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Part Four ----------------- LANCASHIRE TO LEYDEN


(Part Four)

by Helen Moorwood


Part Three presented Myles' “new' birthdate of c. 1587, his soldier father probably named Alexander, his baptism almost certainly at the Standish private chapel in Duxbury, his most likely attendance for some years at Rivington Grammar School, his continuing intimacy with his Standish relatives at Duxbury Hall, and his departure to the war in Flanders as a rather small young drummer in c.1601, most likely accompanying a relative, probably part of a Lancashire contingent in the English army recruited to aid the Dutch against the Spanish.

We know, from a brief biography written shortly after his death in 1656, that “in his younger time he went over into the low countries, and was a soldier there'. That is all that we know for certain about his military career in Europe, other than that he was later promoted to Lieutenant and Captain, but historical events provide parameters for a reconstruction, and details from his later life provide several hints.

If we are correct in sending Myles marching off to the Low Countries in mid-1601, it would probably have been as a result of recruitment for the Siege of Ostend. His eagerness to participate would presumably have been bolstered by his family's military tradition, their fervent Protestant beliefs and the news of the recent victory at Nieu(w)p(o)ort, which at last heralded the end of a long period of doom and gloom. The nineties had been a decade of depression, with poor harvests, soaring prices, high taxes, general unrest, a stale-mate and escalating costs in the war against Spain, and the constant threat of invasion from Ireland by the Spanish and Irish, which saw Alexander Standish of Duxbury at the head of 200 troops in 1596.

The Irish campaign of J 1599 had been costly, bloody and a failure; Essex (1567-1601) returned in disgrace and many English soldiers returned to Flanders with their commanders to continue the fight there. The only heroic and inspiring national event since the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 had been the destruction of the Spanish fleet at Cadiz in 1596 by Sir Walter Raleigh (1554?-1618) & Co..

Now, at last, there was a new victory. On 2nd July, 1601, an army of 4,350, including 1,600 English under Sir Francis de Vere (1569-1609), won the battle of Nieuport, a few miles SW of Ostend. The cost was high - 800 English killed or wounded, including the death of a Capt. Duxbury, 3 presumably a Lancashire lad. The Spanish launched an immediate counter-attack and on 5th July, with 20,000 men and fifty guns, laid siege to Ostend, which was thereafter provi­sioned entirely by sea. All England rang with the praises of de Vere and an immediate recruitment campaign re­sulted in thousands of English flocking to Ostend over the summer.

The war in the Low Countries had already served for many years as a military academy for the sons of nobil­ity and gentry families from the whole of Protestant Northern Europe, eager to learn from the progressive tactics and innovations of Stadholder Maurice (1567-1625), Count of Nassau, Prince of Orange. They also wished to learn from the brilliant leadership of Sir Francis, and later from his brother Sir Horace de Vere (1565-1635). De Vere's discipline at Ostend was strict, however, and many who had arrived purely in search of adventure but without any serious commitment were sent home, leaving a core of two thousand or so over the winter. There were regular sallies and attempts to breach the defences, which resulted in many early skirmishes and the inevitable large number of casualties, some from the incessant bombardment of the town.

Two hospitals that received the wounded were St. Catherine's and St. Elizabeth's in Leyden. An entry in the hospital records of 1601-1620 shows that “Nys Sickem', altered to Myls Stansen', was admitted on 18th October, 1601, with a later note recording that he died on 1st November of that year.

Dr. Jeremy Bangs, founder-curator of the American Pilgrim Museum in Leyden, interprets the name as a Dutchi­fied version of Myles Standish, and conjectures that the report of death was probably the result of a clerical muddie and an error for ‘discharge. He may well be right, and we will never know, but if one accepts the entry as correct, then the corollary is that a second Myles Standish was the one who died. This could most plausibly be explained by assuming that it was the accompanying relative already proposed - a namesake uncle? This would at the same time account for the statement by Thomas Morton (c.1590-c.1647) in 1637 that Myles had been “bred a soldier in the low countries, with the possible implication that an older relative was involved in his military upbringing. It would also provide an additional hint that Myles father might have had one or more brothers, and therefore not (yet?) inherited the family lands that Myles was later to claim in his Will.

Interestingly, the company commander of ‘Myls Stansen was given as Captain Gernaer, a name which appears again in 1602 as Captain Garnae, which Bangs suggests might be a Dutch version of Garner or possibly Gardiner. A Gardiner appears on the 1575 list of pupils at Rivington Grammar School and there was one of this name on the Mayflower. One wonders if these are pure coincidences or if they were connected somehow? Myles must have demonstrated considerable military prowess or leadership skills fairly soon, as he was promoted to Lieutenant during the reign of Elizabeth, who died in March 1603, when he was maximum 16 years old. Maybe the promotion was helped or secured by the support of the current (6th) Earl of Derby, whose predecessors had been comrades-in-arms, friends and patrons of the Standishes for several centuries? The commissioning document was in the hands of Myles' American descendants at the beginning of the 19th century, but has unfortunately since disappeared. It was perhaps from the assumption of his descendants that he must have been at least 18 to obtain this commission that they calculated his date of birth as c1584, His established age of only 15-16 in 1602-3 would, however, have been no impediment; there are records of several contemporary weil—connected officers of this age.

In March 1602 de Vere returned to the Netherlands from England after another recruitment campaign, at the head of an English army of 8,000 paid by the States-General, which soon laid siege to the small town of Grave in Brabant and was subsequently active in other campaigns. Ostend was finally surrendered to the Spanish on 24th September. 1604, when James I, who had a abhorrence of wars, negotiated a peace treaty with Spain. From then on the Dutch fought on their own, although many foreign mercenaries still remained on their pay-roll.

