Captain Sir Richard Grenville


Captain Sir Richard Grenville
(1542 - 1591)

Sir Richard Grenville - English mariner

Due to the destruction of many personal documents throughout the years, much of the events and personality of Richard Grenville have been lost. From the correspondence of worthies in (and above) his social sphere, we are told that Grenville was a man "of intolerable pride and insatiable ambition", but also a man "of great and stout courage." He may not have been a good leader, but there is little to refute his excellent grasp of matters military, judicial and financial.

Admitted as a student at the Inner Temple in 1559, Grenville married Mary St. Leger in 1565 and the next year in Hungary fought the Turks. From 1567 to 1570, he lived in Ireland with his wife and children. Upon his return to Devon in 1571, Grenville was made an MP for Cornwall, a seat he held again in 1574.

During this period his wealth and his influence grew, yet he did suffer some disappointments. In 1574, he requested permission to lead an expedition around the world, a plan Queen Elizabeth denied due to political tension with the Catholic League. Three years later, Francis Drake plagurized Grenville's circumnavigation plan, plundered his way around the globe, returned a wealthy man, and was knighted for his actions. Grenville carried a bitterness over this slight to his honor until his death.

In 1577 Grenville became sheriff of Cornwall and in that post had to deal with suspected Catholic disloyalty. Grenville destroyed the power of the Catholic aristocracy in the Devon region, and the queen knighted him as a reward.

Sir Richard now became involved in the activities of his cousin Sir Walter Ralegh, and in 1585, when Elizabeth refused to let Ralegh make the voyage to Roanoke Island, Grenville took his place. The seven-vessel fleet sailed from Plymouth and arrived at Wococon Inlet in June. By late summer the fort on Roanoke Island was complete, and in August Grenville left 107 men with Governor Ralph Lane and sailed for England. His plan was to return by Easter 1586.

While Grenville was in Bideford, Devon seeking supplies, Ralegh was becoming more involved in another colonization effort -- in Munster, Ireland. Grenville assisted in these efforts and was late in returning to Roanoke Island. When he finally returned to the colony he found that Drake had removed the colonist. So he left a few men to maintain the fort and returned to England. In 1587, when Governor John White went to England for supplies, it was Grenville from whom he sought them. Sir Richard was preparing a relief expedition when the Privy Council, because of the threat of the Spanish Armada, prohibited the departure of ships.

Grenville therefore turned his efforts to the defense of England. Because of Drake's lower social class and resentment over his interference in several projects, Grenville refused to serve under Drake. Instead he helped to protect the west coast of Devon and Cornwall and was prepared, if necessary, to take troops to Ireland. From 1588 to 1590, Grenville, Raleigh, and perhaps some of the 1585-1586 colonists, were in Ireland helping once again to pacify Munster.

Grenville's overseas career, however, was not yet over. As Philip II rebuilt the Spanish navy, the threat from Spain continued; therefore, the Admiralty decided to patrol between the Azores and Spain in order to intercept the plate fleets. It was to this area that Lord Thomas Howard and Grenville led an expedition in 1591. Sailing on Revenge, formerly Drake's ship, Grenville was surprised and in the ensuing battles fought fifteen Spanish ships in fifteen hours. Mortally wounded, Grenville wanted to scuttle his ship rather than surrender and bring dishonor to England. Unconscious from blood loss, his First Mate surrendered to the Spaniards. Grenville succumbed to his wounds and died aboard the Spanish flagship, the San Pablo. The Revenge sunk a few days later, victim of a storm.