Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 58.djvu/238
the command of one of these was entrusted to Vere, and he distinguished himself by foiling a treacherous assault upon the northern of these sconces, led by Sir William Stanley (1548–1630) [q. v.] and some high Spanish officers. This discomfiture was so signal that it effected the raising of the siege and the withdrawal of Parma. Vere had well earned the knighthood that he received at the hands of Willoughby upon the conclusion of the siege (25 Oct.). He obtained leave for England, went home with a letter from Lord Willoughby to the lord treasurer, dated 3 Nov. 1588, and was by Burghley introduced to the queen. He spent a little over two months at his home in Essex, and returned to the theatre of war in February 1589, when he was appointed sergeant-major-general of the forces, or second in command to the general. Willoughby, however, resigned his post finally (after several futile efforts) in May 1589. A number of veteran officers of distinction, including Baskerville, Williams, Drury, Wilford, and Sir John Norris, were withdrawn from the Netherlands to serve either in France or Ireland, and the path was thus cleared for a young officer of approved valour and conduct, who, without interfering with the prerogatives of the governors of the cautionary towns, or claiming in any degree the state and the viceregal pretensions of a generalissimo, could act as the real leader of the English troops in the field. From August 1589 Sir Francis Vere, with the rank of sergeant-major-general (and pay of 20s. soon raised to 40s. per diem), was placed in command of all her majesty's soldiers out of the garrisons in the Netherlands. The supreme commands were reserved nominally for the general and lieutenant-general, but these posts were never filled.
The first operations under Vere's orders were the two expeditions for the relief of Rheinberg, the second of which, in October 1589, was led with the utmost dash and daring by the sergeant-major-general in person. He spent the following winter in improving the organisation of his force by forming a depôt at Utrecht, by remodelling as far as possible his list of captains, and by filling up the cadres and working out an efficient system of checks to prevent frauds. During December he played a part in the ingenious stratagem of Prince Maurice by which the town of Breda was won from the Spaniards. In June 1590, being ‘wonderfully skilled in the work of intrenching’ (Markham, Epistles of War, 1622), he personally superintended the construction of the fort of Knodsenburg, designed to threaten Nymeguen; and next month he directed a somewhat risky enterprise in the escalade of the detached fortress of Recklinghausen in Westphalia. In November he was back at Flushing incorporating four hundred recruits from England in his little army. In May 1591 by a clever ruse he secured the possession of the Zutphen sconces, and so smoothed the way for the prompt capture of the town by Maurice. Next month he led an unsuccessful attack upon a breach made in the walls of Deventer, but the town surrendered very soon afterwards. In September he concerted some brilliant manœuvres for the relief of Knodsenburg, leading up to the capture of Nymeguen on 12 Oct. In July 1592 he was again wounded at the assault upon Steenwerk preceding the surrender of that town; and in August, despite orders from home to the contrary, he dashed to the relief of Maurice when in danger from a sortie made by the garrison of Koevorden.
During the winter he was employed on the uncongenial duty of shipping off companies which he had drilled and trained to serve under other commanders in France or Ireland. There were left, however, four thousand effective English troops in the Netherlands at the commencement of 1593, and Gertruydenburg (Geertruidenberg) surrendered to Maurice and Vere in the early summer of this year. The great event of 1594 was the siege and capture of Groningen in the north of the united provinces. Vere worked in the trenches side by side with the regiments of Friesland and Zeeland; many of his contingent fell, and among those promoted to fill up vacancies were his brothers, Horace and Robert. Sir Francis himself had a narrow escape, the buckler under which he was reconnoitring the walls being struck by a large shot. Upon the surrender of the town on 15 July, Vere was despatched with a force of five thousand to escort the youthful Count Philip of Nassau to Sedan through an enemy's country, a dangerous service, which he performed in the face of a large hostile force without mishap.
Meanwhile, in July 1593, there had been a great improvement in Vere's position. Fearful lest the queen might possibly withdraw him from the Netherlands, the States-General offered him eight hundred florins a month in order to secure the retention of his services, and his acceptance of the offer was graciously approved by Elizabeth. At the same time he by no means escaped the occasional jealousy of the queen or the reprimands of Burghley for his slackness in her majesty's service, in contrast to his active zeal on behalf of the Dutch. Since 1589, when he was temporarily suspected of having