Batten was the son of Andrew Batten, master in the Royal Navy. In 1625 he was stated to be one of the commanders of two ships sent on a whaling voyage to Spitsbergen by the Yarmouth merchant Thomas Horth. In August 1626 he took out letters of marque for the Salutation of London, owned by Andrew Hawes and others. He was master of the Salutation again in 1628, and in April of the following year Batten, along with Horth and Hawes, was ordered by the Privy Council not to send up the Salutation, now of Yarmouth, to "Greenland" (Spitsbergen), but they sent her and another ship up anyways. The ships of the Muscovy Company seized both ships at Spitsbergen and drove them away clean (empty). In 1630 he was master and part-owner of the Charles of London, and in 1635 was still serving as a master in the merchant service. In 1638 he obtained the post of Surveyor of the Navy, probably by purchase.
In March 1642 Batten was appointed second-in-command under Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick, the parliamentary admiral who took the fleet out of the kings hands, and up to the end of the First Civil War showed himself a steady partisan of the parliament. It was Vice-Admiral Batten's squadron which bombarded Scarborough when Henrietta Maria landed there. He was accused (it appears unjustly) by the Royalists of directing his fire particularly on the house occupied by the queen. In 1644 he was at Plymouth, where he fortified the tip of the peninsula which has ever since been called Mount Batten. To the end of the First Civil War, Batten continued to patrol the English seas, and his action in 1647 in bringing into Portsmouth a number of Swedish ships of war and merchantmen, which had refused the customary salute to the flag, was approved by parliament.
When the Second Civil War began he was distrusted by the Independents and removed from his command, though he confessed his continued willingness to serve the state. When part of the fleet revolted against the parliament, and joined the Prince of Wales in May 1648, Batten went with them. He was knighted by the Prince, but being suspected by the Royalists, was put ashore mutinously in Holland. He returned to England and lived in retirement during the Commonwealth period.
At the Restoration Batten became once more Surveyor of the Navy. In this office he was in constant communication with Samuel Pepys, who mentions him frequently in his diary. Pepys made insinuations about Batten's integrity, but there is no evidence to show that Batten, in making a profit from his office, fell below the standards of the time (nor necessarily Pepys' own).
Batten was elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Rochester in 1661 for the Cavalier Parliament and held the seat until his death in 1667. In 1663 he was made Master of Trinity House. He had an estate at Walthamstow where he was described by Pepys, with perhaps a touch of envy, as "living like a prince". His eldest son, who was heavily in debt, sold it, and all his father's other real property, in the 1670s.
Batten married firstly in 1625 Margaret Browne, with whom he had six children, and secondly in 1659 Elizabeth Woodcocke (née Turner). Pepys, although he appreciated her presents of home-grown wine, came to dislike Lady Batten, and in his Diary made spiteful attacks on her virtue, which seem to have no foundation.
Batten died "after being but 2 days sick" on 5 October 1667. Pepys did not bother to attend the funeral, although he took a somewhat malicious interest in the quarrels between Lady Batten and her stepchildren over the estate, which turned out to be smaller than expected. He records his condolence call on the widow, noting cynically that widows weep for their husbands, but soon leave off, as is natural given the cares of the world. In 1671 she remarried Johan Barckman, Baron Leijonbergh, the Swedish Resident to the English Court, and died in 1683. A mysterious quarrel between Pepys and Leijonbergh, which led to an abortive duel, may have been due to Lady Batten's claim that Pepys was withholding money due to the Batten estate.
- Harris (1920), p. 52.
- Stephen and Leslie (1908), p. 1338.
- Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, Charles I, 1628-29.
- Conway (1906), pp. 144–45.
- Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, Nov. 1629.
- Andrews (1991), p. 44.
- One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Batten, Sir William". Encyclopædia Britannica 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 530.
- Gill, C, Plymouth: a new history. Exeter. David and Charles. 1979
- Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "R" (part 2)[self-published source][better source needed]
- Diary of Samuel Pepys 3rd May 1664 "heard.. that his wife was a whore".
- Pepys' Diary 17 October 1667
- Bryant, Arthur, Samuel Pepys – The Years of Peril, Cambridge University Press, 1935, p. 46
- Andrews, Kenneth (1991). Ships, money, and politics: seafaring and naval enterprise in the reign of Charles I. CUP Archive.
- Conway, William Martin (1906). No Man's Land: A History of Spitsbergen from Its Discovery in 1596 to the Beginning of the Scientific Exploration of the Country. Cambridge, At the University Press.
- Harris, Rendel (1920). The Last of the "Mayflower". Manchester University Press.
- Stephen, Leslie, ed. (1885). "Batten, William". Dictionary of National Biography 3. London: Smith, Elder & Co.