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Contemporary portrait of Sir Richard Grenville, inscribed: An(no) D(omi)ni 1571 aetatis suae 29 ("In the year of Our Lord 1571, of his age 29"). National Portrait Gallery, London.
15 June 1542|
Bideford, Devon, England
|Died||10 September 1591
off Flores, Azores Islands
|Allegiance||Kingdom of England|
|Battles/wars||Second Desmond Rebellion
Anglo–Spanish War (1585)
Battle of Gravelines
Battle of Flores (1591)
|Spouse(s)||Mary St Leger|
|Relations||Son Bernard Grenville|
Sir Richard Grenville (15 June 1542 – 10 September 1591) (alias Greynvile, Greeneville, Greenfield etc.) was an English Member of Parliament for Cornwall, Soldier, Sheriff of Cork '69-'70, Armed Merchant Fleet Owner, Privateer, Sheriff of Cornwall in 1576–77, Colonizer, and explorer. He took part in the early English attempts to settle the New World, and also participated in the fight against the Spanish Armada. He died in 1591 at the Battle of Flores, characteristically fighting against overwhelming odds, and refusing to surrender his ship to the far more numerous Spanish. He was the grandfather of Sir Richard Grenville, of English Civil War fame.
- 1 Origins
- 2 Early career
- 3 Military career
- 4 Return to England
- 5 Development of Irish estate
- 6 Privateering plan
- 7 New World & Roanoke Colony
- 8 Spanish Armada
- 9 Command of the Revenge and death
- 10 Marriage & progeny
- 11 Legacy and honours
- 12 In popular culture
- 13 Sources
- 14 Notes
- 15 References
Richard Grenville was the eldest son and heir of Sir Roger Grenville (d.1545), who was Captain of the Mary Rose when it sank in Portsmouth Harbour in 1545, by his wife Thomasine Cole, daughter of Thomas Cole of Slade. Thomasine survived her husband and remarried to Thomas Arundell. The ancient Grenville family were lords of the manors of Bideford in Devon and of Stowe, Kilkhampton in Cornwall. He was a cousin of Sir Walter Raleigh and the privateer Sir Francis Drake.
Grenville's birthplace is believed to have been at Bideford. His father (who had pre-deceased his own father Sir Richard Grenville (c.1495-1550), MP for Cornwall in 1529) died when he was an infant, aged 3, and his mother remarried to Thomas Arundell of Clifton Arundell House, where Grenville spent much of his childhood. At age 17 Grenville began law studies at the Inner Temple.
At age 18 he inherited his grandfather's estates at Stowe in Cornwall, and Bideford and Buckland Abbey in Devon, England. On 19 November 1562, aged 20, he was in an affray in the Strand, London, in which he ran through with his sword Robert Bannister and left him to die. He was pardoned for this crime. In 1565 Grenville married Mary St Leger (c.1543-1623), daughter of Sir John St Ledger and heir to her brother.
He was appointed Sheriff of Cork c.1568.
Activity in Ireland
In 1569, he arrived in Ireland with Sir Warham St. Leger (c.1525-1597) to arrange for the settlement of lands in the Barony of Kerricurrihy. These had been mortgaged[clarification needed] to St Leger by Gerald Fitzgerald, 15th Earl of Desmond. At about this time Grenville also seized lands for colonisation at Tracton, to the west of Cork harbour. Sir Peter Carew had asserted his claim to lands in south Leinster. St Leger settled nearby, and Humphrey Gilbert pushed westward from Idrone along the Blackwater River. All of these English efforts to take over land in the south of Ireland led to bitter disputes. They escalated into the first of the Desmond rebellions, led by James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald.
As Sheriff of Cork, Grenville witnessed the rebellion in which Fitzmaurice, along with the Earl of Clancar, James Fitzedmund Fitzgerald (the Seneschal of Imokilly); Edmund Fitzgibbon (the White Knight); and others, attacked Tracton. They overcame the English defence with pickaxes and killed nearly the entire garrison. The three surviving English soldiers were hanged the next day by the Irish. Fitzmaurice threatened the imminent arrival of Spanish forces. Having robbed the citizens of Cork, he boasted that he could also take the artillery of the city of Youghal.
In June 1569, soon after Grenville's sailing for England, Fitzmaurice camped outside the walls of Waterford and demanded that Grenville's wife and Lady St Leger be given over to him, along with all the English and all prisoners; the citizens refused. His forces put local English farmers to the sword. As Cork ran low on provisions, the people of Youghal expected an attack at any minute. The rebellion continued, but Grenville remained in England.
