Fenner, Thomas (DNB01)

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FENNER, THOMAS (d. 1590?), naval commander, came of a Sussex family which produced several well-known seamen in the sixteenth century, the most notable of whom, besides Thomas, were George Fenner [q. v. Suppl.] and William Fenner (d. 1589), who was rear-admiral in Drake and Norris's expedition to Corufia in 1589, and died on his way home of his wounds. Thomas and George were both apparently natives of Chichester, but the family was a numerous one, and it is hardly safe to assume that the naval commander was the Thomas Fenner, a victualler, who was on 28 Jan. 1579-80 committed to the Fleet prison for exporting ordnance to Spain, was released on 7 Feb. following, and on 10 Nov. 1584 was returned to parliament for New Shoreham (Acts P.C. 1578–80, pp. 332, 380, 383; Off. Ret. Members of Part. i. 415). It is also probable that the exploits of Captain Fenner in the Azores in 1566, which Mr. Corbett ascribes in his 'Drake and the Tudor Navy' to Thomas, really belong to George Fenner.

Thomas Fenner, however, who is described as 'one of the most daring and experienced officers of the time' (Corbett, Drake and the Tudor Navy, ii. 12, 13), accompanied Drake as his flag-captain on board the Elizabeth Bonaventure on the Indies voyage of 1585, and he and Frobisher led the boat attack on Cartagena which was successful. In 1587, probably as rear-admiral, he commanded the Dreadnought in Drake's expedition to Cadiz, and in June was sent back to London with news of the burning of Philip's fleet. In the year of the armada he was placed in command of the Nonpareil and appointed Drake's vice-admiral and one of Howard's inner council of war. He strongly approved of Drake's design, early in July 1588, of taking advantage of the north wind and attacking the armada on the coast of Spain, and his memorandum embodying these views is still extant (State Papers, Dom. Eliz. ccxii. 10). The north wind failed, however, before the coast of Spain was reached, and on the way back Fenner was detached to cruise off the coast of Brittany and collect news of the armada. He rejoined Drake as the armada advanced, and fought with distinction in the action off the Isle of Wight and in the battle of Gravelines. For his conduct on the latter occasion Mendoza reported that Elizabeth had knighted him (Cal. Simancas MSS. 1587-1603, p. 392), but he does not occur in Metcalfe's 'Book of Knights' and is not so styled subsequently.

In 1589 Fenner was again commanding the Dreadnought, and as vice-admiral went with Drake and Norris's expedition to Coruna, an account of which he gave in a letter to Burghley (State Papers, Dom. Eliz. ccxxiv. 13). He had returned to Plymouth Sound by 14 July, and from there he wrote to Walsingham saying that he proposed to employ the remainder of his fortune in a 'journey' to the Indies. This is the last mention of his name, and if the 'journey' ever took place he probably perished in it.

[Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547-90; Cal. Simancas Papers, 1587-1603; Acts of the Privy Council, ed. Dasent; Hakluyt's Principall Navigations; Laughton's Defeat of the Spanish Armada and Corbett's Spanish War of 1586-7 (Navy Records Soc.); Corbett's Drake and the Tudor Navy, passim.]

A. F. P.