William Hepworth Dixon.

Robert Blake, admiral and general at sea online

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Cable of Contents.



West of England in the seventeenth century Taunton and Bristol
The Severn merchants Admiral Blake's ancestry Humphrey
Blake of Plansfield Sara Williams Birth of Robert Blake
His brothers and sisters Bridgwater in the seventeenth century
Home of the Blake family Perils of the merchant-service
Piracy in the south of Europe Blake at school At Oxford
Decline of the family fortunes College efforts at independence
William Blake at Oxford Death of Humphrey Blake Fa-
mily matters Development of character 1


The coming revolution Laud and his party Remonstrance from
Somersetshire Charles marries a Papist State of affairs in Ire-
land and Scotland Revolt of the Covenanters Meeting of Short
Parliament Blake returned for Bridgwater Rebellion in Ire-
land The royal standard raised at Nottingham The two parties
in the field Battle of Edgehill Blake astir in Somersetshire
Prince Rupert Siege of Bristol Blake commands at Prior's
Hill fort The town surrenders Rupert threatens to hang Blake
Rapid progress of the Royalists Blake at Bridgwater Death
of his brother Lyme Invested by Prince Maurice Brilliant
and successful defence by Blake Maurice retires . . .25


Essex advances into the west Blake's daring conception Capture
of Taunton Battle of Marston Moor Charles marches towards
Exeter Determines to avoid Taunton Capitulation of Essex's
army Blake harasses the royal army Position of Taunton
Sir Francis Doddington Wyndham before the town Blake's
letter Means of defence Wyndham repulsed Blockade
Vandruske breaks the cordon Goring's crew Quarrels in the
royalist camp Cavaliers resolve to recover Taunton Sir John
Grenville in the leaguer Concentration of troops The siege



renewed Wellington House burnt Distress of the defenders
Blake appeals to Parliament Relief sent down The stratagem
The storm Retreat of the royalists Effect on the garrison
Rejoicings in London Goring before Taunton Cavalier blun-
der Blake's practical sarcasm Welden in danger Battle of
Naseby Final relief of Taunton The club-men Capture of
Dunster Castle Blake's political views Cromwell's jealousy
A new career opening ........ 68


Part taken by the navy in the civil war Batten Commotions in the
fleet Batten goes over to the royalists with his ships Prince of
Wales in the Downs Rupert made admiral of the revolted fleet
State of the exile court Rupert's proposal He turns pirate
Blake made General at Sea Change of flag The new system
Distribution of the parliamentary fleets Rupert at Kinsale
Hopes of the royalists in Ireland Blake sails for Ireland Kin-
sale blockaded Roundhead triumphs Rupert escapes to sea
His piracies Arrives in Portugal Blake in pursuit His in-
structions John, king of Portugal Blake off Belim Castie
Party spirit in Lisbon Rupert courts the mob and the priests
Attempts to assassinate Blake Portugal declares for Rupert
Blake's vigorous policy Captures the Brazil fleet John sues for
peace The princes leave the Tagus Treaty with Portugal . 114

Rupert as a corsair Statements of our historians Fortifies the
Channel Islands Isles of Scilly Sir John Grenville Rupert's
intentions How the exiled court was supplied with money
Lawless adventures A new fleet sent to the south under Penn
Blake's orders from home Rupert at Malaga At Veles-Malaga
Burns six English ships Blake in full chase Incident at
Carthagena Murder of Ascham at Madrid Corsair fleet des-
troyed The two princes received at Toulon They escape to
South America Reprisals against France Romantic combat
Blake returns to England Attacks the Isles of Scilly Captures
Tresco Preparations for an attack on St. Mary's Battle between
frigates and batteries Grenville surrenders Sir George Carteret
Daring of Jersey pirates Strength of the island Elizabeth
Castle Blake's advice to the Navy Commission State of the
fleet Wrongs of the seamen Sails for Jersey Attempts to land
New dispositions Landing effected Elizabeth Castle cannon-
aded Carteret's gallant defence Surrender of the islands . . 147



Desire of an alliance with Holland The Orange party Events in
the United Provinces St. John at the Hague Navigation Act
Dutch carrying-trade Sudden opening of the war Tromp at-
tacks Blake in the Downs A drawn battle Explanations and
negociations Blake captures Dutch prizes Augmentation of
the Navy Merchants in danger The northern fisheries New
disposition of the fleet Blake in the north Tromp in the
Downs Capture of herring-boats Tromp sails for the north
A terrible storm Blake master at sea De Witt Vendome's
fleet taken Fall of Dunkirk Battle of the North Foreland
The Dutch retreat Effects of the victory in England . .186


