This man is counted among the most important
English commanders involved in the sea battle known as The Spanish Armada.
His family consisted of many generations of merchants from Plymouth. As a
result, he grew up an enterprising, successful man, rather than a rugged,
uneducated seaman. His father 'Old William' created a prosperous business,
and his brother 'Young William' continued working locally. Young William
went on to be the Mayor of Plymouth in the Armada year, but John was
destined for greater things.
John Hawkins lead the 3 famous slave
voyages of the 1560's, when 'black ivory' was a legitimate commodity.
Afterwards, Queen Elizabeth I made him Treasurer of the Navy. This
position was the leading one in the quartet of Principal Officers of the
Navy, otherwise known as the Navy Board. In short, they were responsible
for the upkeep of the Queen's ships. Hawkins soon discovered dishonesty and
pilfering at every level of the Navy, and he set about remedying this
corruption. His new measures both brought his colleagues into line, and
maintained excellent condition of the key ships which eventually fought in
1588. Thus (after enduring much resistance and criticism), Hawkins finally
won the respect of everyone including the Lord Admiral himself who had this
to say: "I protest before God and as my soul shall answer for it that I
think there were never in any place in the world worthier ships than these
During his years as Treasurer of the Navy, John Hawkins saved
the Queen approximately 4,000 pounds per year, a very substantial sum for
those times. Moreover, his innovations in ship-construction lead to the
creation of an entirely new type of war ship. When he took over, the 'great
ships' of the fleet were more or less sea-fortresses - sluggish, clumsy, and
very high in freeboard. Under John's instruction, new ships called
'galleons' were built. These were longer in relation to their breadth,
lower in freeboard, were less fortified, and were far more manoeuvrable.
Most impressively, the galleons had one continuous gun-deck. These features
had never been seen before, and ultimately lead to the English triumph over
the Armada fleet. According to contemporary and modern opinion, these ships
were undoubtedly the best warships afloat in 1588.
John Hawkins went
to sea to face the Armada in one of his galleons, and played a major part in
both council and fight. During a lull in the action, he was knighted, as he
so richly deserved.