Clifford, George, third Earl of Cumberland 1558-1605, naval commander, eldest son of Henry, second earl of Cumberland [qv.], by his second wife Anne, daughter of William, third lord Dacre, was born at Brougham Castle in Westmoreland on 8 Aug. 1558, and succeeded to the earldom on 8 Jan. 1569-70 on the death of his father, when he became the ward of Francis Russell, second earl of Bedford, and made his home during his minority at Chenies or Woburn. In 1571 he was entered as a nobleman at Trinity College, Cambridge, was in residence there till July 1574, and took his degree of M.A. on 30 Nov. 1576. He is said to have also studied for some time at Oxford, and to have applied himself more especially to mathematics and geography. On 24 June 1577 he married Margaret, daughter of his guardian [see Clifford, Margaret]. The marriage had been arranged in their infancy by their respective fathers, and did not prove a happy one. Cumberland was a man of irregular life, and, having run through a great part of his very handsome property, seized on the opportunity offered by the war with Spain to re-establish himself.
In 1586 he fitted out a little fleet of three ships and a pinnace, which, under the command of Captain Robert Widrington, sailed from Plymouth in August, and returned in September 1587, after a cruise which had extended beyond the mouth of the river Plate, but without much success to repay the cost of the expedition. In 1588 he commanded the Elizabeth Bonaventure, a queen's ship of 600 tons, against the Spanish Armada, and after the decisive action off Gravelines (29 July) carried the news of the victory to the camp at Tilbury. The reports of his gallantry so pleased the queen, that she lent him the Golden Lion, a ship of 500 tons, with which to undertake another expedition to the South Sea. The rest of the ships, as well as the equipment of the Golden Lion, were provided at his own expense, and he put to sea in October, but only to be driven back by bad weather. The next year the queen lent him the Victory, in which, and with six other ships all equipped at his own expense, he put to sea from Plymouth on 18 June. With him sailed Edward Wright [qv.], the mathematician and hydrographer, who wrote an account of the voyage, and Captain William Monson [qv.] was his vice-admiral. On 29 June they happily fell in with Sir Francis Drake's squadron returning from Cadiz in extreme want of provisions, which they relieved, and proceeded on their way. In the Channel they captured three French ships of the league; on the coast of Portugal a number of ships laden with spice; at St. Michael's and Flores they made some further captures; and at Fayal cut seven ships out from under the guns of the castle, getting an unexpected victory, rather by valour than reason. Afterwards they fell in with and captured one of the Spanish West India fleet, richly laden, to the value, it was estimated, of 100,000l. At Graciosa and St. Mary's they made other rich prizes, though at this last-named place, rashly landing under the very guns of the fort, they suffered severely; two-parts of the men were slain and hurt, and Cumberland himself sorely wounded. With more prizes and prisoners than they could well manage, they turned homewards. The rich West Indiaman, sent on ahead, was wrecked in Mount's Bay and utterly lost, with all hands. The other ships ran short of water, and were put to direful extremity, their men being at last reduced to an allowance of three spoonfuls of vinegar a day, while some, going to the great ocean for relief, drank themselves to death with salt water. In all this time, we are told, the earl maintained his own equal temper and good presence of mind, avoiding no part of distress that others, even the meanest seaman, endured. In the end they met an English ship, from which they obtained such relief as enabled them to reach Ireland, and so arrived at Falmouth in the last days of the year.
