Admiralty in the 18th century

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Admiralty of Great Britain
Flag of the Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom.svg
Agency overview
JurisdictionEngland Kingdom of England,
 Kingdom of Great Britain
HeadquartersAdmiralty, Whitehall, Westminster, London
Agency executive
Parent agencyEnglish government
British government

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 rearranged the political map of Europe, and led to a series of wars with France that lasted well over a century. This was the classic age of sail; while the ships themselves evolved in only minor ways, technique and tactics were honed to a high degree, and the battles of the Napoleonic Wars entailed feats that would have been impossible for the fleets of the 17th century. Because of parliamentary opposition, James II fled the country. The landing of William III and the Glorious Revolution itself was a gigantic effort involving 100 warships and 400 transports carrying 11,000 infantry and 4,000 horses. It was not opposed by the English or Scottish fleets.

Historical overview[edit]

Naval operations in the War of the Spanish Succession (1702–13) were with the Dutch against the Spanish and French. They were at first focused on the acquisition of a Mediterranean base, culminating in an alliance with Portugal and the capture of Gibraltar (1704) and Port Mahon in Menorca (1708). In addition Newfoundland and Nova Scotia were obtained. Even so, freedom of action in the Mediterranean did not decide the war, although it gave the new Kingdom of Great Britain (created by the Union of England and Scotland in 1707) an advantage when negotiating the Peace of Utrecht, and made Britain a recognized great power. The British fleet ended Spanish occupation of Sicily in 1718 and in 1727 blockaded Panama.

The subsequent quarter-century of peace saw a few naval actions. The navy was used against Russia and Sweden in the Baltic from 1715 to 1727 to protect supplies of naval stores. It was used at the Cape Passaro in 1718, during the Great Northern War, and in the West Indies (1726). There was a war against Spain in 1739 over the slave trade. In 1745 the navy transported troops and stores to Scotland to defeat the Jacobite rising.

The War of Jenkins' Ear (1739–48) saw various naval operations in the Caribbean under different admirals against Spanish trade and possessions, before the war subsequently merged into the wider War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748). This, in turn, brought a new round of naval operations against France. In 1745 the navy twice defeated the French off Finisterre but their convoys escaped. The Navy also defended against invasion by Charles Edward Stuart the "Young Pretender". By the end of the war, the Navy was fully engaged in the worldwide protection of British trade.

The Seven Years' War (1756–63) began somewhat inauspiciously for the Navy, with a French siege of Menorca and the failure to relieve it. Menorca was lost but subsequent operations went more successfully (due more to government support and better strategic thinking, rather than admirals "encouraged" by Byng's example), and the British fleet won several victories. The French tried to invade Britain in 1759 but their force was defeated at Quiberon Bay. Spain entered the war against Britain in 1762 but lost Havana and Manila, though the latter was given back in exchange for Florida. The Treaty of Paris that ended the war left Britain with colonial gains, but isolated strategically.

At the beginning of the American Revolutionary War (1775–83), the Royal Navy dealt with the fledgling Continental Navy handily, destroying or capturing many of its vessels. France soon took the American side, and in 1778 a French fleet sailed for America, where it attempted to land at Rhode Island and nearly engaged with the British fleet before a storm intervened Spain and the Dutch Republic entered the war in 1780. Action shifted to the Caribbean, where there were a number of battles with varying results. The most important operation came in 1781 when, in the Battle of the Chesapeake, the British failed to lift the French blockade of Lord Cornwallis, resulting in a British surrender in the Battle of Yorktown. Although combat was over in North America, it continued in the Caribbean and India, where the British experienced both successes and failures. Though Menorca had been recaptured, it was returned to the Spanish.

Organization eighteenth century[edit]

Admiralty of Great Britain[edit]

Commander in chiefs[edit]

Naval Lords of England and Great Britain[edit]

Civil administration of the Navy[edit]

Board of Admiralty[edit]

The Board of Admiralty and the Lord's Commissioners executing the office of the Lord High Admiral[1]

Civil Commissioner

Naval Lords

Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty
609 commissioners served during 18th century

Notes: Between 1693 and 1830 the commission always included either 1 or 2 additional naval lords accept from 1757 until 1782 when it was just the Senior Naval Lord after 1830 the Naval Lords are titled, First, Second, Third, Fourth until 1904 when they are re-syled Sea Lord. A junior naval lord is introduced in 1868 until 1903 then is re-styled Fifth Sea lord from 1917.

Judicial administration[edit]

  • Office of the Lord High Admiral
    • Advocate General to the office of the Lord High Admiral

Legal Advisors to the admiralty courts

  • Office of the Lord High Admiral
    • Office of the Counsel to the Admiralty,[4] ( attached originally to the Navy Board) appointed 1673–1824
    • Office of Solicitor for the affairs of the Admiralty and Navy, appointed, (1692 – 1799).

