By Louise Fiske
The previous owner was a Pirate!
Book plate is that of Sir Henry Mainwaring
Sir Henry Mainwaring (1587–1653), was an English lawyer, soldier, author, seaman and politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1621 to 1622. He was for a time a pirate based in Newfoundland and then a naval officer with the Royal Navy.
He was born in Ightfeld Shropshire, the second son of Sir George Mainwaring and his wife Ann, the daughter of Sir William More of Loseley Park in Surrey. His grandfather was Sir William More, Vice-Admiral of Sussex. He graduated from Oxford University, where he was awarded a B.A. in Law, at the age of 15, in 1602. He then served as a trial lawyer, soldier, sailor and author before turning to piracy.
In 1610, at the age of 24, Mainwaring was given a commission from Lord High Admiral Nottingham to capture the notorious Newfoundland “arch-pirate” Peter Easton, then feared to be hovering around the Bristol Channel. This may have been just a convenient excuse for the well-armed Resistance, his small but speedy ship, to become a scourge to the Spanish
On reaching the Straits of Gibraltar, Mainwaring announced to his crew his intention of fighting the Spanish anywhere he found them. Turning to piracy was not that out of line for the young valiant in those years.
In 1614 he sailed his fleet to Newfoundland, saying that the region was the best in which to recruit a pirate crew and re-provision his ships. Mainwaring used Easton’s old base at Harbour Grace, Canada, as his pirate base and raided Spanish, Portuguese and French ships.
On 4 June 1614, off the coast of Newfoundland, Mainwaring, in command of eight vessels, plundered the cod fishing fleet, stealing provisions and taking away with him carpenters and mariners. In taking seamen, Mainwaring would pick one out of every six. In all, 400 men joined him willingly, while others were Impressed. Sailing to the coast of Spain, Mainwaring then took a Portuguese ship and plundered her cargo of wine, and he later took a French prize and stole 10,000 dried fish from her hold.
With Mainwaring away from his main base in La Mamora, on Atlantic coast of present-day Morocco, a Spanish fleet under Don Luis Fajardo, sailing from Cadiz on August 1, 1614, “reduced” the town. Mainwaring’s relations with the Moors were such that he was able to secure the release of their English prisoners.
So feared was his pirate fleet that Spain offered Mainwaring a pardon and high command in return for his services under the Spanish flag.
When his pirate activities almost broke the tenuous peace between England, Spain and Portugal, King James I threatened to send a fleet after Mainwaring, to whom he later granted a royal pardon in 1616 for having saved the Newfoundland trading fleet near Gibraltar.
Mainwaring wrote a book on piracy (Discourse of Pirates, on the suppression of piracy, 1618), the manuscript of which is in the British Museum. In his book, he explains what causes a desperate man to turn to piracy. He also advises the King against granting pardons to pirates. The King promptly dispatched Mainwaring to the Venetian Republic as his representative, over the protests of the Spanish ambassador.
Mainwaring was knighted on March 20th, 1618. He was commissioned in the Royal Navy. In 1621, he was elected Member of Parliament from Dover.
Between 1620 and 1623, Mainwaring served as Lieutenant of Dover Castle and Deputy Warden of the Cinque Ports. Dover, Sandwich, Hastings, Romney, and Hythe had banded together around 1050 as the Confederation of Cinque Ports. Their primary purposes were to defend against invasion from the English Channel and to provide Edward the Confessor with men and ships. After the fourteenth century, the fortifications and ports fell into decline. When Mainwaring assumed his duties, they had decayed even further. The guns at Dover Castle were without gunpowder, and in lieu of it ashes and sand were substituted!”, while none “were able to defend the coast from attacks of ships of war, nor defend their own merchantmen who sought refuge there.” During his tenure, he remained vigilant and pursued the duties of his office with the same diligence with which he attacked everything he did in life. In appreciation of his service, Dover elected him to Parliament in 1622.
Mainwaring became vice-admiral before leaving the navy in 1639. As a Royalist, he served in the King’s cause in the English Civil War, was exiled to France, and died in poverty. He was buried at St. Giles’ Church, Camberwell, London, on May 15th, 1653.
A linguist and a scholar of no mean ability, he wielded a pen with as much dexterity as he handled a ship, and was never happier than when committing his views to paper on any subject connected with the Navy and the naval art. Of a studious nature, his indefatigable industry and quickness of perception placed him among the foremost English of the time. A true patriot at heart, he is one of those forgotten worthies whose enterprise and courage helped to make the British flag known and respected in all seas, and of him it may truly be said, that in his life was exemplified the motto of his family – ‘Devant si je puis.’