GRENVILLE, Sir Richard (1600-1659), of Fitzford, nr. Tavistock, Devon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press




Family and Education

bap. 26 June 1600, 2nd s. of Sir Bernard Grenville† (d.1636) of Stowe, nr. Kilkhampton, Cornw. and Elizabeth, da. and h. of Philip Bevill of Killigarth, Cornw.; bro. of Bevill*.1 educ. ?Oxf.; Leiden 1634;2 vol. Netherlands 1618-c.1620, ?Germany 1634-9.3 m. c.Nov. 1628,4 Mary (admon. 20 May 1672),5 da. and h. of Sir John Fitz of Fitzford and wid. of (Sir) Allan Percy* (d.1611) of Tower Hill, London, Thomas Darcy (d.1612) and Sir Charles Howard (d.1622), 1s. (?d.v.p.) 1da.6 kntd. 20 June 1627;7 cr. bt. 9 Apr. 1630.8 d. 21 Oct. 1659.9 sig. Ry[chard] Grenvile.

Offices Held

Capt. Germany c.1620-3,10 Cadiz expedition 1625,11 lt. Netherlands 1624,12 sgt.-maj. Île de Ré 1627,13 col. Som. 1628,14 officer, 1st Bps.’ War 1639,15 maj. horse, 2nd Bps.’ War 1640,16 maj. horse, Ire. 1641-3,17 gov. of Trim, co. Meath 1642-3,18 lt.-gen. (parl.), 1643-4,19 ‘Field Marshal’ (roy.), Plymouth, Devon 1644-5,20 Taunton, Som. and Lyme Regis, Dorset 1645, maj.-gen. Western army 1645.21

Gent. of the privy chamber (extraordinary) 1628-31, by 1641.22

J.p. Devon 1629-33,23 commr. piracy 1630,24 sheriff by 1645.25


Virtually nothing is known of Grenville’s early life. He is said to have attended Oxford, but does not appear in the college records. As a younger son he could not expect a substantial inheritance; his father Sir Bernard was prominent in local administration but not especially wealthy. The example of his famous grandfather and namesake, Sir Richard Grenville† of the Revenge, doubtless helped to point him to a military career.26 In 1618 he volunteered for service in the Netherlands, and graduated from there to the ill-fated regiment sent to protect the Palatinate against Imperial troops. By 1623, when the outnumbered and poorly supplied Englishmen were forced to withdraw, Grenville had acquired the rank of captain and a record of energetic leadership. He was back in the Netherlands in 1624, this time as a lieutenant, and in the following year served on the unsuccessful Cadiz expedition under another Low Countries veteran, Sir John Burgh.27

Grenville’s next campaign was the 1627 Île de Ré expedition, during which he was wounded and mistakenly reported dead.28 An eyewitness journal, The Expedition to the Isle of Rhee, has been ascribed to him. However, while its criticism of the duke of Buckingham for preferring the advice of ‘insinuating sycophants’ to that of his commanders is reminiscent of Grenville’s later works, there is too little evidence to permit a firm attribution, and Grenville had scant cause at this juncture to attack the duke.29 Buckingham probably knighted him immediately before the expedition, and was credited with helping to arrange his marriage in 1628 to Lady Mary Howard, a wealthy heiress.30 This union must initially have seemed the answer to Grenville’s growing debts, but even before the wedding there were signs of trouble. For some years Mary had been battling with her former brother-in-law the 2nd earl of Suffolk (Theophilus Howard*, Lord Walden) over the jointure estate due to her following her third husband’s death. Although she obtained a ruling in her favour in Chancery in November 1628, Suffolk refused to accept this judgment, so drawing Grenville into the dispute.31 At the same time, to protect herself against a recurrence of these problems, Mary insisted on a pre-nuptial agreement which left her in total control of her estates, contrary to the standard practice of the day. Grenville could receive the rents and profits, but only with his wife’s consent, a condition which soon proved irksome.32

