Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

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.

[ocr errors]

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 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.

Blake stormed their fastnesses. His fellows seemed amphibious. They fought as well on land as on water. It was hard work driving out the cavaliers, but it was at last accomplished. When Blake curled his moustache and said it ought to be done, you might rely upon his doing it.

The next important event with which the name of Robert Blake became illustrious was the war with the Hollanders. There was much of kindred feeling between the Dutchmen of the United Provinces and the men of the English Commonwealth; both were Protestant States; both had won their freedom; both were busy in conserving their religious and political liberties; but the Dutchmen had erred in their estimate of English prowess, they had delayed alliance when it should have been concluded, they had grown jealous of our increasing power, confident of their own invincibility, and "drifted" into war. They carried on the largest trade in the world, and English money circulated freely in the exchange of Rotterdam and Amsterdam, and many a wealthy burgomaster might trace his fortune to commercial dealings with the English. Great, therefore, was the dismay of the Dutch when the Navigation Act was passed by the British Parliament, declaring that no goods, the produce of Asia, Africa, or America, should be imported into England, except in ships belonging to subjects of the English Commonwealth. It was a deadly blow to the Dutch trade. The Dutch ambassador urged the repeal of the law, and went so far as to hint that Holland was prepared to defend its interests. That menace was enough. Parliament claimed those honours to the Red Cross of England in the narrow seas which had been nominally held since the days of Saxon Alfred, and this led to a speedy rupture. Blake was cruizing in the channel, and there he came up with the Dutch fleet, commanded by Van Tromp. When he observed Van Tromp bear nearer to his fleet than he had any occasion to do, he saluted him with two guns loaded with powder only, to put him in mind of striking his flag; upon which, in contempt, the latter fired on the contrary side of his ship. Blake then fired a second and third gun, which were answered with a broadside. The English admiral, perceiving that Van Tromp's intention was to fight, detached himself from the rest of his fleet to treat with him, and thus prevent the effusion of blood; but when Blake approached, Van Tromp, contrary to the law of nations-the English admiral having come with a design to treat-fired on him a whole broadside. Blake was in his cabin, little expecting to be thus saluted, when the shot broke the windows, and shattered the stern of the ship; this put

him into a violent passion, and curling his whiskers, as he used to do whenever he was angry, he commanded his men to answer the Dutch in his own coin. Blake singly sustained the attack of the Dutch fleet for some time, till his other ships and the squadron under Bourne could join him, and then the engagement grew hot on both sides, when night put an end to it, and the Dutch retired with the loss of two ships, but without taking or destroying any of the English. Blake lost fifteen men in this engagement, and was engaged for four hours with the main body of the Dutch fleet, during which time his ship received a thousand shot. He ascribed his preservation to the particular blessing of God, and his success to the justice of his cause, the Dutch having first attacked him upon the English coasts.

After this signal triumph, Blake remained absolute and invincible in the narrow seas. In less than a month he sent into the Thames more than forty rich prizes. His success reanimated the courage of the Parliament, forty sail and six fire ships were added to the fleet, the navy increased, and the men's wages raised. By the end of the summer the admiral had under his command 105 vessels, carrying 3961 guns.

The Dutchmen witnessed these preparations with concern, but not with dismay; their vast resources and inflexible spirit suggested preparations on an equally magnificent scale. Their renowned admiral was placed in command of a fleet of 120 sail, many of the vessels larger and better equipped than had ever ridden in northern waters. It was confidently supposed by the Hollanders that this fleet would effectually sweep away the English ships, and settle at once the question of English supremacy.

But there was another question which had first to be settled. The Dutch carried on an extensive fishing trade, and every year they fished among the northern islands, and their nets were sweltered with silvery spoil. Their right to fish in these waters was denied by the English, as our own fishermen suffered severely from the invasion. Blake knew that six hundred fishing boats, under a convoy of twelve men-of-war, had appeared among the northern islands, so he fired a parting salute and sailed for that latitude. When he came up with the Dutch he found the draught of fish to have been enormous; the boats or herring busses as they were called were well freighted, and the men-of-war ready to show fight. Blake commenced the attack, and the engagement lasted three hours. It ended in the destruction of three and the capture of nine of the guard ships. The whole fleet of busses was at the mercy of the

« AnteriorContinuar »