Ayscue, Sir George

, an eminent English admiral in the last century, descended from a very good family in Lincolnshire, and entered early into the sea-service, where he obtained the character of an able and experienced officer, and the honour of knighthood from king Charles I. This, however, did not hinder him from adhering to the parliament, when by a very singular intrigue he got possession of the fleet, and so zealous he was in the service of his masters, that when in 1648, the greatest part of the navy went over to the prince of Wales, he, who then commanded the Lion, secured that ship for the parliament, which was by them esteemed an action of great importance. As this was a sufficient proof of his fidelity, he had the command given him in a squadron, that was employed to watch the motions of the prince of Wales and accordingly sailed to the coast of Ireland, where he prevented his highness from landing, and drew many of the seamen to that service from which they had deserted. The parliament next year sent him with a considerable number of ships, and the title of admiral, to the coast of Ireland, which commission he | discharged with such vigour, that the parliament continued him in his command for another year, and ordered an immediate provision to be made for the payment of his arrears, and presented him with one hundred pounds. After the war was finished in Ireland, sir George Ayscue had orders to sail with a small squadron, to reduce the island of Barbadoes but his orders were countermanded, as the parliament received information, that the Dutch were treating with sir John Grenville, in order to have the isles of Scilly put into their hands, and therefore it was thought necessary to reduce these islands first. Blake and Ayscue were employed in this expedition, in the spring of 1651, and performed it with honour and success, sir John Grenville entering into a treaty with them, who used him very honourably, and gave him fair conditions, after which Blake returned to England, and Ayscue proceeded on his voyage to Barbadoes. The parliament were at first pleased, but when the conditions were known, Blake and Ayscue were accused of being too liberal. Blake resented this, and threatened to lay down his commission, which he said he was sure Ayscue would also do. Upon this, the articles were honourably complied with, and sir George received orders to sail immediately to the West Indies. Sir George continued his voyage, and arrived at Barbadoes October 26, 1651. He then found his enterprize would be attended with great difficulties, and such as had not been foreseen at home. The lord Willoughby, of Parham, commanded there for the king, and had assembled a body of 5,Ooo men for the defence of the island. He was a nobleman of great parts and greater probity, one who had been extremely reverenced by the parliament, before he quitted their party, and was Dow extremely popular on the island. Sir George, however, shewed no signs of concern, but boldly forced his passage into the harbour, and made himself master of twelve sail of Dutch merchantmen that lay there, and next morning he sent a summons to the lord Willoughby, requiring him to submit to the authority of the parliament of England, to which his lordship answered, that he knew no such authority, that he had a commission from king Charles II. to be governor of that island, and that he would keep it for his majesty’s service at the hazard of his life. On this, sir George thought it not prudent to land the few troops he had, and thereby discover his weakness to so cautious an enemy. In the mean time, he | receivect a letter by an advice-boat from England, with the news of the king’s being defeated at Worcester, and one intercepted from lady Willoughby, containing a very particular account of that unhappy affair. He now summoned lord Willoughby a second time, and accompanied his summons with lady Willoughby’s letter, but his lordship continued firm in his resolution. All this time, sir George anchored in Speights bay, and stayed there till December, when the Virginia merchant fleet arriving, he made as if they were a reinforcement that had been sent him, but in fact, he had not above 2000 men, and the sight of the little army on shore made him cautious of venturing his men, till he thought the inhabitants had conceived a great idea of his strength. The Virginia ships were welcomed at their coming in, as a supply of men of war, and he presently ordered his men on shore: 159 Scotch servants aboard that fleet, were added to a regiment of 700 men, and some seamen, to make their number look more formidable. One colonel Allen landed with them on the 17th of December, and found lord Willoughby’s forces well entrenched, near a fort they had upon the sea- coast. They attacked him, however, and, in a sharp dispute, wherein about sixty men were killed on both sides, had so much the advantage, that they drove them to the fort, notwithstanding that colonel Allen, their commander, was killed by a musket shot, as he