Grenville probably owed his election as a Fowey burgess in the 1628 Parliament to Buckingham’s patronage. It would have been natural for him to align himself with John Mohun* and (Sir) James Bagg II*, Buckingham’s West Country agents, and indeed he enlisted Bagg’s help when he missed the sailing of the expedition to La Rochelle in September 1628 through failure to report for duty on time.33 Certainly he was more in sympathy with his father, a Mohun ally, than with his brother Bevill, who supported Buckingham’s opponents John Coryton* and (Sir) John Eliot*. On 20 Mar. 1628, three days after the Parliament opened, Coryton accused Grenville’s father Sir Bernard and others of attempting to block his election as a Cornish knight of the shire. When Eliot, Sir Edward Coke and Sir Robert Phelips backed Coryton’s demand for an inquiry, Grenville angrily denounced their speeches as malicious, and avoided being called to the bar of the House only through the intervention of Phelips, who excused his behaviour on the grounds of parliamentary inexperience. Grenville learnt from this mistake, and on 22 Apr. saved Sir Bernard from being summoned to London by a well-judged offer, laced with parliamentary courtesies, to accept any punishment due himself rather than see his sick father put to such trouble.34 Apart from these interventions, Grenville played little part in the Common’s proceedings. On 24 Mar. he was named to a committee for framing a bill on impressment, and on 15 May he gave evidence during an inquiry into alleged abuses in billeting soldiers formerly under his command perpetrated by Sir John Stawell* at Taunton, Somerset, earlier that year.35

Grenville’s marriage brought a temporary halt to his military career. He had already been granted the post of gentleman of the king’s privy chamber, presumably through Buckingham’s influence; and residence at Fitzford, his wife’s ancestral home, brought him a place in local government. However, relations with his wife quickly turned sour. In part, Mary proved too strong-willed and independent for Grenville’s liking, but money was also a major cause of contention. Grenville spent lavishly during his marriage, purchasing a baronetcy in 1630 and stocking his wardrobe with clothing worked with gold and jewels. However, Mary’s estates were apparently less extensive than he had anticipated, and in addition to his own debts, Grenville was now responsible for debts his wife had accumulated prior to their marriage, not least the considerable and long-delayed expense of suing out her livery to end her status as a royal ward. In November 1629 Grenville launched a series of law suits aimed at overturning the pre-nuptial agreement and harrassing Mary’s principal creditor, her former steward George Cuttford, who had drawn up the settlement. To protect her own position, Mary sided with Cuttford, and in 1630 came to terms with Suffolk, her erstwhile enemy, who encouraged her to separate from her husband.36 The earl was still refusing to accept the 1628 Chancery decree, and now used his position as a privy councillor to victimize Grenville, who had refused to drop the matter. In 1630-1 Grenville was summoned three times to attend the Council on insubstantial charges.37 Eventually accused of denouncing Suffolk as a ‘base lord’, in February 1632 he was fined £8,000 for slander in Star Chamber and confined to the Fleet. Within days the Court of Wards put the Fitzford estate into trust, in order to secure the unpaid livery, so that although Grenville was still expected to meet Mary’s other debts and pay her alimony, he was deprived of his principal means of doing so. This experience left him permanently embittered. He remained in the Fleet until October 1633, when he somehow contrived his escape and fled the country.38

Very little is known of Grenville’s movements during the next six years. By his own account he fought for Sweden in the Thirty Years War; but he also found time to enrol as a mathematics student at Leiden in early 1634. On reports of preparations for the First Bishops’ War in 1639 he returned to England and offered his services to the king, then used this show of loyalty as a platform for resuming his attacks on his wife and Suffolk. In December 1640 he secured a parliamentary committee hearing of his case, but the outcome is not known.39 In February 1642 Grenville joined the English forces attempting to suppress the Irish rebellion. As garrison commander at Trim he acquired a reputation for effective but periodically brutal tactics against the rebels, which allegedly included the slaughter of civilians. Grenville’s morale-boosting victory at Rathconnell in January 1643 was widely reported in England; but he also tended to overestimate his powers of leadership, and his conduct at the Battle of Ross in March 1643 was called into question after he was briefly forced into retreat. Significantly for the future, he refused to relinquish the command of Trim to a higher-ranking officer who brought reinforcements in May 1642.40

By the summer of 1643 Grenville was disillusioned with the war effort in Ireland, where a truce was being negotiated. Although he later asserted that he had been summoned back to England to join the king’s forces there, and was indeed arrested at Liverpool on suspicion of royalism, he initially sided with parliament, probably with a view to preserving his freedom and obtaining his arrears of pay for his Irish service.41 In December 1643 Grenville accepted a commission as lieutenant-general of horse under Sir William Waller†, and joined the parliamentarian Council of War, gaining access to its military secrets. He then flamboyantly defected to the king in March 1644, writing to the Common’s Speaker to blame Parliament for driving him to this course. Ever after, he was one of the most reviled of royalist commanders, popularly known in the parliamentarian press as ‘Skellum (scoundrel) Grenville’.42

