Fenner, George (DNB01)

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FENNER, GEORGE (d. 1600?), naval commander, was apparently, like his relative Thomas Fenner [q. v. Suppl.], a native of Chichester. Early in Elizabeth's reign he appears to have made a voyage to the Gold Coast, and in October 1566 he was engaged in fitting out ships for another. The Spanish ambassador, hearing of the project, requested Elizabeth to prevent his sailing, and on the 28th he was required to give bonds that he would not 'spoil any of the queen's subjects, nor traffic into India, or any other places privileged by the king of Spain' (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547--80, pp. 279, 280; Cal. Simancas MSS. 1558-67, pp. 588, 593). Fenner probably interpreted his engagements somewhat freely, and in the Azores he was treated by the Portuguese like a pirate ; he was attacked by a royal squadron consisting of a galleon of four hundred tons and two caravels. He beat them off three times, and when on the following day the Portuguese were joined by two more caravels, Fenner handled them so roughly that they drew off and allowed him to escape ; this action is claimed as the first revelation of the superiority of English gunnery (Corbett, Drake and the Tudor Navy, i. 93-5 ; Drake's Successors, pp. 172, 254).

After his return Fenner occupied himself with trading in the Low Countries, and in 1570 he petitioned Elizabeth for redress for the pillage of his ships by the Spaniards ; again, in 1575, he complained of similar conduct on the part of the Flushingers. He was, however, given to freebooting on his own account, and in November of the latter year he captured two French ships and brought them into Portsmouth, where they were seized by the government. In September 1584 he complained of the pillage of his ships while lying in the harbour of Havre-de-Grace, but in March 1590-1 he was summoned before the council for robbing Captain Boileau of Rochelle and neglecting to deliver up the goods, as he had promised, to the French ambassador.

Fenner does not appear to have accompanied Drake on any of his expeditions, but in 1588 he commanded the galleon Leicester under Howard, whom, in 1591, he was ordered to join in command of the Lion in the proposed expedition to the coast of Brittany. In May 1593 he was sent by the council to report on the condition of Boulogne, which was threatened by the Spaniards and the catholic league. In 1597 he accompanied Essex on the Islands voyage, Essex being commanded to seek his advice in certain contingencies. In 1597, during the alarm of the 'invisible' armada, Fenner was ordered to cruise off the north coast of Spain to pick up intelligence of Spanish movements, and on 14 July he brought into Plymouth news of the approach of the armada, which occasioned the famous naval mobilisation of that year. The news was false, the only force threatening England being Federigo Spinola's six galleys. To intercept these Fenner sailed in the Dreadnought on 31 July for La Hogue Bay, but Spinola had left before Fenner started, and in the chase up the channel Fenner was days behind Spinola's galleys. This appears to have been Fenner's last service at sea, and he probably died soon afterwards.

[Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547-1601 ; Acts of the Privy Council, ed. Dasent; Cal. Hatfield MSS. ii. 122, vii. 109; Hakluyt's Principall Navigations ; Corbett's Drake and the Tudor Navy, ii. 226, 356-7, and Drake's Successors, passim.]

A. F. P.