Robert Blake, General at Sea, 1598–1657 by Henry Perronet Briggs, painted 1829
|Nickname(s)||"Father of the Royal Navy"|
|Born||27 September 1598|
|Died||7 August 1657 58) (aged|
At sea off Plymouth, England
|Years of service||1649–1657|
|Rank||General at Sea, Colonel|
|Commands held||Mediterranean Fleet|
|Battles/wars|| English Civil War |
First Anglo-Dutch War
Barbary pirate campaign
Anglo-Spanish War (1654)
General at Sea Robert Blake (27 September 1598 – 17 August 1657 ) was an important naval commander of the Commonwealth of England and one of the most famous English admirals of the 17th century. His successes have been considered to have "never been excelled, not even by Nelson" according to one biographer. Blake is recognised as the chief founder of England's naval supremacy, a dominance subsequently inherited by the British Royal Navy into the early 20th century. Despite this, due to deliberate attempts to expunge the Parliamentarians from history following the Restoration, Blake's achievements tend not to receive the full recognition that they deserve.
The Blake family had a seat for several generations at (and were Lords of the Manor of) Tuxwell, in the parish of Bishops Lydeard, near Bridgwater, Somerset. The earliest member of the family located in records was Humphrey Blake, who lived in the reign of Henry VIII. Admiral Blake's grandfather, also named Robert, was the first of the family to strike out on his own from country life as a merchant, hoping to become rich from Spanish trade. He served as chief magistrate of Bridgwater several times, in recognition of the esteem in which the townspeople held him. His son, Humphrey, succeeded him in business, and in addition to his father's estates at Puriton (of which he held the lordship), Catcot, Bawdrip, and Woolavington, came into the estate at Plainsfield held by the family of his wife, Sara Williams, since the reign of Henry VII.
Robert Blake was the first son of thirteen children born to Humphrey and Sara.He attended Bridgwater Grammar School for Boys, then went up to Wadham College, Oxford. He had hoped to follow an academic career, but failed to secure a fellowship to Merton College, probably in consideration of his political and religious views, but also because the warden of Merton, Sir Henry Savile, had 'an eccentric distaste for men of low stature'. Blake, at five feet, six inches tall, thus failed to meet Savile's 'standard of manly beauty'.
After his departure from university in 1625, it is believed that Blake was engaged in trade, and a Dutch writer subsequently claimed that he had lived for 'five of six years' in Schiedam.Having returned to Bridgwater, probably because of the death of his mother in 1638, he decided to stand for election to Parliament.
In 1640 Blake was elected as the Member of Parliament for Bridgwater in the Short Parliament. When the English Civil War broke out during the period of the Long Parliament, and having failed to be re-elected, Blake began his military career on the side of the parliamentarians despite having no substantial experience of military or naval matters.
He would later return to recover from an injury sustained in the Battle of Portland. During that time he represented Bridgwater in the Barebone's Parliament of 1653 and First Protectorate Parliament of 1654 and Taunton in the Second Protectorate Parliament of 1656 before returning to sea.
After joining the New Model Army as a captain in Alexander Popham's regiment, Blake distinguished himself at the Siege of Bristol (July 1643) and was promoted to lieutenant colonel. After his leading role in holding Lyme Regis in the Siege of Lyme Regis (April 1644) he was promoted to colonel. He went on to hold the Parliamentary enclave of Taunton during the Siege of Taunton (1645), which earned him national recognition and where he famously declared that he would eat three of his four pairs of boots before he would surrender. He subsequently succeeded in winning the Siege of Dunster (November 1645).
Blake was appointed general at sea in 1649.Although it is commonly used, Blake's name was never prefixed by 'admiral', a rank which was not used in the Parliamentarian navy; his actual rank of general at sea combined the role of an admiral and commissioner of the Navy. In 1651 he led a force to successfully remove the Royalist Sir John Grenville from the Scilly Isles, where he had been appointed Governor by Charles II after a local rebellion.
Blake is often referred to as the 'Father of the Royal Navy'. As well as being largely responsible for building the largest navy the country had then ever known, from a few tens of ships to well over a hundred, he was first to keep a fleet at sea over the winter. Blake also produced the navy's first ever set of rules and regulations, The Laws of War and Ordinances of the Sea, the first version of which, containing 20 provisions, was passed by the House of Commons on 5 March 1649, – mostly death. The Instructions of the Admirals and generals of the Fleet for Councils of War, issued in 1653 by Blake, George Monck, John Disbrowe and William Penn, also instituted the first naval courts-martial in the English navy.with a printed version published in 1652 as The Laws of War and Ordinances of the Sea (Ordained and Established by the Parliament of the Commonwealth of England), listing 39 offences and their punishments
Blake developed new techniques to conduct blockades and landings; his Sailing instructions and Fighting Instructions, which were major overhauls of naval tactics written while recovering from injury in 1653, were the foundation of English naval tactics in the Age of Sail. Blake's Fighting Instructions, issued by the generals at sea on 29 March 1653, are the first known instructions to be written in any language to adopt the use of the single line ahead battle formationBlake was also the first to repeatedly successfully attack despite fire from shore forts.
