Lord High Admiral

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Samuel Pepys (1633—1703) naval official and diarist


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An office first established in England in 1391 when Edward, Earl of Rutland, was appointed Admiral of England, uniting the offices of Admiral of the North and Admiral of the South, instituted some 90 years earlier. Subsequently the titles ‘High Admiral’ and ‘Lord Admiral’ were indiscriminately used in the wording of the letters patent, crystallizing eventually as ‘Lord High Admiral’, ninth of the nine great officers of state of the crown. This title did not originally confer command at sea, but jurisdiction in maritime affairs and the authority to establish courts of Admiralty. To give the Lord High Admiral military command, however, he was also appointed ‘Captain General of Our Fleets and Seas’.

By the reign of Henry VIII (1509–47) the English Navy had grown too big to be administered by the Lord High Admiral alone, and its civil administration was delegated to a committee later known as the Navy Board. This board, which had Samuel Pepys as one of its members during the reign of Charles II (1660–85), ran in parallel with the Board of Admiralty until it was merged with the Admiralty in 1832. However, the office of Lord High Admiral, which, except for brief periods during its long history, had remained extant, was not abolished until 1964. In that year the three separate service ministries were brought together into a single Ministry of Defence, and the title of Lord High Admiral was then resumed by the crown in the person of Elizabeth II.

Subjects: Maritime History.

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