In 1591 Cumberland again fitted out an expedition, consisting of the queen's ship Garland and seven others; he was again accompanied by Captain Monson, and sailing from England in May, he came on the coast of Portugal, where he made several valuable prizes, which were shortly afterwards, by different misadventures, recaptured, Monson being at the time in command of one, and so made prisoner. Having lost his captain and responsible adviser, and found the Garland, a new ship, to be extremely crank and uncomfortable, the earl returned to England, sending, as he left the coast of Spain, a pinnace to Lord Thomas Howard [qv.], then waiting at the Azores for the Plate fleet, to warn him of a powerful armament that was on the point of sailing to attack him. In 1592 the earl was at the cost of another expedition of five ships, which he sent out under the command of Captain Norton. Near the Azores, Norton fell in with the ships under the command of Sir John Burgh [qv.], and was in company with them when the great carrack was captured on 3 Aug. Their claim, however, to any share in the rich prize was angrily contested, and was legally decided against Cumberland, to whom, as special compensation, the queen allotted a sum of 36,000l. It was solely in consideration of his money venture; for he himself had spent the autumn at court, and on 27 Sept., being in attendance on the queen at Oxford, received the degree of M.A. He was also during this year made a knight of the Garter. The sixth expedition, which Cumberland sent to sea in 1593, consisted of nine ships, of which he took command himself, having his trusted friend Monson again with him, and returned to his former cruising ground among the Azores. He was shortly afterwards seized with a violent sickness, and Monson, fearing for his life, determined to carry him back to England, sending on the other ships to the West Indies. His name is associated with the squadron which, in the following year, fought and burnt the great carrack Cinco Llagas of 2,000 tons, and said to be by far richer than the Madre de Dios captured by Sir John Burgh, and fought also a severe but unsuccessful action with her consort, a ship of 1,500 tons; but his share in these exploits was only that of promoter and fitter out; and so also in the expedition of 1595, for which he had built a large and powerful ship, then called Malice Scourge, but afterwards celebrated in the history of East Indian navigation under the name of Dragon. In 1596 he had intended to take the command himself, but the Malice Scourge being dismasted and forced to put back, he contented himself with sending the smaller ships, which he had equipped, for a cruise on the coast of Portugal.
In January 1597-8 he undertook the most considerable of all his expeditions, fitting out no fewer than twenty ships, almost entirely at his own cost, and himself taking the command in the Malice Scourge. They sailed from Plymouth on 6 March, passed by the Canaries, plundering as they went, rested for a few weeks at Dominica, and then fell in their full force on Porto Rico on 6 June, and made themselves masters of San Juan, which they proposed to clear of Spaniards, and establish as an English settlement. But violent sickness broke out among the troops; and the earl having gone with some of his ships to Flores to lie in wait for the treasure fleet, Sir John Berkeley, to whom he had left the command at Porto Rico, decided to abandon the place and return. Berkeley joined the earl at Flores, and the united fleet returned to England in October. Considered as a privateering expedition on a large scale, it was certainly a failure, for no care had been taken to keep its sailing secret, and the Spaniards or Portuguese, warned of its approach, remained in their harbours; nor did the plunder of San Juan de Puerto Rico at all compensate for the loss of the galleons which might otherwise have fallen into their hands. The same want of fortune or of management had attended all Cumberland's expeditions, and his loss seemed greater than his gain. Having at his majority inherited a large property, he was nearly 1,000l. in debt at his death, which took place in London on 30 Oct. 1605. For ten years he had been lord lieutenant of Cumberland.
He has often been spoken of as a sort of nautical Quixote, a title curiously unsuitable to the courtier, gambler, and buccaneer, in all of which guises history presents him. His love of adventure was strong, and he staked his money on the success of his cruisers in much the same spirit that he did on the speed of his horses or the turn of his dice. And he spared his body no more than his purse. His courage was unimpeachable, and the temper which he showed in times of difficulty won him both credit and popularity. At court he was in high favour with the queen, whose glove, set in diamonds, he wore as a plume in his hat. He is described as a man of great personal beauty, strong and active, accomplished in all knightly exercises, splendid in his dress, and of romantic valour. On the other hand, he was a gambler and a spendthrift, a faithless husband, and for several years before his death was separated from his wife. His portrait, by an unknown artist, dated 1588, is in the National Portrait Gallery. As this portrait shows the glove in the hat, the received story that it was given him by the queen on his return from one of his voyages is manifestly inaccurate in its minor details. An engraved portrait (by William Rogers) is in the library of the Society of Antiquaries (Lemon's Cat. p. 33).
The body was embalmed and buried in the family vault at Skipton in Craven, where a black marble altar tomb to his memory was erected by his sole surviving daughter Anne, countess of Pembroke [see Clifford, Anne]. In 1803 Dr. Whitaker obtained permission to examine the body, which he found quite perfect, so much so that the face could be seen to resemble the portraits; only, he says, all the painters had the complaisance to omit three large warts upon the left cheek.
Lediard's Naval History
Monson's Naval Tracts, book i.
Cooper's Athenę Cantab. ii. 413
Whitaker's Hist. of Craven (3rd ed. by Morant), 338-57, where there is a detailed account of the curious genealogical pictures preserved in Appleby Castle
Catalogue of the National Portrait Gallery.
Contributor: J. K. L. [John Knox Laughton]