|Capture of Cadiz|
The city was one of the most important ports of departure for the Spanish fleet of ships that came and went from the New World, carrying treasure.
The English forces, 150 ships and 14,000 men, outnumbered the Spanish by 3 to 1.
The landing forces were under the command of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex and some other men, including Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Vere.
The battle itself is quite interesting, starting with artillery barrages, and then the landing forces overrunning the city itself.
Essex was reported to have fought gallantly, and even scaled the walls of the city single-handedly!
The results of the battle were all in England’s favor -- many of the Spanish ships were scuttled in order to prevent capture, the city was burned to the ground, and even though the English forces didn’t seize the silver on the treasure ships, the financial damage was so great that Spain was bankrupt for a time.
In 1596 Essex was Queen Elizabeth’s “favourite” -- meaning that she showed him more affection and rewarded him more than any other man in England.
When Essex returned home from his conquest, he was celebrated even more, and the Queen showered him with love.
|Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex|
Cadiz Portrait by Marcus Gheeraerts, 1596
the city of Cadiz burns in the distance on the right
This is important because from 1594, Essex was Shakespeare’s friend and patron.
So whatever success Essex enjoyed, Shakespeare would have enjoyed, too.
When Essex returned from his conquest of Cadiz, Shakespeare must have looked at Essex (who was only 30 at the time) as possibly the next in line to the throne -- Essex might very well be the future King of England.
Essex certainly had that ambition, and he was in a life or death struggle at court with other councillors, most notably Robert Cecil, for the future of the country.
For William Shakespeare, he must have been terribly excited and proud to be the most important and successful playwright in London, with the most powerful and favored patron, Essex.
In the course of Shakespeare’s life, the days after the Capture of Cadiz may have been the greatest, and most wonderful of his life.
He had everything he wanted, and it all seemed to be getting better.
He might even stop and daydream about the future, when he could be the official royal playwright to King Robert I of England.
Within a year or two, Essex was losing the fight at court against Cecil, and he would lose the Queen’s favour.
In order to get it back, Essex offered to lead forces to put down the rebellion in Ireland. Shakespeare even wrote Henry V to commemorate Essex’s bravery.
But Essex failed to repeat his military success from Cadiz, and he came home from Ireland even more in shame.
Essex would eventually lead a rebellion against Queen Elizabeth that resulted in failure and cost him his life.
I often wonder if Shakespeare, in later years, on the anniversary of the Capture of Cadiz, ever stopped and thought back to those glorious happy days of July 1596?
Or was the memory of that time too painful to remember?
In any event, Shakespeare was able to take these good times and bad and turn them into some of the greatest plays in history.
David B. Schajer
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