Blake, Robert

views updated Jun 11 2018

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 Fleets permanently in the service of the state had been replaced by ships impressed or hired from merchants for the occasion.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