The New International Encyclopædia/Blake, Robert

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2389209The New International Encyclopædia — Blake, Robert

BLAKE, Robert (1599-1657). An English soldier and admiral of the Commonwealth. The eldest of twelve sons of a merchant, he was born at Bridgewater, Somerset, in August, 1599. He studied at Oxford from 1615-25, taking his degree of M.A. in 1623 at Wadsworth College. When the Civil War broke out. he raised a troop in Somersetshire, and narrowly escaped hanging for prolonging the defense of Bristol, when the Governor had capitulated. Parliament subse- quently appointed him lieutenant-colonel, and by his obstinate defense of Lyme with five hundred men against Prince Maurice's five thousand, he seriously damaged the reputation of that warrior, who retired in disgust. In 1644 he surprised Taunton, of which place he was made governor, and gave proof of no mean military skill by de- fending the place against an overwhelming force, until the town was little better than a heap of ruins, when the siege was raised. In 164!), in conjunction with two other ofiicers of equal rank, he was appointed general of the sea, the two services, military and naval, at that time not being distinct. This was Blake's true sphere. After an exciting hide-and-seek chase of several months, in 1651 he destroyed the squadron of Prince Rupert, which had sought safety in the Tagus, and forced the Royalists to surrender Guernsey, Jersey, and the Scilly Isles. In March, 1652. he was made sole admiral of the fieet for nine months, and during tliis year fought four engagements with Dutch ficcts luider Tromp. De Ruyter, and De WMtt. In the first, on May 19, the Dutch retreated under cover of darkness, with the loss of one man-of-war captured, and another sunk. In the next engagement, a squad- ron of 12 ships, sent to protect the herring-ves- sels from the attacks of Blake, were captured; and in the third, on September 28, 3 Dutch vessels were destroyed, and the rear-admiral taken. On November 29 a fleet of 80 vessels, under the command of Tromp, encountered Blake with only 40 off the Goodwin Sands. The result of the action was the loss of 6 English ships — 2 captured and 4 destroyed; the rest, in a shattered condition, sought safety in the Thames. There is a story, now discredited, that Tromp tied a broom to the masthead of his vessel, and sailed through the Channel, intimating that he had swept Englisli vessels clean out of it. If he did, his pride was short-lived, for by February, 1653, Bhike was at sea again with 80 ships, and falling in with Tromp with about an equal force, was at once attacked, but after a three days' running fight, the Dutchman was forced to 'seek shelter in the shallow waters of Calais, witn a loss of 11 men-of-war, and 30 of a fleet of merchantmen he had in convoy. The English lost only one ship, but Blake was severely wounded! On the 3d and 4th of June his co- adjutors, Deane and Monk, won another victory over Trojnp, and his wound alone prevented Blake from taking part in the engagement of July 31, which finally shattered the naval su- premacy of Holland. In 1C54 Blake was ap- pointed by Cromwell to command an English fleet in the Mediterranean, where he soon made the British flag respected by Dutch, Spanish, and French. The Dey of Tunis refused to pay homage to it. Blake attacked his capital, burned the Turkish fleet of nine ships which lay before it, accomplished a landing, and with a body of 1000 men annihilated an army of 3000 Turks. He next sailed to Algiers and Tripoli, landed, and set free all the English who were detained as slaves. He concluded alliances favorable to England with Venice and Tuscany. In 1057 he defeated the Spaniards at Santa Cruz. This was, perhaps, one of the most daring actions in Blake's career. With a wind blowing right into the bay — which was very strongly defended — Blake "dashed in, attacked and destroyed the Spanish galleons and shipping in the harbor, and, the wind fortunately changing, sailed out again with a loss of only one ship and 200 men. The Spanish loss in men and property was im- mense, and the terror the action inspired insured increased respect to the English flag. His health now failed ; he returned to England, and died, as his sliip entered the harbor of Plymouth, August 7, 1057. Cromwell honored his memory by a solemn funeral procession, and caused him to be interred in Westminster Abbey, whence his body, with those of other Revolutionary celeb- rities, was removed by royal command at the Restoration. Consult:" Gardiner, History of the Commomrenlth and Protectorate (Xew York, 1894-litOl), decidedly the best account of the naval war, with fulfcitatioir of the original au- thorities; Samuel Johnson, Life of lilake (Lon- don, 1792) ; and Dixon, Robert lllakc (London, 1852). The principal original materials may be found in Calendars of State Papers, Domestic (London, 1649-57); and Thurloe, State Papers (London, 1742).