Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Mansell, Robert

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MANSELL, Sir ROBERT (1573–1656), admiral, born in 1573, the fourth son of Sir Edward Mansell of Margam, Glamorganshire (d. 1595), and of his wife, the Lady Jane Somerset, youngest daughter of Henry, earl of Worcester (d. 1548). Through the Gamages of Coity he was related to Lord Howard, the lord admiral [see Howard, Charles, Earl of Nottingham], with whom, it is said, he first went to sea. This would seem to imply that he served against the 'Invincible Armada in 1588: but nothing is distinctly mentioned till 1596, when he served in the expedition to Cadiz under Howard and the Earl of Essex, and was knighted. In 1597 he was captain of the Mer-Honour, carrying Essex's nag in 'the Islands' Voyage.' In January 1598-9 he went out in command of a small squadron on the coast of Ireland, and in August 1600 was commanding in the Narrow Seas. As his force was weak, Sir Richard Leveson [q. v.], coming home from the coast of Spain, was ordered to support him. It was only for a short time, and on 9 Oct. he fought a savage duel in Norfolk with Sir John Heydon (see under Heydon, Sir Christopher; Gent. Mag. new ser. xxxix. 481; Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 27961, and Eg. MS. 2714, ff. 96, 100, 112-22, containing several letters about the business, some in Mansell's handwriting). A formal inquiry followed, but Mansell was held guiltless, and in the following February 1600-1 was active in arresting the accomplices or companions of Essex. In October, in company with Sir Amyas Preston, he captured six Easterlings, or Hansa ships, and brought them in as being laden with Portuguese merchandise (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 31 Oct. 1601; Addit. MS. 5664, f. 225).

In September 1602 he was sent out in command of a small squadron to intercept six galleys, which were reported on their way from Lisbon to the Low Countries. He posted himself with three ships off Dungeness, with two fly-boats to the westward. In the Downs and off Dunkirk were some Dutch ships. On the 23rd the galleys appeared and were at once attacked. After being very roughly handled by the English they dispersed and fled, but only to fall into the hands of the Dutch, by whom and by a gale which came on afterwards they were completely destroyed (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 27 Sept. 1602; Mansell, A true Report of the Service done upon certaine Gallies, 1602). In the following spring, with the recognised title of 'vice-admiral of the Narrow Seas,' he was stationed with a squadron of six English and four Dutch shins to guard the Channel, and appears to have made some rich prizes, among others a carrack laden with pepper. At the same time he had to escort the French and Spanish ambassadors from Calais and Gravelines. He himself attended on the Spaniard at Gravelines, while the Frenchman, embarking at Calais, hoisted the French flag. Halfway across Mansell met him, and compelled him to strike the flag. The French complained to James, and the matter was smoothed over; but Mansell had clearly acted according to his instructions. On 15 Nov. he escorted Sir Walter Ralegh from London to Winchester for his trial. On 20 April 1604 he had a grant of the office of treasurer of the navy for life, on the surrender of Sir Fulke Greville, afterwards Lord Brooke [q.v.] It was, however, ten years before he reaped the full benefit of it. In 1605 he accompanied the Earl of Nottingham on his embassy to Spain. The story is told that at an entertainment given by the king of Spain some of the plate was stolen, and suspicion seemed to be thrown on the English, till at another entertainment Mansell saw a Spaniard in the very act of secreting a cup, and proved his guilt in presence of the whole assembly. During the following years he continued to command the ships in the Narrow Seas, and to perform some of the duties of treasurer. The accounts of the Prince Royal, launched at Deptford on 25 Sept. 1610, show him acting in this capacity. In the fete and mock fight given on the Thames on 11 Feb. 1612-13, in honour of the marriage of the Princess Elizabeth, Mansell and the lord admiral commanded the opposing sides. In June 1613, however, he was committed to the Marshalsea for 'animating the lord admiral' against a commission to reform abuses in the navy. His real offence was questioning and taking counsel's opinion as to the validity of the commission, which was held to be questioning the prerogative [cf. Whitelocke, Sir James]. Notwithstanding his readiness to make submission, he was kept in confinement for a fortnight. In May 1618 he sold his office of treasurer of the' navy, consequent, it would seem, on his being appointed vice-admiral of England, a title newly created for Sir Richard Leveson, and which had been in abeyance since his death. The administration of the navy was notoriously corrupt during James I's reign, but there seems no ground for charging Mansell while treasurer with any gross dishonesty. He made no large fortune in office (Oppenheheim, 'The Royal Navy under James I,' in English Hist. Rev. July 1892).

