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When The Revenge Took on a Fleet of 53 Spanish Ships and Almost won!

In August 1591, the best-known ship in the Royal Navy, Revenge, was surveying the Island of Azores off the coast with a fleet.

The reason was to block the Spanish government’s constant stream of wealth from its New World empire. So the Spanish formed a fleet of 50 ships to retaliate against the standing English ship. 

  • In August 1591, Revenge surveyed the Island of Azores with the Navy fleet. The mission was to block the Spanish government’s wealth from its New World Empire.
  • The Spanish prepared a fleet of 50 ships to retaliate. 
  • Many English ships slipped away while Revenge stayed to fight. 
  • Revenge fought fifteen Spanish ships until it gave up. Resultantly, the Spanish captured the ship until it drowned in the storm. 

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During that time, the English had their hands full with a fever epidemic and ship repairs. As a result, many of the crew were ashore when the Spanish fleet launched an attack. Twenty-one of the English ships slipped away in panic.

However, Revenge stayed to fight against the Spanish. 

The Valiant Ship Revenge

The vessel was outmanned, outclassed, and outnumbered. Yet, it fought till its last breath and almost won the confrontation. 

Historically, for years, Revenge was a constant pain for the Spanish; hence when the ship met the Spanish fleet, it was subjected to extreme retaliation. Compared to the large vessels of the time, it was a pint-sized powerhouse – just about 400 tons.

Revenge was as magnificent as she was brave. Loved by the British, hated by the Spanish.

But Revenge packed a punch, carrying dozens of cannons at the ready. 

At Gravelines, Revenge was Sir Francis Drake’s flagship when the English struck the first blows against the Spanish Armada. 

Drake sailed on the Revenge when the English Armada tried to destroy the rest of the Spanish fleet. Even when Drake was no longer in favour of Queen Elizabeth I, the ship hunted Spanish fleets to bring gold to Europe from South America. Hence, Revenge was a high-priority target when the boat met the Spanish fleet at Flores. 

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In 1591, Sir Richard Grenville commanded the Revenge. Sir Grenville was a noble with much wartime experience on the ground and the high seas. During the confrontation at Flores, 100 of Grenville’s men were ashore, recovering from the fever epidemic.

The Legendary Battle

In face of a massive Spanish fleet, Sir Grenville stayed to fight. He sailed right into the incoming enemy fleet. 

The commander fought for over 15 hours, taking on the Spanish galleons one after another. The ship dodged many of the enemy’s attacks but inflicted severe damage on the Spanish at every turn.

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The same was the case with boarders. Vessels three times bigger than the Revenge tried boarding the ship, but the crew fought them off to the point that the enemy ships withdrew. 

HMS Revenge took down 16 Spanish ships in the heated conflict.

Defence of the Revenge
Revenge fought against the Spanish fleet for an amazing 15 hours.

The uneven confrontation soon became too much for the crew of the Revenge. The ship began to take massive hits from the enemy. When dawn came the next day, all three of the ship’s masts had been shot away, six feet of water was in its hold, and the ship was out of gunpowder. 

Grenville tried to cut a hole in the ship to drain the water, but the crew had had enough. The men surrendered instead. The captain died of his wounds as a prisoner of the Spanish fleet. 

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The Spanish fleet captured the ship but Revenge never went to Spain. The fleet sailed off the Island of Terceira, where it got caught in a massive hurricane. Revenge crashed into the Island’s rocks. The ship, already damaged from battle, broke into pieces. 

After destroying 16 Spanish ships the Revenge eventually sank in a storm.

Fifteen ships of the Spanish fleet were also lost to the storm. 


In years following the Battle of Flores, Revenge and its crew were immortalized in a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, “The Revenge: A Ballad of the Fleet”: The verse reads as follows:

“Ship after ship, the whole night long, their high-built galleons came,

Ship after ship, the whole night long, with her battle-thunder and flame;

The whole night, ship after ship drew back with her dead and her shame.

For some were sunk, and many were shattered, and so could fight us no more –

God of battles, was ever a battle like this in the world before?”