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The Hawkins Dynasty:
Three Generations of a Tudor Family

by Michael Lewis

cup of java

This excerpt is from:

Chapter IV: John Hawkins


There can be little doubt that John was born, and passed his childhood in the old Hawkins home in Kinterbury Street, where his father, William I lived, and was destined to go on living for over twenty more years. He must also have received the rudiments of his education in Plymouth, though probably not, like his brother William, at the hands of a chantry priest from the House of the Greyfriars: for, between the times of William and John, the chantry, and even the House itself, had disappeared. This state of things must have prevailed for a number of years throughout the country, because one immediate effect of the Dissolution of the Monasteries was to cause a hiatus in ordinary education, such as it then was. John must have been ready for schooling round about 1558-9, having been born in 1532. But the Edwardian Grammar Schools, the earliest attempt to provide lay (as opposed to Church) education, did not as a rule get under way before the 1550s. Yet, on the whole, the most likely educator of John would be an ex-chantry priest. When deprived of their livelihoods, most of them stayed on in their own localities as lay teachers, at which task they were already comparatively qualified. So one of them may well have had the task of teaching young John his 'three R's'. Moreover, if so, he must have done his job well, because John did somehow get well grounded in them, quite as well as, if not better than, his elder brother. In fact, of the two, John was the superior in the art of self-expression. But this may have been because, by and large, John had rather the better mind than William, and so was more capable of assimilating what he was taught.

Yet otherwise the early careers of the boys were essentially the same. If, as we have supposed, William had ceased his primary education in, say, 1530, in time to accompany his father on his first voyage of that year, then John would have finished his in or about 1543, and then would have embarked upon his wider education in one of his father's ships. In the 155os those ships were very active, whether the elder William accompanied them or not. Then, in 1545, the French Wars began and the Hawkins clan found itself committed to the privateering programme in the Channel and elsewhere. Here were obvious opportunities for the lad to serve his apprenticeship in trade, in seamanship, in navigation and in fighting.

Even as early as 1542, when John was barely ten years old, there survives a tantalizing scrap of information. In that year a certain John Hawkins was made a 'farmer of the wynewits', and paid at the rate of ten shillings for his work. There were in Plymouth a number of people called Hawkins, some of whom were probably called John. So it cannot be certain that our John was the boy who secured this unimportant and ill-paid post. But it may well be the future Sir John, appointed to the job by the influence of the leading merchant and burgess of the town, his own father. It is quite in character, too, for William I to have done this, because he would certainly realize the importance to his child of having this kind of experience in real 'business', earning money (however little) at a very tender age.

Our next notice of a Hawkins, who this time is almost certainly our John comes in 1552 when the lad had just turned twenty. In that year one of this name was granted a royal pardon for the manslaughter of one John White. It comes as rather a shock, perhaps, to learn that a man whose nature throughout life was essentially gentle had already at so tender an age taken a human life. But this should not put us off. For one thing the Coroner's verdict makes it pretty dear that White was the aggressor; and that John was only defending himself. But even if this was not so, the essential crudity of the times must not be overlooked. In those days, and in a town like Plymouth, even manslaughter was an incident far from abnormal. For, at the time, the sanctity of human life was not very well appreciated: not, at any rate, as it is now. In fact, if the fatal fracas took place, as it almost certainly did, in fair fight -- and still more if it were in self-defence -- we should be very wrong if we regarded young John as anything in the least like a modern murderer.

The next news we have of John is in 1556, when he spent a considerable time in France, trying in the law courts of Brest to get the Peter, a ship belonging to the family, restored to its owners. It is not known whether he succeeded, but it is known that on this occasion he made the acquaintance of several people --the English Ambassador in France, for instance, and the French Ambassador in England, who recommended him to his own Government. Here is a good line on his character, and on what people were already thinking about him. Here he was acting in a novel capacity, and a responsible one too, for a young fellow of only twenty-four. Already, it seems, he was leaving behind his primary avocations of seaman and merchant, and becoming involved in a higher sphere, that of diplomacy, to which he already seemed to show a natural aptitude.