In 1656, the year before his death, Blake was appointed Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.
On 11 January 1649 Prince Rupert of the Rhine led eight undermanned ships to Kinsale in Ireland in an attempt to prevent the Parliamentarians taking Ireland from the Royalists. Blake blockaded Rupert's fleet in Kinsale from 22 May, allowing Oliver Cromwell to land at Dublin on 15 August. Blake was driven off by a storm in October and Rupert escaped via Spain to Lisbon, where he had expanded his fleet to 13 ships. Blake put to sea with 12 ships in February 1650 and dropped anchor off Lisbon in an attempt to persuade the Portuguese king to expel Rupert. After two months the king decided to back Rupert. Blake was joined by another four warships commanded by Edward Popham, who brought authority to go to war with Portugal.
Rupert twice failed to break the blockade, which was finally raised after Blake sailed for Cádiz with seven ships he had captured after a three-hour engagement with 23 ships of the Portuguese fleet (during which the Portuguese vice-admiral was also sunk.) Blake re-engaged with Rupert, now with six ships, on 3 November near Málaga, capturing one ship. Two days later Rupert's other ships in the area were driven ashore attempting to escape from Cartagena, securing Parliamentarian supremacy at sea, and the recognition of the Parliamentary government by many European states. Parliament voted Blake 1,000 pounds by way of thanks in February 1651. In June of the same year Blake captured the Isles of Scilly, the last outpost of the Royalist navy, for which he again received Parliament's thanks. Soon afterwards he was made a member of the Council of State.
Thanks to its command of the sea, the fleet was able to supply Cromwell's army with provisions as it successfully marched on Scotland. By the end of 1652 the various English colonies in the Americas had also been secured.
Blake's next adventures were during the First Anglo-Dutch War. The war started prematurely with a skirmish between the Dutch fleet of Maarten Tromp and Blake off Folkestone on 29 May 1652, the Battle of Goodwin Sands. The proper war started in June with an English campaign against the Dutch East Indies, Baltic and fishing trades by Blake, in command of around 60 ships. On 5 October 1652 Dutch Vice-Admiral Witte Corneliszoon de With, underestimating the strength of the English, attempted to attack Blake, but due to the weather it was Blake who attacked on 8 October 1652 in the Battle of the Kentish Knock, sending de With back to the Netherlands in defeat. The English government seemed to think that the war was over and sent ships away to the Mediterranean. Blake had only 42 warships when he was attacked and decisively defeated by 88 Dutch ships under Tromp on 9 December 1652 in the Battle of Dungeness, losing control of the English Channel to the Dutch. Meanwhile, the ships sent away had also been defeated in the Battle of Leghorn.
Following the navy's poor performance at Dungeness, Blake demanded that the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty enact major reforms. They complied by, among other things, enacting Articles of War to reinforce the authority of an admiral over his captains.Blake then sailed with around 75 ships to disrupt Channel shipping, engaging Tromp with a similar sized fleet in the Battle of Portland from 28 February to 2 March 1653 when Tromp escaped with his convoy under cover of darkness.
At the Battle of the Gabbard on 12 and 13 June 1653 Blake reinforced the ships of Generals Richard Deane and George Monck and decisively defeated the Dutch fleet, sinking or capturing 17 ships without losing one. Now also the North Sea was brought under English control, and the Dutch fleet was blockaded in various ports until the Battle of Scheveningen, where Tromp was killed.
Peace with the Dutch achieved, Blake sailed in October 1654 with 24 warships as commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean Fleet,successfully deterring the Duke of Guise from conquering Naples.
In April 1655 Blake was sent to the Mediterranean again to extract compensation from the piratical states that had been attacking English shipping. The Dey of Tunis refused compensation, and with 15 ships Blake destroyed the two shore batteries and nine Algerian ships in Porto Farina, the first time shore batteries had been taken out without landing men ashore.
In February 1656 commercial rivalry with Spain was soon turned to war. In the Anglo-Spanish War Blake blockaded Cádiz, during which one of his captains, Richard Stayner, destroyed most of the Spanish plate fleet at the Battle of Cádiz. A galleon of treasure was captured, and the overall loss to Spain was estimated at £2,000,000. Blake maintained the blockade throughout the winter, the first time the fleet had stayed at sea over winter.
