Sir Richard Grenville, 1600-59

Veteran of the Irish service with a fearsome reputation, he quarrelled with the Royalist leadership and lost command of the western army.

Portrait of Sir Richard GrenvilleGrandson of the Elizabethan hero Sir Richard Grenville, he was the second son of Sir Bernard Grenville (1559-36) and the younger brother of Bevil Grenville. Richard followed a military career, serving on the English expedition to the Palatinate in 1620 and the expeditions to Cadiz and La Rochelle in 1625 and '27. He became a favourite of the Duke of Buckingham and was knighted at Portsmouth a week before the Rochelle expedition set sail.

Under Buckingham's influence, Grenville was elected MP for Fowey in King Charles' third parliament. He married Mary, the widow of Sir Charles Howard in November 1628 and was granted a baronetcy in 1630. Two children were born of the marriage but Grenville became estranged from Mary and involved in litigation with the powerful Howard family over her inheritance. Ruined by legal expenses and fines, Grenville was imprisoned in the Fleet prison for non-payment in 1632. In October 1633, he escaped from prison and fled to the Continent, where he resumed his military career.

After serving in the Swedish and Dutch armies, Grenville offered his services to King Charles on the outbreak of the Bishops' Wars in 1640 and was allowed to return to England. When the Confederate War broke out in 1641, he gained a commission as a cavalry commander in the army sent to Ireland. Arriving at Dublin with his cousin George Monck in February 1642, he fought with distinction at the battle of Kilrush and played a leading role in the storming of Trim, after which the Marquis of Ormond appointed him governor of the town. From Trim, Grenville directed raids on Confederate garrisons and gained a reputation for brutality and ruthlessness.

Like Monck, Grenville returned to England with the signing of the Cessation of Arms in September 1643. While Monck took service with the King, Grenville apparently sided with Parliament. He was granted money to raise forces and was commissioned lieutenant-general to Sir William Waller. On his way to join Waller in March 1644, however, Grenville defected to the Royalists with important intelligence on Parliament's campaign plans and details of a plot to betray Basing House. Grenville was denounced as a traitor by Parliament and vilified as a bloodthirsty "skellum" (rogue) in the London newsbooks.

King Charles appointed Grenville "General of the West" with authority to raise forces in Cornwall, where the Grenville name was highly respected. He raised four infantry regiments known as the "New Cornish Tertia". Grenville's infantry played an important role in the campaign against the Earl of Essex's army at Lostwithiel during the summer of 1644 and he took command at the siege of Plymouth. As in Ireland, Grenville was notoriously severe against his opponents. He was accused of committing atrocities against prisoners and of using his authority to settle old scores against personal enemies. However, he remained popular with ordinary people because he disciplined his troops to prevent plundering, and he kept the loyalty of the soldiers with regular pay.

In March 1645, the Council of the Prince of Wales was set up in Bristol to direct Royalist administration and strategy in the West. Grenville quarrelled with members of the Council and refused to co-operate with Lord Goring who was appointed military commander over him. In July 1645, Grenville resigned his commission and retired into Cornwall.

Meanwhile, the New Model Army was advancing relentlessly into the west. Goring was defeated at the battle of Langport and Bristol was seized from Prince Rupert. The Prince of Wales' Council withdrew to Truro and made a wary reconciliation with Grenville. He proposed constructing a strong defensive line along the River Tamar and that Prince Charles, in his capacity as Duke of Cornwall, should negotiate a separate treaty with Parliament for Cornwall. Grenville's proposal came to nothing and Lord Hopton was appointed commander of the western army in January 1646. Lord Wentworth was appointed commander of the horse and Grenville appointed commander of the foot, but Grenville refused to serve under Hopton. Fearing that he would be a subversive influence in Cornwall, Prince Charles had Grenville arrested for insubordination. He was imprisoned on St Michael's Mount until March 1646 when, with the final collapse of the Royalist cause in the West, the Prince allowed him to take ship for France rather than fall into the hands of the enemy.

Grenville wrote an account of the western campaign to counter the version of events being prepared by Sir Edward Hyde. Grenville's Narrative of the Affairs of the West was published in 1647. He spent a year travelling in Italy with his son then made a secret trip to England to safeguard his goods. During 1650-1, he invested in Royalist privateering ventures directed by his nephew John Grenville from the Scilly Isles but Grenville's progress in the service of Charles II was blocked by Hyde and his other enemies at court. He was banished after making unfounded accusations of treason against Hyde in 1653 and never regained the King's confidence. He spent the rest of his life in exile and died at Ghent in October 1659.


John Barratt, Cavaliers, the Royalist Army at War 1642-46 (Stroud 2000)

Roger Lockyer (ed), Clarendon's History of the Great Rebellion (Folio Society 1967)

Ian Roy, Sir Richard Grenville, Oxford DNB, 2004

Stuart Reid, All the King's Armies (Staplehurst 1998)