How Topsham earned this flag.
It was a good old English summer. The wind blew, and the rain poured down.
The Spanish fleet left Lisbon in May, but soon had to seek shelter from storms. Meanwhile, English coastal towns were instructed to send ships to ‘attend on Sir Francis’. By early July, four Topsham ships were in the Estuary and Topsham Quay must have been bustling with workmen and sailors loading supplies.
On 9 July, three of the ships and 140 men set off down the Exe, bound for Plymouth Sound:
Bartholemew 130 tons, 70 men under Captain Nicholas Wright,
Rose 110 tons, 50 men under Captain Thomas Sandye
Gift 25 tons, 20 men
On 13 July the fourth ship, the Grace of God, cleared the Estuaryto join the fray. A week later, Sir Francis Drake engaged the Spanish fleet and harried the Armada eastward, with sea battles off Plymouth and Portland. The wind dropped, ships had to be towed into battle by oarsmen, and the fleets drifted eastwards until they were off Calais. In a fierce battle on 28 July, Spain lost 600 men and 800 were wounded. Two days later, as the English were closing in for the kill, a squall set in and soon became a gale. Both fleets were blown northwards and by the time they were off Newcastle-upon-Tyne, were forced to seek shelter. Many Spanish ships were wrecked and the rest struggled to find their way home round the far northern isles of Scotland and the west coast of Ireland.
The Exe contingent probably left the fleet near Dunkirk on 30 July, to sail for home. But that was not quite the end of the adventure for sailors on the Exe. On 29 August, a Spanish ship was brought into the harbour at Cockington, and five of the chief prisoners were committed to Exeter gaol. A Cockington man, George Carey, reported that the ‘crew were in a very poor way and must be relieved otherwise they would perish from want . . . their fish savours so it cannot be eaten and their bread full of worms.’