Sir Humphrey GILBERT

Born: ABT 1539, Greenway, Brixham

Died: 9 Sep 1583, at Sea

Father: Otto GILBERT of Compton Castle

Mother: Catherine CHAMPERNOWNE

Married: Anne AUCKER 1570


1. John GILBERT (Sir) (m. Alice Molyneux)

2. Raleigh GILBERT

Second son of Otto Gilbert, (BEF 5 Aug 1513-18 Feb 1546/1547) (son of Thomas Gilbert and Isabel Reynward), and Catherine Champernowne. Compton Castle, the family seat, was then held by Otto's elder brother John; thus it was at Greenway on the River Dart, that John, Humphrey, Adrian and Elizabeth Gilbert were born. All four children were minors when their father died in 1547. Their mother then married Walter Raleigh the elder, and bore two more sons and one daughter, Walter, Carew, and Margaret Raleigh.

Educated at Eton and at Oxford, Gilbert had a very tedious education - so much so that it later inspired him to write a paper on the reform of education. He was taught to believe in the ideals of old-fashioned, heroic chivalry. This was to frame his future ambitions and ultimately lead to his death.

Catherine Ashley, a kinswoman, introduced Gilbert, as a page, to the court of the young Princess Elizabeth, whom he served faithfully for the rest of his life.

In 1562/3, he served under the Earl of Warwick at Le Havre and was wounded during the siege. Three years later, Gilbert was sent to Ireland to quell a rebellion. He was ruthless and thorough. Over the next three years he efficiently subdued the rebels. This brought him promotion and a knighthood, but he found the duty distasteful, expensive and unproductive. Several times he left, but was always sent back because of his success. He realised that harsh subjugation of the Irish was not the way to establish a permanent peace. To his credit, he attempted to peacefully settle Ireland, convinced that English colonisation would be beneficial to both nations. His plans failed, but his dreams of colonisation persisted.

Early interested in exploration, in 1566 he prepared A Discourcs of a Discoveries for a new Passage to Cataia, China, in which he urged the Queen to seek a Northwest Passage to China because the known routes were controlled by the Spanish and the Portuguese. Both Martin Frobisher and John Davys were inspired by this work. Gilbert invested in Frobisher's 1576 voyage and Davys named Gilbert Sound, near Greenland, in his honor.

Gilbert also served in Munster, Ireland, where in 1570 he was knighted by the Lord Deputy, Sir Henry Sidney. In 1571 he was elected to represent Plymouth in Parliament. In 1573 he presented the Queen with a plan for Queen Elizabeth's Academy, which was to be a university in London to train the nobility and the gentry for the army and the navy. It was to be several centuries before there would be either a university in London or schools for military training.
In 1578, at the age of 40, he received Letters Patent authorizing the planting of an English colony in America. Gilbert's venture sought to mobilize younger sons of the gentry and landed-class Catholics to establish estates in the new world, and a handful of courtiers and nobles, notably the Queen's secretary Sir Francis Walsingham and the Earl of Sussex, along with a number of landed-class stockholders and the gentry who actually went to settle, provided most of the financial support for it. Sir Humphrey was to sail as Admiral in the Anne Archer, while Raleigh captained the Falcon with Simon Fernandez as master. He assembled a large fleet which sailed from Dartmouth on 26 Sep 1578; however, storms forced the ships to seek refuge in Plymouth until Nov 19. Although this attempt failed, it got his brothers Walter and Carew Raleigh involved in American Exploration. Yet it was not until 1583 that he made a second attempt, sailing from Plymouth on Jun 11. One ship, Barke Raleigh, turned back immediately because of illness, but Gilbert and the other ships arrived at St. John's, Newfoundland, on Aug 3 and took possession two days later. Because it was small and could explore harbors and creeks, Gilbert now sailed on Squirrel, a ship of 10 tuns, rather than Delight, his 120 tun flagship. On Aug 29 the latter ship wrecked with the loss of 100 lives and many of Gilbert's records. On the return voyage to England to record his claim Gilbert remained aboard Squirrel rather than transferring to the larger Golden Hinde as urged by his men. On Monday, Sep 9, he was observed on deck reading a book. As the ships drew near he was heard to say, "We are as near to heaven by sea as by land". Later that evening the small ship disappeared, swallowed up by the sea.

Married in 1570 to Anne Aucker, whose father and grandfather had fought in the final defense of Calais, Gilbert was the father of two sons - John and Raleigh - who with his brothers Adrian Gilbert and Walter Raleigh continued the family involvement in the exploration and colonization of the New World. On 6 Feb 1584, Adrian Gilbert obtained Letters Patent to continue the search for the Northwest Passage. And on Mar 25, 1584, Walter Raleigh obtained a Royal Patent to explore and colonize farther South. His expeditions to what is now North Carolina between 1584 and 1587 are known as the Roanoke Voyages.

Sir Humphrey's older brother, Sir John Gilbert, inherited Compton Castle from their father. when he died without issue he left the property to Sir Humphrey's older son, also Sir John Gilbert. The younger Sir John accompanied Raleigh on his voyages to Guiana in 1595 and Cadiz in 1596. In the latter expedition he was knighted by the Earl of Essex. Married to Alice Molyneux, he died without issue in 1608, leaving Compton Castle to his brother Raleigh Gilbert.

Raleigh Gilbert continued the colonizing efforts of the family and in 1606 was one of eight grantees who received Letters Patent from King James I. This grant provided for two colonies, the London Colony and the Plymouth Colony. Under Captain Christopher Newport, the London Colony sailed from London in Dec 1606 and reached the Chesapeake Bay on May 13, 1607. There they founded Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in the New World. Led by Raleigh Gilbert and George Popham, the Plymouth colony sailed from Plymouth on May 31, 1607 and arrived in what is now the state of Maine on Aug 1, 1607. There they built the Fort of St. George on the Sagadahoc River (now the Kennebec River). The ensuing winter was severe and many of the colonists died. When spring came Raleigh Gilbert learned of the death of his older brother, his inheritance of Compton Castle and the necessity of returning to England to claim his estate. The colony went with him. Later Sir Ferdinand Gorges made a second unsuccessful attempt to colonize the same area. And in 1621 Raleigh Gilbert was a member of the Council of England for the Plymouth colony. He died in 1634.
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