Roger Williams (soldier)
Sir Roger Williams (1539/1540 – 12 December 1595) was a Protestant Welsh soldier of fortune. Charles Wisner Barrell has identified Sir Roger Williams as the basis for Fluellen in William Shakespeare's Henry V (play).
Born in Penrhos, Monmouthshire, Williams was said by Anthony Wood to have attended Brasenose College, Oxford. He spent most of his life soldiering, mainly on the continent. He was in the Netherlands fighting on behalf of William the Silent, Prince of Orange, when the latter was assassinated, and helped capture the assassin, Balthasar Gérard. Williams was recognised as an expert on military matters by his contemporaries, and wrote A brief discourse of war (1590).
In 1572 Williams took part in a raid on Ter Goes, South Beveland, an outpost of the main Spanish base at Middelburg. The Garrison was far larger than they had expected and the attack failed, with many of the raiding party being killed, Williams and Rowland Yorke escaped by crawling out through ditches on their stomachs.
In 1585 he was sent to the Low Countries with an army under the Earl of Leicester's command, to confront the Spanish forces under the Duke of Parma. Though the campaign was not a success, Leicester wrote: "Roger Williams is worth his weight in gold, for he is noe more valiant than he is wise" and he was duly knighted after the Battle of Zutphen in 1586 by Leicester.
In 1587, Williams and his regiment were in Sluys (Sluis) when the Duke of Parma laid siege to the town. After a heroic defence, marked by acts of heroism and genius on both sides, the English and Dutch defenders were forced to surrender on 4 August.
Parma gave generous terms; the garrison marched out with all their banners and baggage and all the honours of war. Parma sought Williams out and offered him a command where he would not have to fight either his fellow-countrymen or his co-religionists. Williams replied politely that if he ever fought in the service of any other than his queen, Elizabeth, it would be in the service "of that hero of the Protestant cause, King Henry of Navarre." He went on to serve Henry during the late 1580s and 1590s. He also fought for the Protestant Elector of Cologne, Gebhard Truchsess von Waldburg, and fought with the Dutch soldier of fortune, Martin Schenck von Nydeggen in Westphalia. Williams returned to England in 1594, but broken in health he died the following year and his death elicited a great show of public mourning.
‘Sir Roger Williams (who was a Welchman, and but a taylour at the first, though afterwards a very brave souldier) being gracious with Queen Elizabeth, prefer’d a suite to her, which she thought not fit to grant; but he, impatient of a repulse, resolv’d to give another assault; so coming one day to court, makes his address to the Queen, and watching his time, when she was free and pleasaunt, began to move again; she perceived it at the instant, and observing a new pair of boots on his legs, claps her hand to her nose and cryes, “Fah, Williams, I prythee, begone, thy boots stink.” “Tut, Tut, madame,” says he, “’tis my suite that stinks.”
- The Actions of the Low Countries
- Nothing Truer Than Truth: Fact Versus Fiction In the Shakespeare Authorship. By Paul Hemenway Altrocchi, Hank Whittaker
- Camden Society, Anecdotes and Traditions. P.47 1839. W.J. Thomson.