William Batten

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For the American businessman, see William M. Batten. For the rugby league footballer, see Billy Batten.

Sir William Batten (c. 1600 – 1667) was an English naval officer and politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1661 to 1667. As Surveyor of the Navy, he was a colleague of Samuel Pepys, who disliked him and regularly disparaged him in his famous Diary.

Early life[edit]

Batten was the son of Andrew Batten of Somerset, 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.[1] In August 1626 he took out letters of marque for the Salutation of London, owned by Andrew Hawes and others.[2] He was master of the Salutation again in 1628,[3] 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 anyway.[4] The ships of the Muscovy Company seized both ships at Spitsbergen and drove them away clean (empty).[5] 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.[6] In 1638 he obtained the post of surveyor of the Navy, probably by purchase.[7]

Civil War[edit]

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 king's hands, and up to the end of the First Civil War showed himself a steady partisan of 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.[7] In 1644 he was at Plymouth, where he fortified the tip of the peninsula, which has been known since as Mount Batten.[8] Batten continued to patrol the English seas until the end of the First Civil War. His action in 1647 in bringing into Portsmouth a number of Swedish warships and merchantmen which had refused the customary salute to the flag, was approved by Parliament.[7]

When the Second Civil War broke out, he was distrusted by the Independents and removed from his command, though he professed continued willingness to serve the state. When part of the fleet revolted against 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.[7]


At the Restoration, Batten became once more Surveyor of the Navy. This put him in constant communication with Samuel Pepys, who mentions him frequently in his Diary. Pepys came to dislike Batten[9] and made numerous insinuations against his integrity, but there is no evidence to show that Batten, in making a profit from his office, fell below the standards of the time[7] (nor necessarily below Pepys' own, since he certainly accepted bribes). Pepys' picture of Batten is not entirely consistent: he portrays him as a devious schemer, but in fact Batten often comes across in the diary as a typical old sailor, open-natured and quick-tempered. Pepys himself noted that the easiest way to deal with Batten was to make him lose his temper, "for then he will tell you everything in his mind". Relations between Pepys and the Battens were not always unfriendly: when Pepys's old enemy Mr Field, who had sued Pepys successfully for false imprisonment, tried to have him arrested on grounds of the judgement, Pepys acknowledged gratefully that the Battens had sheltered him in their own house until the crisis was over.

Batten was elected in 1661 a member for Rochester in the Cavalier Parliament and held the seat until his death in 1667.[10] In 1663 he was made master of Trinity House.[7] He acquired through marriage an estate at Walthamstow, where he was described by Pepys, with a touch of envy, as "living like a prince"; Pepys also that thought the Battens were living well beyond their means. Certainly at Batten's death he left an estate smaller than the family had expected, and his heavily indebted eldest son, also named William, sold Walthamstow and all his father's other real property in the 1670s.


Batten married first in 1625 Margaret Browne, daughter of William Browne, by whom he had six children, of whom at least four survived him: William junior (a barrister of Lincoln's Inn), Benjamin, Mary, who married James Lemon (or Leming), and Martha (born 1637) who in 1663 married William Castle, a shipwright ("I do not envy him his wife," wrote Pepys spitefully). All the children and their spouses are referred to in Pepys's Diary: he has little good to say of them in general (detesting William Castle in particular), although with his usual eye for an attractive woman, he admired young William Batten's wife, Margaret Alcock. Rather illogically, given his poor relations with the family, he was offended at not being invited to the christening of young William's first child (yet another William) in 1663.

Margaret Browne's brother, Captain John Browne, was master of the ship Rosebud. Pepys, who evidently liked him, expressed his regret at Browne's death in 1663, apparently as a result of a drunken fracas with a sailor.

Batten married secondly, in 1659, Elizabeth Woodcocke (née Turner). Pepys, although he appreciated her presents of home-grown wine, came to dislike Lady Batten as much as he did her husband, and in his Diary made attacks on her virtue, which seem to have had no foundation in fact.[11]


Batten died "after being but 2 days sick" on 5 October 1667. Pepys, surprisingly in view of their past bad relations, wrote that he was sorry for the death of a good neighbour. He 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 diminished estate. (Lady Batten later complained that "she had been left a beggar.") Pepys 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.[12] In 1671 she remarried, to Johan Barckmann, Baron Leijonbergh, the Swedish Resident to the English Court, (subsequently Ambassador 1672–91) and died in 1683. A mysterious quarrel between Pepys and Leijonbergh, which led to an abortive duel, may have been caused by Lady Batten's claim that Pepys was withholding money due to the Batten estate.[13]


  1. ^ Harris (1920), p. 52.
  2. ^ Stephen and Leslie (1908), p. 1338.
  3. ^ Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, Charles I, 1628-29.
  4. ^ Conway (1906), pp. 144–45.
  5. ^ Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, Nov. 1629.
  6. ^ Andrews (1991), p. 44.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Public Domain One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Batten, Sir William". Encyclopædia Britannica 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 530. 
  8. ^ Gill, C, Plymouth: a new history (Exeter: David and Charles, 1979).
  9. ^ "I to my office, all our talk being upon Sir J[ohn] M[ennes] and Sir W[illiam] B[atten]’s base carriage against him at their late being at Chatham, which I am sorry to hear, but I doubt not but we shall fling Sir W. B. upon his back ere long." Diary of Samuel Pepys for 17 October 1662.
  10. ^ Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "R" (part 2)[self-published source][better source needed]
  11. ^ Pepys Diary, 3 May 1664: "heard... that his wife was a whore."
  12. ^ Pepys' Diary 17 October 1667
  13. ^ Bryant, Arthur: Samuel Pepys – The Years of Peril (Cambridge, UK: 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. 
  • http://www.british-civil-wars.co.uk/biog/batten.htm