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. 


  1. cheryl york says:

    Greetings David!Thanks for your blog posts — always good reading. Since this is the anniversary of the Battle of Lowestoft I am moved to send to you a summary of Sir John Harman’s reference information. You may recall I once had ambitions to write a novel based on his life and, in the course of the work, amassed boxes full of material. Recently I went through these boxes, determined to condense or throw out the material. It has been a bit of a burden to carry it with me each time I have moved house over the past many years! I thought I would do a summary of the material if nothing else. This modest paper is no doubt lacking in proper style and there are still holes in the content… not too many errors or wrong assumptions I hope! I want to say how much I appreciated your assistance and support when I was in the initial stages of my project. Even though I did not achieve my original goal, I have retained an interest in the Harman chronicle and have had the pleasure of recently picking up the threads of your successes as a writer through reading the first two Quinton novels. I look forward to reading the third. Marvelous stories! with best regardsCheryl York24 Main Street, Paris, Ontario, Canada N3L 1E3

    Date: Mon, 3 Jun 2013 09:35:50 +0000 To:


    • Hello Cheryl! It’s great to hear from you again, and I’m really glad you’re enjoying the series. I’m sure Harman will appear as a character at some point! Indeed, your work on him was one of the things that first got me wondering whether I could and should try to write some fiction set in this period, so I owe you a big debt. I’d be delighted to have a look at your Harman summary and will email you shortly with some contact info. Best, David


%d bloggers like this: