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the same rank, Deane and Popham, was appointed to command the fleet. It
may be taken as a proof that, notwithstanding the fame of our early
navigators, the King’s service at sea had never been treated with much
attention, that, down to later times than those of which we now write,
the chief command of a fleet seems never to have been given to a man of
naval education and habits. It is probable that the sea service then
held out no inducements strong enough to tempt men of high birth to
submit to its inconveniences, and that the command of a fleet was
esteemed too great a post to be conferred on a man of humble origin. For
this new employment Blake soon showed signal capacity. When the embers
of the war were stirred up after the King’s death, he was ordered to the
Irish seas in pursuit of Prince Rupert, whom he blockaded in the harbour
of Kinsale for several months. Despair of relief induced the Prince at
last to make a daring effort to break through the Parliamentary
squadron, in which he succeeded; but with the loss of three ships. Blake
pursued him to the Tagus, where being denied liberty to attack his enemy
by the King of Portugal, in revenge he captured and sent home a number
of ships richly laden, on their way from Brazil. In January, 1651, he
attacked and, with the exception of two ships, destroyed the Royalist
fleet, in the neutral harbour of Malaga; a breach of national law, which
can only be justified on the alleged ground that Rupert had destroyed
British ships in the same harbour. These services were recompensed by
the Parliament with the post of Warden of the Cinque Ports; and in March
an act was passed constituting Blake, with his colleagues Deane and
Popham, admirals and generals of the fleet for the year ensuing. In that
capacity, he took Jersey, Guernsey, and the Scilly Islands from the
Royalists; a service, for which he was again thanked by Parliament. In
this year he was elected a member of the Council of State.

March 25, 1652, Blake was appointed sole admiral for nine months, in
expectation of a war with the Dutch. The United States and England were
at this time the two most powerful maritime countries in the world; and
it is hard to find any better reason than national rivalry for the
bloody war which broke out between them in the spring of this year; a
war which seems to have been begun on a point of etiquette, at the
discretion of the admirals, without orders for hostilities being known
to be given by the governments on either side. On May 18, a fleet of
forty-two Dutch ships, commanded by the celebrated Van Tromp, appeared
off the Goodwin Sands. Being challenged by Major Bourne, who commanded a
squadron in the Downs, they professed to have been driven from their
anchorage off Dunkirk by stress of weather; but instead of drawing off
the coast as they were required to do, they sailed to Dover and cast
anchor, in a manner which showed the deliberate design of insulting the
British flag. Blake lay some distance to the westward in Rye Bay.
Intelligence was immediately sent to him, and on his approach the Dutch
weighed anchor, and seemed about to retreat, but, changing their course,
they sailed direct for the English fleet. When within musket shot, Blake
ordered a single gun to be fired at the Dutch admiral’s flag, which was
done thrice. Van Tromp returned a broadside, and a hot and
well-contested action ensued, and was maintained till nightfall. Under
cover of the darkness the Dutch retreated, losing two ships (one sunk,
the other taken), and leaving the possession of the field and the honour
of the victory in the hands of the English. The States appear neither to
have authorised nor approved of the conduct of their admiral; for they
left no means untried to satisfy the English government; and when they
found the demands of the latter so high as to preclude accommodation,
they dismissed Van Tromp, and intrusted the command of their fleet to De
Ruyter and De Witt. Meanwhile, Blake’s activity was unremitting. He
gained a rich harvest of prizes among the Dutch homeward-bound
merchantmen, which were pursuing their way without suspicion of danger;
and when he had sent home forty good prizes and effectually cleared the
Channel, he sailed to the northward, dispersed the fleet engaged in the
herring fishery, and captured a hundred of the vessels composing it,
together with a squadron of twelve ships of war sent out to protect
them. The hostile fleets again came to an engagement, September 28, in
which the advantage was decidedly in favour of the English, the
rear-admiral of the Dutch being taken, and three or four of their ships
disabled. Night put an end to the action; and, though for two days the
English maintained the pursuit, the lightness and uncertainty of the
wind prevented them from closing with the enemy, who escaped into Goree.
After this battle the drafting off of detachments on various services
reduced the English fleet to forty sail, and those, it is said, in
consequence of the negligence or jealousy of the executive government,
were ill provided with men and ammunition, and other requisite supplies.
Thus weakly furnished, Blake lay in the Downs, when Van Tromp again
stood over to the English coast with eighty men-of-war. Of that
undaunted spirit which usually prompts the British seaman to refuse no
odds Blake had an ample share; indeed, he did much to infuse that spirit
into the service. But there are odds for which no spirit can make up,
and as he had a brave and skilful enemy, the result of his rashness was
that he was well beaten. Not more than half the ships on either side
were engaged; but out of this small number of English vessels two were
taken, and four destroyed; the rest were so shattered that they were
glad to run for shelter into the river Thames. The Dutch remained
masters of the narrow seas; and Van Tromp, in an idle bravado, sailed
through the Channel with a broom at his mast-head, as if he had swept it
clear of English ships. However, neither the admiral nor the nation were
of a temper to submit to this indignity; and great diligence having been
used in refitting and recruiting the fleet, Blake put to sea again in
February, 1653, with eighty ships. On the 18th he fell in with Van
Tromp, with nearly equal force, conducting a large convoy of merchantmen
up the Channel. A running battle ensued, which was continued during
three consecutive days, until, on the 20th, the Dutch ships, which, to
suit the nature of their coast, were built with a smaller draught of
water than the English, obtained shelter in the shallow waters of
Calais. In this long and obstinate fight, the Dutch lost only eleven
men-of-war and thirty merchant vessels; but the number killed is said to
have amounted to 1500 on either side; a loss of life of most unusual
amount in naval engagements.

