Plymouth Armada Heroes


The Second William Hawkins

CAPTAIN WILLIAM HAWKINS, elder brother of Sir John Hawkins, was admitted to the freedom of Plymouth in 1553, where he held a most influential position, as extracts from the Corporation Records show. He was regarded as Governor of Plymouth; and had more to do with the affairs of the town than any man of his time.

In 1561 we have "Item paid to Mr Hawkins for money paid at Bristol for inrolling the Charter £1;" and also "paid to Mr Hawkins for fetching of the Ordynance from the Island to the Castle £2."

The Hawkinses owned considerable property in the vicinity of Sutton Pool; and in 1558 an Act of Parliament fixed Hawkins's Quay as the sole legal quay for landing goods. It was afterwards the property of Sir John, and then of his son Sir Richard Hawkins.

Captain William Hawkins was Mayor of Plymouth in 1567-8, when the earliest code of bye-laws extant for the regulation of Sutton Pool and the shipping therein was passed. Also "the wache on Midsummer night was renewed, which had not been used XX years before that time;" and the large sum (!)of 2S. 4d. was paid for the "newe cuttinge of the Gogmagoge, the picture of the Giant, at the Hawe." The last vestiges of this ancient memorial on the Hoe disappeared in 1671, no doubt to make room for the Citadel.

In this year (1567-8) the war in the Low Countries began; and Mary Queen of Scots fled into England, and was imprisoned in the Castle of Carlisle. *

* Plynouth Corporation Records *8

William Hawkins was a large shipowner, and in 1568 his Plymouth cruisers were the terror of Spain; and not only was he a wealthy shipowner and merchant prince, but, like so many members of his family, a renowned sea captain. He saw sharp service in the Spanish Main at Porto Rico, held a commission under the Prince of Conde and made Cattewater a rendezvous -coming as he did from a staunch Protestant family -of the Huguenot fleet. Elizabeth assisted the Huguenots to maintain the civil war in France by supplying the Prince of Conde with 50,000 crowns and ten ships of war, wherewith he was enabled to raise the blockade of Rochelle, and to take the field with his land forces, which the Duke of Guise had shut up in that port.

In 1568 the Duke of Alva had expected* that the wars in the Netherlands would pay their own expenses, and had promised Philip that a stream of gold a yard deep should flow into the Spanish treasury from the confiscated hoards of the heretic traders. The troops had won victories, but they had gained no plunder by them, and were fast breaking into dangerous mutiny. So pressing were the Duke's difliculties that the King of Spain had to borrow £500,000 from two banking-houses at Genoa. The contract required them to deliver the loan in silver dollars at Antwerp, and the chests were sent round by sea, being divided among many vessels for safety. Information of the prize getting wind, the precious fleet had been chased, scattered, and driven into the English harbours, and the treasure for which Alva was waiting was hiding in Fowey, Plymouth, and Southampton.

Diaz, the captain of one of these treasure ships, on entering Plymouth harbour, found thirteen French cruisers there, with six English consorts, carrying the flag of the Prince of Conde. They were scouring the Channel, their commissions empowering them, in the service of God, to seize any Catholic ship that they came across, of any nation. They brought in their prizes under the eyes of Diaz and sold them, the Mayor** being one of the most forward purchasers.

Diaz began to fear that there was no escape for him, and he had special ground for uneasiness. John Hawkins had not yet returned from San Juan de Ulloa,*** nor had any news of him arrived; but the disaster was known on board the Spanish ships, and as most of the cruisers at Plymouth were owned by William Hawkins, the Spaniards feared that unless they could extricate themselves before the truth came out short work would be made of them. They knew that Sir John might be looked for any day. *9

* Froude ** William Hawkins *** Vide Chapter III To put Plymouth in good humour therefore, one of them, who professed to have just returned from the Indies, pretended to bring the information for which the town was longing, and dressed his tale to flatter the national pride and gratify Hawkins's friends and family. "Sir John had been in the enchanted garden of Aladdin, and had loaded himself with gold and jewels. He had taken a ship with 800,000 ducats, sacked a town, and taken heaps of pearls and jewels. A Spanish fleet of forty-four sail had passed a harbour where he was dressing his ships. On board this Spanish fleet a council of war had been held to consider the prudence of attacking him; but the admiral had said, 'For the ships that be in harbour I will not deal with them, for they being monstrous ships will sink some of us and put us to the worst, wherefore let us depart on our voyage.' And so they did. 'The worst boy in those ships might be a captain for riches;' and the Spaniard wished he had been one of them."