It was some time in the late 155os that he ceased to call himself 'of Plymouth', and became 'of London'. This, however does not mean that he severed all links with the town of his birth and transferred his allegiance to the greater city. It was not, in fact very much more than a change of address, or even of acquiring an alternative address, because he still remained a burgess and a merchant of Plymouth, and he still passed a good deal of his time there. Moreover he retained till the day of his death his properties in the town, including his share of wharfage in Sutton Pool. He also still maintained many of his ships in the western port. The exact date of this apparent move is not known: nor does it greatly matter except as an indication that his interests were already feeling outwards. It is not even very important that the firm of Hawkins Brothers now split into the two firms of William Hawkins and John Hawkins, because, as we saw, the split itself was more apparent than real, John never doing anything to thwart William, nor William John. Yet this is a sort of landmark in John's life because he now bought a house in Deptford-somewhere, it must be presumed, near the Royal Dock and Victualling Yard established a few years earlier by King Henry VIII. A little later he took a house in the City, in the parish of St Dunstan's-in-the-East, which he retained for the rest of his life. This is why his monument was placed in St Dunstan's Church, where it perished during the Great Fire of 1666.

The move was probably made in 1558; and it is not altogether accidental if it happened in that year--the year in which Queen Mary died, to be succeeded by her half-sister Elizabeth. For that event led inevitably, but at first rather slowly, to a great change in the relationships of the Western European Powers. For a while, it is true, France remained our Enemy Number One -- there was a new outbreak of war in 1559 -- and Spain remained our ally, though an uneasy one, with AngloSpanish relations becoming yearly more and more soured. Yet the turning-point had really already come in 1558, when the English Government ceased to frown upon the efforts of English merchants and seamen to trade with foreigners, especially Catholic ones. Indeed it may well have been this fact which induced John to set up an establishment in the heart of things.

Another inevitable result of the move was an enlargement in John's circle of acquaintances. He moved first, it would seem, into what might be called the 'Navy Board Circle' -- those important people who filled the four official posts, created by Henry VIII, of Treasurer of the Navy, Comptroller of the Navy, Surveyor of the Navy, and Clerk of the Ships (later of the Acts). They were not the titular heads of the Navy -- there was the Lord Admiral who occupied that position--but they were the effective administrators of the Queen's ships, and, whenever the Monarch possessed a strong fleet of royal vessels, they were people who carried a very real responsibility. At this time the Treasurer of the Navy was the most important of these officers, followed by the Comptroller, the Surveyor and the Board's secretary, the Clerk of the Ships. At the time when John appeared in London, the Treasurer was a man called Benjamin Gonson. Moreover, Benjamin had a daughter, Katherine, and in 1559 John married her. There can be no suggestion that the marriage, as they say, was one of convenience, or that John expected to gain anything from it. It has all the appearance of being a love-match which lasted, with true affection on both sides, until 1591, when she died, having been his helpmeet for thirty-two years. She seems to have been a good and amiable woman who provided for him a model home, to which he could retire when overpressed by harsh business. He himself declared his affection for her:

Touching mine own worldly contentation, in my wife I am as well pleased and contented as I desire.

The testimony of the only child of the union survives too. Richard calls her 'a religious and most vertuous lady'. In his declining years John was married again, as we shall see, but this time not so happily. He had no children by the second wife, and the only thing that we really know of her does not greatly redound to her credit. But that belongs to the story of her step-son Richard.

So Katherine presided over John's city home. Yet she too was often to be found at his other and older home. It was in fact there that she gave birth to Richard, who, born in 1560, always regarded himself as a native of Plymouth.

Meanwhile, John fell in with a syndicate of rich City merchants of whom Gonson was one. In the group also was Sir William Winter who was not only Surveyor of the Navy but also Master of the Ordnance, and two wealthy Londoners, Sir Lionel Ducket and Sir Thomas Lodge. These men specialized in the Gold Coast Trade which operated in Lower Guinea, at some distance from Upper Guinea, whence the slavers of Portugal and Spain took their supplies of negroes; a trade already flourishing for those who used it long before John thought of entering it. It has been said that this slave trade cut across that of the goldtrade; but this is hardly so, because the relative sources of supply were a good thousand miles apart: and anyway, it was the Gold Syndicate which now put up the capital for a slaving venture.

