Raids On The Spanish Main, Huguenots, & Archers

In 1573 Francis Drake captured a pack train of gold and silver travelling overland on the Panama isthmus, destined for the Spanish Treasure Fleet and eventually Spain herself.

He had tried some few months earlier to accomplish the feat, aided by local cimarrones, a tribe of escaped slaves and indians who were a constant thorn in the side of the Spanish. The attempt would have been successful but for a stroke of bad luck which alerted the Spanish to his presence.

This man's life reads like a novel. What happened next is to me almost incredible. He met, accidentally, with a Huguenot privateer, Captain Tetu, who joined with him. It was from Captain Tetu that Drake heard about the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre (link), which had occurred the previous August. So the second (and successful) interdiction of the overland Camino Real was executed by English private citizens, escaped slaves, indians, and their children, and semi-exiled Huguenot sailors. Tetu, well-known for his navigational abilities, was shot through the stomach (one of only two fatalities in the raid) and left with two of his sailors while the party escaped. Tetu eventually sent the two men with him away, to join Drake. When Drake came back, Tetu and some of the treasure they had buried (they had captured more than they could carry) were gone. The Spanish had found him, and he was never heard of again. The "cimaroons" took what they wanted, which was mostly non-treasure sort of stuff, since they lived in jungle-villages, and the English and French split the treasure in half.

Interestingly, Drake had armed his men with bows and arrows for the journey, during which they not only struck the Camino Real twice, but struck practically every Spanish town from Mexico to Venezuela as well. Drake had figured that they would be more reliable than arquebusiers in the tropics. It's likely that only in England could a man at that time have picked a crew of seamen who would also be able to wield bows. Contrary to popular belief, the longbow was not an exclusively English or Welsh weapon during mid and late Medieval era. Many French dwellers of the countryside were skilled with the longbow, as were men of other nations. The difference was in the sheer number of men in England who used, and grew up using, the longbow. The English armies didn't stop using longbows because muskets were better; they stopped using longbows because private citizens stopped using them for hunt and sport, and the King's reservoir dried up. It was to prevent the loss of a skilled base that men were ordered to practice archery on Sundays and holidays in 1363 (targets were placed next to churches, and I think that might play into the Puritan prohibition of "sport" on Sunday, since it really would have been state-ordained work). The French kings at one time or another might have longbow units, but the combination of giving a little too much power to the peasantry and the lack of sufficient numbers meant that the existence of such units was sporadic. But since archery was such a well-loved sport in England, Drake was able to make his crew of privateers also be a unit of archers.