attempted to land. After other attempts, sir George procured colonel Moddiford, who was one of the most leading men on the place, to enter into a treaty with him, and this negociation succeeded so well, that Moddiford declared publicly for a peace, and joined with sir George to bring lord Willoughby, the. governor, to reason, as they phrased it but lord Willoughby never would have consented if an accident had not happened, which put most of the gentlemen about him into such confusion, that he could no longer depend upon their advice or assistance. He had called together his officers, and while they were sitting in council, a cannon-ball beat open the door of the room, and took off the head of the centinel posted before it, which so frighted all the gentlemen of the island, that they not only compelled their governor to lay aside his former design, but to retire to a. place two miles farther from the harbour. Sir George Ayscue, taking advantage of this unexpected good fortune, immediately ordered all his forces on shore, as if he | intended to have attacked them in their entrenchments, which struck such a terror into some of the principal persons about the governor, that, after rhature deliberation on his own circumstances, and their disposition, he began to alter his mind, and thereupon, to avoid the effusion of blood, both parties appointed commissaries to treat. Sir George named captain Peck, Mr. Searl, colonel Thomas Moddiforcl, and James Colliton, esq. the lord Willoughby, sir Richard Peers, Charles Pirn, esq. colonel Ellice, and major Byham, who on the 17th of January agreed on articles of rendition, which were alike comprehensive and honourable. The lord Willoughby had what he most desired, indemnity, and freedom of estate and person, upon which, soon after, he returned to England. The islands of Nevis, Antigua, and St. Christopher, were, by the same capitulation, surrendered to the parliament. After this, sir George, considering that he had fully executed his commission, returned with the squadron under his command to England, and arriving at Plymouth on the 25th of May, 1652, was received with all imaginable testimonies of joy and satisfaction by the people there, to whom he was well known before, as his late success also served not a little to raise and heighten his reputation. It was not long after his arrival, before he found himself again obliged to enter upon action for the Dutch war which broke out in his absence, was then become extremely warm, and he was forced to take a share in it, though his ships were so extremely foul, that they were much fitter to be laid up, than to be employed in any farther service. On the 21st of June, 1652, he came to Dover, with his squadron of eleven sail, and there joined his old friend admiral Blake, but Blake having received orders to sail northward, and destroy the Dutch herring fishery, sir George Ayscue was left to command the fleet in the Downs. Within a few days after Blake’s departure he took five sail of Dutch merchantmen, and had scarcely brought them in before he received advice that a fleet of forty sail had been seen not far from the coast, upon which he gave chace, fell in amongst them, took seven, sunk four, and ran twenty-four upon the French shore, all the rest being separated from their convoy. The Dutch admiral, Van Tromp, who was at sea- with a great fleet, having information of sir George Ayscue’s situation, resolved to take advantage of him, and with no“less than one hundred sail, clapped iji between him and the river, | and resolved to surprize such ships as should attempt to go out or, if that design failed, to go in and sink sir George and his squadron. The English admiral soon discovered their intention, and causing a signal to be made from Dover castle, for all ships to keep to sea, he thereby defeated the first part of their project. However, Van Tromp attempted the second part of his scheme, in hopes of better success, and on the 8th of July, when it was ebb, be began to sail towards the English fleet but, the wind dying away, he was obliged to come to an anchor about a league off, in order to expect the next ebb. Sir George, in the mean time, caused a strong platform to be raised between Deal and Sandown castles, well furnished with artillery, so pointed, as to bear directly upon the Dutch as they came in the militia of the county of Kent were also ordered down to the sea-shore notwithstanding which preparation, the Dutch admiral did not recede from his point, but at the next ebb weighed anchor, and would have stood intothe port but the wind coming about south-west, and blowing directly in his teeth, constrained him to keep out, and being straightened for time, he was obliged to sail away, and leave sir George safe in the harbour, with the small squadron he commanded. He was soon after ordered to Plymouth, to bring in under his convoy five East- India ships, which he did in the latter end of July and in the first week of August, brought in four French and Dutch prizes, for