A new phase in John's career now opened. It must be emphasized at once that, in the early 1560s, both trades were already longstanding. From time to time, ever since the days of William Hawkins I, various English expeditions braved the wrath of the Portuguese monopolists by going after the gold in Lower Guinea. But now John and his friends were about to make history by combining the two trades: the oft-tried English search for gold and the very profitable trade in 'black ivory' from Upper Guinea. This latter trade had always been the perquisite of the Portuguese, though for some time other Europeans, including the French, the Dutch, and later the Spaniards had been intervening. So, though John must bear the responsibility of being the first English slaver, he was very far from being the first slaver. The other end of the route was, of course, Latin America-Central and South, though not yet North where both the colonial powers of Portugal and Spain were crying aloud for black labour in their plantations.

In this business, which opened the three famous slaving voyages of the Hawkins clan, John's share was nothing if not original. Hc knew that he would have to face the opposition of Portugal, of which he had no fear. But he also intended to weigh in to what was in effect the monopoly of a much more powerful potentate, the King of Spain, the inscrutable Philip II, who, we must recall, had only just ceased to be the King of England too. And what made John's venture the more daring was the fact the Spanish trade in black ivory was already something of a personal vested interest in the hands of Philip! But John was no privateer here; and still less was he, in his own view, a pirate. For he was relying from the start upon certain old treaties of friendship between his own Government and that of Charles V's Empire--treaties dating back to the days of real friendship with Spain. Now that power had long since made a definite distinction between trading with the English (and others) in the Old World--which it was quite prepared to allow--and trading, in any form, with them in its new colonial empire of the New World. In a word, what John was hoping to do was to insinuate himself into the New World slave trade by blandly quoting the old treaties (made mainly with the Low Countires, still an integral part of Philip's Empire), trusting that Philip would not call his bluff--even though he now meant to enter the New World to secure a share in the Spanish slave trade: even though the trade had become Philip's personal monopoly.

It was quite an ambitious programme: and we know now that it failed, though not perhaps by much--by much less than we should expect. His pretensions ultimately foundered on the one solid fact that his success depended upon violating the King's own monopoly, so wounding Philip in a more than ordinarily tender spot. He failed then, thus going a long way towards making war with Spain inevitable. But he had a good run for his money first.

One big psychological interest in this attempt lies in the fact that John positively believed that right was on his side, and that Philip would play his game. He based this belief, it would seem, on two very different grounds. The first was more or less personal. He never tired of referring to Philip as 'the King my old Master' and like phrases, showing that he expected preferential treatment. There is even reason for supposing that, at some period in his career, he had earned the King's gratitude by performing for him some particular service. This is quite possible-there are distinct gaps in our knowledge of John's early life, and in any one of these he could have performed his service. Perhaps the most likely moment would have been when Philip first came to England, an unpopular stranger, to wed Queen Mary. He landed at Southampton after a miserably wet and rough passage. There is an odd bit of evidence that the two men's path crossed just then. A certain Spanish pilot named Juanes de Urquiza stated that John as a young man was an officer in the royal ship which brought Philip to England; and that, on this occasion, he performed some signal service to the wretched seasick prince for which he was rewarded with a knighthood when Philip at length reached England. [Spanish Documents concerning English Voyages in the Caribbean, ed. I. A. Wright, Hakluyt Society, 1929.] To believe the whole of this story is surely going a little far, if only because it is much too well-known that John's knighthood came to him only during the Armada campaign. But it remains quite possible, and even rather likely, that on this or some other occasion the two had been acquainted, and that some honour, perhaps only a minor one, had then been conferred upon him. Moreover, in 1554, when friendship with Spain was not only possible but even highly respectable, John may well have cherished a feeling of true loyalty to his Sovereign's husband; so that, when he came to make his voyage in the 1560s, he may well have been quite genuine in referring to Philip as 'my old Master'.

His other reason for half-expecting a successful issue to his plunge into the Spanish monopoly is much better documented. For many years past a thoroughly nasty internecine struggle had been going on all over the Spanish New World, between the Catholic defenders of their monopoly and the mainly Calvinist freebooters out of France, largely from La Rochelle. All such exchanges had gone very much against the Spaniards. The French corsairs had captured, sacked and burned Cartagena, Santa Marta (twice), Santiago de Cuba, Havana and a score of other places. No holds were barred. Prisoners were never taken. All were put to the sword, or mercilessly tortured before being slaughtered. There was every reason, then, in 1560, for thinking that the Spanish Government had no chance of protecting its own subjects, and, as a result, it might well be prepared to listen to some offer of outside help. Unquestionably this was John's plan --to enter the arena, boldly and openly, showing himself as a respectable and bona fide merchant who always traded fair, and to say in effect to Philip, 'See how much better we are than those butchers, the French. Accept our help against them, and let us enter into a formal partnership. In exchange for you buying our merchandise (including slaves) and we being welcomed by you in your markets, we will take over the task of protecting you from the attacks of all other nationals.'