If he was expecting instant high promotion in the royalist forces, Grenville was disappointed, though as his wife had sided with parliament he was granted her sequestered lands in Devon and Cornwall. He also secured the imprisonment of George Cuttford, and, on a dubious charge of spying, the execution of one of his wife’s lawyers.43 However, his first serious military task, the command of the force blockading Plymouth, had given him little scope for action when, in July 1644, he was forced to withdraw as the 3rd earl of Essex’s parliamentarian army swept through the West Country. Grenville now showed his mettle, leading an orderly retreat into western Cornwall, and regrouping for what proved to be an equally swift counter-attack when Essex was cut off by the arrival of the king’s own army. For his contribution to the overwhelming royalist victory at Lostwithiel at the end of August, he was rewarded with fresh estates in Devon and Cornwall, becoming temporarily a very wealthy man.44 This was the high point of Grenville’s Civil War campaign. After Lostwithiel he was given command of most of the royalist forces in Devon and Cornwall, on the strength of which he adopted the title ‘The King’s General in the West’. He was also the royalist appointee as sheriff of Devon. However, the stalemate at Plymouth continued, despite Grenville’s promises of a breakthrough, and his growing frustration is seen in the mass execution of prisoners taken near the town in October 1644.45

During 1645, the royalist war effort collapsed. Whether Grenville could have done more to delay the parliamentarian advance into the West Country is open to question. He was more conscious than several of his fellow commanders of the need to maintain discipline among his troops and avoid alienating the local populations which provided the army’s pay and reinforcements. However, his uncompromising attempts to secure men and money put him at odds with the civilian authorities of Devon in particular, who accused him of lining his own pockets.46 He also alienated the Council set up under Prince Charles to co-ordinate royalist operations in the West by his periodic insubordination. Grenville combined unshakeable faith in his personal powers of leadership with an increasingly narrow focus on his own military priorities. He resisted efforts to remove him from his command at Plymouth in February 1645, but resigned his command at Lyme Regis in June when promised reinforcements were necessarily diverted elsewhere. His quarrels with another rival commander, Lord Goring (George Goring†), helped to prevent the relief of Bristol in September, though Goring’s own conduct was no more creditable.47 In fairness, the royalist high command did little to improve the situation. Grenville and Berkeley were given overlapping jurisdictions in Devon, and the king overruled the Prince’s Council to award Goring the leadership of a proposed new consolidated army in May after Grenville had already been appointed. It was widely acknowledged that Grenville’s local connections and military reputation were vital for keeping the Cornish levies in the field, but in November he displayed his feeble grasp of politics when he proposed that Prince Charles should place his hope in Cornwall alone and unilaterally come to terms with Parliament. This seriously undermined the prince’s trust in him, and he was finally arrested in January 1646 for refusing to accept a commission under Lord Hopton (Ralph Hopton*).48

Imprisoned without trial for nearly two months, Grenville escaped to France in March during the general evacuation of royalist leaders from Cornwall. Shortly afterwards, he wrote a pamphlet, a Narrative of the proceedings of his Majesty’s affairs in the West of England, a very selective account of events since early 1645, which alleged that plots against him by his fellow commanders and the Prince’s Council had substantially contributed to the royalist defeat. Sir Edward Hyde†, a member of the Council, replied with his own version of events, which, as Lord Clarendon, he later incorporated into his History of the Rebellion. Hyde’s vituperative attack on Grenville’s conduct confirmed the latter’s prejudices, and he thereafter regarded Hyde as his greatest enemy.49 Despite this, Grenville continued to offer his services to the royalist cause, and after a year spent in Italy occupied himself with abortive plans for risings in Ireland and the West Country. In 1653 he alienated himself from the king by a clumsy attempt to discredit Hyde, and this disgrace prompted him to pen another self-justificatory tract, his Defence against all aspersions of malignant persons. Drawing parallels between his treatment at the hands of royal councillors in the 1630s and 1646, Grenville portrayed himself as a loyal but wronged subject. He ended the piece pathetically expressing the hope that he might die quietly in England.50 In fact he remained in exile, engaged in a lengthy legal contest with the son of his old enemy Suffolk, was only partially reconciled with the king by the time he died at Ghent in October 1659. His son is said to have died during the 1650s, and administration of his estate was granted to his daughter on 17 Aug. 1661. No will is known to survive. His grave is also lost, but it is said to have borne the inscription ‘Sir Richard Grenville, the king’s general in the West’.51

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Paul Hunneyball


A.C. Miller, Sir Richard Grenville, 27.