which activity and vigilance in his command he was universally commended. In a few days after this, intelligence was received, that Van Tromp’s fleet was seen off the back of the isle of Wight, and it was thereupon resolved, that sir George with his fleet of forty men of war, most of them hired merchantmen, except flag ships, should stretch over to the coast of France to meet them. Accordingly, on the 16th of August, between one and two o’clock at noon, they got sight of the enemy, who quitted their merchantmen, being fifty in number. About four the fight began, the English Admiral with nine others charging through their fleet; his ships received most damage in the shrouds, masts, sails, and rigging, which was repaid the Dutch in their hulls. Sir George having thus passed through them, got the weather-gage, and charged them again, but all his fleet not coming up, and the night already entered, they parted with a drawn battle. Captain Peck, the rear-admiral, lost his leg, of which, soon after, | he died. Several captains were wounded, but no ship lost. Of the Dutch, not one was said to be lost, though many were shot through and through, but so that they were able to proceed on their voyage, and anchored the next day after, being followed by the English to the isle of Bassa; but no farther attempt was made by our fleet, on account, as it was pretended, of the danger of the French coasts, from whence they returned to Plymouth- Sound to repair. The truth of the matter was, some of sir George’s captains were a little bashful in this affair, and the fleet was in so indifferent a condition, that it was absolutely necessary to refit before they proceeded again to action. He proceeded next to join Blake in the northern seas, where he continued during the best part of the month of September, and took several prizes and towards the latter end of that month he returned with general Blake into the Downs, with one hundred and twenty sail of men of war. On the 27th of that mojith a great Dutch fleet appeared, after which, Blake with his fleet sailed, and sir George Ayscue, pursuant to the orders he had received, returned to Chatham with his own ship, and sent the rest of his squadron into several ports to be careened. Towards the end of November, 1652, general Blake lying at the mouth of our river, began to think that the season of the year left no room to expect farther action, for which reason he detached twenty of his ships to bring up a fleet of colliers from Newcastle, twelve more he had sent to Plymouth, and our admiral, as before observed, with fifteen sail, had proceeded up the river in order to their being careened. Such was the situation of things, when Van Tromp appeared with a fleet of eighty- five sail. Upon this Blake sent for the most experienced officers on board his own ship, where, after a long consultation, it was agreed, that he should wait for, and fight the enemy, though he had but thirtyseven sail of men of war, and a few small ships. Accordingly, on the 29th of November, a general engagement ensued, which lasted with great fury from one in the afternoon till it was dark. Blake in the Triumph, with his seconds the Victory and the Vanguard, engaged for a considerable time near twenty sail of Dutch men of war, and they were in the utmost danger of being oppressed and destrdyed by so unequal a force. This, however, did not hinder Blake from forcing his way into a throng of enemies, to relieve the Garland and Bonadventure, in doing which | he was attacked by many of their stoutest ships, which likewise boarded him, but after several times beating them off, he at last found an opportunity to rejoin his fleet. The loss sustained by the English consisted in five ships, either taken or sunk, and several others disabled. The Dutch confess, that one of their men of war was burnt towards the end of the fight, and the captain and most of his men drowned, and also that the ships of Tromp and Evertson were much disabled. At last, night having parted the two fleets, Blake supposing he had sufficiently secured the nation’s honour and his own, by waiting the attack of an enemy, so much superior, and seeing no prospect of advantage by renewing the fight, retired up the river but sir George Ayscue, who inclined to the bolder but less prudent counsel, was so disgusted at this retreat, that he laid down his commission. The services this great man had rendered his country, were none of them more acceptable to the parliament, than this act of laying down his command. They had long wished and waited for an opportunity of dismissing him from their service, and were therefore extremely pleased that he had saved them this trouble however, to shew their gratitude for past services, and to prevent his falling into absolute discontent, they voted him a present of three hundred pounds in money, and likewise bestowed upon him three hundred pounds per annum in Ireland. There is good reason to believe, that Cromwell and his faction were as well pleased with this gentleman’s