It was quite a reasonable gamble for John to take. But in the end it did not come off, for a reason which John could not possibly anticipate. In the 1560s there appeared a Spanish champion who could--and did---deal successfully with the French interlopers, and that without any help from the English. This was the great captain Pero Menendez de Aviles: and it was his prowess which finally decided Philip not to agree to John's terms, so humiliating to the pride of Spain.

There can be no doubt that John spared no effort to make his plan work. For he courted not only Philip and the Spanish Government but also a large number of private Spanish citizens, mostly of the mercantile fraternity. With this end in view he even made voyages--probably more than one--to the Canary Islands, where he sedulously cultivated the acquaintance of some of the leading Spaniards in residence there. One of these is not without interest. His name was Pedro de Ponte, and he lived in Tenerife. Quite a large number of these so-called Spaniards were of English extraction, and very likely Pedro was one of them, 'Ponte' being a mere Spanish rendering of 'Bridges' or 'Briggs'. It is worth noting that one prominent alderman of the City of London at that time was Sir John Bridges, who is known to have had a brother domiciled in Spain. Anyway, Pedro de Ponte was completely won over to John's point of view; and when the first expedition sailed he welcomed its arrival at Tenerife, and furnished John with an expert pilot from Cadiz, having earlier written to friends in Hispaniola to invite them to treat the expedition with sympathy and to do business with it. By such means John secured at least the promise of fair barter on the other side of the Atlantic.

The expedition was on such a small scale that the Hawkins interest alone could easily have managed it, and, in the matter of both ships and men, it actually did. All the vessels which comprised it--the Saloman ( 120 tons), the Swallow ( 100 tons), and the bark Jonas (40 tons), with perhaps a fourth and smaller one, unnamed--belonged to one or other of the brothers; while the crews, a mere one hundred seamen in all, were to a man local to Plymouth. But John let the London syndicate put up some of the money because he regarded the whole thing as a trial run, to gain experience for a bigger one to follow, in which he would need more financial and political backing.

John's 'prentice days were now over. He was entering the world--and at a distinctly higher level than his brother William ever reached. He needed for success the courage of the fighter, the flair of the leader of men, the sea-craft of the sailor, the astuteness of the merchant, and something of the suavity of the diplomat. He was not found wanting. He had them all.

[End of section a on page 79. Our web excerpt now jumps to page 157, still in the same chapter.]


John lived for rather more than seven years after the Armada's overthrow. But they were, on the whole, years of labour and sorrow. Gradually he was overborne by the sheer paper-work of the Treasurer's Office. He was constantly trying to shed his burden but he was much too necessary to the Queen and the Ministers, and they would not let him go. This fact alone, when one comes to consider it, furnishes positive proof of his essential honesty, silencing for good the vile accusations of his ill-wishers. Most of the actors were, like John, growing old, and now gradually quitting the stage. In 1589 Brother William died. So did Sir William Winter, and Holstocke too. The Queen at once filled up the vacancies in the Navy Office occasioned by the deaths of the last two. The Board was reconstituted. It now consisted of John (with the Comptrollership added to the Treasurership), his old enemy--but now firm friend--Borough as Surveyor, and his wife's brother, a younger Benjamin Gonson, as Clerk of the Ships. And that was all: every member of the Board a Hawkins, a relative or a confessed admirer! What a fool the great Queen must have been--and no one yet has ever accused her of financial folly -- to let the whole administration of her ships fall into such hands! No: rather did Elizabeth know very well a good and faithful servant when she had one: and well she knew that no one else in England could be better trusted to do the job.

John did ask for, and was granted, however, a year's leave in which, not to take a well-earned holiday, but to grapple with the muddle in the accounts caused by the total mobilization of 1588. And this by dint of infinite labour he now accomplished. By then, as the Exchequer Accounts make it very plain, all were straight again, but for the fact, of course, that he was still trying to make both ends meet on a grossly inadequate Public Bevenue. Yet in one direction at least he found repose. Vilifications ceased at once and were never renewed by his contemporaries -- only by subsequent historians.

