Robert Blake was baptised on 27 September 1598 at St Mary's church, Bridgwater in Somerset. He was the eldest surviving child of Humphrey Blake, merchant, (d.1625) and his wife Sarah (Williams) (d.1638). After studying at the local grammar school Robert attended Oxford University. He supported the Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War, served in the army, was Governor of Taunton and general-at-sea (1649). In the first Dutch war he defeated Admirals Marten Tromp, De Witt and De Ruyter and went on to destroy the Tunisian corsair squadron at Porto Farina and the Spanish plate fleet at Santa Cruz in the Canary Islands.
He died of fever on 17 August 1657, just as his ship George sailed into Plymouth. The body was embalmed (the bowels being buried at St Andrew's church in the town) and taken by sea to Greenwich to lay in state in the Great Hall of the Queen's House. Cromwell ordered a magnificent funeral for him, with a barge procession along the Thames.
He was buried in Henry VII's chapel in Westminster Abbey on 4 September. However, by order of King Charles II, his remains were removed in 1661, together with other Cromwellians, and buried in a pit in St Margaret's churchyard, adjoining the Abbey. A modern plaque on the exterior wall of the church records the names of those who were disinterred.
Blake was unmarried and left his estate to his brothers Humphrey and Benjamin. Benjamin emigrated to America and his son Joseph became Governor of the Province of Carolina.
Memorial window in St Margaret's church
On 18 December 1888 a stained glass window was unveiled in St Margaret's Church depicting scenes from Blake's life. Below is a brass, engraved with anchors and the words "Vera Cruz" and "Taunton". The inscription, in black and red, has lines composed by Lewis Morris and reads:
TO THE GLORY OF GOD, AND TO THE MEMORY OF COLONEL ROBERT BLAKE, ADMIRAL AT SEA, CHIEF FOUNDER OF ENGLAND'S NAVAL SUPREMACY, DIED AUGUST 7th 1657, EJECTED FROM HIS GRAVE IN THE ABBEY, AND BURIED IN ST MARGARET'S CHURCHYARD SEPTEMBER 1661.
"KINGDOM OR COMMON WEALTH WERE LESS TO THEE THAN TO CROWN ENGLAND QUEEN O'ER EVERY SEA. STRONG SAILOR, SLEEPING SOUND AS SLEEP THE JUST REST HERE OUR ABBEY KEEPS NO WORTHIER DUST".
Abbey memorial tablet
A stone memorial, by Gilbert Ledward, was unveiled in the south choir aisle of the Abbey on 27 February 1945. The inscription, in red and black, reads: In memory of Robert Blake Admiral and General of the Fleet, who trusting in God and in the valour of his countrymen wrought great victories for England at sea and worthily maintained the honour of the Nation. He was born in 1598 at Bridgwater & died during his last voyage home on August 7th 1657. "One who desired no greater worldly happiness than to be accounted honest and faithful in his employment".
Above is his coat of arms: argent, a chevron between three garbs sable (a silver shield with three black wheatsheaves and a black chevron), and his crest. Below is a relief of a sailing ship.
Photographs of the window, brass and tablet can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004.
"Robert Blake..." by Roger Beadon, 1935
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