Revenge: The First Flagship of Many
Revenge was an English race-built galleon of 46 guns, built in 1577 and captured by the Spanish in 1591, sinking soon afterwards. She was the first of 13 English and Royal Navy ships to bear the name.
Revenge was built at a cost of £4,000 at the Royal Dockyard, Deptford in 1577 by master shipwright Mathew Baker. His race-built design was to usher in a new style of ship building that would revolutionise naval warfare for the next three hundred years. A comparatively small vessel, weighing about 400 tons, being about half the size of Henry Grace à Dieu, Revenge was rated as a galleon.
The armament of ships of this period was fluid; guns might be added, removed or changed for different types. Revenge was particularly heavily armed during her last cruise: she carried 20 heavy demi-cannon, culverins and demi-culverins on her gun deck, where the sailors slept. On her upper decks were more demi-culverins, sakers and a variety of light weapons, including swivel-mounted breech-loaders, called "fowlers" or "falconets".
Raid on Cadiz (1587)
In 1587, Sir Francis Drake sailed to the Spanish coast and destroyed much materiel that Philip II had accumulated in preparation for the Armada. In consequence, Spanish plans for the invasion of England were put off until the following year.
Battle of Gravelines (1588)
In early 1588, Drake moved his flag from Elizabeth Bonaventure to Revenge, which was considered to be the best by far of the new ships. On 29 July 1588 the Battle of Gravelines (named after a Flemish town near Calais), was concluded with a decisive victory over the Spanish fleet. Following Revenge at the head of the line, the English fleet engaged their broadsides into the Spanish Armada, following a fire ships attack the night before which broke up the tight Spanish formation. Many Spanish vessels were severely damaged, although only a few sank or ran aground. Both sides fought until supplies of ammunition was running dangerously low, and the shattered Armada was forced to flee into the North Sea. The English fleet shadowed them until they drew level with Edinburgh, and then returned to port, ending the threat of a Spanish invasion
Drake-Norris Expedition (1589)
In 1589 Revenge again put to sea as Drake's flagship, in what was to be a failed attempt to destroy the surviving Spanish fleet at Santander and invade Spanish-controlled Portugal. Returning with the ship in an unseaworthy condition, and without any prizes to his credit Drake fell out of favour with Queen Elizabeth I and was kept ashore until 1595.
Frobisher expedition (1590)
In 1590 Revenge was commanded by Sir Martin Frobisher in an unsuccessful expedition along the coast of Spain to intercept the Spanish treasure fleet.
Her Capture and Sinking
It was in August 1591, ‘at Flores, in the Azores’, that the Revenge, now the flagship of Sir Richard Grenville, fought her last fight, which lasted for fifteen hours, against overwhelming odds. When there was no further hope of fighting her, Grenville ordered her to be sunk. However, his surviving officers would not agree to this and terms of surrender were made with the Spaniards on the understanding that the lives and liberties of the ship's company should be spared. Grenville, who had been wounded three times during the action, was carefully conveyed on board the ship of the Spanish admiral but died two days later. Five days after the battle the Revenge foundered in a storm, taking with her 200 Spaniards who had been put on board.