Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Jennens, William
JENNENS, Sir WILLIAM (fl. 1661–1690), captain in the navy and Jacobite, is said by Charnock (Biog. Nav. i. 106) to have belonged to ‘a very respectable family in the county of Hertford,’ a statement probably due to some confusion with Sir John Jennings [q. v.], who does not appear to have been any relation. Le Neve, who may have had a personal reason, has noted him, though doubtfully, as a younger brother of Sir Robert Jennings of Ripon (Pedigrees of the Knights, Harl. Soc., p. 92); but it has been pointed out (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. ix. 124) that neither Sir Robert nor Sir William are recognised in Dugdale's ‘Visitation of Yorkshire’ in 1665. All that is certain is that he himself wrote his name ‘Jennens.’ In 1661 he was appointed second lieutenant of the Adventure. In 1664 he was successively lieutenant of the Gloucester and the Portland, and on 11 Oct. was promoted to be captain of the Ruby, one of the white squadron in the battle of 3 June 1665, some time after which he received the honour of knighthood. That the date is not given by Le Neve would seem to imply that he stood on naval privilege, and refused to pay the fees. He still commanded the Ruby in the four-days' fight of 1–4 June 1666, after which he was moved into the Lion, and in her took part in the action of 25 July. At the burning of the Dutch shipping at the Vlie on 8 Aug., he commanded in the second post under Sir Robert Holmes [q. v.] Jennens was afterwards appointed to the Sapphire, and in the disastrous summer of 1667 had charge of a division of the small vessels got together for the defence of the Thames. Pepys implies that he was a man of dissolute and profane life (Diary, 20 Oct. 1666), speaks of him as ‘a proud, idle fellow,’ whom he suspected of malpractices (ib. 29 Jan. 1668–9), and says that a complaint he brought against his lieutenant, Le Neve, ‘was a drunken quarrel, where one was as blameable as the other’ (ib. 23 Nov. 1666; cf. Cal. State Papers, Dom., 7 Jan. 1664–5). In 1670 Jennens commanded the Princess, in which he conducted a convoy to the Mediterranean, and on his return was imprisoned in the Marshalsea, ‘only,’ as he wrote, ‘for having his wife on board some part of the late voyage, which was no prejudice to the service’ (State Papers, Dom. Charles II, xlviii. 137–8–9. These petitions are calendared in error under 1661? Calendar 1661–2, p. 232.) The Duke of York would seem to have condoned the offence, and in 1673 Jennens commanded the Victory in the several engagements between Prince Rupert and De Ruyter. He was afterwards captain successively of the Gloucester, the French Ruby, and the Royal James guardship at Portsmouth. In July 1686 he was appointed to the Jersey, also a guardship at Portsmouth; and on 20 Feb. 1687–8 he was tried by court-martial for brawling on shore with Captain Skelton of the Constant Warwick, another guardship. They were each reprimanded and fined nine months' pay (Minutes of the Court-martial). On 5 Sept. 1688 he was, notwithstanding, appointed to the Rupert, which was still fitting out in October, but was probably one of the fleet with Lord Dartmouth in November (cf. Memoirs relating to the Lord Torrington, Camden Soc., pp. 25, 29).
When James II abdicated, Jennens went over to France, and entering the French navy, served in some capacity in it in the action off Beachy Head, 30 June 1690. Charnock says ‘he condescended to become third captain to a French admiral;’ and an intercepted letter to another traitor speaks of him as ‘one of their admirals’ (Alice Teate to her husband, Matthew Teate, 16 July, enclosed in Killigrew's letter of 18 July, in Home Office Records, Admiralty, vol. iv.) The French lists do not acknowledge him in either capacity, and it is more probable that he was serving as a volunteer and pilot on Tourville's staff. Nothing more is known of him.
[Charnock's Biog. Nav. i. 106; other references in text.]