De Witt disgraced Tromp's youth and education Again in com-
mand Frederick III., King of Denmark The fleets in winter
quarters Tromp appears in the Downs Battle off Dover
Complaints of the English officers Three commissioners sent
to the fleet New equipments Royalists in command of ships
Project of the exiles Several captains broken New fleet in
the Channel Great battle of Portland Blake wounded Second
day's battle Third day's battle Tromp escapes into Zealand
Killed and wounded Cromwell disperses the Long Parliament
Blake's opinions on that event Contrasts and resemblances
Blake declares to stand by the service Battle of the Gable
Blake expected Arrives A glorious victory Humiliation of
Holland Condition of the two fleets Letter from Blake En-
glish capture numerous vessels from the enemy Sickness in the
fleet Blake dangerously ill Put on shore Final action of the
war Rewards of the English Admirals 216


Blake still sick at Knoll Way of life Goes on board at Spithead
The Brest Pirates Preparation of a secret armament France
and Spain await the thunderbolt Two fleets sail from the Solent
The expedition Blake in the south of Europe The Duke of
Guise invades Naples Alarm in Rome Reparation exacted
from Florence Plague in the Fleet Blake sick Storm and
peril The fleet at Tunis Preparations for defence Negociation
Return to Cagliari for bread The Dey's defiance Blake's
ruse Brilliant attack on Porto Ferino Explanations sent to



Constantinople Venetian courtesy The Knights of Malta
Treaty with Algiers A noble incident Effects of this cruise in
the Mediterranean ........ 266


Penn's treasonous offer War with Spanish America The reasons
for it Diplomacy of Cardinal Mazarine Peace with France
Affairs of the Vaudois A fray at Malaga A priest surrendered
to heretics Blake at Cadiz Failure of Penn's expedition
Philip declares war Cadiz blockaded Spaniards venture out to
sea The fleets in presence Blake sails for Lisbon His health
failing rapidly Return to England The great admirals out of
service Dangers increasing Fresh services Blake goes on
board the Naseby His farewell letter His will He sails for
Spain Blake's plans Blockade of Cadiz Skirmishing at sea
Affairs of Portugal The English ambassador shot at in public
Blake near Lisbon Instant reparation demanded and obtained
Ludicrous alarm in Rome Cromwell's suggestions Can
Gibraltar be stormed ? New proposals from London A terrible
storm Blake in great peril Six ships put out of service
Brilliant exploit at Malaga The fleet sails for Aviero Bay
Stayner captures the Mexican fleet Tragic story of the Badajoz
family General Montagu returns to England .... 295


Blake's design A winter campaign Spaniards make new prepara-
tions Receive secret aid from Holland The Barbary corsairs
Effects of the war on mercantile interests Deplorable state of
the English fleet Welcome news Silver fleets at Santa Cruz
Blake at the Canaries The Dutchman's warning The attack
began The Spanish fleet annihilated English retire from the
harbour Criticisms on Santa Cruz Effect of the intelligence in
London Cromwell's letter Court-martial on Humphrey Blake
Vigorous proceedings against the Dutch Blake confined to
his cabin His last public service Liberation of Christian slaves
The passage home Dies in Plymouth Sound The corpse
carried to Greenwich Magnificence of his funeral The Stuarts
disinter his remains ......... 338


THE story of the renowned Admiral, Robert Blake, and in it
the Naval History of England during one of its most brilliant
periods, has not hitherto been written with either accuracy of
outline or copiousness of detail. Readers of the Common-
wealth annals know how prominent is his place in contem-
porary literature how many of his letters are preserved in
Tlmrloe and other collectors how frequent are the references
to him in the Journals of the House, in broadsides, pamphlets
and the various newspapers. But even these sources of infor-
mation have almost wholly escaped the attention of such writers
as have formally undertaken his memoirs. The chief autho-
rity for such slight notices of Blake as appear in our Encyclo-
paedias and Biographical Dictionaries is an extremely meagre
and incorrect memoir published in a work having the title
Lives : English and Foreign. 1704. It was on this foundation
that Dr. Johnson based his spirited sketch for the Gentleman's
Magazine. After-writers followed his lead ; from the author
of the article "Blake" in the Encyclopaedia Britannica the
best and most copious of modern accounts down to Mr. Gor-
ton, who wrote a memoir of twenty-four pages for the Useful
Knowledge Society.