William Hawkins, as we saw, probably died and was certainly buried in Deptford, where, for the time being, John had his principal home. And two years later an even more personal grief was to come to him. Katherine, his faithful spouse for thirtytwo years, apparently found Deptford too damp and cold for her. John, fearing it was so, asked once more to be allowed to resign, in order to remove with Katherine to the milder climate of Plymouth; and, his request being turned down once more, Katherine died. Very little is known about her, though what is is good. Her son Richard spoke of her in the highest terms, and we have one small piece of tittle-tattle about her which comes, of all places, from a scurrilous letter written by one of John's detractors in the days of his vilification. She was then, it seems, busily engaged with her maids in cutting out with her own hands the lavish display of flags, banners and pendants for the Fleet. John's vilifier complains that she was taking the bread from some poor devil's mouth: but to us it conjures up a very pleasing domestic scene-Dame Hawkins and her girls making themselves useful to her busy husband.

He soon found that he could not live alone. So he took a new wife in the person of Margaret Vaughan, the daughter of an old and wealthy family in Herefordshire. But the match was a much less happy one. Little is known of Margaret either, but the one story which is told of her is, if true, certainly not to her credit.

It was at this time that John, having observed at first-hand the sufferings of the ordinary seamen, decided to do something practical about their future. First, in 1590, with the co-operation of Drake, he founded what came to be called the Chatham Chest, a fund for the relief of ailing and ageing sailors for whom, of course, neither then nor for at least another century, did the authorities make any provision at all. Financially it was sound. It was a contributory scheme, the seamen of the Queen's ships contributing sixpence a month, deducted from their wages: and because banking was then all but unknown, the capital collected was placed in a large chest. The chest itself still survives, and may be seen at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. In John's time it played a very useful part in naval life. But later, when corruption again invaded all parts of administrative and governmental life, its contents were used for wrong or unworthy purposes. Then, two years later, Sir John, all by himself, founded, also at Chatham, an almshouse for aged mariners and shipwrights from the Yard. This foundation never ran into half the trouble of the Chest, and it survives to this day as a monument to the memory of a good man.

Meanwhile they did not let John remain solely in Administration. He was altogether too valuable as an active commander at sea. But he did miss the campaign of 1589, and he was lucky to do so because the main expedition -- a descent upon the coasts of Spain and Portugal -- was an utter failure. For this reverse Drake, who was in command, was made the scapegoat, though it was by no means entirely his fault. In fact, with the Armada defeated, we can already begin to discern the emergence of the two distinct schools of strategic thought destined to strive for mastery in this country for several centuries. The one is usually called the Continental School which, in brief, believed that naval power alone was not enough: that we, being a geographic part of the continent of Europe, must take a full share in the concerns and campaigns of that continent, throwing into the struggle, when necessary, not only our navy but also our army. The other school, known later as the Blue Water School, thought that continental entanglements, with military expeditionary forces on the mainland, were never, or hardly ever, necessary: were in fact a weakness rather than a strength.

The expedition of 1589 had been, essentially, a continental effort; for Drake took an army with him which, it was hoped, would provide a permanent bridgehead on the Iberian Peninsula -- and Drake's failure lay mainly with the army which was embarked in, and disembarked from, his fleet. Indeed, owning at the time virtually no regular army, we were being rather wildly premature. The failure, however, did seem to prove one thing, that, if Philip could not successfully invade England in 1588, we could not hope to invade his homeland in 1589. Drake was not really a protagonist of the Continental School, yet he had allowed himself, in 1589, to appear as such, and his lack of success on that occasion led to his temporary disgrace. He was not employed again, in fact, until 1595, when he and John made their last, but equally unsuccessful attempt on the overseas Empire of Spain.

