Dorset Maritime History



Dorset Maritime History

latter body was largely due to the influence of the Lord Admiral, himself a member of it. There is no doubt that the privileges of the exempted towns were distinctly prejudicial to good government ; in the case of Weymouth the notoriety attained by the joint towns in the matter of their dealings with pirates may be ascribed, in great measure, to a civic executive always weak and often not disinterested.

In the reign of Charles I the earl of Suffolk, another Howard, was vice-admiral both for Dorset and for the town and county of Poole ; thereafter the two districts were often under the same head. Stricter legislation, the decline of piracy, and the increase of the navy, changed for the better after the Civil War and the Restoration the conditions that had made the vice-admirals useful, and their positions tended to become more and more honorary. During the eighteenth century the Paulets, either as marquises of Winchester or dukes of Bolton, with an occasional Trenchard or Strangeways, held the titular rank of vice-admiral of Dorset.

There is a reference in 1550 to certain ' bulwarks in Purbeck, ' probably earthworks thrown up at Swanage and Studland to meet a temporary necessity. By 1552 the Privy Council had decided to reduce or disestablish a number of the permanent fortifications ' which stood the king's majesty in very great charges and in no service at all ; ' among them were Sandsfoot and Portland, of which the garrisons were reduced. 126 The uneasy political conditions at home and abroad soon forced the important Dorset fortresses into prominence again. In May, 1557, information was. obtained that the French were meditating an attack on Portland ; the care of the county was entrusted to Lord St. John, who was told to watch especially Poole, Weymouth, and Portland, soldiers being sent to the latter and the inhabitants mustered and organized. 127 Philip II had dragged England into war with France, and it was necessary to reinforce the queen's fleets by hired merchantmen. There was none from Dorset with the Lord Admiral in the Channel, but there were two from Poole and Weymouth under Sir John Clere in the North Sea. 128 In 1558 many of the ports, encouraged by advantages offered by the crown, sent privateers to sea, six sailing from Dorset as compared with 22 from Devon. 129

The reign of Mary sent many of the outlawed and the discontented to the refuge of the sea, and the political unrest tempted others who were criminals by opportunity to seek fortune there. Both classes were called pirates, and after the failure of Wyatt's rising in February, 1554, the former are frequently in evidence in the Council minutes. In August the lords of the Council ordered the execution of certain pirates in Dorset, but there is little doubt that they were rebels. 130 Henry Strangeways, belonging to the well-known Dorset family, seems to have begun his career as a pirate without such excuse of conscience, for in February, 1552-3, he was plying his trade in Irish waters with such success that two men-of-war were prepared at Portsmouth to seek him. 131 Strangeways worked with the Cornish Killigrews, arch-pirates themselves, 132 and was on sufficiently good terms with

126  Acts of P.C. 26 Feb., 4 May, 1552.
127  S.P. Foreign, 11 May, 1557; ibid. Dom. Mary, x, Nos. 61, 62.
128  Ibid. xi, No. 38.
129  Admir. Ct. Exemp. v, 288.
130  Acts of P.C. 9, 13 Aug. 1554.
131  Ibid. 21 Feb. 6 March, 1552-3.
132  See V.C.H. Cornwall, i, 488 et seq.


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