Francisco de Cuellar
was a Spanish sea captain who sailed with the Spanish Armada
This article refers to the Battle of Gravelines, for the modern navy of Spain, see Spanish NavyThe Spanish Armada was the Spanish fleet that sailed against England under the command of the Duke of Medina Sidonia in 1588, with the intention of overthrowing Elizabeth I of England to stop English...
in 1588 and was wrecked on the coast of Ireland. He gave a remarkable account of his experiences in the fleet and on the run in Ireland.
The Spanish Armada in Ireland
The Spanish Armada in Ireland refers to the landfall made upon the coast of Ireland in September 1588 of a large portion of the 130-strong fleet sent by Philip II to invade England....
suffered heavy losses during an extraordinary season of storms in the autumn of 1588. Cuellar had been captain of the San Pedro
when the small ship broke the Armada formation in the North Sea. For this disobedience he was sentenced to death by hanging by the Major General of the fleet, Francisco de Bobadilla. Cuellar was sent to the galleon, San Juan de Sicilia
, for execution of the sentence by the Auditor General Martin de Aranda.
Sentence was not executed, and Cuellar remained on board until the galleon - a member of the Levant squadron, which suffered heavy losses (less than 400 survivors out of 4,000 who set sail) - had anchored along the Irish coast, a mile off Streedagh Strand in modern County Sligo
, in the company of two other galleons. On the fifth day at anchor all three ships were driven onto the strand and broken in pieces. Out of the 1,000 men crewing the ships, 300 survived.
Local inhabitants beat, robbed and stripped those who came ashore. But Cuellar, having clung to a loose hatch, floated to shore unobserved and concealed himself amongst rushes. He was in poor shape, and was soon joined by a naked fellow survivor who was dumbstruck and soon died. Cuellar kept drifting in and out of consciousness: at one point he and his fellow survivor were discovered by two armed men, who covered them with rushes before going to the shore to loot. At another point, he saw 200 horsemen riding across the strand.
When Cuellar crawled out he saw 800 corpses littered on the sand, with ravens and wild dogs feeding on them. He moved on to the Abbey of Staad, a small church which had been torched by the English after its friars had fled. He saw twelve of his countrymen hanging from nooses tied to iron bars of the windows within the church ruins. A local woman who was driving cattle into hiding in the woods warned him to stay out of the road, and he then met two naked Spanish soldiers, who informed him that English soldiers had killed 100 captive survivors.
The Spaniards saw 400 corpses on another strand. When they stopped to bury the bodies of two officers they were confronted by four locals who demanded the remainder of de Cuellar's clothes. Another local ordered them to leave him alone and directed the Spaniards to his own village. They made their way there barefoot in cold weather, through a wood where they met two young men travelling with an old man and a young woman: the young men attacked de Cuellar, and he received a leg wound from a knife-thrust, before the old man intervened.
De Cuellar was stripped of his clothing, and a gold chain worth 1,000 ducats and 45 gold crowns were taken from him. The young woman ensured his clothes were returned, and took a locket containing relics, which she hung about her neck, before departing. Then a boy came to treat his wounds with a poultice and brought food of milk, butter and oaten bread.
Heeding the boy's warning not to approach the village, de Cuellar limped past and went on his way alone, living off berries and watercress. He was set upon by a group of men who beat him hard and stripped him of his clothes; he covered himself with a skirt of plaited ferns and rushes. He came to a deserted settlement at the edge of a lake, where he was surprised to find three other Spaniards. Having stayed some time at the settlement, the group met a young man who spoke Latin and directed them to the territory of Sir Brian O'Rourke
Lord Brian na Múrtha Ó Ruairc , hereditary lord of West Bréifne in Ireland during the later stages of the Tudor conquest of that country, was proclaimed by the English to be a rebel and became the first man extradited within Britain for crimes alleged to have been committed in Ireland.-Early life:Ó...
County Leitrim is a county in Ireland. It is located in the West Region and is also part of the province of Connacht. It is named after the village of Leitrim. Leitrim County Council is the local authority for the county...
In O'Rourke's country they found greater safety, at "a village belonging to better people, Christian and kindly
", where 70 Spaniards were enjoying refuge. Dressed in lice-infested cloak and trousers, Cuellar set off northward in a party to meet with a Spanish ship at anchor for repairs, but was disappointed to hear the ship had already sailed. He returned to O'Rourke's country, where he was entertained by the lord's wife, who took a shine to the Spaniard's ability for telling fortunes.
Cuellar observed the society, noting that the people lived in a savage manner, but that they were friendly and followed the usages of the church. The people constantly engaged in nightly raids and were harried by English garrisons. He reckoned that, were it not for their hospitality, he and his fellows would not have lived. He concluded: "In this country there is neither justice or right, and everybody does what he likes
" (Kilfeather, p. 83).
Siege at Rosclogher
In November 1588 Cuellar moved on to the territory of the MacClancy with 8 other Spaniards, staying at one of the lord's castles - probably at Rosclogher on the south of Loch Melvin. News arrived that the English had sent 1,700 troops to MacClancy's country: in response, the lord opted to take to the mountains, while the Spaniards resolved to defend the castle. They had 18 firearms - muskets and arquebuses - and considered the castle impregnable because of its location in bogland, which precluded the use of artillery.
The English arrived under the command of the brother of Richard Bingham, governor of Connacht, and the siege lasted 17 days. During that time they were unable to cross the boggy terrain and, as Cuellar relates, having had their offer of safe passage to Spain turned down, they hung two Spaniards in full view of the castle so as to terrorise the defenders. A storm closed in with heavy snow, and the English were forced to raise the siege and march off.
MacClancy returned and bestowed gifts on the defenders, including an offer to Cuellar of the hand of his daughter in marriage, which was declined. Against the chieftain's advice, the Spaniards secretly departed his country 10 days before Christmas, bound for the north. They sought out the bishop of Derry, Redmond O'Gallagher, and found he had 12 other Spaniards in his care, whom he intended to assist in a crossing to Scotland.
After six days, Cuellar and 17 others set sail for Scotland in a pinnace
As a ship's boat the pinnace is a light boat, propelled by sails or oars, formerly used as a "tender" for guiding merchant and war vessels. In modern parlance, pinnace has come to mean a boat associated with some kind of larger vessel, that doesn't fit under the launch or lifeboat definitions...
. Two days later they reached the Hebrides
The Hebrides comprise a widespread and diverse archipelago off the west coast of Scotland. There are two main groups: the Inner and Outer Hebrides. These islands have a long history of occupation dating back to the Mesolithic and the culture of the residents has been affected by the successive...
, and soon after landed on the mainland. Cuellar remained in Scotland for 6 months, until the Duke of Parma's efforts procured him passage to Flanders
Flanders is the community of the Flemings but also one of the institutions in Belgium, and a geographical region located in parts of present-day Belgium, France and the Netherlands. "Flanders" can also refer to the northern part of Belgium that contains Brussels, Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp...
in the Low Countries
The Low Countries are the historical lands around the low-lying delta of the Rhine, Scheldt, and Meuse rivers, including the modern countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and parts of northern France and western Germany....
. However, the Dutch were waiting on the coast to cut off the return of Armada survivors, and Cuellar was shipwrecked in a firefight in which many of the survivors were drowned or killed after capture. Once again he found himself clinging to flotsam as he came ashore in Flanders, where he entered the city of Dunkirk
wearing only his shirt. He wrote an account of his experiences and returned to Spain some time after.
O'Rourke was hanged at London for treason
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...
in 1590; the charges against him included succouring survivors of the Armada. MacClancy was captured by Bingham's brother in 1590 and beheaded.