chapter  4
9 Pages

PARLIAMENT, BUCKINGHAM AND BRISTOL, 1626

Charles’s fleet sailed hesitantly out of Plymouth harbour in October 1625, shortly after Louis X III had employed the English loan ships against the Huguenots, whose admiral Soubise had fled to England (45). The fleet was funded by money the King did not really have, and was ill-equipped to cope with autumnal seas in the Bay of Biscay. Remarkably, all its flag officers were landsmen, some of them with only slender experience of continental warfare: a legacy of England’s long years of peace (11). Buckingham withdrew at a late stage from its command, and it was led by Sir Edward Cecil, a plain-spoken but perceptive soldier who was not hopeful of success. ‘We have all contrary to us, that in respect of such an action may be called impediments,’ he wrote to Charles just before he set sail (83, vol. 2, p. 143). He produced, nevertheless, the outstanding set of fighting instructions of his day, in contrast to the vague directions he received from the King (11). Charles laid almost as much stress on the threat to his ‘Dominion of the Narrow Seas, which have been assumed justly by our predecessors, and given to them and us by all our neighbours’ as he did on the recovery of the Palatinate (83, vol. 2, p. 383). Cecil was to do what damage he could to Spanish shipping, and if possible take a suitable port and capture a treasure fleet. Once off the Spanish coast, he and his Council of War settled for Cadiz, like Drake before them (17). Little there­ after went right, as always seemed likely, and almost half the fleet was lost. Some of its sails and tackle had seen service in 1588; but Cecil received only limited understanding, and his men a cold welcome in West Country billets, when they limped home. His departure had been preceded by ‘private distempers’ within the Privy Council; and neither those who had wanted the expedition, nor those who had not, saw cause to sympathise at its outcome (5, 8 September 1625). As a gesture of intent to wavering allies, the enterprise had failed. Cecil’s appearance off Cadiz on 22 October had, however, stirred Philip IV into acknowledging at last that Spain was at war with England, a development he did not welcome.