Another great battle took place on the 3rd and 4th of June, between Van
Tromp and Generals Deane and Monk. On the first day the Dutch seem to
have had somewhat the advantage: on the second Blake arrived with a
reinforcement of eighteen sail, which turned the scale in favour of the
English. Bad health obliged him then to quit the sea, so that he was not
present at the last great victory of July 29, in which Van Tromp was
killed. But out of respect for his services the Parliament presented him
with a gold chain, as well as the admirals who had actually commanded in
the battle. When Cromwell dissolved the Long Parliament, and assumed the
office of Protector, Blake, though in his principles a republican, did
not refuse to acknowledge the new administration. In conjunction with
Deane and Monk he published a declaration of their resolution,
“notwithstanding the late change, to proceed in the performance of their
duties, and the trust reposed in them against the enemies of the
Commonwealth.” He is reported to have said to his officers, “It is not
our business to mind state-affairs, but to keep foreigners from fooling
us.” He sat in the two first Parliaments summoned by the Protector, who
always treated him with great respect. Nor was Cromwell’s acknowledged
sagacity in the choice of men at fault, when he chose Blake to command a
strong fleet, sent into the Mediterranean in November, 1654, to uphold
the honour of the English flag, and to demand reparation for the slights
and injuries done to the nation during that stormy period of civil war,
when our own discord had made others daring against us. In better hands
such a mission could not have been placed. Dutch, French, and Spaniards
alike concurred in rendering unusual honours to his flag. The Duke of
Tuscany and the Order of Malta made compensation for injuries done to
the English commerce. The piratical states of Algiers and Tripoli were
terrified into submission, and promised to abstain from further
violence. The Dey of Tunis held out, confident in the strength of his
fortifications. “Here,” he said, “are our castles of Goletta and Porto
Ferino: do your worst; do you think we fear your fleet?” Blake took the
same course as, in our own time, Lord Exmouth did against Algiers: he
bore right into the bay of Porto Ferino; engaged the fortress within
musket shot, and in less than two hours silenced or dismounted its guns;
and sending a detachment of boats into the harbour, burnt the shipping
which lay there. After this example he found no more difficulty in
dealing with the African states.