quitting the sea-service for as they were then meditating, what they soon afterwards put in execution, the turning the parliament out of doors, it could not but be agreeable to them, to see an officer who had so great credit in the navy, and who was so generally esteemed by the nation, laid aside in such a manner, both as it gave them an opportunity of insinuating the ingratitude of that assembly to so worthy a person, and as it freed them from the apprehension of his disturbing their measures, in case he had continued in the fleet; which it is highly probable might have come to pass, considering that Blake was far enough from being of their party, and only submitted to serve the protector, because he saw no other way left to serve his country, and did not think he had interest enough to preserve the fleet, after the defection of the army, which perhaps might not have been the case, if sir George Ayscue had continued in his command. This is so much the more | probable, as it is very certain that he never entered into the protector’s service, or shewed himself at all willing to concur in his measures though there is no doubt that Cromwell would have been extremely glad of so experienced an officer in his Spanish war. He retired after this to his country-seat in the county of Surrey, and lived there in great honour and splendor, visiting, and being visited by persons of the greatest distinction, both natives and foreigners, and passing in the general opinion of both, for one of the ablest sea-captains of that age. Yet there is some reason to believe that he had a particular correspondence with the protector’s second son, Henry; since there is still a letter in being from him to secretary Thurloe, which shews that he had very just notions of the worth of this gentleman, and of the expediency of consulting him in all such matters as had a relation to maritime power. The protector, towards the latter end of his life, began to grow dissatisfied with the Dutch, and resolved to destroy their system without entering immediately into a war with them. It was with this view, that he encouraged the Swedes to cultivate, with the utmost diligence, a maritime force, promising in due time to assist them with a sufficient number of able and experienced officers, and with an admiral to command them, who, in point of reputation, was not inferior to any then living. For this reason, he prevailed on sir George, by the intervention of the Swedish ambassador and of Whitelock, and sir George from that time began to entertain favourable thoughts of the design, and brought himself by degrees to think of accepting the offer made him, and of going over for that purpose to Sweden and although he had not absolutely complied during the life of the protector, he closed at last with the proposals made him from Sweden, and putting every thing in order for his journey, towards the latter end of the year 1658, and as soon as he had seen the officers embarked, and had dispatched some private business of his own, he prosecuted his voyage, though in the very depth of winter. This exposed him to great hardships, but on his arrival in Sweden, he was received with all imaginable demonstrations of civility and respect by the king, who might very probably have made good his promise, of promoting him to the rank of high-admiral of Sweden, if he had not been taken off by an unexpected death. This put an end to his hopes | in that country, and disposed sir George Ayscue to return home, where a great change had been working in his absence, which was that of restoring king CharJes It. It does not at all appear, that sir George had any concern in this great affair but the contrary may be rather presumed, from his former attachment to the parliament, and his making it his choice to have remained in Sweden, if the death of the monarch, who invited him thither, had not prevented him. On his return, however, he not only submitted to the government then established, but gave the strongest assurances to the administration, that he should be at all times ready to serve the public, if ever there should be occasion, which was very kindly taken, and he had the honour to be” introduced to his majesty, and to kiss his hand. It was not long before he was called to the performance of his promise for the Dutch war breaking out in 1664, he was immediately put into commission by the direction of the duke of York, who then commanded the English fleet. In the spring of the year 1665, he hoisted his flag as rear-admiral of the blue, under the earl of Sandwich, and in the great battle that was fought the third of June in the same year, that squadron had the honour to break through the centre of the Dutch fleet, and thereby made way for one of the most glorious victories ever obtained by this nation at sea. For in this battle, the Dutch had ten of their largest ships sunk or burned, besides their admiral Opdam’s, that blew up in the midst of the engagement, by which the admiral himself, and upwards of five hundred men