Dead Admirals’ Society, Part 2
A few more memorials this week – and by popular demand (OK, that’s one of you, and you know who you are…), here are some from the seventeenth century. First of all, here’s the glorious wall monument to Sir William Penn at St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, with his armour and banners above it, then the much more modest floor slab over the grave itself. Penn was one of Cromwell’s generals-at-sea, and some have given him the credit for introducing the line of battle into naval tactics. After the Restoration, he became one of Samuel Pepys’s colleagues on the Navy Board and in 1665 became the one and only ‘Great Captain Commander’ in the history of the Royal Navy, being largely responsible for the conduct of the fleet in the victorious Battle of Lowestoft. (That was on 3 June 1665, so the day on which I’m publishing this post is the 348th anniversary of the battle; Penn is a character in the third Quinton novel, The Blast That Tears The Skies, which culminates in the battle.) Penn died in 1670, but is perhaps more famous in history as the father of ‘the other’ William Penn, the Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania.
Here’s another of the great captains of the Restoration period – Sir John Narbrough (1640-88). This monument stands in Knowlton Church, Kent, in the grounds of the country estate that he bought with the proceeds of prize money from his command of the Mediterranean fleet in the 1670s. In fact, only his bowels are buried under this monument; the rest of him was buried at sea in the Caribbean, where he was leading an expedition to salvage the wreck of a Spanish treasure ship.
Next, another officer who was famous in his time, namely Sir John Leake (1656-1720), who greatly distinguished himself as a successful fleet commander during the War of the Spanish Succession. Despite this, Leake’s tomb in the churchyard of St Dunstan, Stepney, is in a very poor state thanks to what was clearly a disastrously misconceived attempt to repair it with cement.
The final one for today is both the most obscure subject and undoubtedly the most difficult to find! I describe it in my new book Britannia’s Dragon, A Naval History of Wales:
John Williams of Edwinsford, near Talley [west Wales], is commemorated by a memorial high on the wall of Saint Peter’s church, Carmarthen, which records that he ‘behaved himself with resolution worthy of a gent[leman] in an action eminent for its inequality of one seven Algerines against one single ship, the Kingfisher’. This refers to an engagement against the Barbary Corsairs in May 1681, when the Kingfisher (an early ‘Q ship’, a warship disguised as a merchantman) came under attack off the coast of Naples; her captain was killed, but despite the odds, the Algerine squadron was successfully fought off.