War having been declared between Spain and England, in 1656, Blake took
his station to blockade the bay of Cadiz. At this period his
constitution was much broken, insomuch that, in the expectation of a
speedy death, he sent home a request that some person proper to be his
successor might be joined in commission with him. General Montague was
accordingly sent out with a strong squadron. Being obliged to quit the
coast of Spain in September to obtain water for his fleet, Blake left
Captain Stayner with seven ships to watch the enemy. In this interval
the Spanish Plate fleet appeared. Stayner captured four ships richly
laden with bullion; the rest escaped. Montague conducted the prizes
home, so that Blake was again left alone in the Mediterranean. In the
ensuing spring, having learnt that another Plate fleet had put into the
island of Teneriffe, he sailed thither, and arrived in the road of Santa
Cruz, April 20. The bay was strongly fortified, with a formidable castle
at the entrance, and a connected chain of minor forts all round it. The
naval force collected there was also considerable, and strongly posted,
the smaller vessels being placed under the guns of the forts, the
galleons strongly moored with their broadsides to the sea; insomuch that
the Spanish Governor, a man of courage and ability, felt perfectly at
ease as to the security of his charge. The master of a Dutch ship, which
was lying in the harbour, was less satisfied, and went to the Governor
to request leave to quit the harbour; “For I am sure,” he said, “that
Blake will presently be among you.” The Governor made a confident reply.
“Begone if you will, and let Blake come if he dares.” Daring was the
last thing wanting; nor did the Admiral hesitate, as a wise man might
well have done, about the real difficulties of the enterprise in which
he was about to engage. The wind blowing into the bay, he sent in
Captain Stayner with a squadron to attack the shipping, placed others in
such a manner as to take off, and, as far as possible, to silence the
fire of the castle and the forts, and himself following, assisted
Stayner in capturing the galleons, which, though inferior in number,
were superior in size and force to the English ships. This was completed
by two o’clock in the afternoon, the engagement having commenced at
eight in the morning. Hopeless of being able to carry the prizes out of
the bay against an adverse wind, and a still active enemy, Blake gave
orders to burn them: and it is probable that he himself might have found
some difficulty in beating out of the bay under the fire of the castle,
which was still lively, when on a sudden, the wind which had blown
strong into the bay, suddenly veered round to the south-west, and
favoured his retreat, as it had favoured his daring approach. Of this,
the most remarkable, as it was the last exploit of Blake’s life,
Clarendon says, “The whole action was so incredible, that all men who
knew the place wondered that any sober man, with what courage soever
endowed, would ever have undertaken it; and they could hardly persuade
themselves to believe what they had done: while the Spaniards comforted
themselves with the belief, that they were devils and not men who had
destroyed them in such a manner. So much a strong resolution of bold and
courageous men can bring to pass, that no resistance or advantage of
ground can disappoint them; and it can hardly be imagined how small a
loss the English sustained in this unparalleled action, not one ship
being left behind, and the killed and wounded not exceeding two hundred
men; when the slaughter on board the Spanish ships and on shore was

It will be recollected with interest that, on the same spot, Nelson lost
his arm, in an unsuccessful night-attempt to capture Santa Cruz with an
armed force in boats.

For this service the thanks of Parliament were voted to the officers and
seamen engaged, with a diamond ring to the Admiral worth 500_l._ Blake
returned to his old station off Cadiz; but the increase of his
disorders, which were dropsy and scurvy, raised a desire in him to
return to England, which, however, he did not live to fulfil. He died as
he was entering Plymouth Sound, August 17, 1657. His body was
transported to London, and buried with great pomp in Westminster Abbey,
at the public expense. After the Revolution it was thought unworthy to
remain in that treasure-house of England’s departed greatness; and with
the bones of others who had found a resting-place there during the short
period of the Commonwealth, it was transferred to St. Margaret’s
churchyard. It has been disputed whether this was done with more or less
of indecency; but the matter is little worth inquiry. The real indecency
and folly lay in thinking that any ground, however sanctified by the
reverent associations of centuries, could be polluted by the tomb of a
man whose leading passion was the glory of his country, and who made the
name and flag of that country respected wheresoever he carried it: a man
of whom not one mean or interested action is recorded, and whose great
qualities extorted praise even from the Royalists. Bate, in his
‘Elenchus Motuum,’ speaks of him as a man “blameable in this only, that
he joined with the _parricides_;” and it may be remarked that Dr. Bate’s
horror of a parricide did not prevent his being physician to Cromwell,
as well as to Charles I. and II.

