Saturday, 28 August 2010

Sir Richard Grenville and The Revenge

August Bank Holiday in England always reminds me of the Battle of the Revenge, fought off the Azores on the night of 31st August to 1st September 1591. In the summer of 1591, sixteen British ships, under Lord Thomas Howard, were patrolling the North Atlantic looking for Spanish treasure ships, returning to Spain from South America. Second in command was Vice-Admiral Sir Richard Grenville, of an ancient Cornish family. His ship was The Revenge, which had been Drake's ship during the defence against the Spanish Armada. He had been, amongst other things, an M.P.and, in his youth, he had been pardoned for murder, resulting from a street fight. He had also been known to eat glass to steel his crew to bravery.

A Spanish fleet of fifty three ships was reported as approaching the British fleet off the Azores and Howard decided not to engage them and made out to sea. Grenville, who had sick men ashore, stayed back in The Revenge to pick them up and then made straight for the Spanish ships and engaged them for fifteen hours until dawn on 1st September, by when the ship was all but a wreck and most of the crew dead or injured. Grenville wanted to sink her but the surviving officers and crew persuaded him to surrender. The Revenge was, shortly after, broken up in a great storm and Grenville died of his wounds.

Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote a stirring poem called The Revenge: A Ballad of The Fleet, which English school children used to learn to recite.

The picture is from a contemporary portrait of Sir Richard Grenville.

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