perished. Eighteen men of war were taken, four fire-ships destroyed, thirteen captains, and two thousand and fifty private men made prisoners and this with so inconsiderable loss, as that of one ship only, nnd three hundred private men. The fleet being again in a condition to put to sea, was ordered to rendezvous in Southwold-bay, from whence, to the number of sixty sail, they weighed on the fifth of July, and stood over for the coast of Holland. The standard was borne by the gallant earl of Sandwich, to whom was viceadmiral sir George Ayscue, and sir Thomas Tyddiman rear-admiral, sir William Perm was admiral of the white, sir William Berkley vice-admiral, and sir Joseph Jordan rear-admiral. The blue flag was carried by sir Thomas ^Vllen, whose vice and rear, were sir Christopher Minims, | and sir John Harman. The design was, to intercept de Ruyter in his return, or, at least, to take and burn the Turkey and East-India fleets, of which they had certain intelligence, but they succeeded in neither of these schemes; de Ruyter arrived safely in Holland, and the Turkey and India fleets took shelter in the port of Bergen in Norway. The earl of Sandwich having detached sir Thomas Tyddiman to attack them there, returned home, and in his passage took eight Dutch men of war, which served as convoys to their East and West India fleets, and several merchantmen richly laden, which finished the triumphs of that year. ^The plain superiority of the English over the Dutch at sea, engaged the French, in order to keep up the war between the maritime powers, and make them do their business by destroying each other, to declare on the side of theweakest, as did the king of Denmark also, which, nevertheless, had no effect upon the English, who determined to carry on the war against the allies, with the same spirit they had done against the Dutch alone. In the spring, therefore, of the year 1666, the fleet was very early at sea, under the command of the joint admirals for a resolution having been taken at Court, not to expose the person of the duke of York any more, and the earl of Sandwich being then in Spain, with the character of ambassador-extraordinary, prince Rupert, and old general Monk, now duke of Albemarle, were appointed to command the fleet; having under them as gallant and prudent officers as ever distinguished themselves in the English navy, and, amongst these, sir William Berkley commanded the blue, and sir George Ayscue the white squadron. Prince Rupert, and the duke of Albemarle, went on board the fleet, the twenty-third of April, 1666, and sailed in the beginning of May. Towards the latter end of that month, the court was informed, that the French fleet, under the command of the duke of Beaufort, were coming out to the assistance of the Dutch, and upon receiving this news, the court sent orders to prince Rupert to sail with the white squadron, the admirals excepted, to look out and fight the French, which command that brave prince obeyed, but found it a mere bravado, intended to raise the courage of their new allies, and thereby bring them into the greater danger. At the same time prince Rupert sailed from the Downs, fthe Dutch put out to sea, the wind at north-east, and a fresh gale. This brought | the Dutch fleet on the coast of Dunkirk, and carried his highness towards the Isle of Wight but the wind suddenly shifting to the south-west, and blowing hard, brought both the Dutch and the duke to an anchor. Captain Bacon, in the Bristol, first discovered the enemy, and by firing his guns, gave notice of it to the English fleet. Upon this a council of war was called, wherein it was resolved to fight the enemy, notwithstanding their great superiority. After the departure of prince Rupert, the duke had with him only the red and blue squadrons, making about sixty sail, whereas the Dutch fleet consisted of ninety-one men of war, carrying 4716 guns, and 22,460 men. It was the first of June when they were discerned, and the duke was so warm for engaging, that he attacked the enemy before they had time to weigh anchor, and, as de Ruyter himself says in his letter, they were obliged to cut their cables and in the same letter he owns, that to the last the English were the aggressors, notwithstanding their inferiority and other disadvantages. This day’s fight was very fierce and bloody for the Dutch, confiding in their numbers, pressed furiously upon the English fleet, while the English officers, being men of determined resolution, fought with such courage and constancy, that they not only repulsed the Dutch, but renewed the attack, and forced the enemy to maintain the fight longer than they were inclined to do, so that it was ten in the evening before their cannon were silent. The following night was spent in repairing the damages suffered on both sides, and next morning the fight was renewed by the English with fresh vigour. Admiral Van Tromp, with vice-admiral Vander Hulst, being on board one ship, rashly engaged amon<y the English, and were in the utmost danger, either of