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In all maritime nations the title of the commander of a fleet or of a subdivision of it. The word comes from the Arabic word amir, prince or leader, and in the Mediterranean, as early as the 12th century, the leader of the Muslim fleets had the title amir-al-bar, commander of the sea. The substantive amir and the article al were combined by other developing maritime nations in the Mediterranean to form the title amiral (French) and almirante (Spanish). The title reached other north European nations probably as a result of the Crusades, but became confused with the Roman admirabilis. In England the title of admiral did not originally confer command at sea, but jurisdiction in maritime affairs and authority to establish courts of Admiralty.

As well as signifying the chief commander of the fleet, the title was also applied to his ship, and in many of the Elizabethan descriptions of voyages published in England the word almost invariably applied to the ship; the commander himself frequently being described as ‘general’ or ‘captain’, or a combination of the two.

The senior admiral in the British Navy carried, from the earliest days, the title of admiral of the fleet. His presence at sea was originally signified by the Royal Standard flown from the mainmast head, replaced at the end of the 17th century by the Union flag. He held his post until death and even today an admiral of the fleet always remains on the active list. Equivalent ranks in other navies are fleet admiral (USA), Grossadmiral (Germany), and grande ammiraglio (Italy), though in the US Navy the rank of admiral of the navy was given to Rear Admiral George Dewey in 1899 after the Spanish-American War. This was considered senior in rank to fleet admiral when that rank was created during the Second World War (1939–45), but has long been abolished. Both the Royal Navy and the US Navy also have vice admirals and rear admirals, as do most other navies. However, in the US Navy the rank of rear admiral has two halves, the upper half wearing a broad stripe and a thin stripe on the sleeve, the lower half a broad stripe only.

See also admiralty; commodore; flag rank; lord high admiral; narrow seas.

See also admiralty; commodore; flag rank; lord high admiral; narrow seas.

Subjects: Maritime History — Warfare and Defence.

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