Griffith, Piers (DNB00)

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GRIFFITH, PIERS (d. 1628), naval adventurer, son of Sir Rees Griffith of Penrhyn, sheriff of Carnarvonshire in 1567, by his second wife, Katharine, daughter of Piers Mostyn of Talacre in Flintshire, and grandson of Sir William Griffith, chamberlain of North Wales, is said by writers two hundred years later (Pennant, Tour in Wales, 1781, ii. 285; Thomas, in Williams's Observations on the Snowdon Mountains, 1802, p. 177), and apparently on no other grounds than local tradition, to have fitted out a ship against the Spanish Armada in 1588, to have sailed from Beaumaris on 20 April, to have arrived at Plymouth on 4 May, to have been honourably received by Sir Francis Drake, and to have shared in the honour of defeating the Armada. It is stated that he afterwards went with Drake and Ralegh to cruise upon the Spanish coast, and parted from Sir Francis Drake at the mouth of the Gulf of Magellan. In the reign of James I complaints are said to have been laid against him by Gondomar that he had continued his attacks on Spanish ships and possessions after the proclamation of peace, and he is said to have been obliged to sell or mortgage his estate in order to purchase his pardon or to defray the expense of his prosecution.

The story seems mainly fictitious, but portions may have a possible but unknown substratum of truth. His name has no place in the official or any other list of commanders of ships against the Spanish Armada (Western Antiquary, vii. 307), nor does he figure in any of the accounts of the fighting. Drake and Ralegh made no joint expedition either to the coast of Spain or to the West Indies, nor was Drake near the Straits of Magellan after 1588. Griffith does not seem to have been with Drake in the voyage round the world (Notes and Queries, 7th ser. iv. 186); but it is of course possible and not improbable that he may have served both against the Armada and in some other of Drake's expeditions before or after; in any case it was in some quite subordinate capacity, or as a volunteer whose name has not been distinguished. The only part of the story that receives any historical confirmation is the last. We read (Cal. State Papers, Domestic, 28 Feb. 1603) that ‘Griffith, a Welsh pirate, is taken at Cork, and his lands, worth 500l. a year, some say, are given to Lord Grey.’ As this is only a private newsletter, the details may very well be inaccurate; but if this Welsh pirate may be identified with Piers Griffith, the certain date puts an end to the story about Gondomar's complaints after the proclamation of peace. The story of his estate seems better authenticated. After being mortgaged Penrhyn was sold out-right in 1616. Griffith died on 18 Aug. 1628, and was buried in the broad aisle of Westminster Abbey. The name is variously written; but the Welsh form, Pyrs Gruffydd, is probably the most correct. He married Margaret, daughter of Sir Thomas Mostyn of Mostyn (who in a second marriage had married Griffith's mother), and by her had issue three sons, who all died in their infancy, and four daughters.

[C. H. and Thompson Cooper in Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. vi. 367; Dwnn's Heraldic Visitation of Wales, ii. 167; Collect. Topogr. et Geneal. vii. 362.]

J. K. L.