John, on the other hand, was from the first a leading spirit - perhaps the leading spirit -- of the Blue Water School. In all his surviving advices to the Government he uses the argument that what we now had to do was to follow up our success against the Armada by a series of almost purely naval attacks on the maritime communications of Spain, going wholeheartedly for the cutting of those Atlantic links which brought the wealth of the Indies into Europe. And this, he held, was an object to be persisted in scientifically. The assault must be sustained. If we made one spearhead attack upon, say, the more distant sources of the Spaniards' wealth, we must also have a second-line force to prevent the riches from entering the Spanish home ports: or, at least, if we sent out one fleet against the Spanish flotas, we must always have another force standing by, and all ready to operate when the first fleet, for logistic reasons, had to return home. This was John's main plan. It is perhaps not possible to say at this late hour what would have been the success of such continuous maritime pressure upon the enemy, because, in the event, the Queen and her Government thought the effort of maintaining two such forces too expensive to undertake: so John's scheme was never properly tried out. In the end, in fact, we fell noticeably between two stools. The Continental School was allowed no more chances, and the Blue Water School was only allowed to function rather half-heartedly. Indeed, in 9ur efforts to cut his life-lines by capturing his floatas -- almost always unsuccessfully -- we allowed Philip the breathing-space to organize a new protective system which, as the war grew older, entirely thwarted our efforts. In short, while the war was still on, we allowed him to create a new, and mainly protective, navy which we were never strong enough to defeat.

It is instructive to look into John's detailed proposals. With typical Hawkins good sense, and an eye to a maximum of economy, he laid down in considerable detail what maritime effort was required in order to ensure success, and exactly what it would cost. There must be a continuous patrol of the seas between the Spanish homeland and the Azores, each squadron to consist of six Queen's Ships and six pinnaces, each provisioned for four months, and manned by 1,800 men. The whole, he said - and he was the only man who could say it -- would cost, in wages and victuals, L2,730. This sum, he goes on (knowing his Queen) will or should be readily recuperated out of prizemoney; of which Her Grace will take one-third, the other twothirds going into wages and victuals. The whole scheme for eight months in the year -- the four winter months were never used for shipping in those days, by either side -- would involve twelve ships and twelve pinnaces, which would leave an equal force (of twelve ships and twelve pinnaces) to operate for Channel Defence, as well as a reserve of six ships and six pinnaces which would normally be in port, refitting. Emphatically this scheme was not {as Sir Julian Corbett has alleged) mere guerre de course -- commerce destruction. It was far more scientific. Nor is that same historian correct when he alleges that the scheme was tried out, and that it failed. It did not fail, because it was never tried out! What did fail was the Queen's rather parsimonious, and wholly unscientific, modification of the Hawkins scheme--an uncoordinated series of individual raids. It was against this spasmodic short-sightedness that John protested for all the rest of his life; and so unsuccessfully that in the end it almost broke his heart.

In 1590 he thought for a moment that he had got his way. He even went so far as to fit out his six galleons, to sail under his command. But at the last minute the Queen heard reports of Spanish ships making for the Brest peninsula, and her nerve failed her. John was to stay at home--and, next month, the flora with five million ducats on board passed right across the water he should have been occupying, and safely reached home. John's sad comment was that the Queen has placed him 'out of hope that I ever shall perform any royal thing!' Later in this year he was allowed to sail: and when Philip heard of it, he cancelled for the year the sailing of further treasure-frigates, almost going bankrupt as a result!

Partly under pressure of his great and growing disappointments, but also partly because he was beginning to feel his age, John seemed during these years to grow more religious-minded: more strictly puritan than he used to be. It was on this occasion that he wrote to Burghley, explaining the failure (which was not his) in making any prizes:

And thus God's infallible Word is performed, in that the Holy Ghost said, 'Paul doth plant, Apollos doth water, but God giveth the increase.
In his younger days he would not have clothed his thoughts in such biblical language. Nor, probably would his mistress have made her harsh, though immortal, comment,
God's death! This fool went out a soldier, and is come home a divine!
But this is not, of course, what Elizabeth really thought of John. It was merely a passing tantrum, reflecting her disappointment at getting no dividend. She was no puritan herself, and always apt to give the breed the rough side of her tongue.

For the next four years both Francis and John, as sea-commanders were 'on the beach', so missing all part in the most famous combat of the whole war, Sir Richard's great solo fight in 1591 with Alonzo de Bazon and his 'fifty-three', in which the Revenge was taken, and lost, while on the other side four large Spanish ships went down. Also they missed, in 1592, the greatest single capture of treasure by the English, when the vast Madre de Dios was taken by a crowd of privateers, with a cargo worth, it is said, half a million pounds. Incidentally the ship that bore the brunt in that action was the Daintie, jointly owned by John and Richard Hawkins.