Of these notices it is sufficient to say that, with one or two
exceptions, the writers did not even trouble themselves to con-
sult the Blake Correspondence in Thurloe. Not one of them


appears ever to have seen the two printed documents which
are really valuable originals for the Admiral's life. These
works are entitled :

1. An Encomiastick or Elegiack Enumeration of the Noble Atchieve-

ments and unparallel'd services done at Land and Sea by that Truly
Honourable General, Robert Blake, Esq., Late one of his Highnesses
Generals at Sea, who after nine years' Indefatigable Service in that
high Employment, Exchanged this Earthly Tabernacle for an Eternal
House not made with Hands, Blessed by dying in the Lord, in
Plymouth Sound, September the seventh, 1657, aged 59. London :
printed by Tho. Roycroft 1658.

2. The History and Life of Robert Blake, Esq., of Bridgewater, General

and Admiral of the Fleets and Naval Forces of England. Contain-
ing a Full Account of his Glorious Atchievements by Sea and Land,
more especially by Sea; where he obtained surprising Victories over
the Dutch, French, Spaniards and others, Turks as well as Chris-
tians. To which is added a sketch of a comparison between the
Two Great Actions against the Spaniards at Santa Cruz and Porto
Bello. Written by a gentleman who was bred in his Family. Lon-
don : printed for J. Millan, opposite the Admiralty Office, near
Whitehall ; and R. Davis, at the corner of Sackville Street, Piccadilly,
[without date, but probably written in 1740].

These works are both scarce. Many of the facts which
they contain are not preserved elsewhere. They are both
unquestionably genuine. Yet, so far as I know, they have
never been referred to by writers on Blake or on the Com-
monwealth history.

The Elegiack Enumeration is a rhymed chronicle, of twenty-
eight pages, with little merit as verse, but of importance for
some of its facts and anecdotes, which I have found nowhere
else. I quote a favourable specimen of the versification from
near the conclusion :

" If now some British Plutarck, kindly prest
With love of vertue sparkling in his breast,


Should in historick style limme out this brave

And English Aristides, and from [the] grave

Redeem his memory, for his Renown

This one thing more (his worthy Gests to crown)

May added be, the glory of them all ;

That during these long Warres, wherein the fall

Of thousands he beheld, as many rise

To fortunes high (true valour's meed and prize),

Yet he, postponing with heroick zeale

His private interest to the publick weale,

Himself would not advance by these vast spoiles,

Still him attending from those bloudy broiles

(Though millions siezed by his conduct, so skilled

In arms and Counsell the English Coffers fil'd),

Who with his native portion well content,

For his dear countrie's good, was gladly spent."

But a small portion, however, of the existing materials for
a picture of the public and private life of Blake exists in the
printed form. These materials are chiefly to be found in the
voluminous Correspondence of the Navy Commissioners, lately
removed from Deptford to the Tower, in the Orders and In-
structions sent to the Generals and Admirals at sea, preserved
in the Admiralty Office at Whitehall, in the collection of
Naval Mss. in the State-Paper Office, in the ancient Rolls de-
posited at Carlton Bide, in miscellaneous original documents
at the British Museum, and in Family Papers. The following
list comprises most of the Ms. papers which have been, or are
at present, in my hands, to which I am indebted for valuable
information :

i. The original Letters written by Blake to the Navy Commissioners

during the years 1649-1655, in the Deptford Mss.
ii. The originals written by Blake to the officers of the Dockyard

during the same period, in Deptford Mss.

in. Copies of Letters written by the Navy Commissioners to Blake,
in the Admiralty Books at Whitehall.


iv. Various Blake Mss. consisting of Copies of Wills, genealogical
notes and other domestic papers, furnished to me by S. W. Blake,
Esq., of Venne House, and by William Blake, Esq., of Bishop's
Hull, in Somersetshire, the present representatives of the Blake

v. The collection of Naval Mss. in the State- Paper Office,
vi. The Parish Registers of Bridgwater from 1563 to 1645.
vn. A list of the mayors of Bridgwater, copied from panels in the

vni. Copies of bequests to the poor of Bridgwater, from panels in St.

