These excerpts are from:
Chapter II: HAWKINS OF PLYMOUTH
Late in the fifteenth century a certain John Hawkins of Tavistock married Joan, daughter of William Amydas of Launceston. Their son, born between 1490 and 1500 and probably not their only child, was William Hawkins, who became a merchant of Plymouth and the first of three generations prominent in the history of the Tudor period. The name of Hawkins occurs frequently in the records of the time. There were landowning Hawkinses in Kent, and mercantile Hawkinses in London and Bristol, but there is no demonstrable relationship between these families and the Plymouth group with whom this book is concerned. In Plymouth the customs ledger shows activity by a merchant named William Hawkins in 1497-8. There was probably some connection between him and John Hawkins of Tavistock, but its nature is not apparent. Meanwhile the historical William Hawkins was growing up. He was appointed Receiver or Treasurer to the Corporation of Plymouth for the year 1524-5, and at the same time Collector of the subsidy for the county of Devon. He was then thirty years of age, more or less, and thenceforward his career is traceable with increasing certainty.
In 1527 there is a record of a town emergency in which Hawkins played his part. An Italian ship came into the harbour pursued by French pirates. Plymouth was not rigid in its views on such transactions, provided that they took place at a respectful distance; but on this occasion the pirates threatened to attack their quarry in the port, where the townsmen were determined to preserve the peace. Their resolute attitude was sufficient, and the French withdrew. William Hawkins soon afterwards contributed to the defences by selling the corporation two brass guns for L24, and 196 lb. of powder at 6d. a pound. In the same year Hawkins was defendant in a legal action sufficiently important to come before the Court of Common Pleas at Westminster. He, with James Horsewell, Peter Grisling and three others, were accused of beating and wounding John Jurdon of Plymouth to the danger of his life. No evidence or decision on the charge is recorded, and the matter is worth notice only because it introduces the names of Horsewell and Grisling, the one a lifelong ally of Hawkins, the other shortly to appear as a persistent enemy. The politics of Plymouth were tempestuous and its manners as rough as was usual in seaports. The affair of 1527 was only the first of several in which the family were to be concerned.
In the meanwhile Hawkins had married Joan Trelawny and had become the father of a family. His elder son William was born about 1519, and John, the younger, in 1532. There were no other sons who lived to grow up, if we may believe a statement by one who knew them, that John was the only brother of William. But there was a daughter who probably married a member of the Horsewell family. The evidence is the existence of a youth named Paul Horsewell who sailed with John Hawkins on his third West Indian voyage and was known as Hawkins's nephew. He could only have been so if his mother was a sister of Hawkins. Very few parish records of the early Tudor period have been preserved, and we have none that contain the baptisms and marriages of the Hawkinses. The first William Hawkins's date of birth is merely conjectural. That of his son William rests on a statement that in 1579 he was about sixty years of age. John's date, 1532, is fairly well established by two mutually but not quite exactly corroborative testimonies, the inscription on his monument in St. Dunstan'sin-the-East in the City of London, and the inscription on the portrait which forms the frontispiece of this book. The monument (destroyed in the Great Fire) said that he was sixty-three when he died in 1595. The portrait states that he was fifty-eight in 1591. Here it may be as well to set forth the sixteenth century members of the family in tabular form.
All the Hawkinses here recorded spelt the name as Hawkyns. Richard Hakluyt and nearly all subsequent historians have rendered it Hawkins. That spelling, although inexact, must be regarded as established, and it would be pedantic at this late date to seek to alter it.
