Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Spragge, Edward

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628697Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 53 — Spragge, Edward1898John Knox Laughton

SPRAGGE, Sir EDWARD (d. 1673), admiral, was born in Ireland, where his father had settled and married Mary, sister of William Legge (1609?–1672) [q. v.] George Legge, lord Dartmouth, was his first cousin. He may have served in the royalist army during the civil war, and not improbably with Rupert in the semi-piratical squadron which he commanded after the king's death. Later on he was in the Low Countries, and married at Brussels some time before 1660. At the Restoration he came to England, and in 1661 was appointed captain of the Portland. In 1664 he commanded the Dover, and after a few months was moved into the Lion; then into the Royal James, and again into the Triumph, one of the white squadron in the battle off Lowestoft on 8 June 1665. On 24 June he was knighted, and in the following spring was appointed rear-admiral of the blue squadron, with his flag in the Triumph. When the fleet was divided, he went to the westward with Rupert, and, returning with him, took part in the fighting on the last of the four days of the great battle, 1–4 June 1666. Consequent on the death of Sir Christopher Myngs [q. v.], Spragge was moved into the Victory as vice-admiral of the blue squadron, in which capacity he took part in the ‘St. James Fight’ on 25 July 1666. In the summer of 1667 he commanded at Sheerness when the Dutch forced the passage into the Medway, and afterwards had command of a small squadron in the Hope when the Dutch came up the Thames.

After the peace he was for some time commander-in-chief in the Downs, with his flag at the main of the Revenge. Towards the end of 1668 he was sent on a complimentary mission to the governor of the Spanish Netherlands; and in 1669 went out to the Mediterranean, with his flag in the Revenge, as second in command under Sir Thomas Allin [q. v.], and as commander-in-chief after Allin's return to England in November 1670. After several months of watching and chasing the Algerine cruisers, he was fortunate enough to find their fleet lying in Bugia Bay, where he attacked it on 8 May 1671, cut through the boom by which it was protected, and destroyed the whole, to the number of seven frigates and three prizes. The blow so terrified the Algerines that they put the dey to death, and compelled his successor to make peace with the English. This was happily concluded in the following December, and in March 1672 Spragge returned to England in time to hoist his flag, as vice-admiral of the red, on board the Loyal London, and to take a brilliant part in the battle of Solebay on 28 May, when, towards evening, the Duke of York hoisted the standard on board his ship. During the remainder of the season he was admiral of the blue, and in the autumn had command of a small squadron appointed to drive off the Dutch herring-boats, a duty he is said to have performed with efficiency and humanity.

In the winter he was sent on a special mission to France to arrange the plan of the naval operations for the following summer, and in the spring hoisted his flag on board the Royal Prince, as admiral of the blue squadron. In this capacity he served during the three several actions of 1673, markedly distinguishing himself in the battles of 28 May and 4 June. In the third battle, on 11 Aug., in command of the rear division of the fleet, he found himself opposed to Cornelis Tromp, whom, it is said, he had pledged himself to bring in, alive or dead; and thus not only were the two rears hotly engaged with each other, but more particularly the two flagships. The Royal Prince was presently so much disabled [see Leake, Richard; Rooke, Sir George] that he shifted his flag to the St. George. Again, the St. George was dismasted, and Spragge was on his way to another ship, when a shot struck the boat, which was immediately sunk and Spragge with it. The peculiar circumstances of his death have given him a celebrity to which his life had not entitled him. Dryden eulogises his courage in his ‘Annus Mirabilis’ (st. 174). Brave and resolute he undoubtedly was, and his attack on the Algerine fleet seems to have been skilfully planned and well carried out; but his limited experience at sea can scarcely have made him a seaman, and if it is true, as alleged, that the dividing the fleet in June 1666 was on his suggestion, his ideas of naval strategy were as faulty as his ideas of naval tactics, which led him, on 11 Aug. 1673, to separate the rear of the fleet from the centre, in order to settle his private quarrel with Tromp. Pepys described him as ‘a merry man that sang a pleasant song pleasantly,’ and rated his influence in naval matters very high (Diary, ed. Wheatley, v. passim). He left no legitimate issue. Two illegitimate sons and one daughter are mentioned by Le Neve (Pedigrees of the Knights, p. 196). A portrait was lent to the Naval Exhibition at Chelsea in 1891.

[Charnock's Biogr. Nav. i. 64; Lediard's Naval History; Colliber's Columna Rostrata; Vie de Corneille Tromp (1694), pp. 490 seq.; Mahan's Influence of Sea Power upon History, pp. 153–4; State Papers, Dom. Charles II, cliv. 128, clvii. 40–1, 99, clxiv. 124, cccx. 31 May, cccxlv. 86–7, 432, 434–9, 446; Egerton MS. 928, freq.; Rochester's Poems, 1707.]

J. K. L.