On 20 July 1620 Mansell was appointed to the command of an expedition against the Algerine pirates. Sir Richard Hawkins [q. v.] was the vice-admiral, and Sir Thomas Button [q. v.] rear-admiral. The fleet, consisting of six of the king's ships, with ten merchantmen and two pinnaces, finally sailed from Plymouth on 12 Oct., and after touching at Cadiz, Gibraltar, Malaga, and Alicante, anchored before Algiers on 27 Nov. After some negotiation forty English captives were given up. These, it was maintained, were all that they had; but though Mansell was well aware that this was false, he was in no condition to use force. His ships were sickly and short of supplies. He drew back to Majorca and the Spanish ports. It was 21 May 1621 before he again anchored off Algiers. On the 24th he sent in five or six fireships, which he had prepared to burn the shipping in the Mole, hey were, however, feebly supported—the ships stationed for the purpose were short of powder and could do nothing. The Algerines repelled the attack without difficulty and without loss, and, realising their danger, threw a boom across the mouth of the harbour, which effectually prevented a repetition of the attempt. Mansell drew back to Alicante, whence eight of his ships were sent to England. Before the end of July he was recalled with the remainder.

Some antagonism between him and the Duke of Buckingham prevented his being offered any further command at sea; and though he continued to be consulted as to the organisation and equipment of the navy, his attention was more and more devoted to his private interests in the manufacture of glass, in the monopoly of which he first obtained a share in 1615 (ib. iv. 9). As involving a new process for using sea-coal instead of wood, the monopoly was to a great extent of the nature of a legitimate patent; but it had to be defended equally against those who wished to infringe the patent, and against those who wished to break down the monopoly. He was M.P. for King's Lynn in 1601, Carmarthen in 1603, Carmarthenshire in 1614, Glamorganshire in 1623 and 1625, Lostwithiel in 1626, and Glamorganshire in 1627-8. In 1642 it was suggested to the king that the fleet should be secured by giving the command of it to Mansell, a man of experience and known loyalty. The king, however, judged him too old for so arduous a duty. He died in 1656, his will being administered by his widow on 20 June 1666. He was twice married, first, before 1600, to Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Nicholas Bacon [q. v.] the lord keeper. In his correspondence in 1600 with Sir Bassingbourne Gawdy (d. 1606), who had married Dorothy, daughter of Sir Nicholas Bacon of Redgrave, Suffolk, son of the lord keeper, he signs himself 'your most assured loving frend and affection at unckle.' Gawdy was a magistrate for Norfolk, and, though many years older than his 'unckle,' gave him valuable support in the matter of the duel. He married secondly, in 1617, Anne, daughter of Sir John Roper, and one of the queen's maids of honour (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 18 Nov. 1616, 15 March 1617). She died in 1663. By neither wife had he any children. His portrait is preserved at Penrice, the seat of the Mansells in Gower. It has not been engraved.

Mansell in his youth wrote his name Mansfeeld. It is so spelt in the letters to Gawdy (Eg. MS. 2714 u. s.) In later life he assumed or resumed the spelling Mansell. The present baronet, descended from his brother, spells it Mansel. Other branches of the family have adopted Maunsell or Maunsel (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. ii. 430, 490).

[Clark's Some Account of Sir Robert Mansel, kt., 1883; Mansell's Account of the Ancient Family of Maunsell, &c, 1850; Eg. MS. 2439 (1754); Cal. State Papers, Dom.; Fortescue Papers (Camden Soc 1871); Chamberlain's Letters (Camden Soc. 1861); Howell's Epistolæ Ho-Elianæ; Gardiner's Hist, of England (see Index at end of vol. x.)]

J. K. L.