1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Penn, William (British admiral)
PENN, WILLIAM (1621–1670), British admiral, was the son of Giles Penn, merchant and seaman of Bristol. He served his apprenticeship at sea with his father. In the first Civil War he fought on the side of the parliament, and was in command of a ship in the squadron maintained against the king in the Irish seas. The service was arduous and called for both energy and good seamanship. In 1648 he was arrested and sent to London, but was soon released, and sent back as rear admiral in the “Assurance” (32). The exact cause of the arrest is unknown, but it may be presumed to have been that he was suspected of being in correspondence with the king’s supporters. It is highly probable that he was, for until the Restoration he was regularly in communication with the Royalists, while serving the parliament, or Cromwell, so long as their service was profitable, and making no scruple of applying for grants of the confiscated lands of the king’s Irish friends. The character of “mean fellow” given him by Pepys is borne out by much that is otherwise known of him. But it is no less certain that he was an excellent seaman and a good fighter. After 1650 he was employed in the Ocean, and in the Mediterranean in pursuit of the Royalists under Prince Rupert. He was so active on this service that when he returned home on the 18th of March 1651 he could boast that he had not put foot on shore for more than a year. When the first Dutch War broke out Penn was appointed vice-admiral to Blake, and was present at the battle of the 28th of September off the Kentish Knock. In the three days' battle off Portland, February 1653, he commanded the Blue squadron, and he also served with distinction in the final battles of the war in June and July. In December he was included in the commission of admirals and generals at sea, who exercised the military command of the fleet, as well as “one of the commissioners for ordering and managing the affairs of the admiralty and navy.” In 1654 he offered to carry the fleet over to the king, but in October of the same year he had no scruple in accepting the naval command in the expedition to the West Indies sent out by Cromwell, which conquered Jamaica. He was not responsible for the shameful repulse at San Domingo, which was due to a panic among the troops. On their return he and his military colleague Venables were sent to the Tower. He made humble submission, and when released retired to the estate he had received from confiscated land in Ireland. He continued in communication with the Royalists, and in 1660 had a rather obscure share in the Restoration. He was reappointed commissioner of the navy by the king, and in the second Dutch War served as “great captain commander” or captain of the fleet, with the duke of York (afterwards King James II.) at the battle of Lowestoft (June 3, 1665). When the duke withdrew from the command, Penn’s active service ceased. He continued however to be a commissioner of the navy. His death occurred on the 16th of September 1670, and he was buried in the church of St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol. His portrait by Lely is in the Painted Hall at Greenwich. By his wife Margaret Jasper, he was the father of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. Though Sir William Penn was not a high-minded man, he is a figure of considerable importance in British naval history. As admiral and general for the parliament he helped in 1653 to draw up the first code of tactics provided for the navy. It was the base of the “Duke of York’s Sailing and Fighting Instructions,” which continued for long to supply the orthodox tactical creed of the navy.
See the Memorials of the Professional Life and Times of Sir William Penn, by Granville Penn. (D. H.)