1625: English invasion thwarted by a booze up

In 1625 two English military commanders, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham and Sir Edward Cecil, sought royal approval to war against Spain. A successful campaign, they argued, would weaken the Spanish Empires and revive the past glories of 1588, when the English repelled the Armada. More to the point, Villiers and Cecil hoped to line their pockets by plundering Spanish ships returning from the Americas laden with cash and cargo. Their plan was backed by the newly crowned Charles I – but not by parliament, which was unwilling and probably unable to provide financial support. In the summer of 1625 Cecil proceeded to Devon to assemble his invasion force – but he was plagued by a lack of funds and other difficulties. He secured almost 120 English and Dutch ships but many were poorly maintained and crewed. Cecil’s land force consisted of 15,000 men, most of whom were press ganged into service in and around Plymouth. Cecil’s expedition was also poorly stocked: he was able to obtain provisions for scarcely a fortnight abroad.

Edward Cecil’s failed Cadiz expedition… well it seemed a good idea at the time.

The fleet sailed on October 5th but returned the following day after striking bad weather. It sailed again two days later but suffered severe damage in heavy weather off the coast of Spain. The English encountered several Spanish ships filled with cargo but Cecil’s dithering allowed them to escape. The expedition landed near Cadiz on October 24th but Cecil, having noticed its fortifications, abandoned his plans to attack the city. Instead, he marched his men in the opposite direction and allowed them to stop at a local village. Unfortunately for Cecil this village, in the wine-producing region of Andalusia, housed a large quantity of the local product. The ‘army’ quickly fell apart, thanks to:

“…the misgovernment of the soldiers who, by the avarice or negligence of their commanders, were permitted to fill themselves so much with the wine they found in the cellars and other places they plundered, that they became more like beasts than men… if the Spaniards had had good intelligence they might have all been cut off.”

Cecil’s men became so useless the officers abandoned hope of capturing any major cities – or indeed any small ones. The men were herded back onto the ships, which for a time sailed aimlessly along the coast looking for treasure ships to plunder. But poor hygiene and lack of supplies soon took their toll on the men, who began to die, “many each hour”. In mid November the expedition was abandoned and the ships, scattered at sea, limped back to England. Cecil was the last to return: his own ship was blown off course and became lost, eventually landing on the south coast of Ireland in mid December. His return brought to a close one of the worst executed military campaigns in English history.

Source: Sir Richard Baker, A Chronicle of the Kings of England &c., 1684.