Mary's Church and in the Workhouse.

ix. The Baker Mss. A collection of inscriptions, drawings and notes
on the Blake property in. and about Bridgwater, together with
extracts from old wills, rent-rolls and title-deeds, placed in my
hands by William Baker, Esq., Secretary to the Somersetshire
Archaeological Society.

x. The Heralds' Visitations of Somerset in 1623, Harl. Mss. 1141.
xi. Michaelis Recorda, 4 Eliz. Rot. 68, Record Office,
xn. Hilarii Recorda, 20 Eliz. Rot. 59, Record Office,
xin. A Ms. account of the siege of Lyme, belonging to George Roberts,

Esq., of that town.

xiv. Various Roberts Mss. including plans, notes, extracts from the
contemporary mayor's accounts, and from the Chute House
papers, furnished to me by the same gentleman.
xv. Landsdowne Mss., volumes, 733 and 817.
xvi. Burghley Papers (in Lansdowne Coll. 115).
xvn. Ms. Reports of the Judges of the Court of Admiralty, State- Paper


xvm. Navy Lists in Add. Mss. 17, 503.
xix. Blake's Letter to Col. Bennett in Add. Mss. 12098.
xx. Copies of Blake Despatches from the Mediterranean, in Add. Mss.


xxi. Ayscough Mss. 6125.
xxn. An account of Blake's death, from Wood's Mss. in Ashmole

Museum, E. 4, No. 8560.

xxin. Extracts from the Ms. Chronicle of Plymouth.
xxiv. The Order of General Blake's Funeral, in Add. Mss. 12514.

From these copious sources, aided by the results of a care-


ful examination of the squibs, satires and broadsides of that
time, I have endeavoured to recover a more distinct image of
the Puritan Sea-King to find, if it were possible, in forgotten
nooks and corners the anecdotes and details which were re-
quired to complete a character thus far chiefly known by a
few heroic outlines. How far the work realises my own idea,
or answers the necessity which called it into existence, others
must pronounce. But be its faults of execution many or few,
it was undertaken with the hope of contributing in its degree
to a better appreciation than now obtains of the more mode-
rate men of our revolutionary era a labour necessary to be
undertaken somewhere.

The Portrait affixed to this volume is copied from a mezzo-
tint engraving in the British Museum. There are or were
four so-called Portraits of Blake. One hangs in the Townhall
of Bridgwater, where it has been placed within these dozen
years : it is undoubtedly spurious. Another is in Greenwich
Hospital; it is a composition by H. P. Briggs, R.A., painted
in or about 1828-9 : yet this fancy sketch has been engraved
as a Portrait of Blake ! The third, in the dining-hall of Wad-
ham College, Oxford, a copy of which is in the possession of
William Blake, Esq., of Bishop's Hull, is probably an origi-
nal ; but its history is not known : it was engraved fifteen or
sixteen years ago by Mr. Charles Knight. The fourth painting
was formerly in possession of the antiquary, Joseph Ames, who
had it engraved January 24, 1740, by Captain Thomas Pres-
ton, and dedicated it " to ye citizens of London." Ames de-
scribes the portrait in his " Catalogue of Heads" thus briefly
"Own hair Laced neckcloth Buff coat." It is quite pos-
sible that the Wadham Portrait and the Ames Portrait may
have been painted from the same individual at different ages.
They are both fine heads and full of character ; but I consider


the latter as of rather better authority Ames being well ac-
quainted with such matters and almost a contemporary, and
I have consequently chosen it as the illustration for this vo-
lume. There are several other pretended heads of Blake on
broadsheets and in periodicals; but they are evidently not

It only remains for me to express the thanks which I
owe to so many kind friends for the assistance rendered so
readily in my search for the materials here embodied. To T.
Duffus Hardy, Esq., Keeper of the Tower Records, I am in-
debted for many facilities in the inspection and copying of
extracts from the Deptford Mss. Hardly less signal are my
obligations to William Blake, Esq., of Bishop's Hull, near Taun-
ton ; to George Roberts, Esq., of Lyme Regis, author of the
Life of Monmouth; and to William Baker. Esq., of Bridgwater,
for their valued communications, including old deeds, wills,
drawings, facsimiles, and local and family traditions, as well as
for personal attentions during my visits to the localities con-
nected with Blake's history. Nor must I omit to express my
grateful sense of the kindness of Silas Wood Blake, Esq., of
Venne House, Wiviliscombe, the present owner of Admiral
Blake's property at Knoll and of many other family relics, in
furnishing me with various family papers, deeds, wills and
genealogies. My sincere thanks are also due to John Barrow,
Esq., of the Admiralty, and to W. C. Lemon, Esq., of the State-
Paper Office, for aid so readily given me in the inspection of
documents at their respective offices. Thomas Ward, Esq., of
Overstowey ; Henry Bernard, Esq., of Wells ; and the Rev.
John Poole, of Enmore, have kindly undertaken inquiries or
supplied me with local information. The Rev. T. G. James,
Vicar of Bridgwater, zealously aided my search among the
parish registers ; and the Rev. Mr. Jones, Unitarian Minister


