admiral robert blake

Admiral Robert Blake
Robert Blake, General at Sea, 1598-1657, by Henry Perronet Briggs, Painted 1829. Father of the Royal Navy. Public Domain.

Admiral Robert Blake

Letter From Louise Manny to Lord Beaverbrook
Louise Manny Collection, N.B. Museum

Newcastle, N.B., Canada
June 28th, 1949

Dear Lord Beaverbrook:

I have heard a startling story – it seems that Captain John Blake, who married Charlotte Taylor sometime about 1770, and was given a grant of Black’s Brook (later miscalled Black Brook and now called Loggieville), died and was buried on the Island or our Point.  Sometime after one Robert Blake of Chicago took the tombstone away to Chicago to help him establish a claim to the estate of Admiral Blake, who was a relative of our Captain Blake.  It all sounds fantastic to me.  Have you anyone in London who could trace the record of Captain John Blake from the Navy lists?  I wonder how this Robert Blake got the tombstone to Chicago?  It should be in the customs records somewhere.

Signed: L. Manny

From The Encyclopaedia Brittanica Eleventh Edition

Blake, Robert (1599 – 1657), English Parliamentarian and Admiral, born at Bridgwater in Somersetshire.  Birth date not known but baptised September 27, 1599 … He died at sea, but within sight of Plymouth, on 17 August, 1657.  His body was brought to London and embalmed, and after lying in state at Greenwich House was interred with great pomp and solemnity in Westminster Abbey.  In 1661 Charles II ordered the exhumation of Blake’s body, with those of the mother and daughter of Cromwell and several others.  They were cast out of the Abbey, and were reburied in the churchyard of St. Margaret’s.  ‘But that regard’, says Johnson, ‘which was denied his body has been paid to his better remains, his name and his memory’.  A life of Blake is included in the work entitled Lives, English and Foreign.  Dr. Johnson wrote a short life of him and in 1852 appeared Hepworth Dixon’s fuller narrative, Robert Blake, Admiral and General at Sea.  Much new matter for the biography of Blake will be found in the Letters and Papers Related to the First Dutch War, edited by S.R. Gardiner for the Navy Records Society. (1898 – 1899).

From Howard to Nelson edited by John Knox Laughton

Robert Blake by Captain Montagu Burrows, R.N.

Excerpt from Pages 83 to 123

“… Blake’s remarkable career as a naval officer began at age 50, and lasted 8 years.  His previous experiences were those of an Oxford scholar, Bridgwater merchant, puritan politician, and a colonel in the army of the commonwealth.  Sprung from a typical English stock, long settled in Bridgwater and in the neighborhood, commercial, prosperous, well-connected, and locally honoured, his father might have been expected to bring up the eldest of his large family to his own business; but he sent him to Oxford at 16, and kept him there for nearly 10 years (1616 – 1625) … His father’s last illness called him away to take his place as head of the family … The prosperity of Blake’s father had become clouded, and he died in debt.  This debt Robert managed, when he entered upon the second stage of his career, to pay off, as well as to educate and settle his numerous brothers.  Perhaps we may find in these circumstances the reason why he never married.  Blake was elected to parliament for Bridgwater in 1640, as an opponent of the Court … As soon as it became evident that the contest between King and Parliament must be decided by arms, Blake seems to have been entirely concerned with raising troops to resist the royal forces. … Between 1645 and 1649, we hear very little of our hero, till, in fact, after the King’s execution.  He was again elected for Bridgwater in 1645, but, as governor of Taunton, devoted himself for some months to the restoration of the town.  His forces were disbanded and the self-denying Ordinance relieved him from his command.  Much speculation has arisen out of this temporary obscurity.  He was thought to have incurred Cromwell’s jealousy; and was said to have objected to the cruelty with which the King was treated, but when he took his seat in Parliament in 1646, we find Ludlow asserting that Blake shared his own republican sentiments, and he certainly omitted to take any steps to save the life of the King.  His name is not indeed to be found on the list of the regicides, but he accepted his great post of ‘general-at-sea’ within a few days of the King’s execution.  We may fairly account for the temporary obscurity by observing that he had never been one of Cromwell’s comrades during the war, and that he was therefore not likely to be preferred to those who had fought by the side of the conqueror.  Nor was Blake the man to push himself to the front.  No doubt also he presented himself rather as a man of action than a statesman.  In the straightforward, indomitable, republican patriot, Cromwell’s keen eye detected the man required to reorganize the navy, the man who, considering state affairs not to be its province, would ‘prevent foreigners from fooling us’.  That famous expression whether originally Blake’s or not, exactly represented his conduct of sea affairs; and under the commonwealth, with a fleet which had not yet forgotten the Stuarts, this principle alone could save the state.

On the 12th February 1649, foreign affairs having assumed a threatening aspect, Colonel Edward Popham, Colonel Blake, and Colonel Deane were appointed ‘generals-at-sea’ … The title of ‘general’ had been very commonly given to the chief admiral of the fleet; but the new title seems to have been deliberately selected in order that it might convey to the sea-officers and men the idea that they were about to be governed by the most distinguished of the land-officers who had brought civil war to a conclusion. …

The dying admiral had done his work.  The evidence of the effect produced by his victories in the whole west of Europe must have gratified the hero, however little he cared for glory or wealth, so long as he did his duty … ‘The general is very weak’, reports the same consul.  Scurvy and dropsy had numbered his days.  For the last time he hoists his flag on board the George, which cast anchor at Plymouth Sound on 17 August, 1657, but she only brought in the dead body of the hero.  Blake had died two hours before … A splendid funeral at public expense, and a vault in Westminster Abbey awaited his honoured remains. … The indignity of ‘disturbing his bones’ frequently laid at the door of the restoration, appears to resolve itself into a removal of them, along with others from the Abbey to the churchyard in a manner not less than respectful.  No place could indeed have been too sacred or too exalted for such an interment … The patriotic inhabitants of Bridgwater have appropriately selected the present year (1898) the Tercentenary of their hero’s birth, to raise a subscription for the purpose of erecting a statue to his honour on the Cornhill of that ancient town.

In marking out the distinctive points in this great man’s career we have observed his singular preparation for the work which lay before him, his sincerity and consistency … his roll of brilliant deeds, with which scarcely any other naval officer can compete, and the broad mark he left on the history of his country.  But the true splendour of Blake’s life, apart from his glorious acts, shine forth from his spotless character, his perfect simplicity, his absolute contempt of private gain, his humane care for his comrades in battle, his generosity, his freedom from ambition, and his sacrifice of the domestic happiness which was very dear to him on the altar of public service.  The legacy left by Blake to his successors in command of fleets has been sufficiently indicated.  It was that forts were by no means so formidable against ships as they had been previously reckoned.  This of course supposed ships to be properly equipped, officers and crews thoroughly efficient, and the spirit which animated them to be of the same gallant temper as his own.  This spirit we have seen that he knew well how to infuse; nor did any one of his successors in navy or army – not even Nelson or Wellington, exceed him in his single-hearted devotion to duty, whatever the odds against him, or whatever might be the consequences.  It may also be claimed for Blake that he was the first to organize the navy and the various administrations connected with it on a uniform plan – in fact, the man who, more distinctly than any other, superintended the development of the machinery created by the Tudor princes into the form and fashion of modern times.”

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