Richard Grenville

Sir Richard Grenville (June 6, 1542 – September 10, 1591) (sp. var: "Greynvile", "Greeneville", "Greenfield", etc.) was an Elizabethan sailor, explorer, and soldier. He was the grandfather of Sir Richard Grenville, of English Civil War notoriety.

Early life

Grenville was born at Clifton House and brought up at Buckland Abbey in Devon, England. He was a cousin of both Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake, and was present when Theodore Palaeologus, last descendant of the Byzantine emperors, retired to Clifton. He went on to attend at the Inner Temple, aged seventeen years. In 1562, he was in an affray in the Strand in which he ran Robert Bannister through with his sword and left him to die, a crime for which he was pardoned.

He also is in Mr. Holland's pirate book.


In pursuit of his military career, Grenville fought against the Turks in Hungary in 1566. In 1569, he arrived in Ireland with Sir Warham St Leger to arrange for the settlement of lands in the barony of Kerricurrihy, which had been mortgaged to St Leger by the Earl of Desmond. At about this time, Grenville also seized lands at Tracton, to the west of Cork harbour, for colonisation, after Sir Peter Carew had asserted his claim to lands in south Leinster. St Leger settled nearby, and Humphrey Gilbert pushed westward from Idrone along the Blackwater. All of these efforts to take land in the south of Ireland led to bitter disputes, which escalated into the first of the Desmond rebelllions, led by James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald.

Grenville had been made sheriff of Cork, and had to stand by as Fitzmaurice, along with the Earl of Clancar, James Fitzedmund Fitzgerald (the Seneschal of Imokilly), Edmund Fitzgibbon (the White Knight) and others, appeared at Tracton, overcame the English defence with pickaxes and killed the entire garrison, other than three English soldiers who were hanged the following day. Fitzmaurice was threatening that Spanish forces would arrive, swearing that this was imminent; having robbed the citizens of Cork, he boasted that he could also take the artillery of the city of Youghal.

Grenville had just sailed for England, when in June 1569 - around the same time as the detention of the Spanish treasure ships in England - Fitzmaurice camped outside the walls of Waterford and demanded that Grenville's wife and Lady St Leger be handed to him, along with all the English and all prisoners; the citizens refused. Local English farmers were put to the sword, and while Cork was running low on provisions Youghal expected an attack at any minute. The rebellion continued, but Grenville remained in England.

Grenville sided with the Earl of Arundel and the Duke of Norfolk, against the queen's secretary, Sir William Cecil in 1569, but was "undeviatingly Protestant" and went on to arrest the priest, Cuthbert Mayne, at the home of the Tregians in 1577, in consequence of which Mayne was martyred. During this period he played a major role in the transformation of the small fishing port of Bideford in north Devon into a significant trading centre.

New World

Grenville had once planned to enter the Pacific by the Magellan Straits, rather than by Labrador, a plan that was eventually executed by Sir Francis Drake when he circumnavigated the world in 1577. In 1585, Grenville was admiral of the seven-strong fleet that brought English settlers to establish a colony on Roanoke Island, off the coast of modern North Carolina in North America. He was heavily criticised by Ralph Lane, the governor of the colony, who referred to Grenville's "intolerable pride and unsatiable ambition".

In 1586 Grenville returned to Roanoke to find that the surviving colonists had shipped out with Drake, and on the return voyage he raided various towns in the Azores Islands. At about this time, a description was given of his behaviour while dining with Spanish captains:

"He would carouse three or four glasses of wine, and in a bravery take the glasses between his teeth and crash them in pieces and swallow them down, so that often the blood ran out of his mouth without any harm at all unto him." []

Grenville was denied a command under Drake in the successful raid on Cadiz in 1587, and contented himself with organising the defences of Devon and Cornwall in preparation for the arrival of the Spanish Armada the following year. He was commissioned, with Sir Walter Raleigh to keep watch at sea on the approaches to Ireland, and after the repulse of the invasion attempt he returned to Munster to arrange the estate granted to him under the plantation of the province. After the suppression of the Second Desmond Rebellion in 1583, he had purchased land there - some 24,000 acres (97 km²) in Kinalmeaky - and brought settlers over, but his renewed efforts yielded little success and he returned to England late in 1590.

Final command

Grenville was appointed vice-admiral of the fleet under Thomas Howard, and was charged with maintaining a squadron at the Azores to waylay the treasure fleets of the Spanish. He took command of "HMS Revenge", a galleon considered to be a masterpiece of naval construction.

At Flores the English fleet was surprised by a larger squadron, sent by Philip II of Spain. Howard retreated, but Grenville faced the fifty three ships with a crew depleted in number by 95, owing to sickness on shore; he may have had an opportunity of escape, but chose to confront the far superior force. For 12 hours his crew fought off the Spanish, causing heavy damage to fifteen galleons; ultimately, Grenville wished to blow up the ship, but the crew surrendered, and he died several days later of his wounds. "Revenge" along with 16 Spanish ships sank during a cyclone soon after.


*Grenville had planned to circumnavigate the globe in the late 1570s, but Queen Elizabeth gave the honour to Sir Francis Drake instead.
*Grenville's final battle on "Revenge" is commemorated in a poem by Alfred Tennyson ( [ "The Revenge"] ) and a song by Al Stewart ( [ "Lord Grenville"] ).
*One of the five houses of British public school Churcher's College is named for Grenville, as is one of the eight houses of Dulwich College, and also one of four of Queen Elizabeth's High School
*Grenville's final battle on "Revenge" is mentioned in a poem by Robert E. Howard; ("Solomon Kane's Homecoming") from 'Fanciful Tales', 1936. Howard also mentions Grenville in several other Solomon Kane stories and poems, most prominently in "The Return of Sir Richard Grenviille".


*Rowse, A. L.. "Sir Richard Grenville of the Revenge" (London, 1937).
*Peter Earle "The Last Fight of the Revenge" (London, 2004) ISBN 0-413-77484-8
*Richard Bagwell, "Ireland under the Tudors" 3 vols. (London, 1885–1890).
*Nicholas P. Canny "The Elizabethan Conquest of Ireland: a Pattern Established, 1565–76" (London, 1976). ISBN 0-85527-034-9.
*Cyril Falls "Elizabeth's Irish Wars" (1950; reprint London, 1996). ISBN 0-09-477220-7.
*"Dictionary of National Biography" 22 vols. (London, 1921–1922).

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