of the same town, lent his valuable assistance in the collection
and examination of local traditions and documents. Many
other friends at Bristol, Bridgwater, Taunton, Lyme and Ply-
mouth contributed their time and local knowledge to the com-
pletion of my store of biographical materials : but I will only
further venture to name my obligations to Richard John King,
Esq., of Bigadon, Devonshire, to the Rev. Mr. Warre, and
Messrs. Kinglake and May of Taunton Dean.

W. H. D.


*,* In the extracts made from Blake's Letters in the following work
the spelling has been modernised, and to prevent any confusion
as to the identity of the ships spoken of, the prefix St. (never
used by a Puritan sailor) has been retained in such cases as the
St. George, St. Andrew, &c.




IN the early part of the seventeenth century the coun-
ties lying between the South Channel and the river
Severn were among the most active, wealthy and cul-
tivated in England. While Liverpool was still a swamp,
and Manchester but a straggling hamlet Leeds a clus-
ter of mud huts, and the romantic valley of the Calder
a desolate gorge, the streets of Taunton, Exeter and
Dunster resounded with arts and industry; and the
merchant-ships of Bridgwater and Bristol were daily
going out or coming in from the remotest corners of the
earth. The fairest fields, the largest cities, the proudest
strongholds lay in this region. The vales of Stroud,
Honiton and Evesham still bear away the palm of rural
beauty; when the vine was an English plant, it at-
tained its highest perfection on the sunny slopes of
Somerset and Devon ; and a royal sybarite, whose taste
at least has never been impugned, declared that in those
days the south-west coast was the only part of England
fit for the habitation of a gentleman.



The towns were in equal repute with the country.
Taunton was famous for its woollens while the Plan-
tagenets were yet on the throne ; in later times a band
of industrious Flemings, flying from the persecutions of
the Duke of Alva, brought their knowledge, enterprise
and capital into the town, and under their teaching it
soon obtained an equal reputation for serges. Parlia-
ment fostered these rising trades, and " Tauntons" were
then as well known in the markets of Europe as are
now Manchester cottons or Spitalfields silks. While the
Yorkshire breeder of sheep was either too indolent or
too ignorant to work the wool which grew so plentifully
on his native downs into an article of trade, the work-
men of the western city obtained by the process wealth,
cultivation and political power. 1 Bristol, inferior in po-
pulation and maritime resources to London alone, had
long aspired to the honours of a western metropolis.
Its history looked back to the remotest times. Its
docks, its streets, its religious edifices, its ancient gates
and decaying fortifications, all bore testimony to its long-
established grandeur. The city of London barely fur-
nished larger returns to the royal exchequer ; com-
missions, commissioners and. pursuivants levied money
under many pretexts from its opulent traders, and the
armies of Ireland and Scotland were frequently re-
cruited among its hardy and adventurous population.
From its excellent situation as a point of departure
for the west and south, it gradually obtained a mono-
poly of Irish commerce ; and its vessels visited the har-
bours of Portugal and Spain, whence they brought

1 Acta Regia, iv. 319; Toulmin's History of Taunton, 3G8-370.


home the treasures of two worlds in exchange for the
woollen cloths which then constituted our only manu-
facture. As its great houses increased in means, their
enterprises took a bolder range. No longer satisfied to
share their golden harvests with the more fortunate
Iberian, they sought by the path of new discovery to
gain for their own port such advantages as Columbus
had won for the Spaniard and Vasco de Gama for the
Portuguese. Cabot had sailed from their river on his
first adventure, and four of the five small vessels that com-
posed his fleet were supplied by the Severn merchants.
In that and subsequent voyages, undertaken at their
expense, he had added Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and
North America as far as the inlet of the Chesapeake,
to the known regions of the world, establishing a con-
nexion with Hispaniola, Porto Rico and the coasts of
Brazil, which was not quite abandoned even after the
government, in virtue of a treaty to that end, gave up
the rights of English discovery in those regions to the
crown of Arragon and Castile. Inspired by these suc-

Online LibraryWilliam Hepworth DixonRobert Blake, admiral and general at sea → online text (page 1 of 26)