Robert Blake, an English admiral, born at Bridge water, Somersetshire, in August, 1599, died off Plymouth, Aug. 17,1657. He was the eldest son of a wealthy merchant, and was educated at Oxford. Although attached to the principles of the Puritans and theoretically a republican, he took no active part in politics, but in 1640 was returned to parliament for Bridgewater. Upon the outbreak of the civil war he raised forces in Somersetshire, and operated against the royalists in the western counties. In 1643 he commanded a fort at Bristol during the siege of that city, and having been appointed governor of Taunton, distinguished him self by his successful defence of that place in 1646 against a superior force. In 1649, after the execution of the king, the navy under Prince Rupert, which had continued loyal, had full control of the seas. At this juncture Blake was appointed to the command of a squadron, with the title of "general of the sea," and blockaded Prince Rupert in the harbor of Kinsale for several months. The prince, having broken through the blockading line with a loss of three ships, proceeded to the Tagus, whither he was soon followed by Blake, who by seizing a large number of richly laden Portuguese ships compelled the king of Portugal, who favored Rupert, to expel him.
The two squadrons met off Malaga in January, 1651, when the royal fleet, except two ships, was destroyed. Upon returning home Blake received the thanks of parliament for these exploits, and was made warden of the Cinque Ports. He subsequently took Jersey, Guernsey, and the Seilly islands from the royalists, again received the thanks of parliament, and was elected a member of the council of state. In March, 1652, in anticipation of a war with Holland, Make was appointed sole admiral, and on May l'.», 1652, fought a battle in Dover roads with the Dutch fleet under Admiral Van Tromp, which was terminated only by night, when the Dutch withdrew, with the loss of two ships and 30 guns. He again met the enemy under De Witt on Sept. 28, and captured the Dutch flag ship and three others. Subsequently Blake divided his fleet into several squadrons, retaining himself only 37 ships and was attacked near the Goodwin Sands)
Nov. 29, by Van Tromp, at the head of twice that number. The battle, during which Blake was wounded, was stubbornly contested, and at night the English, having destroyed one of the enemy's ships and disabled two others, and lost six of their own, retired to the Thames. This success so elated Van Tromp that he sailed through the channel with brooms at his mast-heads. The English immediately strengthened their fleet, and embarked two regiments of infantry as marines; and in February, 1653, Blake put to sea with over 70 vessels. On the 18th he intercepted Van Tromp, with 76 ships of war, convoying a fleet of 300 merchantmen, off Portland island, and immediately attacked him. A running fight was maintained for three days, when the Dutch found refuge in the shallow water of their own coast, having lost 11 ships of war, with 2,000 men killed and 1,500 prisoners, besides 50 of their merchantmen. Blake lost but one ship; his slain were about 2,000. When Cromwell dissolved the long parliament and assumed absolute control of the government, Blake gave his support to the protector, and kept his men firm in their duty to the de facto government, saying to his officers, "It is not our business to mind state affairs, but to keep foreigners from fooling us." He sat in the first two parliaments summoned by Cromwell. On June 3 and 4, 1653, he fought again with the Dutch, driving them, with the loss of 20 ships, to their own shore.
After this Blake was obliged by ill health to leave the sea, and was not present at the battle (end of July) which closed the war. In November, 1654, he was sent to the Mediterranean, at the head of a strong fleet, to exact reparation for injuries done to British commerce during the civil war. So great was his reputation that the duke of Tuscany and the knights of Malta at once made compensation, and Algiers and Tripoli submitted to his terms. Tunis, which resisted, was compelled to conclude a peace, Upon the breaking out of war with Spain in 1656, he was sent to blockade the bay of Cadiz, and on April 20, 1657, he cut out from under the guns of Santa Cruz, in the island of Teneriffe, a fleet of Spanish galleons laden with silver, defended by a strong naval force. This was perhaps the greatest of his achievements. He died of scurvy while entering Plymouth sound on his return. The career of Blake was remarkable. Without experience in war, he distinguished himself as a commander; without training at sea, he became at once the foremost admiral of his time.
As a man he was of a blunt and fearless temper, and distinguished for straightforwardness and honesty of character.