Return to England
Grenville sided with the Earl of Arundel and the Duke of Norfolk in 1569 against the Queen's secretary. He was elected MP for Cornwall in 1571 and appointed High Sheriff of Cornwall for 1576. "Undeviatingly Protestant", he arrested the Catholic priest Cuthbert Mayne at the home of the Tregians in 1577. Mayne was martyred as a result.
Development of Bideford
During this period Grenville played a major role in the transformation of the small fishing port of Bideford in north Devon into what became a significant trading port with the new American colonies, later specialising in tobacco importation. A Charter had been granted to his ancestor Richard Grenville in 1272, creating the Town's first Council. In 1575 he created the Port of Bideford. Grenville was never elected as Mayor of Bideford, preferring instead to support John Salterne in that role, but he was Lord of the Manor, a title held by the Grenvilles since 1126 and finally ceded by his descendants in 1711 to the Town Council he established. He was again elected as MP for Cornwall in 1584 (sitting until 1586).
Development of Irish estate
Following a period of supporting Sir Walter Raleigh's venture in America (see below) he returned to Munster to arrange the estate granted him under the plantation of the province. Following the suppression of the Second Desmond Rebellion in 1583, he had purchased some 24,000 acres (97 km²) in Kinalmeaky and brought settlers over. His renewed efforts beginning in 1588 yielded little success, and Grenville returned to England late in 1590.
In 1574 Grenville submitted a proposal to the Privy Council to take a single ship to plunder Spanish treasure ships in South America and from there to sail across the 'South Sea' (i.e. Pacific Ocean) in hope of finding a short cut to the Spice Islands. He was refused on the grounds that England was still in diplomatic relations with Spain. Grenville's plan was eventually executed by Sir Francis Drake when he circumnavigated the world in 1577.
New World & Roanoke Colony
In 1585, Grenville was admiral of the seven-strong fleet that brought English settlers to establish a military colony on Roanoke Island, off the coast of modern North Carolina in North America. He was heavily criticised by Ralph Lane, general of the expedition, who referred to Grenville's "intolerable pride and unsatiable ambition". Lane's remark was prompted by a bitter legal feud he then had with Grenville. On his return, Grenville captured a Spanish ship, the 'Santa Maria de Vincenze', which he later brought to Bideford to be converted into the 'Galleon Dudley'. The cannons from that Spanish ship are thought to be those erroneously labelled 'Armada cannons' in Bideford's Victoria Park.
In 1586 Grenville returned to Roanoke to find that the surviving colonists had departed with Drake. Grenville left 15 of his own men to defend Raleigh's New World territory. During his return voyage to England, Grenville raided various towns in the Azores Islands. At about this time, a description was given of his behaviour while dining with Spanish captains:
"He would carouse three or four glasses of wine, and in a bravery take the glasses between his teeth and crash them in pieces and swallow them down, so that often the blood ran out of his mouth without any harm at all unto him".
In 1587 he was asked by the Privy Council to organize the defences of Devon and Cornwall in preparation for the expected attack by the Spanish Armada the following year. In 1588, Grenville equipped seven ships at Bideford with supplies and more colonists for Raleigh's 'Planters' Colony settled at Roanoke the previous year. However, a stay of shipping due to the impending arrival of the Spanish Armada meant that the fleet did not sail. Grenville led five of these ships to Plymouth to join the English defences and returned to Bideford where he provisioned the remaining two ships for Roanoke, a voyage that later turned back after being raided by the French. Later that year, Grenville was commissioned to keep watch at sea on the western approaches to the Bristol Channel in case of the return of the Spanish Armada.
Command of the Revenge and death
Grenville was appointed Vice-Admiral of the Fleet under Thomas Howard. He was charged with maintaining a squadron at the Azores to waylay the return to Spain of the South American Spanish treasure fleets. He took command of Revenge, a galleon considered to be a masterpiece of naval construction.
At Flores Island the English fleet was surprised by a much larger squadron sent by King Philip II of Spain. Howard retreated to safety, but Grenville faced the 53 enemy ships alone, leading his single ship in what amounted to a suicide mission, stating that he "utterly refused to turn from the enimie...he would rather chose to die than to dishonour himselfe". His crew was reduced by nearly 100 men due to sickness on shore, but he chose nonetheless to confront the far superior Spanish force. For twelve hours he and his crew fought-off the Spanish, causing heavy damage to fifteen galleons. According to Raleigh's account, Grenville and his soldiers fought for hour after hour:
- "until all the powder of The Revenge, to the last barrell, was now spent, all her pikes broken, fortie of her best men slain, and the most part of the rest hurt". The ship itself was "marvellous unsaverie, filled with bloud and bodies of deade and wounded men like a slaughter house".
