Cromwell’s Pirate: the incredible naval career of Christopher Myngs

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Vice-Admiral Christopher Myngs (1625-1666)  *oil on canvas  *124 x 101.7 cm  *1665-1666

Vice-Admiral Christopher Myngs (1625-1666)

Born in Norfolk in 1625, Myngs joined the navy shortly before the outbreak of the English Civil War and, siding with Parliament, he rapidly rose through the ranks.

He first appeared prominently during the first Anglo Dutch War (1652-1654) as captain of the Elisabeth when he captured a Dutch convoy, including two men-of-war taken as prizes. In 1655 he was given command of the 44-gun frigate Marston Moor, whose crew was on the verge of mutiny. After quelling the crew’s insubordination, the Marston Moor was sent to Port Royal to safe guard England’s new possession – Jamaica.

On its arrival in mid-1655, Myngs assessed that the best de-ence was to take the war to the Spanish but the Marston Moor was the only English warship available so he decided to recruit the local buccaneers. In May 1656, he raided Santa Maria in Venezuela but the results were disappointing. In January 1657, additional English ships arrived allowing Myngs to form a Jamaica squadron with the Marston Moor as his flagship but still retaining the buccaneers as auxiliaries.

In October 1658, Myngs’ squadron was hidden off the coast of Central America waiting for the Spanish treasure fleet, but while most of the fleet was obtaining fresh water the Spanish treasure fleet appeared. The Marston Moor and another ship passed through the Spaniards, hung on their rear and unsuccessfully attempted to scatter them.

He then proceeded to raid Tolú and Santa Marta, both in Columbia, again with only moderate results. It was then Myngs decided to change tactics. Previously, a large group of ships pre-warned the local population who would retreat inland with their possessions. But he now divided his squadron into smaller flotillas and so increase the chance of surprise. He also would pursue them inland, sometimes using land troops as marines. In 1659, Myngs used his new tactics on three ports on the coast of Venezuela – Cumana, Puerto Cabello and Coro. The latter contained a Spanish silver shipment valued at 250,000 English pounds – roughly £32.5million today. However Myngs decided to split the money with his buccaneers to keep them interested for future expeditions, rather than with the governor Edward D’Oyley and the English treasury.

On his return to Port Royal, Governor D’Oyley had him arrested on charges of embezzlement and returned to England on the Marston Moor. However, in the confusion of the restoration of Charles II the charges where dropped.

In 1662, Myngs returned to Port Royal as a captain in the new Royal Navy, commanding HMS Centurion and with an unofficial policy of a ‘Cold War’ with Spain in the Caribbean. The new governor of Jamaica, Lord Windsor, completely supported Myngs while he raised a buccaneer fleet of 14 ships crewed by 1,400 buccaneers, including such notorious pirates such as Henry Morgan and Abraham Blauvelt – it was the largest buccaneer fleet yet raised on the Spanish Main. In October 1662, his fleet took and sacked the heavily fortified second city of Cuba, Santiago, and in February 1663 it raided San Francisco de Campache in Mexico, during the latter of which Myngs was seriously wounded.

The raids outraged the Spanish, who denounced Myngs as a common pirate and a mass murderer with a reputation for unnecessary cruelty and threatened war with England. This forced King Charles to send a new governor Thomas Modyford to Jamaica with orders to stop the raids. In 1664, Myngs returned to England to recover and was promoted to a vice admiral in Prince Rupert’s squadron, rising to Vice Admiral of the White under Lord High Admiral James Stuart, Duke of York and Albany.

The_Battle_of_Lowestoft,_3_June_1665_-_Engagement_between_the_English_and_Dutch_Fleets_by_Adriaen_Van_DiestThe outbreak of the second Anglo Dutch War in 1665 began for Myngs with the Battle of Lowestoft (right), which resulted in a knighthood for his actions. He then served with Edward Montagu 1st Earl of Sandwich – rising to the rank of Admiral of the Blue – after whose disgrace served under George Monck, 1st Duke of Albermarle. He was on detachment with Prince Rupert’s Green squadron on 11 June 1666 when the great Four Days’ Battle began and three days later he returned to the main fleet for the final day of fighting. His squadron engaged that of Vice Admiral Johann de Liefde’s and it was during this engagement that his flagship HMS Victory was directly challenged by Liefde’s flagship Ridderschapp van Holland, with fighting at close quarters. Myngs was first hit in the cheek and then the left shoulder by musket balls, mortally wounding him. Myngs died from these wounds shortly after his return to London.

It was Myngs’ strategy of the use of buccaneers to supplement English resources in the Caribbean that became England’s policy for nearly 60 years and his tactics were a template for Henry Morgan and other buccaneers, leading to the high watermark of the capture of Panama City in January 1671.