The ‘Elizabeth Jonas’ at the sack of Cadiz

[This assumes that you have already enjoyed my blog post “Hull and the Spanish Armada”]

In 1596, the third Armada was believed to be preparing in Cadiz, and the port towns were once again called on to supply ships. The 1596 list can be found in The Acts of the Privy Council and there is a copy of the letter that was sent out, transcribed into the Hull records. It was dated 21st December 1595. Hull was to provide a single ship, which was to be chosen by the Lord Admiral. It was to be furnished for war, for five months at the charge of the inhabitants of the town, the members of the port ‘and of such other towns and places as did contribute with you in the preparation by you made in the year 1588, or shall be now particularly mentioned by letters from the Lord Admiral to join with you in that charge.’ The ship was to be ready by the 31st March 1596. Hull was immediately to inform the other contributors to its levy of the contents of the letter and of the maximum amount that the ship would cost and ‘advise forthwith for the levying of the same among you rateably, as heretofore you have done.’ (1) The towns to which this letter was sent number only fourteen, and the total number of ships levied was only twenty-six, but the list did not include the levy that was made on London or the Cinq Ports. (2) The letter came to Hull with other documentation from the Lord Admiral by way of the Vice-Admiral for Yorkshire and the port was given the choice of one of three named vessels, all with local owners. (3)

There was no immediate and general claim from the port towns that they were unable to comply. There were problems, but the ship-levy letters recorded in The Acts of the Privy Council in these first few months are few. I believe that this is because the demands on the port towns were more reasonable (in 1588 the terms of the levy had been genuinely difficult to meet) and also because 1588 had established a precedent. As the sailing date approached however the appeals to the Privy Council grew in number, and by the end of two years it had to deal with possibly fewer but certainly more serious problems than in 1588.

As soon as Twelfth Night was over a conference was called by Hull and it was agreed that York should pay four-sevenths of the total and Hull three-sevenths. Hull agreed, in return, to institute a search for the lost accounts of the 1588 levy, and if it turned out that there was any money that had been collected but not used, York was promised a share of it in the same proportion. I think it is safe to say that no such sums were found. York was not happy with the allocation of costs but their delegates reported that Hull was immovable: Hull’s original proposal had been that York should pay two-thirds and Hull one. The estimate of the total cost was £1500, but it was thought in York that ‘being well husbanded’ this might be reduced by as much as a third. The City and the Town now had interests in common and they set to work together, although Hull was always forcing the pace. (4) A purser from each place was appointed and the York purser lodged with the Mayor of Hull. His reports and the correspondence between the Aldermen on practical matters over the next months provides an excellent source of lists and discussions on what a ship needed to be ‘warlike’ and on how they arrived at the lowest tenders.

There are three strands to what happened next: the problems in raising the money, contributions from the rest of Yorkshire, and the choice of the captain. I will deal with each in turn.

The Money

It would seem that the suppliers to the 1596 ship had also learnt lessons from 1588 because ready cash was needed immediately. We do not know how Hull made their collection, but York anticipated difficulties and applied to the Privy Council for support in collecting within the City. What they wanted was the right to distrain on the goods of those refusing to pay, which was a practical method of raising the money. (5) The Privy Council replied that the City could take bonds for appearance from those resisting, and if they refused to be bound could commit them to prison. There is no mention of distraint. It is a thoroughly unpleasant letter, ‘not a little marvelling’ at York’s problems, and it was not at all what the Aldermen wanted. (6) In the interim the £300 that Hull required immediately was borrowed from York Aldermen and the wealthier members of their Council of Twenty-Four, although they didn’t pay it over to Hull until the second week in March, despite many requests. (7) The York Aldermen professed themselves astonished; they thought, the said, that it had been paid long before.

By the time the ship was ready to sail, some days after 9th of April, the cost had been established at £1,400 of which about £960 was required before the ship sailed, and more on 1st May when the crew’s wives would be due to receive their husbands’ monthly wages. (8) York had still only contributed £300. They borrowed a further £100 locally and managed to send £150 to Hull. (9) Only then did they begin the assessment to raise money for the ship. At this time they were still attempting to find their agreed proportion of £800.

First the constables and churchwardens sent in lists of inhabitants, then the assessment proceeded taking half a day for each ward, and an extra half day was set aside for assessment of the City’s lawyers. (10) Perhaps they were expected to argue for longer than most. Hull was sending increasingly urgent letters; suppliers had been promised their money at the end of the month, and there was nothing left with which to pay them. Of the £800 that they owed, York had still only paid £450. York did not answer the letters.