being taken or burnt. The Dutch affairs, according to their own account, were now in a desperate condition but admiral de Ruyter at last disengaged them, though not till his ship was disabled, and vice-admiral Vander Hulst killed. This only changed the scene for de Ruyter was now as hard pushed as Tromp had been before; but a reinforcement arriving, preserved him also, and so the second day’s fight ended earlier than the first. The duke finding that the Dutch had received a reinforcement, and that his small fleet, on the contrary, was much weakened, through the damages sustained by some, and the Joss and absence of others of his ships, took, towards the | evening, the resolution to retire, and endeavour to join prince Rupert, who was coming to his assistance. The retreat was performed in good order, twenty- six or twentyeight men of war that had suffered least, brought up the rear, interposing between the enemy and the disabled ships, three of which, being very much shattered, were burnt by the English themselves, and the men taken on board the other ships. The Dutch fleet followed, but at a distance. As they thus sailed on, it happened on the third day that sir George Ayscue, admiral of the white, who commanded the Royal Prince (being the largest and heaviest ship of the whole fleet) unfortunately struck upon the sand called the Galloper, where being threatened by the enemy’s fire-ships, and hopeless of assistance from his friends (whose timely return, the near approach of the enemy, and the contrary tide, had absolutely rendered impossible), he was forced to surrender. The Dutch admiral de Ruyter, in his letter to the States-general, says, in few words, that sir George Ayscue, admiral of the white, having run upon a sand -bank, fell into their hands, and that after taking out the commanders, and the men that were left, they set the s’mp on fire. But the large relation, collected by order of the States out of all the letters written to them upon that occasion, informs us, that sir George Ayscue, in the Royal Prince, ran upon the Galloper, an unhappy accident, says that relation, for an officer who had behaved very gallantly during the whole engagement, and who only retired in obedience to his admiral’s orders. The unfortunate admiral made signals for assistance but the English fleet continued their route so that he was left quite alone, and without hope of succour in which situation he was attacked by two Dutch fire-ships, by which, without doubt, he had been burnt, if lieutenant-admiral Tromp, who was on board the ship of rear-admiral Sweers, had not made a signal to call off the fire-ships, perceiving that his flag was already struck, and a signal made for quarter, upon which rear-admiral Sweers, by order of Tromp, went on board the English ship, and brought off sir George Ayscue, his officers, and some of his men, on board his own vessel, and the next morning sir George was sent to the Dutch coast, in order to go to the Hague in a galliot, by order of general de Ruyter. The English ship was afterwards got off the sands, notwithstanding which, general de Ruyter ordered the rest of the | crew to be taken out, and the vessel set on fire, that his fleet might he the less embarrassed, which was accordingly done. But in the French relation, published by order of that court, we have another circumstance, which the Dutch have thought fit to omit, and it is this, that the crew gave np the ship against the admiral’s will, who had given orders /or setting her on fire. There were some circumstances which made the loss of this ship, in this manner, very disagreeable to the English court, and perhaps this may be the reason that so little is said of it in our own relations. In all probability general de Ruyter took the opportunity of sending sir George Ayscue to the Dutch coast the next morning, from an apprehension that he might be retaken in. the next day’s fight. On his arrival at the Hague he was very civilly treated but to raise the spirits of their people, and to make the most of this dubious kind of victory, the states ordered sir George to be carried as it were in triumph, through the several towns of Holland, and then confined him in the castle of Louvestein, so famous in the Dutch histories for having been the prison of some of their most eminent patriots, and from whence the party which opposed the prince of Orange were styled the Louvestein faction. As soon as sir George Ayscue came to this castle, he wrote a letter to king Charles II. to acquaint him with the condition he was in, which letter is still preserved in the life of the Dutch admiral, de Ruyter. How long he remained there, or whether he continued a prisoner to the end of the war, is uncertain, but it is said that he afterwards returned to England, and spent the remainder of his days in peace. Granger observes very justly, that it is scarcely possible to give a higher character of the courage of this brave admiral, than to say that he was a match for Van Tromp or de Ruyter. 1

1 Biog. Brit.