Richards, John (1669-1709) (DNB00)


RICHARDS, JOHN (1669–1709), major-general, governor of Alicant, born in 1669, was son of Jacob Richards and brother of Colonel Jacob Richards [q. v.], and of Brigadier-general Michael Richards [q. v.] He served with the Venetians against the Turks, and afterwards in the Polish army, which he left in 1703 to assist the Portuguese. Well known to, and esteemed by, Marlborough as an artillery officer of experience, he was unable as a Roman catholic to hold a commission in the English army. This did not prevent him receiving the command of the artillery in the army of the Duke of Schomberg and Leinster in the war of the Spanish succession.

Richards took part in the action near Monsanto on 11 June 1704, and the capture of the fortress of that name on the following day. In October he commanded the artillery at the bombardment of the Bourbon entrenchments on the bank of the Agueda. In May 1705 he was at the siege of Valenza, and commanded the Portuguese artillery at the siege of Albuquerque, where the Spaniards surrendered. In August he was colonel and director of the artillery under Peterborough in the operations against Barcelona, and, as he could speak Spanish fluently, he was employed by Peterborough as a confidential agent. By 3 Oct. a breach had been formed in the walls of Barcelona, and the city capitulated next day.

A few months later Richards was sent to England to consult with ministers and to Flanders to see Marlborough as to money and supplies for the war in Spain. He returned to Spain in May 1706, and took part in the ensuing campaign. In September he was again in England, and it was mainly at his instance that the joint naval and military expedition, then detained in Torbay, was directed to make another attempt on Cadiz. But ultimately the fleet was ordered to attack Toulon, and the troops to reinforce Galway. They landed at Alicant on 8 Feb. 1707, and in March Richards was appointed governor. During 1707 and 1708 he exerted himself to assist the English field army under Galway, and afterwards under Stanhope. In November 1708 Richards sent from Alicant two hundred Spaniards and 150 Miquelets, with provisions, to the assistance of Denia, which was besieged. Denia, however, surrendered on 18 Nov., and D'Asfeld advanced against Alicant. Richards had devoted much attention to the armament of the castle and to the improvement of its defences. But the fortifications of the town were very inefficient, and only four hundred Spaniards and eight hundred Miquelets were available for their defence. The garrison of the castle consisted of Hotham's English, under Lieutenant-colonel Thornicroft, Syberg's Huguenots, and an English train of ordnance. On 1 Dec. 1708 D'Asfeld commenced operations, and carried a portion of the weakly defended suburbs. The following day he captured other buildings close to the walls of the town. Seeing the impossibility of holding the town, Richards surrendered it, on condition that the Spanish troops should march out with the honours of war and be conducted to Catalonia, and that the inhabitants should be treated as if they had not revolted. He then retired into the castle, which D'Asfeld at once blockaded closely and commenced to mine. In January 1709 Byng detached four men-of-war, on his way from Lisbon to Mahon, to touch at Alicant and assure Richards of relief, but, finding the landing-place well guarded by D'Asfeld, they failed to make the communication. On 20 Feb. D'Asfeld summoned him to surrender, and invited him to send two officers to inspect his heavily loaded mine. Richards accordingly sent his engineer De Pagez and Thornicroft, who reported that it was bonâ fide, and ready to be sprung. The rock, however, was honeycombed and traversed by seams, and Richards hoped that these outlets and a shaft which De Pagez had sunk would mitigate the severity of the explosion, and he refused to surrender. On 25 Feb. 1709 he sent to Stanhope expressing surprise at receiving no succour, and informing him that he intended to hold out to the last. He also wrote to his brother Michael, giving instructions as to the landing of troops sent to his relief, adding, ‘Good night, Micky. God send us a merry meeting!’ D'Asfeld made two more appeals to Richards to surrender, but without effect.

Early on the morning of Monday, 3 March, D'Asfeld fired the mine in accordance with his promise; a convulsion shook the rock, and Richards, Syberg, Thornicroft, nine other officers, and forty-two soldiers were entombed. In order to inspire their men with confidence, the commander and his chief officers had deliberately placed themselves over the mine. Beyond these fatalities little damage was done by the explosion. Lieutenant-colonel D'Albon, who assumed the command, held out for forty-three days longer. On 18 April Byng and Stanhope arrived with the fleet; the English garrison marched out with the honours of war, and embarked for Mahon.

[Calendar Treasury Papers; Cust's Annals of the Wars of the Eighteenth Century; Mahon's War of the Succession in Spain; Coxe's Life of Marlborough; Boyer's Annals of Queen Anne; Parnell's War of the Succession in Spain.]

R. H. V.