We conclude with Clarendon’s character of this great man. “He was of
private extraction, yet had enough left him by his father to give him a
good education, which his own inclination disposed him to receive in the
University of Oxford, where he took the degree of a Master of Arts, and
was enough versed in books for a man who intended not to be of any
profession, having sufficient of his own to maintain him in the plenty
he affected, and having then no appearance of ambition to be a greater
man than he was. He was of a melancholic and sullen nature, and spent
his time most with good fellows, who liked his moroseness, and a freedom
he used in inveighing against the licence of the time and the power of
the court. They who knew him inwardly, discovered that he had an
anti-monarchical spirit, when few men thought the government in any
danger.” After a short sketch of Blake’s actions in the civil war, the
noble author continues, “He then betook himself wholly to the sea, and
quickly made himself signal there. He was the first man that declined
the old track, and made it manifest that the science might be attained
in less time than was imagined, and despised those rules which had long
been in practice, to keep his ship and his men out of danger; which had
been held in former times a point of great ability and circumspection,
as if the principal art requisite in the captain of a ship had been to
be sure to come safe home again. He was the first man who brought the
ships to contemn castles on shore, which had been thought ever very
formidable, and were discovered by him to make a noise only, and to
fright those who could be rarely hurt by them. He was the first who
infused that proportion of courage into the seamen, by making them see
by experience what mighty things they could do, if they were resolved,
and taught them to fight in fire as well as upon water, and though he
has been very well imitated and followed, he was the first that gave the
example of that kind of naval courage, and bold and resolute

The earliest life of Blake which we have seen is in the second volume of
a collection entitled ‘Lives English and Foreign,’ published at the
beginning of the last century. Clarendon’s History of the Rebellion,
Heath’s Chronicle of the Civil Wars, the Memoirs of Ludlow, Whitelock,
and other contemporary authorities, will furnish minute accounts of the
many battles of which we have here only made short mention.


_Engraved by R. Woodman._


_From the original by Janet, in the Musée Royal, Paris._

Under the Superintendance of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful

_London, Published by Charles Knight, Ludgate Street._



Michel de l’Hôpital was born at Aigueperse in Auvergne. The date of his
birth he himself declares, in his testament, to be uncertain, but at the
same time he refers it to the year 1505. His father was the domestic
physician, the faithful friend, and trusted counsellor of the Constable
of Bourbon, and still followed his patron’s fortunes, when that ill-used
and misguided prince took up arms against France in 1523. Michel de
l’Hôpital, then a student at the University of Toulouse, was arrested as
the son of one of Bourbon’s partizans; but after a short time he was set
at liberty by the express order of Francis I., and after the lapse of
two or three years was permitted to rejoin his father in Italy. He
completed his education during a residence of six years at the
celebrated University of Padua. Quitting that University with high
credit for his acquirements both in polite literature and legal
knowledge, he took up his abode at Rome with his father, and soon
obtained the favourable notice both of the Emperor Charles V. and the
French ambassador, Cardinal de Grammont. But preferring the hope of
re-establishment in his native country to the prospects of advancement
held out in a foreign land, he returned to France in the train of the
Cardinal; was present at the espousal of Catherine de Medici with the
Dauphin, afterwards Henry II., in 1583; and laid a stepping-stone
towards his fortunes by attracting the notice of his future queen. The
death of the Cardinal however in the following year overclouded his
prospects. His father was unable to procure a reversal of the sentence
of exile and confiscation passed on him for his adherence to Bourbon;
and Michel de l’Hôpital, without means or friends, betook himself to the
practice of the law in the courts of Paris. Fortunately, his merits
procured a discerning friend in Jean Morin, a high legal functionary,
who gave him his daughter in marriage in 1537, with the judicial office
of _Conseiller_ for her dowry.

