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Sir Richard Grenville

Sir Richard GrenvilleBorn: c. 1541
Died: 1591
Location of death: Atlantic Ocean
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Military

Nationality: England
Executive summary: Commander of the Revenge

Sir Richard Grenville, or Greynvile, British naval commander, was born of an old Cornish family about 1541. His grandfather, Sir Richard, had been marshal of Calais in the time of Henry VIII, and his father commanded and was lost in the "Mary Rose" in 1545. At an early age Grenville is supposed to have served in Hungary under the emperor Maximilian against the Turks. In the years 1571 and 1584 he sat in parliament for Cornwall, and in 1583 and 1584 he was commissioner for the works at Dover harbor. He appears to have been a man of much pride and ambition. Of his bravery there can be no doubt. In 1585 he commanded the fleet of seven vessels by which the colonists sent out by his cousin, Sir Walter Raleigh, were carried to Roanoke Island in the present North Carolina. Grenville himself soon returned with the fleet to England, capturing a Spanish vessel on his way, but in 1586 he carried provisions to Roanoke, and finding the colony deserted, left a few men to maintain possession. He then held an important post in charge of the defenses of the western counties of England. When a squadron was despatched in 1591, under Lord Thomas Howard, to intercept the homeward-bound treasure fleet of Spain, Grenville was appointed as second in command on board the "Revenge", a ship of 500 tons which had been commanded by Sir Francis Drake against the Armada in 1588. At the end of August Howard with 16 ships lay at anchor to the north of Flores in the Azores. On the last day of the month he received news from a pinnace, sent by the earl of Cumberland, who was then off the Portugal coast, that a Spanish fleet of 53 vessels was then bearing up to the Azores to meet the treasure ships. Not being in a position to fight a fleet more than three times the size of his own, Howard gave orders to weigh anchor and stand out to sea. But, either from some misunderstanding of the order, or from some idea of Grenville's that the Spanish vessels rapidly approaching were the ships for which they had been waiting, the "Revenge" was delayed and cut off from her consorts by the Spaniards. Grenville resolved to try to break through the middle of the Spanish line. His ship was becalmed under the lee of a huge galleon, and after a hand-to-hand fight lasting through fifteen hours against fifteen Spanish ships and a force of five thousand men, the "Revenge" with her hundred and fifty men was captured. Grenville himself was carried on board the Spanish flagship "San Pablo", and died a few days later. The incident is commemorated in Alfred Lord Tennyson's ballad of "The Revenge."

The spelling of Sir Richard's name has led to much controversy. Four different families, each of which claim to be descended from him, spell it Granville, Grenville, Grenfell and Greenfield. The spelling usually accepted is Grenville, but his own signature, in a bold clear handwriting, among the Tanner manuscripts in the Bodleian library at Oxford, is Greynvile.

    UK Member of Parliament 1571-84 for Cornwall
    Knighthood


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