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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 watch, 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
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 Dutch 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 represented by the Puritan fleet, with Blake for its commander, waited outside Kinsale harbour.
Months passed in this way. Rupert's men murmured and deserted, his money was rapidly diminishing; the winter approaching. But this latter circumstance favoured his escape. As the winter neared, and the strong winds of the north-east set in, Blake was forced to ride out at a greater distance from the mouth of the harbour, it being an extremely dangerous lee shore, and entirely without safe anchorage. Taking adyantage of this, Rupert, with seven sail, contrived to escape, and once clear of Blake's cruizers levied black mail on the ships of all nations.
Blake was commissioned to follow and destroy this princely marauder. A small force was fitted out consisting of five ships, carrying altogether one hundred and fourteen guns. To these five ships were afterwards added four men-of-war and five merchant men. Prince Rupert in the meantime had met with a most flattering reception from John of Braganza, king of Portugal; his fleet was permitted to anchor under the guns of Belleisle, and he was assured of protection from all his enemies. At that time Portugal and England were on friendly terms; when Blake therefore arrived at the mouth of the Tagus, and permission was refused him to enter, he sent a formal complaint to the king, very well knowing the actual cause of the prohibition. The king demurred, prevaricated, and endeavoured with a cunning affectation of sincerity to disarm suspicion, while he consulted his ministers on what was to be done. There was the redoubtable Englishman with the Commonwealth at his back demanding his rights, plainly claiming to be allowed to enter and to make short work of the pirate prince, who had no business to find security in a friendly port. The ministers urged the king to yield; the queen, fascinated by the brilliant cavalier, upheld the cause of Prince Rupert; John of Braganza was in extreme difficulty. To add to his trouble the Lisboners sided with Rupert, so did the priests-money and soft speeches ensure a brief popularity. It must be stated that Rupert endeavoured to get rid of Blake after a fashion of his own, and thus relieve the king of the difficulty. He placed a bombshell in a double headed barrel, with a lock in the middle, so contrived that on being opened it would explode. It was sent to the admiral's ship as a ton of oil; but the device was discovered before harm was done.
Failing in this scheme Rupert pushed down the river in the hope of escape, but he found the passage effectually blockaded, and was forced to retreat. Blake then urgently demanded of the king permission to right himself. The answer was the arrest of several English merchants and a
public avowal in favour of the pirates. It was an open declaration of war, and was so construed by the English admiral, who seized without parley the Brazil fleet of nine sail coming out of the Tagus, with a threat to seize the American fleets as they returned, if justice were not rendered. He kept his word so far as to attack a fleet of twenty-three vessels returning from the Brazils; in this engagement three ships were burnt, the admiral's was sunk, the vice-admiral's and eleven large ships, all laden with valuable cargoes, taken. On receiving intelligence of this disaster, King John ordered an immediate attack on the English; it was made, and failed utterly; a second attempt was made with the same result; the losses to the Portuguese became most serious and alarming; the necessity for making peace was urged upon the vacillating monarch, who at last advised Rupert to fly as he could no longer protect him. Rupert made good his retreat, and a special embassy was despatched to the English Parliament, humbly begging for terms of peace.
In the meantime Rupert and his brother Maurice continued their sea-roving depredations; they found convenient shelter among wild rocky coastlines, such as we may imagine would be selected by the reckless and daring water rats, "I mean pirates”—and stored within their lairs, the corn, silks, wine, and specie which they captured. A new fleet was fitted out by the English Parliament to pursue and punish the depredators ; Blake was entrusted with the command, and the instructions he received have been epitomized by his biographers as "Uphold the interests and as—“ the honour of England; pursue, capture, or destroy its revolted fleet; protect its trade and its citizens abroad; overawe its rivals and false friends; harass and humble its avowed enemies." Blake was thoroughly independent as to the methods by which these instructions should be carried out and who so well as he knew how to use this absolute, unshackled authority? Blake followed the cavalier coursers, and heard with indignation of the pusillanimity or worse of the Spaniards in Andalusia, who had allowed Rupert to burn six English vessels under their very guns. It was not the first cause of complaint which the English Commonwealth had against the Spanish court, and Blake was resolved to bring affairs to an issue. He followed Rupert through the Straits of Gibraltar; picking up information as he sailed as to the movements of the pirates at Cape Palos, near Carthagena, he heard of them as seen in a tremendous squall, where they parted company, some of the ships running for shelter into Carthagena harbour. There Blake appeared shutting
them in, and demanding from the Spanish authorities permission to destroy them. The governor pretended ignorance of the real state of affairs, and Blake disdaining further parley began the attack, completing the work of destruction by firing some of the vessels, and driving the rest utterly disabled on shore. This act not only vindicated the honour of England, but was a boon to the merchant service of the world. The work of destruction, however, was not yet completed.
Rupert and Maurice, with three vessels, feeling that their occupation was nearly gone, stood across for Toulon; there Maurice arrived in safety, and quietly sold a cargo of plunder. Rupert, less fortunate, was driven by stress of weather to Sicily, where he remained part of the winter, but ultimately joined his brother in the French port. Blake having ascertained where they had found shelter, arrived before the port, and sent a message to the governor, protesting against the succour given to enemies of the English Commonwealth. The French did just as the Portuguese and Spaniards had done-evaded the question, parleyed, and favoured the escape of the pirate prisoners. This rendered Blake indignant. He declared he would make prizes of all the French vessels he encountered, and he kept his word. As for Rupert and Maurice, they reached the West Indies, and there preyed on English, Spanish, and other vessels; at length, in a tropical storm, they parted company. Maurice was never heard of more; but Rupert figured as a gay cavalier in the court of the merry monarch.
In February, 1651, Blake, in his return homewards, captured four French prizes, including a man-of-war, in which action some circumstances happened that deserve to be mentioned. The admiral summoned the captain on board his ship, and having asked him if he was willing to lay down his sword, was answered in the negative, upon which Blake told him to return to his ship and fight it out as long as he was able. The captain took him at his word, and fought him bravely for two hours, when being forced to submit, he went again on board Blake's ship, where upon his knees he first kissed his sword, and then presented it to the admiral. This ship, along with four more, the admiral sent to England, and not long after arriving himself at Plymouth with his squadron, he received the thanks of the Parliament, and was constituted one of the wardens of the Cinque Ports.
But Blake did not remain idle. The cavaliers, following the lead of Prince Rupert, had taken to piratical depredations, and found places of security among the rocks of Jersey, Guernsey, and the Scilly group.