Imágenes de páginas

fare as it afforded. For a better concealment, he mounted upon an oak, where he sheltered himself among the leaves and branches for twentyfour hours.

He saw several soldiers pass by. All of them were intent in search of the king; and some expressed, in his hearing, their earnest wishes of seizing him. This tree was afterwards denominated the Royal oak, and for many years was regarded by the neighbourhood with great veneration.

In the course of his adventures, he was frequently exposed to danger no less imminent. He was compelled to ride before a young lady, in the character of a servant; he was even obliged to conceal himself in holes and lurking-places : he was known by a person of the name of Pope, butler to the gentleman at whose house he resided as the lady's servant; but the man had too much honour to discover him : he was once detected by the sagacity of a smith, who observed his horse's shoes had been made in the North, and not in the West, as he pretended; and he very narrowly escaped ; at last, after a concealment of more than a month, during which time he had entrusted his life to the fidelity of forty different persons; after assuming various disguises, and passing through many dangers, he embarked in a vessel at Shoreham, in Sussex, and arrived safely at Fescamp, in Normandy.



[graphic][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

SOREMOST among the men of the English Commonwealth

stands Robert Blake. Both as a soldier and sailor he did good service to the country. He was not educated for either

profession; but when the king raised his standard at Nottingham, and summoned the nobility and gentry to defend the royal cause, Blake was one of the first to join the Commons.

The most remarkable event of the war in which Blake was engaged was the defence of Lyme. It was a small fishing town, its port affording shelter to vessels of low tonnage ; yet as the only harbour for many leagues on a stormy coast, it was a place of considerable importance. With a few troops Blake took possession of the town, in order to defend the shipping from the cavaliers, and there he was summoned to surrender by Prince Maurice. Receiving a defiant answer, Prince Maurice ordered his trumpeters to sound a charge, and horse and foot came on in full array—steel caps, steel coats, lances, pikes, and swords, all blazing with the sunlight, as gallant a spectacle as you might wish to see. But Blake had thrown up defences, and he and his troopers were in no mood to yield. The charge was repulsed, and the mortification of Prince Maurice at being so defeated was extreme. He resolved to bring up the main body of his army, and to lay regular siege to Lyme. But storm, stratagem, blockade, failed to make any impression on the little garrison. In the shallow trenches beyond the mudworks flowed the blood of the noblest in England; under Blake's fire more men of gentle birth perished at Lyme, than in all the other skirmishes and sieges in the western counties. The garrison was in a sorry plight: few had shoes or shirts, and fewer still a whole suit of clothes. Some of those who defended the breastworks had never before handled a musket; but they fought likeMEN. The young helped, and the women helped, bandaging wounds and loading guns, and discharging the musket when need be, and many a scented Cavalier was shot by a woman. One night a fierce attack was made by the royalists, and some of them actually forced their way through the rude works into the market. They had reason to repent their folly; for as well might they have walked into the shambles: they perished to a man. One morning, some reinforcements arriving at the besieging lines, the royalists jested over their breakfast, and swore they would take the town before they dined. They came on gallantly, but were beaten back with great slaughter. In the town bread and powder were becoming scarcer every day: the succour which had been expected had not arrived. Prince Maurice knew of their miserable plight, and determined to surprise them; but his purpose was known, and Blake resolved on returning plot for plot. When, as expected, the royalist assailants came up, those on guard at the outworks fled before them, and were hotly pursued. To the number of four hundred the


rushed into the town, and there they suddenly found themselves inclosed : a deadly fire pouring on them from door, window, and parapet, their escape effectually cut off, they fell in heaps, and were slaughtered every one.

Towards the end of May, some vessels arrived from the Parliament with stores of food and ammunition for the besieged. The sailors were shocked at the deplorable condition of the brave defenders of that little town, and munificently gave up every article of clothing they could spare,—“thirty pairs of boots, sixty pairs of stockings, a heap of old clothes, a good round number of shirts, and a considerable quantity of bread and fish." While

[ocr errors]

these and still more generous things were being done by the sailors, hard fighting was going on in the town. The Cavaliers had made another attack, only to leave their corpses on the ground; but the garrison suffered severely, and Blake was wounded in the foot. While the dead were being buried, another attack was made with hand-grenades and scaling-ladders. The attack failed as the rest had failed; but the loss to the garrison was heavy.