On 20 April 1657 Blake totally destroyed another armed merchant convoy, the Spanish West Indian fleet, in the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife – a port so well fortified that it was thought to be impregnable to attack from the sea – for the loss of just one ship. Although the silver had already been landed, Blake's victory delayed its arrival at the royal treasury of the Spanish government and earned the new English Navy respect throughout Europe. As a reward Blake was given an expensive diamond ring by Cromwell. The action also earned him respect 140 years later from Lord Nelson who lost his arm there in a failed attack; in a letter written on 17 April 1797, to Admiral Sir John Jervis, Nelson wrote "I do not reckon myself equal to Blake", before going on to outline the plans for his own attack. Lord Nelson ranked Robert Blake as one of the greatest naval generals ever known, even when compared with his own reputation.
After again cruising off Cadiz for a while, Blake turned for home but died of old wounds within sight of Plymouth. After lying in state in the Queen's House, Greenwich, he was given a full state funeral and was buried in Westminster Abbey in the presence of Oliver Cromwell and the members of the Council of State (although his internal organs had earlier been buried at St Andrew's Church, Plymouth).After the restoration of the Monarchy his body was exhumed in 1661 and dumped in a common grave in St Margaret's churchyard, adjoining the Abbey, on the orders of the new king, Charles II.
In Westminster Abbey, a stone memorial of Robert Blake, unveiled on 27 February 1945, can be found in the south choir aisle.
St Margaret's Church, where Blake was reburied, has a stained glass window depicting Blake's life, together with a brass plaque to his memory, unveiled on 18 December 1888.A modern stone memorial to Blake and the other Parliamentarians reburied in the churchyard has been set into the external wall to the left of the main entrance of the church.
In 1926 the house in Bridgwater where it is believed that Blake was born was purchased and turned into the Blake Museum,where a room is devoted to him and his exploits.
Blake is one of four maritime figures depicted with a statue on the facade of Deptford Town Hall, in the London Borough of Lewisham.
Blake and his flagship Triumph featured on a second class postage stamp issued in 1982.
In 2007 various events took place in Bridgwater, Somerset, from April to September to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the death of Robert Blake. These included a civic ceremony on 8 July 2007 and a 17th-century market on 15 July 2007.
In the Royal Navy a series of ships have carried the name HMS Blake in honour of the general at sea. The bell of the last HMS Blake, scrapped in 1982, is on display in Saint Mary's Church, Bridgwater.
The Blake Oilfield in the United Kingdom Sector of the North Sea is named in honour of the general at sea.
Blake is also mentioned in the poem Ye Mariners of England by Thomas Campbell, and is the subject of the poem
Blake also has a school house named after him at The Royal Hospital School, and a Division at Britannia Royal Naval College.
Blake's brother, Benjamin Blake (1614–1689), served under Robert, emigrated to Carolina in 1682, and was the father of Joseph Blake, governor of South Carolina in 1694 and from 1696 to 1700.
Blake's brother Samual Blake fought under Popham before being killed in a duel in 1645.
A collateral relative was the historian Robert Blake, Baron Blake (1916–2003).
The First Anglo-Dutch War, or, simply, the First Dutch War, (1652–1654) was a conflict fought entirely at sea between the navies of the Commonwealth of England and the United Provinces of the Netherlands. It was largely caused by disputes over trade, and English historians also emphasise political issues. The war began with English attacks on Dutch merchant shipping, but expanded to vast fleet actions. Although the English Navy won most of these battles, they only controlled the seas around England, and after the English victory at Scheveningen the Dutch used smaller warships and privateering to capture numerous English merchant ships so, by November 1653 Cromwell was willing to make peace, provided the House of Orange was excluded from the office of Stadtholder. Cromwell also attempted to protect English trade against Dutch competition by creating a monopoly on trade between England and her colonies. It was the first of the four Anglo-Dutch Wars.
Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp was a Dutch army general and admiral in the Dutch navy.
The Anglo-Dutch wars were a series of conflicts mainly fought between the Dutch Republic and England. The first three occurred in the second half of the 17th century over trade and overseas colonies while the fourth was fought a century later. Almost all the battles were naval engagements.
Michiel Adriaenszoon de Ruyter was a Dutch admiral. Widely celebrated and regarded as one of the most skilled admirals in Dutch history, De Ruyter is arguably most famous for his achievements with the Dutch Navy during the Anglo-Dutch Wars. He fought the English and French forces and scored several critical victories, with the Raid on the Medway being the most famous among them.
The naval Battle of Goodwin Sands, fought on 19 May 1652, was the first engagement of the First Anglo-Dutch War between the navies of the Commonwealth of England and the United Provinces of the Netherlands.
The naval Battle of Portland, or Three Days' Battle took place during 18–20 February 1653, during the First Anglo-Dutch War, when the fleet of the Commonwealth of England under General at Sea Robert Blake was attacked by a fleet of the Dutch Republic under Lieutenant-Admiral Maarten Tromp escorting merchant shipping through the English Channel. The battle failed to settle supremacy of the English Channel, although both sides claimed victory, and ultimate control over the Channel would only be decided at the Battle of the Gabbard which allowed the English to blockade the Dutch coast until the Battle of Scheveningen, where Admiral Maarten Tromp was killed in a firefight. As such, it can be considered a slight setback for the English nation and another example of Dutch superiority regarding pure seamanship at the time. It also illustrated England's drive to control the seas, which would ultimately allow it to become the prime maritime power of the world.
The naval Battle of the Gabbard, also known as the Battle of Gabbard Bank, the Battle of the North Foreland or the second Battle of Nieuwpoort took place on 2–3 June 1653. during the First Anglo-Dutch War near the Gabbard shoal off the coast of Suffolk, England between fleets of the Commonwealth of England and the United Provinces.
The Battle of Scheveningen was the final naval battle of the First Anglo-Dutch War. It took place on 31 July 1653 between the fleets of the Commonwealth of England and the United Provinces. The Dutch fleet suffered a heavy defeat, but achieved their strategic goal in the short term, as the battle led to the raising of the English blockade of the Dutch coast.
Sir William Penn was an English admiral and politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1660 to 1670. He was the father of William Penn, founder of the Province of Pennsylvania.
The Battle of the Kentish Knock was a naval battle between the fleets of the Dutch Republic and England, fought on 28 September 1652, during the First Anglo-Dutch War near the shoal called the Kentish Knock in the North Sea about thirty kilometres east of the mouth of the river Thames. The Dutch fleet, internally divided on political, regional and personal grounds, proved incapable of making a determined effort and was soon forced to withdraw, losing two ships and many casualties. In Dutch the action is called the Slag bij de Hoofden.
The naval Battle of Dungeness took place on 30 November 1652, during the First Anglo-Dutch War near the cape of Dungeness in Kent.
Niels Juel was a Danish-Norwegian admiral and a Danish naval hero. He served as supreme command of the Royal Danish Navy during the late 17th century and oversaw development of the Danish Navy.
The Battles of Schooneveld were two naval battles of the Franco-Dutch War, fought off the coast of the Netherlands on 7 June and 14 June 1673 between an allied Anglo-French fleet commanded by Prince Rupert of the Rhine on his flagship the Royal Charles, and the fleet of the United Provinces, commanded by Michiel de Ruyter.
Sir Edward Spragge was an Irish admiral of the Royal Navy. He was a fiery, brilliantly accomplished seaman who fought in many great actions after the restoration of King Charles II in 1660.
Events from the year 1652 in England.
The Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife was a military operation in the Anglo-Spanish War (1654–60) which took place on 20 April 1657. An English fleet under Admiral Robert Blake penetrated the heavily defended harbour at Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Spanish Canary Islands and attacked their treasure fleet. The treasure had already been landed and was safe but the English engaged the harbour forts and the Spanish ships, many of which were scuttled and the remainder burnt. Blake having achieved his aim then withdrew without the loss of a single ship.
The rank of general at sea, was the highest position of command in the English Parliamentary Navy, and approximates to the current rank of admiral. Alongside others, the generals at sea were also appointed as Commissioners for the Admiralty and Navy.
Sir Jeremiah Smith was an officer of the Royal Navy who saw service during the First and Second Anglo-Dutch Wars, rising to the rank of admiral.
Vice-admiral Sir Richard Stayner (1625–1662) was an English naval officer who supported the Parliamentary cause during the English Civil War and the Interregnum. During the First Anglo-Dutch War he commanded the Foresight in actions at Portland (February), and the Gabbard (June), and in the Battle of Scheveningen, 1653. During the Anglo-Spanish War (1654–60), he won renown and a fortune in prize money when he captured a great part of the Spanish West Indian treasure fleet off Cadiz in 1656. He was knighted by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell for services in Admiral Robert Blake's destruction of Spanish ships at Santa Cruz, 1657. He was a rear-admiral of the fleet which brought Charles II to England in 1660. He was again knighted at the Restoration. He died at Lisbon, while serving as vice-admiral of the Mediterranean fleet.
Brederode was a ship of the line of the Maas Admiralty, part of the navy of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, and the flagship of the Dutch fleet in the First Anglo-Dutch War. Throughout her career, she carried from 49 to 59 guns. She was named after Johan Wolfert van Brederode, the brother-in-law of stadtholder Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange.
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