609. Statement of what I, Gonzalo Gonzales del Castillo, a
native of Granada, saw and heard whilst I was a prisoner
On the 7th November, 1588, the hulk San Pedro el Mayor, of
the squadron of Juan Gomez de Medina was driven on to the
English coast on the territory of Sir William Courteney, where the
said ship was plundered and the men on board of her taken
prisoners. On the 11th November a commissioner arrived from the
Queen, with orders that 12 of the prisoners were to be separated from
the rest and kept in prison by themselves, fourpence each being
allowed to them daily for their maintenance, the other prisoners
only receiving one penny a day each.
On the 24th November of the following year, 1589, the Spanish
prisoners were liberated by the Queen, with the exception of the 12
men whom she had given to Sir William Courteney. We were
kept in close confinement by him, and he demanded 5,000 ducats
for our ransom, which sum we could not pay, as we were all poor
men. On the 11th August 1590 we were informed by Sir William
Courteney that he required 12,000 ducats for our ransom, and as
we could see no remedy for our trouble, we wrote to the Queen,
praying that, as she had released all the other Spaniards in England,
she would order us also to be liberated for a like sum as had been
considered sufficient for the others of our countrymen. This letter
came into the hands of Sir William Courteney, who thereupon
imprisoned us closely, feeding us only on bread, pottage, and
water. Seeing ourselves in these straits and in danger of death, we
resolved to break out of prison and to appeal to the justices for
redress, but they told us that they were unable to help us, as our
owner was too powerful a person for them to meddle with. We
were therefore sent back to our prison, where we remained suffering
great hardship for seven months.
On the 7th February 1591 Sir William Courteney sent one
William Blake, an Englishman, to this country of Brittany, to deal
with the duke of Mercœur for our ransom, but he could come to no
agreement about the same, as the sum demanded was then 25,000
ducats, so that the prisoners still remain there to this day.
On the 24th December 1591 I left Exeter for Brittany, but
after we had sailed we encountered contrary weather, and were
driven back into Dartmouth, where for seven weeks we awaited a
On the 8th February of this year Francis Drake passed through
the town by the post, having been summoned by the Queen.
On the 23rd orders came to this port to fit out the five ships
belonging to the Queen which were there, likewise six that were in
the port of Plymouth, for the purpose of sending them to the coast
of Rouen and preventing the King (of Spain) from relieving the
place. When the ships were ready to embark the infantry, it was
found impossible to do so, as a very large number of those on the
muster roll had absented themselves. Intimation of this was sent
to court, and orders came that countrymen were to be pressed and
embarked ; these being the sort of men whom arms do not arm.
I have conversed with many persons of all conditions, men and
women, who have assured me of their good wishes for our success
in England, and their zeal for the Catholic faith. If they had not
openly avowed their sympathy it was only in order that they might
not be deprived of their homes and property. Others there are
who confess that they are Catholics, for which they have suffered
many punishmen's, but nevertheless openly say that they will
remain firm, and will die in the faith. Many complaints had been
made of the large number of declared Catholics, and the Queen was
petitioned to have them punished, but she had ordered that such
complaints should not be made against them, and that they should
be allowed to live freely as they wished.
They (the English) are in great fear of the galleys and of the commander
thereof, whose name is well known to them as that of a good
soldier and a skilful mariner. They are convinced that the galleys
will some day attack them, as they (the galleys) go to the coast of
Brittany, and the English coast is easier for them than that, the
only difficulty being the passage across. They say the galleys will
utterly destroy them, and there is nothing that alarms them so
There is a great lack of soldiers, as they have lost so many. I
can bear testimony that of the 15,000 and more men who embarked
for the Portugal expedition not 4,000 came back, owing to the
pestilence in the ships, and the deaths and captures by the
Spaniards. (fn. 1) Of the 4,000, moreover, who were sent from Plymouth
to support the Prince (fn. 2) not 500 remain, and all the five ships sent to
succour Rouen were lost in a storm with all hands. They are
therefore obliged to raise troops from Holland and Zeeland. Whilst
I was in that port there arrived a flyboat from the islands (of
Holland) with about 80 men. They went with 20 more towards
Rouen, and were all lost in a storm within a week.
They were much grieved at the loss of one of the Queen's galleons,
called the Revenge. (fn. 3) They say that she was the best ship the
Queen had, and the one upon which she relied the most.
They (the English) do not speak ill of our King ; they only say
that if it were not for the Pope he would he the best Prince ever
born. They most sincerely desire peace, for they say that if they
have it not within two years they will all be irremediably ruined.
They fear that his Majesty (i.e., Philip) may take a port in Brittany,
and say that when once he gains a footing there he will be in
England, because there are so many of his friends in the country
that there will be nothing to prevent his conquering it. Francis
Drake is very unpopular. The people of quality say that he is
but of mean origin to have risen so high, and the people look upon
him as the cause of the wars. He is, however, esteemed by the
Queen, who favours him highly. They cannot bear to hear the
name of Dom Antonio, whom they call king of Portugal, as they
consider him the cause of the great loss of life in Portugal. They
threaten to stone him, and it is said that the Queen keeps him
in a castle which he does not leave. He is incredibly poor, and
lacks both money and servants.
Don Pedro de Valdes lives, as hitherto, five miles from London.
He was accused of an attempt to escape, and imprisoned for it, but
Francis Drake, to whom he always applies, settled the matter, and
he now goes hunting and to other pastimes, the same as before.
The principal people are not well disposed towards him, as they
allege that he was the cause of certain gentlemen (one of the
Queen's generals and others of her Council) being executed, they
belonging to the party of the King (of Spain). But this is
incredible, for Don Pedro would rather have lost his life than
They (the English) are hourly expecting the arrival of a Spanish
fleet, and frankly confess that England must fall into his Majesty's
hands ; the cause of their downfall, they think, will be the galleys.
I left Dartmouth and was at Plymouth on the 5th February
1592. These are the best harbours possessed by the Queen, and
her fleets are usually gathered therein. But at the present time
there is no other fleet or warlike preparations there, other than
I have said. This is the truth.—Blavet, 9th March 1592, Gonzalo
Gonzales del Castillo.
Note.—The above document is printed also in "The Defeat of the
Armada" (Naval Records Society). See also the English account
of the capture and detention of these prisoners, in letter from
Anthony Ashley to the Council, State Papers, Dom, CCXVIII.