Last week I mentioned that I have probably learned more about history by accident than I ever learned deliberately. An interest in novels written by John Masters led me to what may be the greatest book ever written about a turn around in military history — “Defeat Into Victory,” by Field Marshal Sir William Slim, a book which absolutely astounded me. Take some good advice: Go read it!

The very same thing happened to me when I was casually reading about the defeat of the Spanish Armada by the British in 1588. Purely by accident, I happened across a reference to a book titled, “The Book of Buried Treasure.” That sounded interesting, so I looked it up, and found a free online copy here: (See note at end.)

What really got my attention as I read that book was a true story about something that occurred during the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Many of the Spanish ships tried to escape destruction by turning north and sailing around northern Scotland.

But wait till you hear what one of them did!

The Italian-built, 52 gun Galleon Florencia, under the leadership of a captain who is unfortunately known only as “Don Pereira,” successfully made the rounding of northern Scotland. In her hold, it is written, lay a great fortune in “gold and plate.”

However, the number of men aboard her far outnumbered the usual crew of 75 to 100 crewmen and gunners; it also included 300 soldiers. The result of that was that the crew and soldiers aboard the Florencia were starving as they started down the west coast of Scotland. So making its way to the island of Mull, one of the Inner Hebrides, it dropped anchor in the small bay of Tobermory “wracked and leaking, her painted sails in tatters, and her sailors sick, weary, and starving.”

Captain Pereira, if it is true as claimed that he carried so much “gold and plate” aboard, could no doubt have successfully negotiated the purchase of everything the crew and soldiers aboard his ship needed, but it also may be true that he had heard of the fate of other ships of the Armada which had attempted to buy supplies, a fate which was sometimes not pretty.

In any event, Pereira sent a boat ashore to Duart Castle, the home of Lachlan Mo’r MacLean, Chief of the proud MacLean clan. Pereira asked that his ship be provisioned — and said that he would pay for the provisioning; but he very unwisely made an error in his written request. He added that if the provisions were not forthcoming he would simply come ashore and take them by force.

Ever tried talking that way to a proud Scotsman?

Take my advice. Don’t!

The answer he received?

“The wants of the distressed strangers shall be attended to after the captain of the Spanish ship has been taught a lesson in courteous behavior.”

The reply added that in order that the lesson might be taught him as speedily as possible, Captain Pereira was invited to land and supply his wants by the forcible means of which he boasted. It also pointed out that it was not the custom of the Chief of the MacLeans to pay attention to the demands of a threatening and insolent beggar.

The bottom line?

The remains of the Florencia lie at the bottom of Tobermory Bay.

And all that “gold and plate?”

People are still diving in search of it.

For clickable online links go to the column of this name in:

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