Sir Richard Grenville was born on 5 June 1542, the son of Roger Grenville, captain of the Mary Rose when it sank in the Solent in 1545. He was only three at the time. The Grenvilles lived in a large house at Stowe, near Kilkhampton in North Cornwall. His widowed mother remarried to Thomas Arundel, a member of one of the leading Roman Catholic families in the West. 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 himself had became a naval captain,
Richard Grenville entered the Inner Temple in 1559, married Mary St. Leger in 1565 and the next year was off in Hungary fought the Turks. From 1567 to 1570, he lived in Ireland with his wife and children.
In 1571, and again in 1574, he was a member of parliament for Cornwall, and he was also sheriff of Cornwall in 1577. He is said to have been knighted while holding this office, but it appears from a petition,dated 22 March 1573-4, that he was already a knight at that date.
He wanted to lead an expedition around the world, instead Queen Elizabeth chose Francis Drake. Drake returned a wealthy man, was knighted and, through an intermediary, bought Buckland Abbey from Grenville.
Sir Richard now became involved in the activities of his cousin Sir Walter Raleigh in Virginia, and in 1585 Richard Grenville commanded a seven-vessel fleet, sailing from Plymouth on 9 April 1585 and arrived at Wococon Inlet on 26 June. By late summer the fort on Roanoke Island was complete, and on 25 August Grenville left 107 men with Governor Ralph Lane and sailed for England. He planned was to return by Easter 1586. He was late returning, and when he finally reached the colony he found that Drake had removed the colonist. So he left a few men to maintain the fort and returned to England.
Grenville refused to serve under Drake. Instead he helped to protect the west coast of Britain.
As Philip II rebuilt the Spanish navy, so the English decided to patrol between the Azores and Spain to intercept the treasure fleets. Lord Thomas Howard led an expedition in 1591 to that area in 1591, with Grenville as his second in command. The Revenge was Grenville's ship. It was seen by the Spanish as “one of the finest galleons in the world.” Built in 1577 by the English shipwright Matthew Baker of Deptford, Revenge had a long record of service in Ireland, the West Indies, and as Drake’s flagship during the battle against the Armada.
However the Spanish had intelligence about the English fleet, and sent a large fleet to protect their treasure ships. Lord Howard decided that they did not have enough ships to fight the Spaniards, and ordered the English fleet to up anchors and put to sea. Richard Grenville refused to leave his ninety sick men ashore, and vowed to stay and fight the enemy.
On August 31st 1591 the Revenge with about a hundred men fought a battle against some fifty Spanish ships. Battle ceased as darkness fell, and the next day the Spaniards were surprised to see the Revenge still floating. Its mast and sails were gone, its holds were flooded. Grenville ordered his chief gunner to sink the Revenge to stop it falling into enemy hands, but the survivors wanted him to surrender. Grenville agreed provided the Spanish would grant them full honours of war, and return them to England immediately. The Spanish commander agreed and the battle ended. The Revenge was captured, and Grenville, mortally wounded, was taken on board the Spanish Admiral's ship San Pablo, where he died a few days afterwards. Shortly afterwards an enormous storm sank the Revenge and 14 Spanish ships.
The action is commemorated in Tennyson's poem "The Revenge"
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