth day of May 1585, the shippe called the Primrose being of one hundred and fiftie tunnes, lying without the bay of Bilbao, hauing beene there two dayes, there came a Spanish pinnesse to them, wherein was the Corrigidor and sixe others with him: these came aboord the Primrose, seeming to be Marchantes of Biscay, or such like, bringing Cherries with them, and spake very friendly to the Maister of the ship, whose name was Foster, and he in courteous wise, bad them welcome, making them the best cheere that he could with beere, beefe, and bisket, wherewith that ship was well furnished: and while they were thus in banquetting with the Maister, foure of the seuen departed in the sayd Pinnesse, and went backe againe to Bilbao: the other three stayed, and were very pleasant for the time. But Master Foster misdoubting some danger secretly gaue speech that he was doubtfull of these men what their intent was; neuerthelesse he sayd nothing, nor seemed in any outward wise to mistrust them at all. Foorthwith there came a ship-boate wherein were seuentie persons being Marchants and such like of Biscay: and besides this boate, there came also the Pinnesse which before had brought the other three, in which Pinnesse there came foure and twentie, as the Spaniards themselues since confessed. These made towards the Primrose, and being come thither, there came aboord the Corrigidor with three or foure of his men: but Master Foster seeing this great multitude desired that there might no more come aboord, but that the rest should stay in their boates, which was granted: neuerthelesse they tooke small heede of these wordes; for on a suddaine they came foorth of the boate, entring the shippe, euery Spaniarde taking him to his Rapier which they brought in the boate, with other weapons, and a drumme wherewith to triumph ouer them. Thus did the Spaniards enter the shippe, plunging in fiercely vpon them, some planting themselues vnder the decke, some entring the Cabbens, and the multitude attending their pray. Then the Corrigidor hauing an officer with him which bore a white wand in his hand, sayd to the master of the ship: Yeeld your selfe, for you are the kings prisoner: whereat the Maister sayd to his men, We are betrayed. Then some of them set daggers to his breast, and seemed in furious manner as though they would haue slaine him, meaning nothing lesse then to doe any such act, for all that they sought was to bring him and his men safe aliue to shore. Whereat the Maister was amazed, and his men greatly discomfited to see themselues readie to be conueyed euen to the slaughter: notwithstanding some of them respecting the daunger of the Maister, and seeing how with themselues there was no way but present death if they were once landed among the Spaniards, they resolued themselues eyther to defend the Maister, and generally to shunne that daunger, or else to die and be buried in the middest of the sea, rather then to suffer themselues to come into the tormentors hands: and therefore in very bold and manly sort some tooke them to their iauelings, lances, bore-speares, and shot, which they had set in readinesse before, and hauing fiue Calieuers readie charged, which was all the small shot they had, those that were vnder the hatches or the grate did shoote vp at the Spaniards that were ouer their heads, which shot so amazed the Spaniards on the suddaine, as they could hardly tell which way to escape the daunger, fearing this their small shot to be of greater number then it was: others in very manlike sort dealt about among them, shewing themselues of that courage with bore-speares and lances, that they dismayed at euery stroke two or three Spaniards. Then some of them desired the Maister to commaund his men to cease and holde their handes, but hee answered that such was the courage of the English Nation in defence of their owne liues, that they would slay them and him also: and therefore it lay not in him to doe it. Now did their blood runne about the ship in great quantitie, some of them being shot in betweene the legges, the bullets issuing foorth at their breasts, some cut in the head, some thrust into the bodie, and many of them very sore wounded, so that they came not so fast in on the one side, but now they tumbled as fast ouer boord on both sides with their weapons in their handes, some falling into the sea, and some getting into their boates, making haste towardes the Citie. And this is to be noted, that although they came very thicke thither, there returned but a small companie of them, neither is it knowen as yet how many of them were slaine or drowned, onely one English man was then slaine, whose name was Iohn Tristram, and sixe other hurt. It was great pitie to behold how the Spaniards lay swimming in the sea, and were not able to saue their liues. Foure of them taking hold of the shippe were for pities sake taken vp againe by Maister Foster and his men, not knowing what they were: all the Spaniards bosomes were stuft with paper, to defend them from the shot, and these foure hauing some wounds were dressed by the surgion of the shippe. One of them was the Corrigidor himselfe, who is gouernour of a hundred Townes and Cities in Spaine, his liuing by his office being better then sixe hundred pound yerely. This skirmish happened in the euening about sixe of the clocke, after they had laden twenty Tunne of goods and better out of the sayd ship: which goods were deliuered by two of the same ship, whose names were Iohn Burrell and Iohn Brodbanke, who being on shore were apprehended and stayed.