But John, though on the beach during these four years, was by no means on the shelf; for he was still the most important half of the Navy Board. But yearly he was growing more weary, and was now longing to give it all up. He tried again in July 1592, and yet again in February 1594. But still it was no good. They would not let him depart. At this time he must have been in very close communion with his son Richard who was engaged, first in building and afterwards in fitting out their jointly-owned ship, the Daintie. At the moment, probably, they were living together at Deptford, and there is plenty of evidence that father and son were devoted to each other, as will be shown when Richard's great book comes up for discussion.


It remains to tell, though briefly, how the old man sailed away to his death, taking with him his (relatively) young cousin, and hitherto friendly rival, Sir Francis Drake.

It was indeed an error of the first magnitude to allow an expedition to sail under the joint leadership of John and Francis. Both were men with a lifetime of command behind them, both quite unaccustomed to any such division of authority: both men of strong personality, loth to share responsibility with anyone. And, worse perhaps, both were men of genius, but endowed with very different kinds of it. Drake was essentially an opportunist, one to take hold of the occasion whenever it presented itself, and to perform miracles with it--if things went right. Hawkins, on the other hand, had genius in a more Carlylean sense. He had 'an infinite capacity for taking pains', and almost all his success in life had been due to anxious care and forethought -- and foresight. They were, if one may venture upon a simile, the brilliant racehorse, on the flat or over the fences, who, on his day, can leave all his rivals standing; and the steady cavalry horse, superbly reliable, superbly unflappable, who takes in his stride the flying cannon-balls of battle or the blaring brass band of the parade ground. What would happen if one tried to drive them in tandem?

Indeed they ought never to have agreed to work in double harness. But for both of them there were temptations which they could not resist. To John, who knew how old he was growing, this must have seemed the last chance to do that 'royal thing' for which he had for so long been pining. To Francis the unaccustomed lack of employment for six long years was growing more and more irksome. He panted to be once again at the heart of the war, repeating, as he hoped, his own old and glorious feats. Nor let it be forgotten that both of them had many beliefs in common, above all the feeling that the war was no longer going right, and that an offensive touch must be given to it: just such a touch, surely, as the two greatest living English seamen would be able to give. And so, but for temperament, it might have been. If only they could have pulled together, what might not have happened ?

But they could not; and most of the trouble can be traced back to the Queen, who was, as usual, chopping and changing her mind until there was no time left for the original objective, which was the conquest of Panama and the permanent cutting off of all Spanish treasure from Spain. But when, as late as August 28, 1595, she let them sail from Plymouth, the plan had been more or less completely changed. News had arrived that the flagship of the flotas had been badly damaged in the Florida Channel, and had taken refuge at San Juan de Puerto Rico. This then was the new objective, which they thought was well with their compass if they would fulfil yet another of the Queen's, conditions: they were to be home again within six months of their departure.

The size of the fleet was much the same as that envisaged by John for his four-monthly operations. There were six Royal Ships and twenty-one privately owned vessels: and they were divided fifty-fifty between John and Francis, who had severally undertaken the manning and victualling of them. John carried his flag in the Garland, Francis in the Defiance, both of them ships of post-Armada vintage, though of course, as ships of John's building, both of advanced galleon-type. As befitted John's careful mind, a strict schedule of the numbers on board and of the victuals per man was laid down.

The next misfortune must undoubtedly be laid at Drake's door. Only four days out of Plymouth, a council was called in the Garland when Francis airily broke the news that he had 300 too many men on board; that he could not hope to feed them all; but would John be so obliging as to take them over and feed them on his stocks ? To John such conduct was quite unforgivable: it upset all his most rudimentary calculations, his basic ideas of what was right and proper. He absolutely refused to do it, and the council broke up in deadlock.

A few days later Drake, though very unwillingly, had to reopen the question. The council was held in the Defiance this time, trod he now declared that, as it was impossible for him to cross the Atlantic with so many men and so little food, he intended to turn aside and attack the Canary Islands, there to collect the necessary supplies. John answered tersely that such a course involved a complete change of plan, and that the attack on the Canaries not only wasted precious time, but also would lead to a serious weakening of strength because the islands were powerfu11y fortified, as well as depriving the expedition of the advantage of surprise. He therefore said that, whatever Drake did, he would proceed straight to Puerto Rico. Francis insisted that he must go to the Canaries: so deadlock resulted again.

But it was John who gave way, not because he experienced any change of heart, but because he knew that the division of forces would spell certain ruin. Besides, how could her two most experienced commanders face the Queen and confess to her that they had brought all to nought over what she would probably feel was a petty quarrel ?

