Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Burgh, John

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1323507Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 07 — Burgh, John1886John Knox Laughton

BURGH, Sir JOHN (1562–1594), military and naval commander, a lineal descendant of Hubert de Burgh, was a younger son of William, fourth lord Burgh of Gainsborough, and brother of Thomas, fifth lord Burgh, lord-deputy in Ireland. The first mention of him that has been reserved is in 1585, when he raised a body of men in Lincolnshire for service beyond the sea, embarked with them at Hull on 25 Aug., and commanded them in the campaigns in the Netherlands, under the Earl of Leicester, and afterwards under Lord Willoughby. He was knighted by Leicester and appointed governor of Doesburg; in the early months of 1588 he was for some little time governor of the Briel, possibly as his brother's deputy (Brit. Mus. Egerton MS, 1943, f. 1), at which time he wrote to Lord Willoughby, imploring his favourable consideration, as he had had no pay for nineteen months, and was in extreme need. In September 1589 he commanded one of the regiments which went to France with Lord Willoughby to the support of Henry IV, from whom, although already knighted, he received the honour of knighthood on the field of Ivry, in recognition of his distinguished conduct in the battle.

On his return to England he became associated with Sir Walter Raleigh, and was in 1592 appointed by him to command his ship the Roebuck, one of a squadron fitted out by the queen, Raleigh, the Earl of Cumberland, and others, to intercept the Spanish treasure ships. The little squadron put to sea under the command of Burgh, another squadron being detached luider Sir Martins Frobisher. On 3 Aug. Burgh (near the Azores) fell in with the Madre de Dios, or, as she was then called, the Great Carrack, and captured her after a running fight of some sixteen hours’ duration. Her value, with her freight, was estimated at something like 500,000l., and after a great deal of irregular plundering it did actually amount to more than 140,000l. The disputes as to the shares of what remained ran exceedingly high. Of irregular plunder Sir John's share was but small, and was declared by the commissioners to be within reason; but the disappointed men refused to accept this decision, and much recrimination followed. Out of this probably arose a quarrel with Mr. John Gilbert, whose name suggests some relationship to Raleigh. The quarrel resulted in a challenge sent by Burgh, in which he desired his antagonist not to use boyish excuses, or he would beat him like a boy (March 1593-4; Cal. S. R Dom. 1591-4, p. 477). Gilbert accepted the challenge, claiming the choice of weapons and choosing single rapiers. In default of exact evidence the agreement of dates leads to the conclusion that the duel took place, and that Burgh was killed. He was buried in St. Andrew’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey, where, in the following year, a tablet was erected to his memory. This has now disappeared; but, according to a copy of the inscription preserved by Croll (The Antiquities of St. Peter’s or the Abbey Church of Westminster, by J. C. 1711, p. 198), Burgh is said to have been taken away ‘morte immaturâ,' in the thirty-second year of his age, on 7 March 1594, The inscription seems to imply, and-by Croll and others, including the late Dean Stanley-has been understood to imply, that Burgh was slain in boarding the Great Carrack. It distinctly states, however, that he brought the Carrack to England, and was most honourably received. The hold and crafty enemy whom Burgh despised, and at whose hands he fell, may very well have been Mr. Gilbert. Burke (Extinct and Dormant Peerages, 1846), giving an English version of this inscription, renders it ‘he fell by an untimely death in the fifty-third year of his age;’ and it is so repeated in later editions. This evidently is a mistake. The age of fifty-three seems incompatible with the ‘morte immaturâ præreptus,’ as well as with the known age of William, lord Burgh, born in or about 1525 (Nicolas, Historic Peerage), of whom Sir John was the third son. Burgh‘s name has been spelt in different ways. Mr. Edwards, who in most points is scrupulously accurate, gives it as Borough, and that while immediately referring to a holograph letter with a clear and legible signature, Jo. Burgh. It may therefore be well to say that if John Burgh was a distinct person from that William Burroughs, the comptroller of the navy, who commanded the Lion in Drake’s expedition to Cadiz in 1587.

[Calendars of State Papers, Domestic, 1585-1594; Brit. Mus. Lansdowne MS. 70, many of the papers of which are abstracted in Edwards’s Life of Raleigh, ii. et seq.]

J. K. L.