Sir Richard Grenville was a military and naval commander in the era of Elizabeth I. Richard Grenville is most famous for his command of the ‘Revenge’ and his death while in charge of this ship.


Richard Grenville was born on June 15th 1542. His had a comfortable childhood as his father was a member of the Cornish gentry. Grenville received his education at the Inner Temple but did not take up a career in Law. Instead, Grenville saw the military as his future (though he also involved himself in local politics when at home).


Grenville fought for the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II against the Turks from 1566 to 1568. From 1568 to 1570, he was in a syndicate that tried to colonise Munster in Ireland. This was not a success.


In 1574 Grenville planned to lead the first English expedition to reach the East via the Straits of Magellan in search of ‘Terra Australis’. The planned return was via the North-West Passage. The government withdrew its support for the voyage because of Spanish objections. When the plan was later resurrected, the command of it went to Sir Francis Drake.


In 1585, Grenville led Raleigh’s colonising expedition to what is now North Carolina. One hundred men were left on Roanoke Island. On his journey back to England, Grenville captured the Spanish ship ‘Santa Maria’. In 1586, he returned to Roanoke Island. This time he left fifteen men on the island – the previous survivors from the 100 had been picked up by Drake – but they were never seen again.


In 1588, Grenville took part in the attack on the Spanish Armada but there are few details as to his actual role in this. However, it is likely that he impressed as in 1591, Grenville was promoted to Vice-Admiral and served under Lord Howard in attacks on Spanish silver ships. In the past, many of the Spanish silver/treasure fleets had sailed without protection. In 1591, this was no longer the case.


Howard’s fleet consisted of six ships. For reasons that will never be known, when the English could have engaged the Spanish fleet, five English ships wisely withdrew against a much greater force but Grenville did not. Grenville engaged the fifty three Spanish ships on ‘Revenge’ (September 1591). When the crew of ‘Revenge’ finally surrendered, Grenville had been fatally injured and he died on a Spanish ship on September 12th.


Sir John Hawkins was a leading mariner and naval administrator in the era of Elizabeth I. Hawkins should be credited with creating the navy that was to defeat the Spanish Armada in 1588 and that took on the Spanish naval might in the West Indies and Southern America.


John Hawkins was born into prosperity. His father, William, was a merchant trader with Africa and Mayor and MP for Plymouth – a major naval base in Devon. It was only natural for Hawkins to join his father’s business and up to 1560 he traded in slaves from Africa. However, in that year he moved to London having married Katherine, whose father was Benjamin Gonson, Treasurer of the Navy.


From 1562 on, Hawkins made three voyages to Africa to exploit the fast growing slave trade. The three journeys took place between October 1562 and August 1563, October 1564 and September 1565 and October 1567 to February 1569. The voyages were financed by City merchants and financiers while the second one had an added incentive to succeed as Elizabeth invested some of her money into it.


The third voyage was a complete failure. Hawkins fleet had to take shelter in San Juan de Ulúa in Mexico to repair the Queen’s ship ‘Jesus of Lubeck’. This was Spanish territory and Hawkins had to get permission from the Spanish Viceroy (Don Martin Enriquez) to be there. Despite having this permission, Spanish troops attacked him in September 1568. Only two ships in his fleet got away – ‘Minion’ commanded by Hawkins and ‘Judith’ commanded by Sir Francis Drake.


After his return to England, Hawkins became a MP in 1571 and in 1577 he succeeded his father-in-law as Treasurer of the Navy. After his experiences in San Juan de Ulúa, Hawkins determined to create a modern navy. He wanted ships that were fast and streamlined yet well-armed with cannon. Hawkins wanted guns to be the determining factor in battle as opposed to crews relying on boarding parties. Hawkins also made life in the Royal Navy more attractive by increasing the wages paid to the crews and he attacked corruption within the navy that accounted for too much money going astray.


Hawkins was third in command of the English fleet that fought the Spanish in 1588. He was given command of the ‘Victory’ and knighted for his leadership on July 26th 1588. Hawkins was keen for the country to adopt a strong anti-Spanish foreign policy. He sent out the navy to attack Spanish silver fleets off the West Indies and the Azores. In his last great attempt to do this, the fleet was jointly commanded by Hawkins and Drake. Such a combination of two strong-willed people was bound to fail and they frequently argued over what to do. The venture was a disaster.


Hawkins died off Puerto Rico on November 12th 1595.