The fight was later romanticized by the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson in his work The Revenge: A Ballad of the Fleet: "Out-gunned, out-fought, and out-numbered fifty-three to one", Grenville was said to have wished to blow up his ship rather than give up the fight, as Tennyson wrote: "Sink me the ship, Master Gunner! — sink her! split her in twain! ... Fall into the hands of God, not into the hands of Spain! ". Grenville's crew however refused to obey these suicidal orders and his officers surrendered what was left of their vessel to the Spanish, on a promise of fair treatment.
Grenville died of his wounds several days later, screaming that his men were "traitors and dogs", but the Spanish were not to enjoy their success, nor would Grenville's men survive their deliverance. The Spanish fleet was caught by a cyclone soon after and during a week-long storm Revenge and fifteen Spanish warships and merchant vessels were lost. Revenge sank with her mixed prize-crew of seventy Spaniards and English prisoners near the island of Terceira, at the approximate position .
Marriage & progeny
In 1565 Grenville married Mary St Leger (c.1543-1623), daughter of Sir John St Ledger and heir to her brother. She outlived her husband and died aged about 80 on 9 November 1623 and was buried at St Mary's Church, Bideford. The family initially lived at Buckland Abbey before moving to a newly built house at Bideford. They had 4 sons, including Bernard Grenville.
Legacy and honours
- Grenville's final battle on Revenge is commemorated in a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson ("The Revenge"). It was set for choir and orchestra by composer Charles Villiers Stanford ("The Revenge").
- One of the five houses of British public school Churcher's College is named after Grenville. There are also houses named after him at Dulwich College, Queen Elizabeth's High School, Devonport High School for Boys and after his family at West Buckland School.
- Grenville College, the private school in Bideford, was named after Grenville. The school has since been combined with Edgehill College and renamed the Kingsley School.
- A Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corp, 93 R.C.S.C.C. Grenville, is located in Kelowna, B.C., Canada.
In popular culture
- Grenville's final battle on Revenge is mentioned in a poem by Robert E. Howard; ("Solomon Kane's Homecoming") from Fanciful Tales (1936). Howard mentions Grenville in several other Solomon Kane stories and poems, most prominently in "The Return of Sir Richard Grenville".
- Grenville is the subject of a 20th-century song by Al Stewart, "Lord Grenville," ("Lord Grenville") on Stewart's Year of the Cat album.
- Vivian, Lt.Col. J.L. & Drake, Henry H., (Eds.), The Visitation of the County of Cornwall in the Year 1620, London, 1874: pedigree of Grenville pp.84-87
- Vivian, Heralds' Visitations of Cornwall
- History of Parliament biography
- Ford, David Nash (2010). "Sir Edward Unton (1534-1582)". Royal Berkshire History. Nash Ford Publishing. Retrieved 15 November 2010.
- "GRENVILLE, Richard II (c.1542-91), of Stowe in Kilkhampton, Cornw. and Buckland Abbey, Devon.". History of Parliament Online. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
- Milton, p.271
- The Revenge: A Ballad of the Fleet by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
- Milton, p.272
- Paine p. 150
- Earle p. 159
- Bagwell, Richard, Ireland under the Tudors 3 vols. (London, 1885–1890).
- Canny, Nicholas P., The Elizabethan Conquest of Ireland: a Pattern Established, 1565–76 (London, 1976). ISBN 0-85527-034-9.
- Earle, Peter, The Last Fight of the Revenge (London, 2004) ISBN 0-413-77484-8
- Falls, Cyril, Elizabeth's Irish Wars (1950; reprint London, 1996). ISBN 0-09-477220-7.
- Milton, Giles, Big Chief Elizabeth - How England's Adventurers Gambled and Won the New World, Hodder & Stoughton, London (2000)
- Powell, Andrew Thomas, Grenville and the Lost Colony of Roanoke (London 2011). ISBN 978-1-84876-596-2.
- Rowse, A. L.. Sir Richard Grenville of the Revenge (London, 1937).
- "Grenville, Richard (1541?-1591)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
Sir John Chamond
|Custos Rotulorum of Cornwall
Sir John Arundell[disambiguation needed]