We will never know where or when Myles fought, but it is likely that he was in some of the campaigns mentioned above and continued to serve in the Netherlands until the truce with Spain in April 1609, which recognised an independent Dutch republic, as in that year or a little later he came into contact with the English Separatist community in Leyden, some of whom were destined to become Pilgrim Fathers. This meeting is known from the report of Nathaniel Morton in 1669 that Myles ‘came acquainted with the church at Leyden”.

In 1608 this group of dissenters, led by their Pastor John Robinson (c.1575-1625) from Sturton-le-Steeple in Nottinghamshire, had fled from persecution in England, under dramatic and dangerous circumstances. Their extreme Puritan faith, which led them to believe that the Anglican church could not be reformed from within, became treasonable after the passing of the Canons in 1604, and they lived, along with Catholics, under the constant threat of excommunication and incarceration.

After two distraught attempts and a horrendous voyage, they finally reached the haven of Amsterdam, where they joined earlier religious exile groups under the leadership of Henry Ainsworth (1571-1622) and Francis Johnson (1562-1618). Books by these would later end up on Myles shelves. There were soon disagreements among the different communities, however, and in 1609 Robinsons group of about a hundred applied successfully for permission to settle in the prosperous textile and university city of Leyden, whcre they subsequently earned their living in a variety of ways: weaving, printing, trading, teaching and other activities.

Sometime after this Myles, by now in his early twenties, but presumably already a veteran soldier, visited Leyden and was befriended by Robinson, as is attested by later New England documents. Two others that Myles must have met at this time, who had also fled with Robinson, were William Bradford (1590-1657) from Austerfield in S. Yorkshire and William Brewster (1567-1644) from nearby Scrooby in N. Nottinghamshire. These two, along with Myles, were destined to be the future leaders of Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts as Governor Bradford, Elder Brewster and Military Governor Standish.

Many paths leading away from and back to Lancashire, mainly via Cambridge University, East Anglia and London, suggest that Myles was probably already well aware of this community before they arrived in the Netherlands. Also Lancashire surnames that appear in contemporary documents in Leyden suggest that some later immigrants, who increased Robinson's congregation to about three hundred, were from the County Palatine. This would hardly be surprising, as Lancashire was a noted home of Non-conformism. It still is. Lancashire place-surnames that appear are Ainsworth, Allerton, Howarth, Lee/Leigh and Southworth; other surnames long established in Lancashire are Butler, Finch, Green­wood, Jepson, Nelson, Norris, West and White . Myles must have felt almost at home. Or could he even have played a role in later emigrations from Lancashire?

It is therefore perhaps not so remarkable that he, among all the thousands of English soldiers who served in the Netherlands, should have been invited later to be the military leader of the planned emigration to Virginia, in search of a new life of freedom to practise their religion, maintain their Englishness and hopefully establish a higher standard of living. He was even chosen in preference to Captain John Smith (1580-1631), of Pocahontas fame, who had already founded a colony in Virginia, mapped the whole coast, was a national hero and had offered his services. Myles must have presented not only the best possible military credentials, but also other qualities and connections as well. Meanwhile, 1609-20 remain as Myles' ‘lost years.

If we accept that he perhaps stayed in Leyden long enough after 1609 for the consolidation of his friendship with John Robinson, we can perhaps replace the earlier date however, and in 1609 Robinsons group of about a hundred applied successfully for permission to settle in the prosperous textile and university city of Leyden, whcre they subsequently earned their living in a variety of ways: weaving, printing, trading, teaching and other activities. by 1610.

If we can assume that the preparations for the emigration in 1620 (buying necessary weapons, etc.) occupied him for up to a year beforehand, we can perhaps replace the later date by 1619. The only engagement of English troops in Europe in this period was in the summer of 1610 when 4,000 under Sir Edward Cecil (1572-1638) participated in the siege of Juliers, undcr the overall command of Prince Christian of Anhalt. Was Myles perhaps there?

This still leaves 1610-1619 as ‘lost years. After the truce of 1609 between the United Provinces and Spain many English and Scottish soldiers remained on garrison duty in various Dutch towns until 1616, but no name resembling Standish has been found on any lists. Nor has any record been found of his commission as Captain, the rank held until his death, even when later appointed commander-in-chief of all of New England's forces.

It is difficult to believe that he would have adopted, or even been allowed to adopt the rank and title of Captain, without an official commission. Who granted this, and where? Maybe he stayed in Holland after 1610 to serve on garrison duty or maybe he returned to Lancashire. It is difficult, however, to imagine either of these options as satisfying his obvious wanderlust and desire for action. If he retired from active service for a decade, why did the Separatists in Leyden choose him as their military leader? This gives rise to a niggling suspicion that he might well have offered his undoubted military skills to another master. Who might this have been? (To be continued)


William Walker, Duxbury in Decline, Palatine Books, 1995, p. 15 .

All eminent (inter)national personages whose dates are given in brackets have a biography in the Encyclopaedia Britannica and/or in the Dictionary of National Biography.

T.C. Porteus, Captain Myles Slandish, 1920, Manchester University Press, p.17, with reference to State Papers, Holland, Vol. 60, 199.

Bangs important finding in the Leiden Municipal Archives, his conjectures about spellings and errors, and the entries of Capt. “Gardiner', were reported by G. V. C. Young My/es Standish, First Manx -American, Manx-Svenska, 1984, p.

It is not clear whether the entries for the hospitals were combined or separate, but the mention of St. Elizabeth's is included here for the persona' and totafly irrelevant reason that my elder daughtcr was born there!

The current hospital is, of course, a modern building and is today in the neighbouring borough of Leiderdorp. I have adopted the spelling of Leyden in the