High court of the admiralty[edit]

Note:Admiralty Courts date to at least the 1360s, during the reign of Edward III. At that time there were three such Courts, appointed by Admirals responsible for waters to the north, south and west of England. In 1483 these local courts were amalgamated into a single High Court of Admiralty, administered by the Lord High Admiral of England.[7]

Vice admiralty courts[edit]

Vice-Admiral of the Coast [8] was responsible for the defence of one of the twenty maritime counties of England, the North and South of Wales, Scotland and Ireland As a Vice-Admiral, the post holder was the chief of naval administration for his district. His responsibilities included, deciding the outcome of the Prize court (captured by pirate ships), dealing with salvage claims for wrecks, acting as a judge in relation to maritime issues.





Vice Admiralty Jurisdictions and prizes abroad By appointing Vice-Admirals in the colonies, and by constituting courts as Vice-Admiralty Courts, the terminology recognized that the existence and superiority of the "mother" court in the United Kingdom. Thus, the "vice" tag denoted that whilst it was a separate court, it was not equal to the "mother" court. In the case of the courts abroad, a right of appeal lay back to the British Admiralty Court, which further reinforced this superiority. In all respects, the court was an Imperial court rather than a local Colonial court.

North America[9]

West Indies

Naval operations[edit]

Senior leadership[edit]

Naval High Command included:[10][11]

Fleet commands[edit]

Flag officers of the fleet

Flag officers commanding fleets and stations[edit]


Home Commands

Overseas Commands

Fleet units[edit]

Composition of the Navy by 1760
Type Number of units [21]
Ships of the Line 1st rate 7
Ships of the Line 2nd rate 13
Ships of the Line 3rd rate 71
Ships of the Line 4th rate 73
Ships of the Line 5th rate 54
Ships of the Line 6th rate 61
Captured ships of the line 15
Frigates 82
Sloops 21
Armed Merchants 39
Fireships 27
Bomb Vessels 15
Hospital Ships 4
Yachts 5
In commission 487
Composition of the Navy by 1799
Type Number of units [22]
Ships of the Line 230
Captured ships of the line 25
Frigates 234
Sloops 331
Brigs 54
Fireships 34
Bomb Vessels 31
Hospital Ships 2
Yachts 5
In commission 946

Squadrons [23]

  • Red Squadron
  • White Squadron
  • Blue Squadron

Administrative and logistical support[edit]

Board of Ordnance[edit]

Ordnance yards and stores[edit]

Home Ordnance Yards

Gunpowder Magazines Stores

Navy board[edit]

Construction, design, maintenance, material, supplies

Subsidiary boards[edit]
Shore facilities[edit]

Note: Dockyards during this period were managed by the individual Commissioners of the Navy for each yard.

Home naval base and dockyards[26]

Oversea naval bases and dockyards[27]


Marine department[edit]

  • Office of the Admirals Regiment, (1655 – 1755).
  • Office of the Marine Department, (1755 – 1809).

Marine forces[edit]

  • Office of Corps of the Royal Marines (1755)
    • Colonel Commandant Chatham Division
    • Colonel Commandant Portsmouth Division
    • Colonel Commandant Plymouth Division

Impress service[edit]

Note: Responsible for forced naval recruitment, the admiralty handled command and control of the impress service, whilst the navy board administered the service.[28]

Sea fencible militias[edit]

Notes:The Sea Fencibles were a British naval militia, mostly volunteers, that was formed in 1793 to act as an anti-invasion force in coastal waters.

Sea Fencible Districts, 1798 to 1801 [31]

  1. Emsworth to Beachy Head
  2. Beachy Head to Deal
  3. Deal to Faversham
  4. Leigh to Harwich
  5. Harwich to Yarmouth
  6. Isle of Wight
  7. Coast of Hampshire
  8. Coast of Dorset
  9. Coast of Devon
  10. Plymouth to Land's End
  11. Saltfleet to Flamborough Head