L’Hôpital filled this office during nine years. It was one in which he
found no pleasure; for though attached to the philosophical study of the
law (and he mentions it as one of the evils of his situation that he had
been obliged to abandon a project for collecting into one body the laws
of France, both written and resting on judicial decisions), he found the
daily routine of trying causes extremely irksome. His letters are full
of complaints of this drudgery, as he esteemed it, and express in lively
terms the pleasure which he felt in escaping during the vacations into
the country, and renewing his literary pursuits. He numbered the most
intellectual and learned men of France among his friends, nor was he
backward in seeking to conciliate the great and powerful. It is worth
noting, as indicative of the manners of the age, that his favourite
method of addressing such persons was in Latin hexameters. Accounts of
his way of life, statements of his wishes, petitions, &c., are conveyed
in that form; and he composed with fluency, and with a competent share
of elegance, without great attention to correctness. One of his frequent
correspondents, to whose favour he owed in great measure his future
rise, was Cardinal Lorraine. The Chancellor Olivier, a man of no common
virtue, was another of his best friends, and to him L’Hôpital was
indebted for being withdrawn from the hated bustle of the law, by his
appointment as envoy to the Council of Bologna. This proved a sinecure;
and he employed his time in wandering about the neighbourhood of that
city, and writing letters to the Chancellor, full of poetical
descriptions, and requests for a more permanent provision away from the
tumult of the law courts.

Early in 1549 L’Hôpital was recalled, after remaining upwards of a year
in Italy. He found the Chancellor in disgrace; but his acknowledged
merit obtained the notice of Margaret of Valois, daughter of Francis I.,
a steady patroness of learning, herself devoted to literary as well as
religious study. Being created Duchess of Berri, she appointed him her
Chancellor, to manage the affairs of the province; and one of his first
steps in that capacity was the establishment of a new law-school at
Bourges, to which he endeavoured to attract the most eminent teachers.
Her influence, added to that of Cardinal Lorraine, procured for him the
high financial appointment of Superintendent of the Chamber of Accounts,
in 1554. His conduct in that station was firm and honest. He laboured to
put a stop to numberless abuses, which had prevailed both in the
collection and disposition of the revenue; and his zeal is testified by
the ill-will which it brought upon him, and which twice endangered the
loss of his place. His independence in this respect is ill contrasted by
his obsequiousness in supporting the edict known in French history by
the name of the _Semestre_. This requires a few words of explanation. No
legislative body was recognised by the French constitution. Even the
States-General could not enact: the power of making laws resided solely
in the sovereign. But by the practice of the land, the edicts of the
monarch required to be registered by the body of lawyers called the
Parliament of Paris, before they could possess validity as law: a
wholesome practice, which often served as a check upon the court. It was
probably with the intention of rendering that body more subject to
control, that Henry II., or his ministers, introduced the
above-mentioned edict, by which it was proposed to divide the Parliament
into two bodies, to relieve each other every six months. Under this
arrangement it would have been easy to collect the refractory spirits
into one body, and then to bring measures forward for registration in
whichever half year might best suit the views of the crown. L’Hôpital’s
accession to this measure has been palliated by alleging, that, as the
price of it, he stipulated for the abolition of a custom which
prevailed, for suitors to offer fees to the judges before whom their
causes were to be tried, under the name of _spices_ (_épices_),—a ready
means of corruption, for yielding to which, or something not much worse,
Bacon, about half a century later, was removed with disgrace from the
chancellorship of England. The whole tenor of L’Hôpital’s policy in
after times tended to depress the Parliament; and this furnishes a
presumption that his conduct in this particular instance was honest. But
it is strange that he should not have perceived any inroad on the
independence of the judicial body to be a still greater evil than even
that from which he endeavoured to free it. After all, the scheme failed,
and he was deeply mortified at the obloquy which his accession to it

The accession of Francis II., by bringing the house of Guise into power,
proved the means of L’Hôpital’s advancement. One of the first acts of
the new government was to restore to the office of chancellor Olivier, a

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