born c. 149o-15oo, m. JOAN TRELAWNY, died 1553 or 1554
born c. 1519, died 1589
names of wives unknown
|SIR JOHN HAWKINS
born 1532, died 1595
m1 KATHERINE GONSON
m2 MARGARET VAUGHAN
? died 1613
|SIR RICHARD HAWKINS
born 1560, died 1622
m. JUDITH HEALE
born c. I555
William Hawkins was Mayor of Plymouth in 1532-3. In the ensuing years the town was disturbed by rival factions and by a prolonged dispute with the borough of Saltash over the exercise of jurisdiction in the waters of Plymouth Sound, 'the haven and its members'. The details are for the most part preserved in some recorded proceedings in the Star Chamber, but the story is not entirely clear. It seems, however, that Peter Grisling, who lived sometimes in Plymouth and sometimes in Saltash, was searcher of the port, or, as we should now put it, the chief customs officer. It was a government appointment without salary, the holder recouping himself by charging fees to each ship searched. It is easy to imagine how a stringent performance of the search and exaction of the fees would arouse the resentment of merchants and shipowners in days when a certain laxity was normal. Hawkins and his allies, James Horsewell and John Elyot, both shipowners, complained that Grisling made the office of searcher his sole means of livelihood and exercised it with rapacity and extortion. Religious bitterness also had its part in the affair, as may be inferred from the record that Grisling called Horsewell 'a naughty heretic knave'. This was in 1535-6, when Horsewell had become Mayor of Plymouth, and when also Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII were setting about the dissolution of the monasteries. Given the temper and the suspicions of the time, it was a dangerous thing for Grisling to say. His opponents affected toleration by answering that they considered the statement malicious but not treasonable, the words having been spoken in fury and drink.' The Privy Council summoned both parties to London and enjoined moderation, after which all returned to Plymouth together, apparently reconciled.
Grishng then suggested that Hawkins and Elyot should use their influence to get him a seat in the Plymouth Council. They gave a tepid promise to try, but after six weeks there had been no success. Grishng, who had been living in Plymouth, returned to Saltash in a bad temper. Then, in the autumn of 1536, Horsewell's mayoralty ended, and Thomas Bull, one of Grisling's friends, succeeded him. The result verged on civil war. Bull and his party denounced Horsewell to the Privy Council and got him banished from the town for a year and a day. Hawkins, Horsewell and Elyot countered by calling a town meeting, which disregarded the banishment and appointed Horsewell Town Clerk, whilst Hawkins gave vent to 'divers slanderous words'. Bull and Grishng reported the matter to the Lord Privy Seal (Thomas Cromwell), who ordered that the Hawkins party should be expelled from the Town Council. But Hawkins was still unsubdued and claimed an investigation of the whole dispute. Cromwell appointed Sir Piers Edgecumbe and three other county magnates to perform the task. This commission heard the case for two days and reported in Hawkins's favour, adding that Grisling's conduct had been intolerable. Bull and Hawkins then agreed to live in peace according to the ancient customs of the town.
Peace appears to have been restored in Plymouth, and the contest became one between Plymouth and Saltash. Just when Grisling's power in Plymouth declined with the decision above noted and with the end of Bull's mayoralty, Grisling himself became Mayor of Saltash, for the year 1537-8. He had now two means of annoying and humiliating the Plymouth shipowners, first by his continued extortion as searcher, and second by exploiting an ancient privilege of Saltash. That borough, as the senior port within the Sound, claimed to levy dues on all the rest, and also to compel the attendance of all shipowners at a court for the purpose of enforcing regulations. Presumably these rights had been allowed to sleep and were now revived in full harshness by Grisling. He levelled his gun principally at Hawkins and swore by blood and wounds that no ship or goods of his enemy should pass but he would levy on them. Hawkins refused time after time to attend the Saltash court, which sentenced him to fine after fine until the accumulated total was L8o, not a penny of which did he pay.
Plymouth backed Hawkins as its champion and in 1538 again elected him Mayor and his friend Horsewell Town Clerk. From this strong position Hawkins brought a suit against Grisling and Saltash in the Star Chamber. The above story has been drawn from the pleadings in the case, but the record of the decision is missing. There can be little doubt, however, that the victory went to Hawkins, for he and his party were thenceforward dominant in Plymouth and in favour with the King's government. In 1539, while still Mayor and Town Clerk, Hawkins and Horsewell were chosen members for Plymouth in the Parliament which passed the Act of the Six Articles and witnessed the end of the remaining monasteries.
