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Sir Richard Grenville, the Hero of Flores.


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Richard, the son of Sir Roger Grenville, was born about the year 1540, in the west of England, of a family descended from Rollo of Normandy. In his youth he showed the same restless, daring disposition which characterised him all through life. For he was barely twenty-six when he obtained the Queen's permission to serve in Hungary against the Turks, and it is reported that he was on board the Christian fleet in the famous battle of Lepanto, 1566, won by Don John of Austria, and the crowning mercy that saved Europe from Mohammedan rule; so that the Pope, on hearing the news of the victory, exclaimed, "There was a man sent from God, and his name was John."

On his return, being a cousin of Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Sir Walter Raleigh, the Queen took notice of him and sent him to Ireland, to serve under Sir Henry Sidney, who was so well satisfied with his energy and courage that he recommended the Queen to appoint him Sheriff of the city of Cork.

In 1571 Richard Grenville was elected one of the members for the county of Cornwall, and was knighted on becoming High Sheriff of that county.

His acquaintance with Gilbert in Ireland had set his ambition on discovering new lands in Cathay or America; so when in 1584 Raleigh obtained a patent to discover and occupy heathen lands not actually possessed by any Christian prince, Sir Richard Grenville volunteered for the voyage, and was made commander of the squadron that was to plant a first colony in Virginia - an idea of Raleigh's.

A Hollander, John Huighen van Linschoten, gives a full account of Sir Richard's character, as far as he knew it from personal experience.

This Sir Richard Grenville, he says, was a great and a rich gentleman in England and had great yearly revenues of his own inheritance; but he was a man very unquiet in his mind and greatly affected to war; inasmuch as of his own motion he offered his services to the Queen. He had performed many valiant acts, and was greatly feared in these islands and known of every man, but of nature very severe, so that his own people hated him for his fierceness and spake very hardly of him. "He was of so hard a complexion that, as he continued among the Spanish captains while they were at dinner or supper with him, he would carouse three or four glasses of wine, and in a braverie would take the glasses between his teeth and crush them in pieces and swallow them down, so that often-times the blood ran out of his mouth without any harme at all unto him."

Raleigh would have liked to go on the Virginia voyage himself, but had to be content with sending Grenville as Admiral of the Fleet, and Ralph Lane to be Governor of the proposed colony.

The latter was a Northamptonshire man, second cousin to Queen Katherine Parr, about ten years older than Grenville, and one of Leicester's band of equerries to the Queen.

They sailed in April, 1585, from Plymouth with seven vessels, the largest being of 140 tons burthen. Thomas Cavendish was one of their number. Sailing by way of the Canaries to the West Indian Islands, they anchored in Mosquito Bay, in the island of Puerto Rico, within falcon-shot of the shore.

Sir Richard landed and gave orders for a fort to be built in an angle between the river and the sea, backed by woods. There he remained some days, felling the timber and building a pinnace, the Spaniards looking on from afar.

After some days a party of twenty horsemen showed themselves on the opposite bank of the river, carrying a flag of truce; two from either side met on the sands and discussed politely and courteously. When the Spaniards expressed some surprise at the English having built a fort in Spanish territory, they were told that it was only to procure water and food, which if they could not get by fair means, it was their resolution to win by the sword.

Upon this discreet answer the Spaniards made "large promises of all courtesy."

On the morrow, the pinnace being finished, Sir Richard marched some four miles up country, awaiting the Spaniards' performance of their promise to bring victuals. As they did not come up in time - what Spaniard ever does? - Sir Richard swore a little, called them perjured caitiffs, and fired the woods and his fort. Setting sail, he took next evening a Spanish frigate, which the Spaniards forsook at the sight of his squadron. The next night he captured another "with good and rich freight, and divers persons of account in her," whom he ransomed for good round sums.

One of these prizes was sent to Roxo Bay, where Ralph Lane built a fort, while the others busied themselves in stealing a shipload of salt from the Spaniards. After this they sailed for Hispaniola and anchored at Isabella.

