Richards, Michael (DNB00)

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RICHARDS, MICHAEL (1673–1721), brigadier-general, master-surveyor or surveyor-general of the ordnance, son of Jacob Richards, was born in 1673. His brothers Jacob [q. v.] and John [q. v.] are separately noticed. He was employed with his brother Jacob in the artillery train under Ginkell in Ireland in 1691. By royal warrants of 27 Feb. 1692 and 5 March 1694 he was appointed an engineer of the train of artillery for service in Flanders, and was present at the battles of Steinkirk and Landen. In July and August 1695 he took part in the siege of Namur, and was wounded in the assault of the castle on 20 Aug.; he so distinguished himself in this affair that he was appointed by royal warrant of 15 March 1696 to be chief engineer of the train and commander-in-chief of the expedition to Newfoundland. He constructed defences and barracks at St. John's; was promoted captain on 1 Sept. 1701, and in the autumn of 1703 returned home on leave of absence with the squadron under Vice-admiral Graydon. In March 1704 his report on the Newfoundland defences was considered by the privy council, the queen being present. In the spring of 1704 Richards joined Marlborough's force in the Netherlands, and took part in the battles of Donauwörth or the Schellenberg, and of Blenheim. In the following year he was present at the recapture of Huy and the forcing by Marlborough of the French lines at Neerhespen and Hillesheim. He supervised the construction of the bridges and gained the approbation of the duke, who sent him with despatches to the Emperor Joseph at Vienna.

In 1706 Richards was at the battle of Ramilies, where he acted as aide-de-camp to Marlborough, and carried home despatches to the queen, the Prince of Denmark, and Harley. Marlborough was so fatigued after the battle that he could only scribble a few lines stating that Richards would supply details. Richards wrote an account of the battle, which was published in the ‘Historical and Political Mercury’ of May 1706.

Richards, who had been promoted to be lieutenant-colonel, was appointed on 31 Jan. 1707 chief engineer and commander of the field train of artillery in the army which landed at Alicant in February 1707 to reinforce Lord Galway. He owed his appointment to Marlborough's recommendation. In April Galway, with Richards as his chief engineer, concentrating his forces between Elda and Xativa and advancing on Yecla and Montalegre, captured Berwick's principal magazines. He then laid siege to Villena, but, on hearing that the French were near Almanza, he, with the Marquis Las Minas, raised the siege on 24 April, and marched on that town. Richards commanded the English train of six field pieces. The battle of Almanza began at three o'clock in the afternoon of 25 April, and by five o'clock Galway and his allies were defeated. The train of six guns, camp equipment, baggage, commissariat stores, and ambulances with the sick and wounded, were sent off the field under the command of Richards before the final charge made by La Fabrecque's Huguenot dragoons. Richards got safely to the Grao of Valencia. On 11 May he arrived with the field train at Tortosa, and sent engineers to superintend the defences of the various towns along the Arragon frontier.

Early in September 1707 Galway concentrated his forces at Tarragona to relieve Lerida, whither Richards marched with the train. But on 14 Nov. Lerida capitulated. Richards was promoted colonel in the army on 15 May 1708, when he occupied the post of chief engineer at Barcelona, and also commanded the train with Stanhope's force under Field-marshal Count Guido von Staremberg. In December he took part in an unsuccessful attempt to recover Tortosa by surprise. In 1709 he spent some time at Gibraltar examining the defences and determining what was necessary to make them more efficient. He sent home plans involving an expenditure of 9,000l. In July 1710 he became colonel of the 25th foot, and commanded the train of Stanhope's force of 4,200 English under von Staremberg at Agramont. Taking the offensive, von Staremberg reached the river Noguera unopposed on 27 July. Richards bridged the river, and Stanhope was able to place his horse advantageously on the Almenara heights. After a short fight in the evening of the same day, King Philip and Villadarias were defeated and fell back on Lerida. The following month they retreated to Saragossa. On 20 Aug. von Staremberg fought a great battle there, when Richards was in command of the English artillery train. The Bourbon army was defeated.

On 9 Dec. 1710 Richards and the English train of artillery arrived with von Staremberg's army on the heights of Viciosa, close to Brihuega, with a view to relieving Stanhope's army, which had been surprised by Vendôme a day earlier. But Stanhope had been compelled, only half an hour before, to surrender. Vendôme with twenty thousand men opposed von Staremberg, and on the 10th opened a cannonade which was replied to by Richards, and lasted an hour and a half. The battle, stubbornly contested, was nominally won by von Staremberg, who found himself in possession of the field, but with neither food nor transport. Richards's train was almost annihilated. The victorious army retreated into Catalonia, arriving at Barcelona on 6 Jan. 1711. There Richards, who was promoted brigadier-general on 17 Feb. 1711, remained, settling questions connected with the defence of the town.

On 11 Sept. 1711 Richards was, owing to the good offices of Marlborough, appointed chief engineer of Great Britain, and returned to England. In August 1712 he submitted to the board of ordnance a long report on the defences of Port Mahon. On 19 Nov. 1714 Richards was appointed master-surveyor or surveyor-general of the ordnance, and assistant and deputy to the lieutenant-general of the ordnance. While holding this position he was most active in visiting the works in progress at Sheerness, Portsmouth, and Plymouth. In 1716, at his instance and under his direction and that of Colonel Armstrong, a colleague on the board of ordnance and his successor as chief engineer of Great Britain, the ordnance train was converted into a regiment (the present royal artillery) independent of the king's engineers, while at the same time the mother corps was increased and reorganised. In 1720 the same officers founded the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich.

Richards died on 5 Feb. 1721, and was buried at Old Charlton, Kent. A monument was erected to his memory in Charlton church by his three nieces and executrices (daughters of James Craggs the elder [q. v.], who married Richards's sister Elizabeth), viz. Ann, wife of John Knight of Essex; Elizabeth, widow of Edward Eliot of Cornwall; and Dame Margaret, wife of Sir John Hynde Cotton of Cambridgeshire, bart.

Richards's portrait was painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller in 1719 and engraved by Faber in 1735.

[Royal Engineers' Records; Kings' Warrants; Board of Ordnance Minutes; Brodrick's Compleat History of the late War in the Netherlands, 1713; Diary of the Siege of Limerick, 1692; Murray's Despatches of the Duke of Marlborough; Coxe's Life of Marlborough; Hasted's Hist. of Kent; Cust's Annals of the Wars of the Eighteenth Century; Parnell's War of the Succession in Spain; Porter's History of the Corps of Royal Engineers.]

R. H. V.