So the rift was patched up, and all dined amicably together in the Defiance. But events proved that John was right. The fleet proceeded to Las Palmas on the Grand Canary, where the soldier in command of the troops, having promised the capture of the town in four hours, now found the place looking so formidable that he recommended not landing at all. And to this the commanders agreed. But the fleet lost precious days in sailing round the island, and in landing, unopposed, on its western side, to take in water. Then they sailed on, watered but with no more food, and with the priceless secret of their destination revealed to the enemy. For some Englishmen taken when they landed to water, revealed it to the Governor, who instantly dispatched a swift caravel to Puerto Rico with the news.

With all hope of surprise gone, and with the commanders barely on speaking terms, the unfortunate expedition crossed the Atlantic and came at last to Guadeloupe. Here it was John who insisted upon a halt, to make good the defects which had developed on the journey. Perhaps it was hardly necessary, but-contrary to what some historians have said about the overprudence of the older commander cramping the dashing style of the younger--it made no sort of difference, because Puerto Rico had been alerted even before the English reached Guadeloupe.

Two days later, on October 31, John was struck down, apparently quite suddenly. There is no report of any particular epidemic raging, though such things were so common as not always to be mentioned. It is much more likely that he just collapsed, partly from the endless work which he had performed, uncomplaining, for so long, and partly, no doubt from the grim news he had received back in the summer--the news of Richard's fight with the Spaniards in the Pacific and his capture by them. He certainly took these tidings very much to heart. He even had time to add a codicil to his will, leaving new monies for the ransoming of his dear boy. He may also--who knows ?--have been dreaming that his present expedition might possibly reach as far as Mexico, where he might--such things could happengain touch with Richard once more: even rescue him! But his collapse must have been mainly due to the frustration caused by his quarrel with Francis, and by the fear, prominent in his mind, that the expedition--the Queen's expedition--was doomed to failure. In John's halcyon days, of course, no such shadow of defeatism ever clouded his vision. But he was an old man now: knew it--and felt it. He was sixty-three: he had just reached that 'grand climacteric' so feared by all the men in the Tudor Age He wanted to lay down his burden, and to rest. He may even -- we do not know -- have had a stroke, as his son was to have when he was much the same age.

Anyway, he seems to have made no sort of fight for life. On November 2 he took to his bed and never left it again. As the fleet came to anchor off Puerto Rico, John died quietly. Hope was dead: that was all.

As he lay dying, the deepest sentiment of his life was uppermost in his mind. The captain of the Garland, when he was gone, wrote to the Queen to tell her that, in a codicil to his will he had bequeathed to her -- 'if Your Majesty will take it' -- L2,ooo. One does not know for certain that she took it, but can we see Her Majesty refusing?

They threw all that was mortal of John Hawkins into the tropical sea off Puerto Rico: just as, only two months later, they were to sink Francis Drake into the warm waters of Nombre de Dios Bay; as a year earlier, they had disposed of Martin Frobisher, wounded off Brest and alleged to have been slain by the maladroitness of his surgeons, though he just lived to reach Plymouth; as, four years before, the Spaniards had sunk the body of Richard Grenville down into the deep Atlantic; as, eight years before that, there had perished, also in the deep Atlantic, Humphrey Gilbert, departing with those immortal words on his lips: 'We are as near to Heaven by sea as by land.' By 1596, indeed, nearly all the older generation of seamen had gone, paying their last debt to nature with, for the most part, no human memorial to mark their last resting places.

Was William Shakespeare, writing his own swan-song a few years later, perhaps thinking of them when he penned what is surely the finest requiem in the English tongue:

Full fathom five thy father lies
Of his bones are coral made:
These are pearls that were his eyes,
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change Into something rich and strange. Sea-nymph timely ring his knell,
Hark now! Hear them--Ding-dong bell!

End of chapter and of our excerpt.

Be sure to see the other Hawkins selection here - with its own selection of books as well.

The Hawkins dynasty: Three generations of a Tudor family,tracking









The Compleat Ambassador or Two Treaties of the Intended Marriage of Qu: Elizabeth of Glorious Memory; Comprised in Letters of Negotiation of Sir Francis Walsingham, her Resident in France. Together with the Answers of the Lord Burleigh....tracking

Mr Secretary Walsingham and the Policy of Queen Elizabeth (3 vol. set)tracking

and a novel:

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