The Spanish Governor came to the seaside to meet Grenville, each being very polite and very suspicious of the other; but polite demeanour prevailed. The English provided two banqueting houses, covered with green boughs - one for the gentlemen, the other for the servants; a sumptuous feast was brought in, served all on plate, while the drums and trumpets played lively music, wherewith the Spaniards were vastly delighted.

In return, the Spaniards sent for a great herd of white bulls from the mountains, and lent to each gentleman and captain a horse ready saddled, and then singled three of the strongest of the herd to be bunted.

The pastime grew very pleasant and merry, as there were many onlookers who applauded when one turned a bull in his course. Within the three hours that they were riding up and down they killed two beasts from the saddle; the third having taken to the sea was there shot with a musket.

Sir Thomas More, had Henry the Eighth spared his valuable life, would not have approved such sport; but he was alone in thinking on mercy to animals.

After the sport many rare gifts were exchanged; but Sir Richard said, when he regained his ship, "I always mistrust Spanish politeness. Had we not been so strong we might have met with no better treatment than Hawkins received at St. Juan de Ulloa."

On the 7th of June they sailed away and reached Virginia at the end of the month. But Sir Richard was not thinking so much of colonising as of exploring. He spent seven weeks in coasting about the islands of North Carolina; he made an eight days' expedition inland, receiving kindness from the simple natives, and not always behaving to them very considerately. For instance, we read in the report of one of his company: "One of our boats was sent to demand a silver cup which one of the savages had stolen from us, and, not receiving it according to his promise, we burnt and spoilt their corn and town, all the people being fled."

It is clear that Grenville did not know how to deal with Red Indians. But he also quarrelled with Lane and Thomas Cavendish, and they were glad when he left them on the 28th of August for England, promising to come again soon. On the 8th of September Lane vented some of his bitterness towards Grenville by writing to Walsingham thus: "Sir Richard Grenville, our General, hath demeaned himself, from the first day of his entry into government until the day of his departure, far otherwise than my hope of him, though very agreeable to the expectations and predictions of sundry wise and godly persons of his own country that knew him better than myself." He then goes on to relate how Sir Richard nearly brought him to trial for his life, only for Lane having ventured to give advice in a public council. He goes on bitterly enough: "I have had so much experience of his government as I am humbly to desire your honour and the rest of my honourablest friends to give me their favours to be freed from that place where Sir Richard Grenville is to carry any authority in chief. The Lord hath miraculously blessed this action that, in the time of his being amongst us, even through his intolerable pride and insatiable ambition, it hath not at three several times taken a final overthrow."

We cannot help noticing how difficult a matter it was for some of the Elizabethan heroes to express their thoughts in direct and pithy language. But it is evident that Lane hated Grenville - what Grenville thought of Lane we can only guess; but Lane's way of managing his colony hardly reveals an ability great enough to warrant his attack upon his superior. He wrote another letter in which he praised all he saw and smelt in Virginia: "We have not yet found, in all our search, one stinking weed growing in this land: a matter, in all our opinions here, very strange. The climate is so wholesome, yet somewhat tending to heat, as that we have not had one sick since we entered into the country; but sundry that came sick are recovered of long diseases, especially of rheums.''

Lane fixed upon the fertile island of Roanoke, or Plymouth, as the residence of his hundred colonists, built a fort and made entrenchments, but sowed no seed and made no prudent preparations for the future; he seemed to be content to live on what the Indians brought them. But he spent most of his time in exploring and looking for valuables. In a four-oared barge holding fifteen men he tracked the coast northwards as far as Chesapeake Bay, which he preferred to Roanoke. "For pleasantness of seat, for temperature of climate, for fertility of soil, and for the commodity of the sea, besides multitudes of bears - being an excellent good victual - with great woods of sassafras and walnut trees, it is not to be excelled by any other whatsoever."