This story might have answered its end had there been time enough for it to work; but the wind which brought the fable brought the truth behind it. Two days later William Hawkins sent to Cecil the news of the real catastrophe.

The first rumour of the disaster at San Juan de Ulloa-where the treacherous Spaniards fell upon and massacred the English, in the fleet under John Hawkins, during peace between England and Spain -reached William Hawkins at Plymouth by the 3rd December, 1568, in a letter from Spain, written by Benedick Spinola, saying that the English fleet was totally destroyed. This was a declaration of the purposed treachery and intentions of Spain -there not being time enough for the news to have reached England from Ulloa at this date.

The report was enough for William Hawkins. He at once wrote to Cecil, asking that enquiry might be made, and recompense taken of "King Philip's treasure here in these parts." However, if the Queen would not meddle in the matter," he asked no more than that her subjects should be allowed to do so. "Then I trust we should not only have recompense to the uttermost, but also do as good service as is to be desired, with so little cost. And I hope to please God best therein, for that they are God's enemies.

It was not until the 20th January, 1569, that there was full assurance of the evil tidings. That night the Judith reached Plymouth; and that night, without a moment's delay, William Hawkins sent a letter to the Privy Council, and one to Cecil, with such hasty details as he could bring together, sending also his "kinsman and servant," young Francis Drake, who had returned in the Judith reporting that Hawkins and all with him were massacred by the *10 treacherous Spaniards, as bearer of the news. What had become of his

he knew not. "My brothers safe return is very dangerous and doubtful," But he knew very well that his brother and himself had lost at least £2000, and as the acting partner moved for recompense, either out "of those Spanyards goods here stayed," or what he thought still more satisfactory, by the Queen giving ".me leave to work my own force against them" Four ships he was ready to set forth at once of his own, besides one already in commission.

William Hawkins to Sir William Cecil. Right Honorable,- My bownden dewtye alwayes had in Remembrance it may please your honor to be advertisyd that this present hour there is come to Plymouth one of the small barkes of my brothers fleat, and for that I have nether wry tynge nor any thing else from him I thought it good and moste my dewty to send you the capetayne of the same barke, being our kinsman called Fransyes Dracke for that he shall thoroughly informe your honor of the whole proceedings of these affayres to the end the Quenes Matie may be advertisyd of the same, and for that it doth plainly appear of their manyfest injuries from time to time offered, and our losses only in this voyage two thousand pounds at at least, besydes my brothers absense, which unto me is more grefe than anything in this world, whom I trust, as god hathe preserved, wyll likewise preserve and send well home in safety.

In the meane tyme my humble suit unto your honor is that the Quene's Majeste will when time shall serve see me, her humble and obedyent subjecte, partly recompensed, of those Spanyards goods here stayd.

And further if it shall please her grace to give me Leave to work my own self against them, to the end I may be the better recompensed, I shall be the more bownde unto her highnes which I pray god long to live, to the glory of god, and the comfort of her subjectes. If I may have any warrant from her Majestie or from your honor I shall be glad to set forth four ships of mine own presently I have already commission from the Cardanal Shatyllyon for one ship to serve the princes of Navare and Conndye but I may not presume any further without commission in these things I shall desire your honors to be advertisyd by my servant Francis Dracke and I shall daily pray for your honors estate long to endure.

From Plymouth the xxth of January at night 1568.

By your honors always to command


[Endorsed] To the right honorable Sir Wm Cecil*

*Sta. Pa. Dom. (Eliz.) *11 [This is No.36, vol.49; No.37 is the same, with the following addition.] AND for that my brothers safe return is very dangerous and doubtfull, but that it resteth in gods hands who send him well if it be his blessed will .... By your honors always WM HAWKYNS.

[Endorsed] To the Right honorable and my singular good Lordes, the Lordes of the Privy Counsell.*

When William Hawkins was thus moving the Court to allow him to declare war on his own account, his brother-whose absence was to him "more grefe than any other thing in this world "-was near the English shores, reaching Mount's Bay with the Minion on the 25th January, 1568; where- upon one of the Mount for good wyll came away immediately in poste" to Plymouth.