  1. ^ Sainty, J. C. "Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume 4, Admiralty Officials 1660-1870". British History Online, University of London, Institute of Historical Research,1975. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
  2. ^ Davies, J. D. (2008). Pepys's Navy Ships, Men and Warfare 1649-89. Seaforth Publishing. p. 28. ISBN 978-1783830220.
  3. ^ Davies, J. D. (2008). Pepys's Navy Ships, Men and Warfare 1649-89. Seaforth Publishing. p. 28. ISBN 978-1783830220.
  4. ^ The Nautical Magazine: A Technical and Critical Journal for the Officers of the Mercantile Marine (14 ed.). James Brown & Son. 1845. p. 609.
  5. ^ Sainty, J C. "Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume 4, Admiralty Officials 1660-1870. Originally published by University of London, London, 1975". Institute of Historical Research, School of Advanced Studie, University of London, 2015. Retrieved 8 November 2016.
  6. ^ Archives, The National. "High Court of Admiralty – The National Archives". The National Archives. The National Archives. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  7. ^ Senior, W. (1924). "The Mace of the Admiralty Court". The Mariner's Mirror. 10 (1): 52. doi:10.1080/00253359.1924.10655256.
  8. ^ Baker, Sherston (Dec 20, 2010). Office of vice-admiral of the coast : being some account of that ancient office. [S.l.]: Gale Ecco, Making Of Mode. pp. 1–153. ISBN 9781240154067.
  9. ^ Ruppert, Bob. "Vice-Admiralty Courts and Writs of Assistance". Journal of the American Revolution, January 28, 2015. Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  10. ^ Cock, Randolph; Roger, NAM (2006). A guide to the naval records in the National Archives of the UK. London: Univ. of London, Inst. of Historical Research. pp. 25–28. ISBN 1905165161.
  11. ^ Swift, Christopher; Cobb, Clinical Director and Senior Chaplain Mark; Cobb, Mark (2016). A Handbook of Chaplaincy Studies: Understanding Spiritual Care in Public Places. Routledge. p. 204. ISBN 9781317187998.
  12. ^ Corbett, Sir Julian Sir Julian (2007). England in the Mediterranean: A Study of the Rise and Influence of British Power Within the Straits, 1603-1713. Cosimo, Inc. p. 580. ISBN 9781602062672.
  13. ^ Baugh, Daniel A. (2015). British Naval Administration in the Age of Walpole. Princeton University Press. p. 132. ISBN 9781400874637.
  14. ^ Corbett, Sir Julian Sir Julian (2007). England in the Mediterranean: A Study of the Rise and Influence of British Power Within the Straits, 1603-1713. Cosimo, Inc. p. 580. ISBN 9781602062672.
  15. ^ Baugh, Daniel A. (2015). British Naval Administration in the Age of Walpole. Princeton University Press. p. 132. ISBN 9781400874637.
  16. ^ Corbett, Sir Julian Sir Julian (2007). England in the Mediterranean: A Study of the Rise and Influence of British Power Within the Straits, 1603-1713. Cosimo, Inc. p. 580. ISBN 9781602062672.
  17. ^ Baugh, Daniel A. (2015). British Naval Administration in the Age of Walpole. Princeton University Press. p. 132. ISBN 9781400874637.
  18. ^ Hore, Captain Peter (May 20, 2015). Nelson's Band of Brothers: pdf. Seaforth Publishing. ISBN 9781848323568.
  19. ^ Hiscocks, Richard (19 January 2016). "North Sea Commander-in-Chief 1781, 1795-1815 - more than Nelson". more than Nelson. Retrieved 15 January 2017.
  20. ^ Stewart, William (2009). Admirals of the World: A Biographical Dictionary, 1500 to the Present. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. p. 110. ISBN 9780786438099.
  21. ^ Wilkinson, Clive (2004). The British Navy and the state in the eighteenth century (1. publ. ed.). Woodbridge [u.a.]: Boydell Press. p. 69. ISBN 9781843830429.
  22. ^ Clarke, James Stanier; McArthur, John (Sep 2, 2010). The Naval Chronicle: Volume 1, January-July 1799: Containing a General and Biographical History of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom with a Variety of Original Papers on Nautical Subjects. Cambridge University Press. p. 292. ISBN 9781108018401.
  23. ^ "Information sheet no 055, Squadron colours" (PDF). National Museum of the Royal Navy, 2014. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  24. ^ Puddefoot, Geoff (2010). Ready for anything : the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, 1905-1950. Barnsley: Seaforth. p. 4. ISBN 9781848320741.
  25. ^ Sainty, J. C. "Navy Treasurer c. 1546-1836, A provisional list compiled by J C Sainty, January 2003". The Institute of Historical Research, University of London, 2003. Retrieved 9 November 2016.
  26. ^ Government of the United Kingdom. "Royal Naval dockyard staff". The National Archives, 2016. Retrieved 16 November 2016.
  27. ^ "Research guide B5 Royal Naval Dockyards". Royal Museums Greenwich, 2016. Retrieved 16 November 2016.
  28. ^ Dancy, J. Ross (2015). The Myth of the Press Gang: Volunteers, Impressment and the Naval Manpower Problem in the Late Eighteenth Century. Boydell & Brewer Ltd. p. 137. ISBN 9781783270033.
  29. ^ Ennis, Daniel James (2002). Enter the press-gang : naval impressment in eighteenth-century British literature. Newark: University of Delaware Press. p. 17. ISBN 9780874137552.
  30. ^ "Sea Fencibles What prompted Sir Home Popham to set up a Home Guard for the coastline?". Royal Museums, Greenwich, 2016. Retrieved 18 November 2016.
  31. ^ Archives, The National. "The Discovery Service". nationalarchives. Retrieved 15 January 2017.


  • The Statutes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, 3 George IV. 1822. London: By His Majesty's Statute and Law Printer. 1822.
  • Hamilton, Admiral Sir. R. Vesey, G.C.B. (1896). Naval Administration: The Constitution, Character, and Functions of the Board of Admiralty, and of the Civil Departments it Directs. London: George Bell and Sons.
  • Logan, Karen Dale (1976). The Admiralty: Reforms and Re-organization, 1868–1892. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. University of Oxford.
  • Miller, Francis H. (1884). The Origin and Constitution of the Admiralty and Navy Boards, to which is added an Account of the various Buildings in which the Business of the Navy has been transacted from time to time. London: For Her Majesty's Stationery Office. Copy in Greene Papers. National Maritime Museum. GEE/19.
  • Rodger. N.A.M., (1979) The Admiralty (offices of state), T. Dalton, Lavenham, ISBN 978-0900963940.

External links[edit]