As Hull had warned, the shortfall in money from York, meant that the mariners’ wives who had turned up for their allotment of pay on 1st May were disappointed, and they with other creditors were thereafter daily clamouring and exclaiming. (11) The amount of clamour that can be made in a small town by perhaps as many as fifty disappointed mariners’ wives should not be underestimated. In York on the 30th of April the Lord Mayor, Sheriffs and Recorder had started the assessment and by 5th May they had got to the appointment of collectors. Hull was complaining that they were receiving no replies. On 19th May the Hull Chamberlains arrived in York to make personal representations. They picked up £50 in cash and a note of some of the charges that York were paying directly, including 2s. for Ned the trumpeter. (12)

York was having a great deal of difficulty in raising the money; they were receiving refusals from both their citizens and other inhabitants. They were imprisoning their citizens and taking bonds of the others to appear before the Privy Council, but this took up a lot of time and was not producing any money. They had not been granted the power of distraint, which is what they had wanted. Eventually they raised £600, two thirds of what was required, and there they stuck. It was left to Hull to find the way out.

The Cloth Towns

From the beginning Hull had been looking around for other contributors. The Aldermen had taken advice (from Matthew Dodsworth) and decided that, as the charges were to be on all the users of the port, it should also include the merchants of the cloth towns of Halifax, Wakefield and Leeds. By the beginning of March they had obtained a letter from the Privy Council, (13) which that very week an Alderman of Hull and another of York took to Halifax. In the words of John Lister the Mayor of Hull ‘we think it not good to make any delay herein’. (14) In the mean time Hull had sent to Scarborough and Bridlington, but found that neither would give anything voluntarily. (15) On the arrival of the Aldermen with the Privy Council’s letter Halifax, Wakefield and Leeds sent representatives up to London, closely followed by a delegation from Hull. The Hull men were supplied with a letter from York to Sir John Fortescue, York’s High Steward, asking for his goodwill. (16) The Privy Council instructed the Lord Admiral to investigate, (17) but either they did not wait for his advice, or he gave it very swiftly, because four days later the cloth towns were exempted from having to contribute. (18) Hull, for the moment, had been defeated.

They did not however give up and in September the Privy Council’s decision was in its turn reversed, (19) but in November the matter was back again on the its agenda. The ship had cost £1,400, and York had still only managed to raise £600, The Hull Aldermen were suggesting that Hull should bear £400 of the balance and the cloth towns, Leeds Wakefield and Halifax the other £400. The Privy Council wrote a letter on the 9th of November referring the decision to the Council of the North, and to Archbishop Hutton, who was acting Lord President, but the letter was not sent. Instead on the 24th November a revised version of the letter instructed the Council of the North to take order that Leeds Halifax and Wakefield should contribute. (20) They also, at the same time, ordered that Bridlington and Scarborough were to be included. Hull was once again showing its superior lobbying skills.

The Captain

For captain of the ship, Hull had selected, and York had approved, a local merchant and master mariner, George Chapman. It was thought that being a local man he would be careful of the town and city’s interests and being a master mariner he could sail the ship himself if the master was incapacitated. He was not really wealthy enough to sustain the position, but both town and city thought well enough of him to promise him payment above the usual rate. (21) A month before the ship sailed Peter Frobisher, nephew of Martin, came to the town with a letter from the Lord Admiral which appointed him to the captaincy. This was not acceptable to either Hull or York, nor, apparently to the men, who were ‘very unwilling’ to change their Captain and a letter to that effect was sent to the Lord Admiral. (22) Chapman sailed as Captain but on joining the fleet he was dismissed and Frobisher put in his place. (23)


I you want to know more about the sack of Cadiz read Paul Hammer, but you will find nothing about the valiant deeds of the Elizabeth Jonas of Hull. She was used as a troop transport and carried some men marked as “from Ostend” under a Captain Lawrence. It is not clear to me if these were men from the Spanish Netherlands or English troops that had been serving there.

The sack of Cadiz did not bring in great revenue to the crown and there were a lot of complaints later by individuals about the unfairness of it all. Hull was no exception. During the sack the mariners of the fleet were forbidden to go ashore, a sensible precaution to ensure that the ships remained manned and the crews sober. Hull believed that it was only the crew of the Elizabeth Jonas that was kept from pillage, and ascribed it to Frobisher’s malice. At least one of her crew did go ashore, but what he took was then taken from him by Frobisher. The soldiers on the ship did take part in the sack under their captain and did bring back some booty. Captain Lawrence died on the Elizabeth Jonas on the way home, and according to the Hull men, Frobisher took all his personal pillage. (24)

The Happy Return

The ship returned to Hull on or before the 16 August. On arrival in the Humber, Frobisher at first refused to bring the ship into the haven until he was paid himself and also received payment of the men’s’ wages, who would be paid at his hands. And in this he at first had the support of the crew. He was demanding £6 a month for himself and £2 a month for his lieutenant. He also claimed all the unused powder and victuals as due to his office. A proportion of the remaining foodstuffs were from the soldiers store, which he had apparently saved by setting them six to a mess. Unlike the mariners, who were standing watch and ward, the soldiers had been taking their ease. (25) Though I would like to know how they managed that in such a crowded ship.

