Robert Blake

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Blake, Robert (1599–1657). Admiral. Educated at Oxford, where he was said to have expressed republican views, Blake volunteered for the parliamentary army in 1642, and distinguished himself at the sieges of Lyme and Taunton. In February 1649 he was one of three colonels appointed admiral and general at sea by the Commonwealth. His first assignment was to neutralize the royalist navy under Prince Rupert besieging Kinsale. Having done this, he chased Rupert to Lisbon. By mauling Rupert's forces, blockading Lisbon, and seizing the annual fleet returning from Brazil, Blake forced Portugal and Spain to recognize the authority of the Commonwealth. He had completed a revolution in naval warfare. Fleets permanently in the service of the state had been replaced by ships impressed or hired from merchants for the occasion. This achievement he shared with the Council of State and Sir Henry Vane of the Admiralty Committee, but it was Blake who won the loyalty and maintained the efficiency of the new navy. However, while an inspiring commander, he could boast no innovating skill in naval tactics. Defeated by the Dutch commander Tromp at Dungeness (30 November 1652), he avenged his humiliation at Portland and Beachy Head (18–20 February 1653). In 1654 he was given command of the Mediterranean fleet, where he campaigned against Turkey and Spain. His victory over the Spanish West Indies fleet in April 1657 was the occasion of a public thanksgiving in London. Blake suffered from chronic illness, especially after being wounded in 1653, and died at sea while returning to England after the Spanish campaign in August 1657.

Ian Gentles

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Robert Blake, 1599–1657, English admiral. A merchant, he sat in the Short Parliament (1640) and joined the parliamentary side in the civil war. He defended Bristol, Lyme, and Taunton against royalist attacks (1643–45). Appointed a "general at sea" (1649), he embarked on a brilliant naval career in his middle age. In 1650 he pursued the royalist fleet under Prince Rupert to Portugal, where he intercepted a large Portuguese treasure fleet at the mouth of the Tagus River. He caught up with Rupert in the Mediterranean and virtually destroyed his fleet. In 1651 he captured the Scilly Islands from royalist privateers and helped to reduce Jersey. In the first of the Dutch Wars he won several major victories against the Dutch and suffered one serious defeat. In 1655 he attacked and destroyed a Barbary pirate fleet at Porto Farino. In the winter of 1656–57 he blockaded the Spanish coast and sank the Spanish fleet at Santa Cruz. Made a member of the council of state in 1651, he helped to develop the effective Commonwealth navy.