The Corrigidor of Bilbao taken and brought to London. After this valiant enterprise of eight and twentie English men against 97 Spaniards, they saw it was in vaine for them to stay, and therefore set vp sayles, and by Gods prouidence auoyded all daunger, brought home the rest of their goods, and came thence with all expedition: and (God be thanked) arriued safely in England neere London on Wednesday being the 8 day of Iune 1585. In which their returne to England the Spaniards that they brought with them offered fiue hundred crownes to be set on shore in any place: which, seeing the Maister would not doe, they were content to be ruled by him and his companie, and craued mercie at their hands. And after Master Foster demaunded why they came in such sort to betray and destroy them, the Corrigidor answered, that it was not done onely of themselues, but by the commandement of the king himselfe; and calling for his hose which were wet, did plucke foorth the kings Commission, by which he was authorized to doe all that he did: the Copie whereof followeth, being translated out of Spanish.

The Spanish kings commision for the generall imbargment or arrest of the English, &c.

Licentiat de Escober, my Corigidor of my Signorie of Biskay, I haue caused a great fleete to be put in readinesse in the hauen of Lisbone, and the riuer of Siuill. There is required for the Souldiers, armour, victuals, and munition, that are to be imployed in the same great store of shipping of all series against the time of seruice, and to the end there may be choise made of the best, vpon knowledge of their burden and goodnesse; I doe therefore require of you, that presently vpon the arriuall of this carrier, and with as much dissimulation as may be (that the matter may not be knowen vntill it be put into execution) you take order for the staying and arresting (with great foresight) of all the shipping that may be found vpon the coast, and in the portes of the sayd Signorie, excepting none of Holand, Zeland, Easterland, Germanie, England, and other Prouinces that are in rebellion against mee, sauing those of France which being litle, and of small burden and weake, are thought vnfit to serue the turne. And the stay being thus made, you shall haue a speciall care that such marchandize as the sayd shippes or hulkes haue brought, whether they be all or part vnladen, may bee taken out, and that the armour, munition, tackels, sayles, and victuals may be safely bestowed, as also that it may be well foreseene, that none of the shippes or men escape away. Which things being thus executed, you shall aduertise me by an expresse messenger, of your proceeding therein: And send me a plaine and distinct declaration of the number of shippes that you shall haue so stayed in that coast and partes, whence euery one of them is, which belong to my Rebels, what burden and goods there are, and what number of men is in euery of them, and what quantitie they haue of armour, ordinance, munition, victuals, tacklings and other necessaries, to the end that vpon sight hereof, hauing made choise of such as shall be fit for the seruice, we may further direct you what ye shall do. In the meane time you shall presently see this my commandment put in execution, and if there come thither any more ships, you shall also cause them to be stayed and arrested after the same order, vsing therein such care and diligence, as may answere the trust that I repose in you, wherein you shall doe me great seruice. Dated at Barcelona the 29 of May, 1585.

And thus haue you heard the trueth and manner thereof, wherein is to be noted the great courage of the maister, and the louing hearts of the seruants to saue their master from the daunger of death: yea, and the care which the master had to saue so much of the owners goods as hee might, although by the same the greatest is his owne losse in that he may neuer trauell to those parts any more without the losse of his owne life, nor yet any of his seruantes: for if hereafter they should, being knowen they are like to taste of the sharpe torments which are there accustomed in their Holy-house. And as for their terming English shippes to be in rebellion against them, it is sufficiently knowen by themselues, and their owne consciences can not denie it, but that with loue, vnitie, and concord, our shippes haue euer beene fauoruable vnto them, and as willing to pleasure their King, as his subiectes any way willing to pleasure English passengers.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55