Both Hull and York were as one in refusing Frobisher’s demands. The mariners were employed by the city and the town, and would be paid by the city and the town. Any supplies remaining on the ship would go towards the expenses of the voyage, and the fees of a captain of a ship of this tonnage were £3 10s a month and not a penny more. There had been no lieutenant, they claimed, and therefore they would not pay for one. In fact there had been a lieutenant and other officers, but they had joined the ship, probably in Plymouth, with Frobisher, and at his invitation. York suggested that as they had not appointed Frobisher they could reasonably claim that even his pay was not their responsibility. The ship came into the haven, without any money being first passed up over the rail and there was a stormy meeting between Frobisher and the town Aldermen. Frobisher threatened them with the wrath of the Lord Admiral, the Earl of Essex, and the Privy Council. Then the original captain, George Chapman, came into port with a cargo of corn, and according to Edward Brook ‘they were at drawing of daggers on Sunday in Matthew Brown’s house.’ Whether this is a metaphor or a literal description Frobisher rode out of the town calling on Chapman to ‘follow, and he would stay for him, but Chapman went not forth.’ (26)

Frobisher rode off towards London to make good his threats and so, without consulting York, for which they later apologised, Hull quickly despatched an Alderman, Anthony Cole, to London with letters to the Privy Council, the Lord Admiral and Sir Robert Cecil, to prevent warrants being issued against them, and also to see if anything could be done to lessen their debt.

Alderman Cole found the Lord Admiral at Deptford and was told ‘absolutely’ that the ports were responsible for all the wages including the captain. Cole tried to interest the Lord Admiral in Hull’s financial problems ‘but his Lordship took a great oath and said that the ship came home very rich.’ Great oaths were not approved of in Puritan Hull. Cole answered firmly that if that were so then the captain had it all, because there was nothing put against their charges. He did establish with the Lord Admiral that ‘for powder and victuals, the captain is to have none.’ On the same day he went to the court which was at Greenwich, and probably fairly cramped there, because Sir Robert Cecil was having to use his bedchamber as his reception room. Cole successfully made his pitch to Cecil about Frobisher’s demands, but he had to wait a week before he could start on his next task which was to persuade the Privy Council to spread Hull’s charges further into West Yorkshire. He noted that there was diplomatic business going on with France that week. (There was an exchange of special ambassadors to France that week. Elizabeth wanted to bind Henry IV not to make a separate peace with Spain, while offering him nothing in return).

While waiting for the Privy Council to return to domestic matters, Cole attended daily at court and kept an eye open for Peter Frobisher, who in fact never showed up. The following letter from Captain Thomas Dutton to Sir Robert Cecil may have been the reason.

‘May it please your honour. whereas your honour hath bene informed that I gott great treasure at Cales, and also that great treasure which Capten Lawrance had whoe is deceased was brought aborde my ship by his leuetennant, and especiallie informacion is given of a hat bande valued at 2000 markes to your honour, that should come to my hands. I humblie protest unto your honoue that no treasure of Capten Lawrances came or was brought abord me, and for the said hatband I never sawe it, But I heare by one or two of Capten Lawrances soldiers that one of the soldiers delivered unto their Capten such a hat bande, but whoe hath it or what became of it I never knewe nor can tell, In dede right honorable two pieces of a hatband I had, in one of which was a dyamond, and in the other two pearles which I have to shew unto your honour. And so humblie crave pardon for this bouldnes. 2 Sept 1596. The name of ye Shippe whearein Captayne Laurence went was the Elizabethe Jonas of Hull wherin went Capt Furbusher cheffe Commaunder.’ [Cecil Papers at Hatfield 44,46].

Two thousand marks was £1,333. Hull seems not to have known about the hatband although they did know that Frobisher took the land captain’s possessions.

Cole also made friends with the Lord Admiral’s secretary, who gave him a note of the approved rates for captain’s wages. They found that they did not disagree. This was one of Hull’s better skills, they were friends with the secretaries of a number of great men. Undoubtedly money passed. (27) It has been suggested to me that one of the reasons why Hull aldermen did so much better than the York aldermen was that Hull’s confessional loyalties were more in sympathy with those of Walsingham, Cecil and others, than were those of York. This may well be so, but I have never found any evidence of it. York stays home and makes a list of letters to be written, while Hull puts an Alderman and money on a horse for London.

