On October 6, 1595, the attempted assault of the Canary Islands by the English fleet took place within the framework of an exciting naval war between nations that ended with the death of the two most famous corsairs: Drake and Hawkins
It was about nothing less than world hegemony. On one side, the largest known Empire, the Spain of Felipe II where the sun never set. On the other, Elizabeth I of England, for whom the Spanish monarch felt an almost tribal antipathy. In the background, a war between the two nations that would last almost twenty years (1585 – 1604) and in which there would be notorious failures on the Spanish side, such as that of the Invincible Armada, and also victories that led to a peace treaty favorable to the Catholic king.. During those years, skirmishes occurred and two corsairs in the service of the English gained fame thanks to their quick surprise attack and quick escape actions that caused multiple headaches for the Spanish fleet. Their names instilled terror. They were the pirates Francis Drake and John Hawkins, who, on October 6, 1595, decided to attack Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to conquer the islands in favor of the British crown.
After a decade of war and despite the notorious failure of the “Felicísima Armada”, the war was decanting on the Spanish side. The war of attrition clearly favored the most powerful army and the English had not been able to conquer any position from the enemy. Drake proposed an action on Panama that would try to establish a colony in the middle of the Spanish empire. Six galleons and other smaller ships carried almost 3,000 soldiers and 1,500 sailors on board, the largest contingent that the English had sent to attack the Spanish Caribbean. However, shortly after leaving, the lack of food and drinking water makes the English rethink the mission.. Drake proposes to attack Gran Canaria even if that means postponing the mission in Panama. They assure that they can take the island in a few hours and obtain a victory that energizes the English and the conquest of a strategic place.
At dawn on October 6, Governor Alonso del Alvarado’s watchmen sounded the alarm. Enemy ships were approaching. They deployed the artillery in La Isleta and the Castillo de Nuestra Señora de la Luz. While at least 15 English ships launched their artillery against the Castle, some 47 barges landed half a thousand soldiers on the beach. However, Baltasar de Armas’s arquebusiers repelled the landing and killed about 40 enemies. Within an hour and a half, the British had only damaged their ships, the loss of four barges, and had barely caused any loss to their defences. They had prevented the landing, but the English were not going to withdraw without further ado.
The attacking convoy withdrew but still had a supply problem. The next day, a British ship tried to access the island through the uninhabited part of Arguineguín, trying to carry out a surprise raid and obtain supplies. However, Alonso Alvarado was warned and his men, helped by some local peasants, killed the explorers and took two prisoners. Thus they discovered that Drake and Hawkins themselves were behind the mission. The corsairs, seeing this new failure, sailed towards La Gomera, where they were able to resupply. But it would be the last time that the most famous pirates of all the seas would see the Canary Islands. His next step was an attack on San Juan (Puerto Rico) just a month later. Over there,Hawkins fell ill with a fever and died on November 22. Drake continued to sow terror, but for a short time: he contracted dysentery and died off the coast of Portobelo (Panama) on January 28, 1596, just two months later.