Plymouth's share in the dissolution had been accomplished in the previous year, when its small house of the Grey Friars had been abolished in September. [Mr. C. W. Bracken's History of Plymouth, Plymouth, 1931 shows that there were other establishments and mentions of White and Black Friars, but the subject is still obscure. The dissolution evidence relates clearly to the Grey Friars.] Hawkins and Horsewell valued and sold the effects, of which the most considerable were pieces of silver plate weighing 73 ounces and fetching L12. It seems possible that this was a low price paid by the Corporation, for a few years later it sent Hawkins to London to sell some former church plate, and he obtained L41 for it.
The foregoing records are not entirely insignificant. They do give some impression of the sort of society that inhabited Plymouth and many another English town, and of the sort of men who led it. They were headstrong and turbulent, with an instinct of liberty that made them speak boldly even to such higher powers as Henry VIII and his Lord Privy Seal. The law was much in their thoughts, but it was their weapon rather than their curb. The Tudor man of action decided on his course and then sought law to strengthen him. He was not happy without it, and he seldom failed to find it. We shall meet with the process again and again in the Hawkins story. These men served their town and their country without pay, but not without reward. Hardly any offices were paid. The reward lay in position, prestige and influence, It was worth while to be a ruling man in such a society, vexatious often, and sometimes dangerous, but better than being ruled by rough customers like Grisling and William Hawkins. It was a bracing age, and turned out self-reliant men, ready to take initiative and responsibility.
Before leaving municipal affairs, let us look at their Plymouth. We can reconstruct its aspect fairly well, for there is in the Cotton manuscripts a great rolled map and survey of the south-west coast on a scale of about an inch to the mile, made in the early 154o's to show the coast defences in preparation for the approaching French war. Every seaport, large and small, is noted, the houses and forts set in their landscapes in delicately drawn birdseye views, and Plymouth and its district are included. The relevant portion is here reproduced, but on a scale that is regrettably small: the illustration covers 24 square inches, while the same region in the original has an area of about 350 square inches. [note: not reproduced here on the web]
Two great ships are seen sailing up the Sound, leaving the Mewstone to starboard and Rame Head to port. There was no breakwater (a nineteenth century improvement), and the Sound itself was not a secure anchorage. The ship reaching its northern end passes St. Nicholas Island (now Drake's Island) and makes for the Cattewater. This was the outer roadstead of Plymouth harbour, the inner being formed by, Sutton Pool, round which were grouped the houses of the town. The Plymouth of that day covered only a small part of the modern city, from the White Friars to St. Andrews Church and a little beyond. The Hawkinses lived in Kinterbury Street, in the south-western quarter. The street existed until recently, although its Tudor houses had long disappeared. German bombers destroyed many of their modern successors, and post-war planners have obliterated most of the street itself. A large castle with four towers, of which only a fragment now remains, stood on the fining ground at the west side of the entrance to Sutton Pool, and there was a square fort command'rag the mouth of the Cattewater, and neady on the site of the present Citadel. The Hoe was edged with batteries facing southward, but there were no houses there or on the slope behind it, Stonehouse was a separate place, with fields between it and Plymouth. The Mill Bay, west of the Hoe, had the corn mills built across its narrow entrance, the basin serving as a head of tidewater which turned the wheels as it flowed out. To the westward the map shows Mount Edgecumbe with its fenced deer-park; Saltash, named simply Aysshe; and the country and coastline, somewhat out of scale, to Liskeard and Looe. The portlet on the extreme western edge of the illustration is Polperro. Looe, which even then had its bridge, when most estuaries were merely crossed by ferry, is described as 'a tyde haven drye at halfe ebbe', which it still is; and the purpose of the map, a survey of Home Guard possibilities, is indicated by the further statement that there is 'good landynge before the towne'. Fifteen forty and nineteen forty!
Local politics were not the main activity of William Hawkins. They were forced on him as an element of his career as a merchant, on the principle that such a man had either to rule or be ruled by a rival. The local boss and the successful trader are but two aspects of the same character. Faction fights secured his position in Plymouth, but commerce made his place in English history. The place amounts to this, that he was a pioneer of oceanic enterprise, the first regular transatlantic trader in our record.