In February of the following year Frobisher found himself insulted by receiving a only a proportion of only the standard rate of pay, and the promise of the balance when the West Riding towns paid, and also by having his whole expenses claim refused by the town. Only a small part of the extremely bad-tempered and insulting correspondence has survived but it gives an insight into what had gone on. Frobisher had lent sums to the master to pay for sick mariners at Deptford and for extra stores, he had appointed officers to the ship and had paid for pilots out of his own pocket. All this he wished reimbursed. He had letters of support from the Lord Admiral and was threatening to go to the Queen. Hull’s response, the draft of which is on the reverse of his letter is equally robust. Stripped of the insults, they said that had he looked out for the town’s interests, they would have would have been pleased to have met his reasonable charges. As it was, they would not. (28) It seems that the Hull ship had not recouped any of its costs.

It was not only in Hull that the question of pillage was raised. From most of the other counties the Privy Councillors had been importuned by those to whom money was owing, and they were unable to persuade the inland towns to contribute. Refusal was especially strong in in Suffolk where it was generally believed that the Ipswich ships had returned in profit and in Norwich which was asked to contribute both to King’s Lynn and to Yarmouth. (29)

The Cloth Towns Again

Leeds, Wakefield and Halifax were still a problem and their refusal to contribute does not seem in any way allied to inability to pay. Resistance was led by Sir John Savile, who was the Sir John Savile who represented Yorkshire in the Parliament of 1597 and also served for the county in the reign of James I. (30) He, both alone and with others, was at least twice summoned before the Privy Council. He was committed to the Fleet prison on the day before the 1597 Parliament began its first session. (31) Certain supposed irregularities of the 1597 Yorkshire election were the prime cause of his imprisonment, but the Privy Council was dealing in the same week with his failure to collect ship-money. Brought before the Privy Council, he denied that he had questioned the authority for the levy, but the fact remained that no money was forthcoming from the West Riding. The Privy Council was getting its information about Sir John’s opinions from the many Hull petitions. The following April, that is April 1598, Hull was again petitioning the Privy Council. The West Riding refusal was by then regarded as so serious a matter of principal that the Queen had been informed and had commanded her council to ‘have a special care to examine these continued contemptuous proceedings.’ The West Riding, in response to one summons, had sent to London the lowest ranking and least effective Justices that could be found, who protested themselves very willing to do their best, if others could only be persuaded to co-operate. The Privy Council sent an open letter to Sir John Savile in April 1598 and gave powers to the Council of the North to ensure his compliance. These final threats were presumbably sufficient, as no more is heard. Sir John Savile had called ‘in question by what authority, in those public actions that concern the defence of the realm, such contributions be demanded’, but he wasn’t going to start a Civil War over it. (32)

Hull and York calculated that they had spent in lobbying pretty much what they received in contributions from Leeds Wakefield and Halifax, but they were not dissatisfied. They had established a precedent for future levies.

Sources: KHRO was Kingston upon Hull Record Office but today is HHC C (Hull History Centre, City), YCA is York City Archives, APC is Acts of the Privy Council.

(1) KHRO (BRB/2) ff297-297v. (Bench Book 4) also YCA B.31 f150. (York House Books). (2) APC 1595-6 p 122-5, December 1595. (3) KHRO BRB/2 ff297v-298. (4) YCA B.31 ff148v-152v. (5) YCA B.31 ff156 and 156v. (6) KHRO BRB/2 f298v.; APC 1595-6, pp 210-1, 8th February 1595/6. (7) YCA B.31 ff 154v.-155v., 163v., 172. (8) YCA B.31 ff179, and f182v., 21st and 28th April. (9) YCA B.31 ff167v., f.177v. (10) YCA B.31 f163, 29th April. (11) YCA B.31 f184. (12) YCA B.31 f184v. 19th May. (13) APC 1595-6 pp 241-2, 27th February 1595/6. (14) YCA B.31 171v-172, 6-12th March 1595/6. (15) YCA B.31 f164v. 13th February 1595/6. (16) YCA B.31 f.164 11th February 1595/6. (17) APC 1595-6 p 316, 28th March 1596. (18) APC 1595-6 pp 325-6, 1st April 1596. (19) APC 1596-7 pp 150-1, 7th September 1596. (20) APC 1596-7 pp 305-5 and pp 325-7, 9th and 24th November 1596.(21) YCA B.31 f169v. (22) YCA B.31 ff176v.-178. (23) YCA B.31 f184. (24) KHRO BRL/110 February 1596/7. (Hull Letters)(25) YCA B.31 ff.207-207v., 209v. (26) YCA B.31 ff.207-208, 209-209v., 210: KHRO BRL/110. (27) YCA B.31 ff.209, 212v-213. (28) KHRO BRL/110 February 1596/7. (29) APC 1596-7 pp171-2, 12 September 1956. (30) Biography by Irene Cassidy in P.W. Hasler, ed., The House of Commons 1558-1603.(HMSO, 1981) Vol. III, p 351-353. (31) APC 1597-8 p 46, 23rd October 1587. (32) APC 1597-8 pp 319, 400-402, 403 19th February 1597/8 and 14th and 15th April 1598.


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