William Hawkins to Sir William Cecil. RYGHT HONORABELL,~My bownden dewty alwayes had in Remembrance it may please your honor to be advertysed that I am credybly informyd of my brothers aryvall with the Menyon in Mounts bay in Cornwall not from hym nor any of his company but by one of the Mount for good wyll came immediately away in poste uppon the speache of one of his men who was sent a lande for help of men and also for cables and ankeres for that they had but one, and their men greatly weekened by reson he put ashore in the Indyas a C. [hundred] of his men for the salfe gard of the reste and also that he should caste overbowrde not v days before xlv men more and the rest being a lyve, were fain to live vij days uppon a noxe heyde [an'ox head] who uppon the wind being esterly I sent away, for his sucker a barke with xxxiiij mariners store of flesh vytles two ankers iij cables and store of small warpes with other necessaries as I thought good. I am assured to hear from him self this night at the furthest and then I will certify your honor with spead agayne, and so for this tyme I leave to trouble your honor any further praying for the increase of your honors estate. From Plymouth the 27th of January 1568 .... By your honors always to comande, WM HAWKYNS. [Endorsed] To the right honorable Sir Wm Syssell Knt.*

William Hawkins did not neglect local affairs for national or personal. The New Conduit was built by him in 1569-70, and was apparently associated with the Market Cross, which stood in Old Town near the

* Sta. Pa. (Eliz.) *12 intersection of Trevilic Street. In 1578-9, while he was Mayor, "the Governor's House on the Barbican was builded;" and in 1579-1580 he had also the charge of procuring the patent which gave Plymouth authority over St. Nicholas Island with its fortifications.

Itm pd to Wm Hawkins esquyre for money laid out in pcuring the patent for the Ilonde, and for his charge in the suit thereof XXijli.

In 1580, he, together with Thomas Edmonds, was commissioned to seal with the common seal the necessary documents relating to the transfer of that island to the Crown. In 1580 the King of Spain seized the kingdom of Portugal, whose king came into England, and lay awhile at Mount Edgcumbe. 1580-1. The plague was so great in Plymouth that the mayor was chosen on Cat Down. 6oo persons died; [a sign Plymouth was then but thinly peopled, and a small town]. 1584-5. The Queen undertakes the protection of the Hollanders. The Barbican stairs built; the Queen gives a rent of £39 10s. 10d. for the maintenance of the Island.*

In 1581-2 Hawkins sailed on a voyage to the West Indies, taking with him his nephew, Sir Richard Hawkins.

During this voyage they visited the Margarita pearl fishery. "In anno 1583, in the island of Margarita, I was at the dredging of pearl oysters, after the manner we dredge oysters in England; and with my own hands I opened many, and took the pearls out of them, some greater, some less, and in good quantity."**

When Drake, in 1585, without opposition burnt San Jago, Cates, who wrote the account of the voyage, says, that none of the officials or the inhabitants came and asked the English that aught might be spared.: "The cause of their unreasonable distrust (as I do take it) was the fresh remembrance of the great wrong they had done to old Mr. William Hawkins of Plymouth, in the voyage he made four or five years before, when they did both break their promise, and murthered many of his men."

In 1588, the memorable year of the arrival of the Armada, William Hawkins was Mayor of Plymouth, and the great local preparations to meet *

Plymouth Corporation Records. **

Observations of Sir Richard Hawkins. ***

Barrow's Life of Drake. *13 the Spaniards were carried on under his direction. "Several great ships were being made ready for sea." We are also told that "Plymouth fitted out seven stout ships every way equal to the Queen's men of war," evidently owing largely to William Hawkins's experience, and chiefly owned by the Hawkinses. A letter written by William Hawkins from Plymouth, dated 17th February, 1587, gives a vivid description of the work. "The Hope and the Nonpareil are both graved and bottomed and the Revenge now aground. We have and do trim one side of every ship by night and the other by day. The ships get aground so strongly and are so staunch as if they were made of a whole tree. The doing of it is very chargeable [costly], being carried on by torchlights and cressets in the midst of a gale of wind, which consumes pitch, tallow, and furze abundantly." Captain William Hawkins commanded the Griffin, of 200 tons and 100 men, against the Armada.