The customs ledgers of the last years of Henry VIII show William Hawkins exporting cloth and tin to the ports of western Europe, and importing a variety of goods, the salt of Rochelle, wines of Bordeaux, Portugal and Spain, sugar and pepper probably from Portugal, olive oil most likely and soap certainly from Spain, 'Newland fish' perhaps direct from the Banks but more probably bought from French middlemen. The ledgers list the goods but not the countries from which they came. But it is very probable that some of the sugar and wines were brought from the Canaries. Those islands were regarded by Spain as part of her European dominion and were as freely open to foreigners as Seville or San Lucar. Hakluyt records that John Hawkins traded with the Canaries in his younger days, and the Plymouth port books show a regular traffic by Hawkins and others; but the port books were first kept in the 156o's, and are not a testimony to the 3o's and 4o's.
[End of page 24. Our web excerpt now jumps to page 38, still in the same chapter.]
John Hawkins was twenty-one or two years old when his father died. His youth fell in the last years of Henry VIII and the troubled time of Edward VI. He was a boy of fifteen when Henry died, and a young man of twenty-one when Queen Mary came in. The outlook and interests that formed him were those of the merchant-shipowners who put Plymouth on the map as the home port of adventurers and made it the forward base of the Navy in the new oceanic operations which distinguish the Tudor century. John Hawkins was at first his brother's partner in the shipping business. They remained in association and mutual loyal support as long as they both lived; and when William died at the age of seventy, John wrote an epitaph in which sincere affection is obvious. But at some date the formal partnership was severed, and the firm became two separate business entities, each nevertheless continuing to invest in the ventures of the other. It is not clear when this took place. All we have is an allusion by John Hawkins to winding-up the firm, and to the fact that his share of the capital was L1o,ooo. It may have been when John went to London about 156o to seek support for his West Indian project. Ten thousand pounds was a goodly sum in the sixteenth century, and its young possessor was a man of wealth. The fact that he had not much increased it after a lifetime of hard and successful work is some indication of his quality as a public servant; for John Hawkins in his later years was to labour more for the state than for himself, and the state was never liberal of reward.
Throughout life John Hawkins was much more a man of the sea and of ships than his brother. He was a sea-captain, skilled to conduct a difficult voyage, and also a shipmaster conversant with every detail of the handling and running of a ship. It is clear that he had ships and squadrons in the hollow of his hand. In crisis of storm or battle this mastery made him the leader that all looked to. There is no doubt that he loved the sea, in the sense that he was happier there than ashore. In difficult land employments he was sometimes querulous and pessimistic. Amid the perennial difficulties and anxieties of the sea he was cheery and radiant of well-being. To his last years he seized every chance of getting afloat, and fretted when chances were denied him.
If John Hawkins was a seaman, with all the meaning which that simple word contains, he was also much beside. And here his upbringing comes into the account. We must imagine that vanished house in Kinterbury Street and the life lived in it. We can the better do so because there are such houses surviving in our English towns, built by the prosperous burghers of Tudor England. There these men and their families lived, well provided and well served, entertaining their merchant friends and their land-owning cousins--for they were generally connected with the gentry, and Joan Amydas, the mother of old William Hawkins was of a Cornish landed family--talking of sea business and county business, the news from foreign parts, and affairs of state. The boys grew up listening and learning and acquiring a point of view and a standard of judgement at an early age. They had also books. A man like William Hawkins would see that his sons were educated, and we know in fact that he did. For John Hawkins wrote the letters of a cultivated man in the spelling and hand of one who had been effectively to school. What school is not known, perhaps that of a chantry priest who taught the boys of Plymouth. But taught he had been, and if he went early to sea he took with him that which ensured that he would not be an ignorant seaman. He was, as we shall find, genial, wary and alert, a good mixer, a man with a charm of manner who made friends, with common sense and give-and-take the basis of his dealings; and m the background he kept things of which he did not talk, the hidden springs of his actions. He liked good clothes, too, the fine material and brilliant colouring which then cost so much, and the golden chains and buttons that a man of spirit loved to flaunt. He was once, to his own undoing, mistaken for Sir Christopher Hatton, the greatest dandy of the court.