  • 1. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 192.
  • 2. Ath. Ox. ii. (Fasti), 352; W.N. Du Rieu, Album Studiosorum Academiae Lugduno, 259.
  • 3. G. Granville, Genuine works of George Granville, Lord Lansdowne (1736), ii. 231, 234.
  • 4. Miller, 26-7.
  • 5. PROB 11/339, f. 2.
  • 6. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 342; Miller, 22-3, 27.
  • 7. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 192.
  • 8. W. Courthope, Extinct Baronetage of Eng. 90.
  • 9. CSP Clar. iv. 418.
  • 10. Clarendon, Hist. of the Rebellion ed. W.D. Macray, iii. 418.
  • 11. Harl. 3638, f. 125v.
  • 12. SP84/121, f. 276v.
  • 13. SP16/59/49.
  • 14. APC, 1627-8, pp. 235, 424.
  • 15. Granville, ii. 200, 234.
  • 16. E351/293.
  • 17. Clarendon, iii. 421.
  • 18. Bodl. Carte ms 3, f. 168.
  • 19. CJ, iii. 347a-b.
  • 20. Clarendon, iii. 423.
  • 21. Clarendon, iv. 15, 61, 94.
  • 22. LC3/1; LC5/132, pp. 21, 263.
  • 23. C66/2495; C231/5, p. 111.
  • 24. C181/4, f. 52v.
  • 25. Clarendon, iv. 31.
  • 26. Miller, 6-7.
  • 27. Clarendon, iii. 418.
  • 28. SP16/71/60; 16/85/97.
  • 29. Granville, iii. 258.
  • 30. Clarendon, iii. 419.
  • 31. C78/462/2.
  • 32. Miller, 26.
  • 33. CSP Dom. 1628-9, p. 326.
  • 34. CD 1628, ii. 31-2, 36; iii. 33; vi. 138-9.
  • 35. CD 1628, ii. 78, 564; iii. 419.
  • 36. Miller, 28-31, 33, 36, 186, n. 31.
  • 37. APC, 1629-30, p. 374; 1630-1, pp. 155, 292; Granville, pp. 231-2.
  • 38. CSP Dom. 1633-4, p.158; Miller, 35; Granville, 232-4.
  • 39. Granville, 234; CSP Dom. 1639-40, pp. 73-4; CJ, ii. 55a.
  • 40. Clarendon, iii. 421; Miller, 55-6; HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, vi. 420-1; Bodl. Carte ms 3, f.168.
  • 41. Bodl. Carte ms 5, f.514; Granville, ii. 234; Historical Collections ed. J. Rushworth, v. 385.
  • 42. Harl. 166, f. 21v; Granville, ii. 204; Historical Collections, v. 385.
  • 43. Clarendon, iii. 423; iv. 60; Miller, 72.
  • 44. Miller, 80, 86, 89-90; Historical Collections, v. 691; E. Walker, Hist. Discourses (1705), p. 49.
  • 45. Clarendon, iv. 27-8; T. Carte, Original letters and papers, 97, 101; Bodl. Clarendon ms xxvi. f. 165r-v.
  • 46. Clarendon, iv. 58-9.
  • 47. Miller, 102; CSP Clar. i. 269-70; Clarendon, iv. 84-94.
  • 48. SP16/507/58; CSP Clar. i. 265, 267; Clarendon, iv. 47-8, 60-1; Carte, 102-5, 107.
  • 49. Granville, ii. 235; Carte, 96-109; Clarendon, iv. 8 (n.); C.H. Firth, ‘Clarendon’s History of the Rebellion’, EHR xix. 33-4.
  • 50. Granville, ii. 230-42; Miller, 146-7.
  • 51. Bodl. Rawl. A261, f. 11b; SP18/74/24a; SP77/32, f. 20; Cornw. RO, DD.En/2133; PROB 6/37, f. 82v; Granville, ii. 248.