regulation had been passed in 1574 to forbid the staging of plays at inns. He was terrified that the authorities would descend upon him at any moment. There was another consideration.

'We had more scuffles in the yard.'

'Good humoured fun, that's all,' said Nicholas. 'You always get that during a play.'

'One day it will be much worse,' feared Marwood. 'I don't want an affray at The Queen's Head. I don't want a riot. My whole livelihood could be at stake.' The nervous twitch got to work on his cheek. 'If I still have a livelihood, that is.'

'What do you mean, Master Marwood?'

'The Armada! It could be the end for us all.'

'Oh, I don't think so,' returned Nicholas easily.

'It's ready to set sail.'

'So is the English fleet.'

'But the Spaniards have bigger and better ships,' moaned the landlord. 'They completely outnumber us. Yes, and they have a great army in the Netherlands waiting to invade us.'

'We have an army, too.'

'Not strong enough to keep out the might of Spain.'

'Wait and see.'

'We'll all be murdered in our beds.' Armada fever had been sweeping the country and Marwood had succumbed willingly. He gave in before battle had even commenced. 'We should never have executed the Queen of Scots.'

'It's too late to change that,' reasoned Nicholas. 'Besides, you were happy enough about it at the time.'

'Me? Happy?'

'London celebrated for a week or more. You made a tidy profit out of the lady's death, Master Marwood.'

'I would give back every penny if it would save us from the Armada. The Queen of Scots was treated cruelly. It was wrong.'

'It was policy.'

'Policy!' croaked Marwood as the nervous twitch spread to his eyelid and made it flutter uncontrollably. 'Shall I tell you what policy has done to my family, sir? It has knocked us hither and yon.' He wiped sweaty palms down the front of his apron. 'When my grandfather first built this inn, it was called The Pope's Head, serving good ale and fine wines to needy travellers. Then King Henry fell out with the Catholic religion so down comes the sign and we became The King's Arms instead. When Queen Mary was on the throne, it was Protestants who went to the stake and Catholics who held sway again. My father quickly hung the Pope back up in Gracechurch Street. No sooner had people got used to our old sign than we had a new queen and a new name.'

'It has lasted almost thirty years so far,' said Nicholas with an encouraging smile, 'and, by God's grace, it will last many more.'

'But the Spaniards are coming--thanks to policy!'

'The Spaniards will attempt to come.'

'We have no hope against them,' wailed Marwood. 'My wife thinks we should commission another sign in readiness. Henceforth, we will trade as The Armada Inn.'

'Save your money,' counselled Nicholas, 'and tell your wife to take heart. The Spaniards may have more ships but we have better seamen. Lord Howard of Effingham is a worthy Admiral and Sir John Hawkins has used all his experience to rebuild the fleet.'

'We are still so few against so many.'

'Adversity brings out true mettle.'

Marwood shook his head sadly and his brow furrowed even more. Nothing could still his apprehension. Seers had long ago chosen 1588 as a year of disaster and the portents on every side were consistently alarming. The landlord rushed to meet catastrophe with open arms.

'The Armada Inn! There's no help for it.'

Nicholas let him wallow in his dread. Like everyone else, he himself was much disturbed at the notion of a huge enemy fleet that was about to bear down on his country, but his fear was tempered by an innate belief in the superiority of the English navy. He had first-hand knowledge. Nicholas had sailed with Drake on his famous circumnavigation of the globe in the previous decade.

Those amazing three years had left an indelible impression upon him and he had disembarked from the Golden Hind with severe reservations about the character of the man whom the Spaniards called the Master Thief of the Unknown World. For all this, he still had immense respect for his old captain as a seaman. Whatever the odds, Sir Francis Drake would give a good account of himself in battle.

Darkness was falling when Nicholas left The Queen's Head to begin the walk home to his lodgings in Bankside. He glanced up at the inn sign to see how his sovereign was responding to the threat of invasion. Buffeted by the wind and lashed by the rain, Queen Elizabeth creaked back and forth on her hinges. But she was not dismayed. Through the gathering gloom, Nicholas Bracewell fancied that he caught a smile of defiance On her lips.

(*)Chapter Two

Rumour was on the wing. It flew over the country like a giant bird of prey that swooped on its victims at will. Estimates of the size of the Armada increased daily. The Duke of Parma's army in the Netherlands was also swelled by report. A Papal promise of a million crowns to reward a successful invasion became a guarantee often times that amount. Terror even invented a massive force of English Catholics, who would stream out of their hiding places to join forces with Spanish soldiers and to help them hack Protestantism to pieces. The satanic features of King Philip II appeared in many dreams.

England reacted with fortitude. An army of twenty thousand men was assembled at Tilbury under the Earl of Leicester. With the muster in the adjacent counties, it was a substantial force with the task of opposing any landing. A second army was formed at St James for the defence of the Queen's person. The martial activity at once reassured and unnerved the citizens of London. They watched armed bands doing their training at Mile End and they heard the gunners of the Tower in Artillery Yard, just outside Bishopsgate, having their weekly practice with their brass ordnance against a great butt of earth. Invasion had a frightening immediacy.

Queen Elizabeth herself did not hide away and pray. She reviewed her troops at Tilbury and fired them with stirring words. But the Armada would not be defeated with speeches and Rumour was still expanding its ranks and boasting about its dark, avenging purpose. On 12 July, the vast flotilla set sail from Corunna. The defence of Queen and country now became an imperative. King Philip of Spain was about to extend his empire.

A week later, the captain of a scout-boat sent news that some Spanish vessels were off the Scillies with their sails struck as they waited for stragglers. On the ebb tide that night, Lord Admiral Howard and Sir Francis Drake brought their ships out of Plymouth Sound, making use of warps, to anchor them in deep water and be ready for action. Howard commanded the Ark Royal, the imposing flagship of the English fleet. At dawn the next day, he took fifty-four ships to the leeward of the Eddystone Rock and sailed to the south in order to be able--by working to windward--to double back on the enemy.

Drake was in Revenge. That same evening, as he positioned his eight ships for an attack on the Spanish rear, he caught his first glimpse of the Armada. It was a majestic sight. A hundred and thirty-two vessels, including several galleons and other first-line ships, were moving up the Channel in crescent formation. Their admiral, the Duke of Medina Sidonia, believed so totally in Spanish invincibility that he thought nothing could stop him reaching his support army in the Low Countries.

The English Fleet begged to differ. Staying to windward of the Armada, they hung upon it for nine days as it ran before a westerly wind up the Channel, pounding away with their long-range guns at the lumbering galleons, harrying, tormenting, inflicting constant damage, yet giving the Spaniards little chance to retaliate and no hope of grappling and boarding. The buccaneering skills of Drake and his like had free rein.

When the wind sank on 23 July, both fleets lay becalmed off Portland Bill. There was a further engagement two days later off the Isle of Wight then Medina Sidonia made the fatal mistake or anchoring his demoralized fleet in Calais Roads.

The Queen's ships which had been stationed at the eastern end or the Channel now joined the main fleet in the Straits and the whole sea-power of England was combined. Because it was not possible to get safely within

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