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Richard Grenville

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


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. He was resident when Theodoros Palaiologos, last descendant of the Byzantine emperors, retired to Clifton.

At age 17, Grenville began law studies at the Inner Temple. 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. He was pardoned for this crime.[citation needed]


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. These had been mortgaged to St Leger by the Earl of Desmond. At about this time, Grenville also seized lands for colonisation at Tracton, to the west of Cork harbour. 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 River. All of these English efforts to take over land in the south of Ireland led to bitter disputes. They escalated into the first of the Desmond rebellions, led by James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald.

As sheriff of Cork, Grenville witnessed the rebellion in which Fitzmaurice, along with the Earl of Clancar, James Fitzedmund Fitzgerald (the Seneschal of Imokilly); Edmund Fitzgibbon (the White Knight); and others, attacked Tracton. They overcame the English defence with pickaxes and killed nearly the entire garrison. The three surviving English soldiers were hanged the next day by the Irish. Fitzmaurice threatened the imminent arrival of Spanish forces. Having robbed the citizens of Cork, he boasted that he could also take the artillery of the city of Youghal.

In June 1569, soon after Grenville's sailing for England, Fitzmaurice camped outside the walls of Waterford and demanded that Grenville's wife and Lady St Leger be given over to him, along with all the English and all prisoners; the citizens refused. His forces put local English farmers to the sword. As Cork ran low on provisions, the people of 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 in 1569 against the Queen's secretary. "Undeviatingly Protestant", he arrested the Catholic priest Cuthbert Mayne at the home of the Tregians in 1577. Mayne was martyred as a result. During this period Grenville played a major role in the transformation of the small fishing port of Bideford in north Devon into a significant trading centre.

New World and Ireland

Grenville had once planned to enter the Pacific by the Magellan Straits, rather than by Labrador, a plan 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, part of the expedition and later 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; during his return to England, Grenville 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."[1], Tudor History

Grenville was denied a command under Drake in the successful raid on Cadiz in 1587. He organized the defences of Devon and Cornwall in preparation for the expected attack by the Spanish Armada the following year. With Sir Walter Raleigh, Grenville was commissioned to keep watch at sea on the approaches to Ireland. After helping repulse the invasion attempt, he returned to Munster to arrange the estate granted him under the plantation of the province. After suppression of the Second Desmond Rebellion in 1583, he had purchased some 24,000 acres (97 km²) in Kinalmeaky and brought settlers over. His renewed efforts beginning in 1588 yielded little success, and Grenville returned to England late in 1590.

Final command

Grenville was appointed vice-admiral of the fleet under Thomas Howard. He 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 53 ships. His crew was down by nearly 100 men because of sickness on shore. He may have had an opportunity of escape, or he may have tried to, but by some accounts he chose to confront the far superior force (or at least try and fight his way out). For 12 hours his crew fought off the Spanish, causing heavy damage to fifteen galleons. Grenville was said to wish to blow up his ship, but the crew surrendered, and he died several days later of his wounds. Revenge and 16 Spanish ships sank during a cyclone soon after.

Legacy and honors

In popular culture

  • Grenville's final battle on Revenge is mentioned in a poem by Robert E. Howard; ("Solomon Kane's Homecoming") from Fanciful Tales (1936). Howard mentions Grenville in several other Solomon Kane stories and poems, most prominently in "The Return of Sir Richard Grenville".


  1. ^ "Revenge"
  • 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).
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Sir John Chamond
Custos Rotulorum of Cornwall
Succeeded by
Sir John Arundell

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

There is more than one meaning of Richard Grenville discussed in the 1911 Encyclopedia. We are planning to let all links go to the correct meaning directly, but for now you will have to search it out from the list below by yourself. If you want to change the link that led you here yourself, it would be appreciated.


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