When the fighting was over for that day, three hundred seamen were secretly landed for the assistance of Blake, and the fleet then weighed anchor. The royalist, suspecting that some of the garrison had been taken on board with the intention of an attack on the rear, despatched scouts to wateh, and troops to prevent a landing; and on the following day a last grand attack was made on the town. Blake had about twelve hundred men at command, including the three hundred seamen ; Maurice having despatched his cavalry to guard the coast, was provided with a force but little superior in numbers. At six in the evening, the firing began, and so hotly and fiercely was it kept up, that many houses were soon in flames and the third of the town a heap of ruins. The fighting was a well contested hand-to-hand engagement, the most deadly which had yet been fought at Lyme. Maurice, who had anticipated an easy victory, was overwhelmed by his failure, and withdrew his forces as rapidly as he could. Five hundred cavaliers were left dead in the streets and trenches. The siege was raised : the royalists retired, firing into the town, as a parting salute, a shower of red-hot balls and bars of twisted lead.

Having thus successfully achieved the defence of Lyme, Robert Blake prepared for further services to the Commonwealth. At Taunton especially he exhibited his extraordinary powers in a very conspicuous manner, but his greatest achievements were reserved for the maritime defence of England.

When, on the establishment of the Commonwealth, Robert Blake was called with Colonels Deane and Popham to the command of the fleet, abuses everywhere existed in the navy. The dockyards were mismanaged; the ships were unseaworthy; the seamen's wages in arrears; the rations unwholesome; and no hospital was provided for the sick. The sailors were demoralized : lawless ashore, -mutinous at sea. Some vessels belonging to the fleet had deserted from the Parliament and gone over to the Royal cause ;' the cavaliers were exerting themselves to foment the revolt; Prince Rupert and his brother Maurice were cruising in the

[ocr errors]

Channel on a marauding expedition, and selling their prizes in the harbour of Kinsale.

Blake was in his fiftieth year when he entered on naval command ; and his first step was to discharge all the idle, vicious, and disaffected seamen, and to fill up their places with good and true men. This occasioned him no difficulty: volunteers were many; and the Thames Watermen, who under an ancient charter had the right to claim service, insisted on their privilege, and manned the hero's ships. His next step was to reform abuses, and to make ready for sea. His third to set sail in quest of his former foe, Rupert the Robber, who had grown rich in prize-money, and was boastful of what he yet intended to achieve. The union-jack no longer was run up in the ships of the Parliament, instead of this was displayed a plain red cross on a white ground.

When Rupert ascertained that Blake was in command, no doubt he swore that he would make short work of the Puritan. And indeed his prospects at that time were encouraging. Ireland was in revolt; the Cavaliers in great force, and King Charles the Second-the First had lost his head three months before—was seriously thinking of embarking for the Hague and asserting his claims to the crown. One unfortunate circumstance interfered with this resolve on the part of the young king; he was short of cash; to encourage him Rupert caught a Duteh trader-he

; was no more careful what he captured than the most unconscionable pirate that ever displayed a black flag—sold her for ten thousand pounds, and sent him the money. But Charles did not come.

Kinsale was the favoured harbour of Prince Rupert-there he took refuge, there he sold his prizes, there he ruled as a tyrannical dashing young prince. He run up ten unfortunate fellows to the yard arm on suspicion of desertion; he shot a young ensign and all his troop on a suspicion of mutiny; he flung away human life as the dregs from his wine cup, a very model gentleman of the cavalier type. In Kinsale harbour, however, Prince Rupert was compelled to remain for a much longer period than he intended. There he was discovered by Blake and shut up safely within it. There was no escape, except by fighting a battle and running the hazard of total defeat; there were no means of acquiring fresh plunder ; the weather was delightful, bright summer time, the very season for an excellent campaign in the privateering line,--but rigid, inflexible destiny ropresented by the Puritan fleet, with Blake for its commander, waited outside Kinsale harbour.

« AnteriorContinuar »