Lane, in conversation with an Indian chief, heard of a native king who possessed beautiful pearls, white and round and large; this made him eager to leave his colony and explore: this greed was soon to be the cause of his failure. Shortly after, Lane was told that at the head of the Roanoke River was a tribe of Indians who had stores of copper and gold; this determined him to seek it out at once. He rowed for three days up the river, finding that the natives fled at his approach, taking with them all their corn, so that his food began to fail. They had in the boat two mastiffs, and they resolved to go on a little farther, and if need were, they could kill the mastiffs and live upon their "pottage," flavoured with sassafras leaves. So they went up the river farther, and at last heard some savages call "Manteo," an Indian servant they had. "Whereof we all being very glad, hoping of some friendly conference, and making him answer them, they presently began a song, as we thought in token of welcome." Alas! it only meant war, and at once a volley of arrows came sticking into one of the boats. The English landed, and the Indians fled into the woods. No supper! no food! they were now come to the dogs' pottage. So they resolved to row down again, and having the stream with them accomplished in one day what it had taken four days to do up-stream.

But on rejoining his colony Lane found that the Indians, once so friendly, had become subtle enemies. The colonists, many of whom were rough, bad characters, had treated the Indians as slaves, and the slaves had resisted, to their loss and damage. Lane had left trusty guards to take charge of "the wild men of his own nation"; but the guards joined the rest in cruel handling of the natives. The result was that the news spread from tribe to tribe that these white men were devils, not born of women, who had come to waste their corn and slay their people.

When Lane went away, the Indians thought he was dead; now he had come back, they believed he had risen from the grave. It was hardly worth while, they thought, trying to kill people who could rise again and fight! their best plan was to retreat far into the woods. This would have been fatal to the colony, for the Indians alone knew how to make weirs for fish, and they had all the seed-corn.

We can see how Shakespeare must have heard tales of the Indians, or read Sir Walter's "Virginia."

"When thou camst here first,
Thou strok'dst me, and made much of me, would'st teach me how
To name the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night; and then I loved thee,
And show'd thee all the qualities o' th' isle,
The fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and fertile; -
Cursed be I that did so!"
- Tempest,

At length, in May 1586, the Indians could brook no more such wrongs; they stole into Port Ferdinando, broke up the fish-weirs and wooden huts, and crossed over to the mainland. In June a battle ensued - guns against bows and arrows - the Indians were out-matched and fled. Their king, being shot through with a pistol, lay on the ground for dead; but suddenly started up and ran away as though he had not been touched. But he was shot again, fell and was killed. "I met my man," says Lane, "returning out of the woods with Pemisapan's head in his hand."

The colony was now in despair - a few oysters were found or they would have been starved. One prophet amongst them vowed that "the hand of God had come upon them for the cruelty and outrages committed by some of them on the natives." Then came Drake with three-and-twenty ships out of the misty deep, and at once Ralph Lane saw "the very hand of God stretched out to save them."

On the 19th of June they embarked on Drake's ship and returned to Portsmouth. But they carried with them that wonderful herb uppowoc, or tobacco, which all Europe has now learnt to suck after the manner of the Red Indians, which Edmund Spenser in his "Faerie Queen," writ a few years after, called "divine." Of course Lane blamed Sir Richard Grenville for his failure, since Grenville had promised to return in the spring with fresh colonists and supplies; but he did not arrive until a fortnight after Lane's departure with Drake.

We have given this short sketch of the doings of the colony in Virginia, partly that the reader may judge where the fault lay. It was not Sir Richard's, and it was not wholly Lane's; it was the ill choice of unworthy colonists that really wrecked the scheme; it was their gross ill-treatment of the natives that ruined the settlement. But if Lane had stayed with his own men, instead of hunting for pearls and copper, he might have kept them in better order. But as it happened, the real savages were some few of those English settlers, the off-scouring of England's gaols, and the ill-conduct of the few made the Indians suspicious of all.

Grenville, when he left Virginia for Plymouth, took the opportunity of having a little fight with a richly laden Spaniard of 300 tons burthen, and arrived home rich. He had been unable to fulfil his promise to return in the spring, because Raleigh had a difficulty in raising money for the three ships and their outfit. When Grenville did reach Roanoke, he found all deserted and left in confusion, as if the colonists had been hunted away by a mighty army.

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