All these are the externals of a character bred in the home of 'one of the principal sea captains in the west parts of England'. Outside was the unruly Plymouth of slums, mobs and riots, in which even a well-balanced man might have to use his fists or his weapon at slight notice. The young Hawkinses did not shirk that side of life. They were men of the world in all its aspects. By the time he was twenty John had killed a man, one White, a barber of Plymouth, and was adjudged by the coroner to be guiltless of felony, having struck the man 'because he could not avoid him'.
We can, if we like, imagine the affair, and probably get it all wrong. A killing, even in a Tudor seaport, was a serious matter,
and old william Hawkins took no chances. He got the coroner's verdict translated into a royal pardon for his son duly inscribed on the patent roll, a process for which heavy fees were payable to the officials who served the Lord Chancellor.
During the reign of Mary the brothers worked together from their Plymouth headquarters. William was clearly there, as the local records prove, in 1555, 1557 and 1558, in the last of which years he was elected a privy councillor of the borough. John at the same time became a common councillor, but he put in some of his time at sea or in foreign countries. For we know, by his own statement to Richard Hakluyt, that he made several voyages to the Canary Islands, and the period up to 1561 is the only time in which he can have done so. Recent Spanish research shows him to have been known at Teneriffe before 156o, and in that year he came there again in the ship Peter. He sold cloth and bought sugar, and attended the Catholic church at Teneriffe.* [A. Rumeu de Armas, Los Viajes de John Hawkins a America, Seville, 1947(8), pp. 71-7.]
The Canaries were legally part of Spain and by treaty free to English traders. Hawkins in after years displayed a familiar knowledge of the island anchorages. In 1556 he was in France for some tirne trying to obtain restitution of a ship captured by the firm during the previous war. When this prize had since gone into a French port she had been seized and detained by her original owners. Whether John Hawkins succeeded does not appear, but it is characteristic of his methods, to be exemplified in many greater matters, that he introduced himself to the French ambassador in England and the English ambassador in France and induced both to favour his suit. He never missed a chance of making the personal acquaintance of a man in .high politics. His French connection was soon to be interrupted by war, the disastrous war of Philip and Mary against Henry II of France, in which the Duke of Guise took Calais while the too-religious Queen was unable to turn out a fleet to save it. As before, the Hawkinses engaged in Channel privateering with general success and an occasional setback in the Admiralty Court. William Hawkins in one case tripped over the question of neutral rights, just as his father had done, and completed the parallel by selling the spoil in anticipation of the judgement.
Mention of Philip of Spain introduces an obscure matter which may have had a considerable effect on the career of John Hawkins. Negotiations for Philip's marriage with Mary Tudor were carried on in 1554-5 while he himself remained in Spain. Some of the emissaries travelled through Plymouth, utilizing the services of its leading firm of shipowners. There was here an opportunity for acquaintance with highly placed Spaniards, but John Hawkins did not stop at that. A Spaniard who knew him asserted in after years that when Philip landed it, England he conferred a knighthood on Hawkins for some special service rendered. [This statement was made by the pilot Juanes de Urquiza. It occurs in a document in the Archives of the Indies cited by Miss I. A. Wright in Spanish Documents concerning English Voyages to the Caribbean, Hakluyt Society, 1929, p. 79n.]
Philip landed at Southampton after suffering bad weather on the voyage from Spain. Was Hawkins an officer of the royal convoy, and did he perform some feat of seamanship for the safeguarding of one to whom he persistently referrcd at a later stage as 'my old master'? The knighthood is of course an exaggeration, for John Hawkins was indubitably knighted thirty-three years later for service against King Philip. But it seems possible that he did attract the favour of the king at a time when it was not discreditable to do so. Philip came in peace in 1555 to marry the Queen of England and confirm an Anglo-Spanish alliance that had already stood for more than half a century.
A year later the Queen died, and a new age opened for England and her seamen.
End of chapter and of our excerpt.