During his whole life William Hawkins was thus employed in good works for, and improvements in, the town of Plymouth, and engaged in the greatest enterprises set forth by the port. No Plymouth merchant ever held such a position of trust and honour, or used it to such good account. *14

William Hawkins was married twice. By his first wife he had one son, William, also in the navy, who was afterwards ambassador at the Court of the Great Mogul, and three daughters-Judith, Clare, and Grace. By his second wife, Mary, daughter of John Halse, of Kenedon (by his second wife, Joan, daughter of William Tothill), he had four sons - Richard, Francis, Nicholas, and William, and three daughters-Frances, Mary, and Elizabeth. His widow survived him and became the first wife of Sir Warwick Hele, of Wembury. William Hawkins's three youngest sons were baptised at St. Andrew's Church, Plymouth, in 1582, 1584, and 1587. A daughter (Grace) was buried in 1582, and another daughter (Clare) was married there, in 1587, to Robert Michell.

There is a curious entry in St. Andrew's Church Register which is interesting, as another proof that William Hawkins, and not Humphrey Fownes,* was Mayor the Armada year.

" Margarit Crumnell (servant ?) unto Mr. Hawkins, Mayor; was buried 5th July, 1588."

William Hawkins died on the 7th October, 1589, and was buried at Deptford, Kent.

Sir John Hawkins erected a monument to the memory of his brother in St. Nicholas Church, Deptford, which was in existence in Thorpe's time (it is now removed), with this inscription: "Sacr~ perpetuaeque memoriae Gulielmi Hawkyns de Plimouth arm igeri; qui verae religionis verus cultor, pauperibus praecipue navicularus inunifleus, rerum nauticarum studiosissimus, longinquas instituit saepe navigationes: arbiter in causis difficilissimis aequissimus, fide, probitate, et prudentia siugulari. Duos duzit uxores, e quarum una 4 ex altera 7 suscepit liberos. Johannes Hawkyns eques auratus, classis regiae quaestor, frater maestissimus posuit. Objit spe certa resurgendi 7 die mensis Octobris anno domini 1589."

The following is a translation:

"To the ever living memory of William Hawkyns of Plymouth esquire; who was a worshipper of the true religion; a munificent benefactor to poor mariners; skilled *

Humphrey Fownes is represented as Mayor in Lucas's picture of the game of bowls. *15

in navigation; oftentimes undertaking long voyages; a just arbiter in difficult cases; and a man of singu]ar faith, probity, and prudence. He had two wives, four children by one, and seven by the other. John Hawkins, Knight, Treasurer of the Queen's Navy, his brother, most sorrowfully erected this. He died in the sure and certain hope of resurrection, on the 7th day of October, in the year of our Lord 1589."

Will of William Hawkins

I WILLIAM HAWKINS of Plimouth Esq. 6th Oct. 1589

My body to be buried in place & sort as my brother Sr John Hawkins Knt. & my wife Marie Hawkins shall think most convenient

Concerning my said wife & the children I have now living as well by her as by my former wife, & all my lands I dispose of them as follows -an annuity of £40 to William Hawkins my eldest son for life out of my lands in Plimouth

I give all my lands so charged & all my other lands whatsoever to my wife Marie for life, with remainder to Richard Hawkins my eldest son by the said Marie, & to his heirs male, with remainder respectively in tail mail to Francis my 2"d, Nicholas, my 3,d, William my 4th son &~my own right heirs for ever

To Judith Whitakers one of my daughters "all that my bargayne of Hindwell"

To William Whitakers her eldest son, my grandchild £10 & to every of her other children £5.

To Clare Michaell my daughter £40

[Several legacies to servants.]

All the rest of my goods to be divided into 3 equal parts, one 3rd part to be divided among all my Children by my wife Marie, another 3rd part to my wife Marie, & the remaining one to my brother Sir John Hawkins

I constitute my wife my sole Executrix, and my brother Sir John Hawkins & Anthony Halse gent. my brother in law my Supervisors

Read, signed & sealed in the presence of Edward Combes, Robert Peterson, W~' Hales, Thos. Nun, James Finche, Ric. Wood, Ric. Hawkins, Ric. Collyns, Charles Fenton.

Proved in London 20th Oct. 1589 by Marie the relict. [Leicester, 78.] *16

[Book converted for the Web © Paul Welbank, 1997]