Board of Admiralty

Board of Admiralty
Agency overview
Formed 1628-1964
Jurisdiction United Kingdom United Kingdom
Headquarters Admiralty, Whitehall, Westminster, London
Agency executive
Parent agency Department of the Admiralty
ADMIRALTYshall mean the Lord High Admiral for the time being of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and, when there shall be no such Lord High Admiral in office, any Two or more of the Commissioners for executing the Office of Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom.
—The Queen's Regulations and Admiralty Instructions for the Regulation of Her Majesty's Naval Service (1879).[1]

The Board of Admiralty was established in 1628 [2] when Charles I put the office of Lord High Admiral into commission to exercise the office of the Lord High Admiral, as that position was not always occupied, the purpose was to enable management of the day to day operational requirements of the Royal Navy, at that point administrative control of the navy was still the responsibility of the Navy Board established in 1546 this system remained in place until 1832 when the Board of Admiralty became the sole authority charged with both administrative and operational control of the navy when the navy board was abolished. The term Admiralty has become synonymous with the command and control of the Royal Navy, partly personified in the Board of Admiralty and also in the Admiralty buildings in London from where operations were in large part directed. It existed until 1964 when the office of First Lord of the Admiralty was finally abolished and the functions of the Lords Commissioners were transferred to the new Admiralty Board and the tri-service Defence Council of the United Kingdom.


The office of Lord High Admiral was created in around 1400 to take charge of the Royal Navy. It was one of the Great Officers of State. The office could be exercised by an individual (as was invariably the case until 1628), by the Crown directly (as was the case between 1684 and 1689), or by a Board of Admiralty. The office of the Lord High Admiral from creation was the titular head of the Royal Navy they were primarily responsible for policy direction, operational control and maritime jurisdiction of the service.[3] On the death of the Duke of Buckingham in 1628 his office of Lord High Admiral was put into commission by King Charles I, six Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty were appointed to execute the office jointly.[2] In 1638 the office of Lord High Admiral was revived, but throughout the rest of the seventeenth century there were periods when the office was again in commission and even when there was a Lord High Admiral, he was often advised by a separate Admiralty Council, which was virtually a Board of Admiralty under another name. Finally in 1708 the Board of Admiralty became the normal instrument for governing the navy operationally on a day to basis, however the responsibility for the day to day administrative affairs of the naval service lay with another authority known as the Navy Board it was established earlier by King Henry VIII in 1546 which had evolved out of the Council of the Marine, there was an exception for the period 1827 to 1828, when the office of Lord High Admiral was temporarily revived for William, Duke of Clarence, later King William IV.[4]

After the serving Lord High Admiral, the Duke of York (future James II of England), had been disqualified from the office as a Roman Catholic following the Test Act of 1673, the Board of Commissioners consisted of between twelve and sixteen Privy Councillors, who served without salaries. In 1679 this was changed, and the number of Commissioners was reduced to seven, who were to receive salaries and need not be members of the Privy Council.[4]

With the exception of the years 1702 to 1709 and 1827 to 1828, when an individual Lord High Admiral was appointed, this remained the case (although the number of Commissioners varied) until the Admiralty became part of the Ministry of Defence in 1964.[4]

The eighteenth century Board of Admiralty usually contained a preponderance of civilians, although there was a naval element and often a sea officer was First Lord. The Lords Commissioners were all active politicians, even the naval members, and it was usual for some members and later the whole of the Board to change on a change of ministry. After 1806 the First Lord was always a civilian and a senior member of the ministry, while the separate post of First Sea Lord was evolved for the senior professional member. However, until late in the nineteenth century the First Sea Lord and his professional colleagues remained free to play an active part in politics, although as the century progressed they chose to do so less and less. Until the absorption of the High Court of Admiralty into the Court of Judicature they nominally retained, as executors of the office of Lord High Admiral, their centuries-old link with that court.[4]

When the Navy Board was abolished in 1832 and responsibility for the civil administration of the Navy passed to the Board of Admiralty, the Board was redesigned. It now consisted of the First Lord of the Admiralty, four Naval Lord's (three between 1868 and 1886), known from 1904 as Sea Lords, and a Civil Lord, with a Parliamentary and a Permanent Secretary.[4]

The Lords Commissioners remained jointly responsible, subject to the controlling political authority of the First Lord, for all aspects of naval affairs, but in addition, especially after the reforms of 1869, they had individual responsibility for the work of the several departments of the Admiralty. This responsibility did not always coincide with control of staff and the head of a department might be responsible to two or more Lords Commissioners for the different aspects of his department's work.[4]


The Lords Commissioners usually comprised a mixture of serving admirals, called Naval or Sea Lords, and politicians, or Civil Lords, with the Naval Lords usually in a majority.

The president of the Board was known as the First Lord of the Admiralty, or sometimes First Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty, who was a member of the Cabinet. After 1806, the First Lord of the Admiralty was always a civilian, while the professional head of the navy came to be (and is still today) known as the First Sea Lord. From 1805 the various Naval Lords were assigned specific duties, e.g. (1941):[5]

The First Sea Lord, later First Sea Lordand Chief of the Naval Staff, directed naval strategy in wartime and was responsible for planning, operations and intelligence, for the distribution of the Fleet and for its fighting efficiency; the Second Sea Lord, later Second Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Personnel, was responsible for manning and mobilisation and other personnel questions relating to the Royal Navy and Royal Marines; the Third Sea Lord, after 1882 almost invariably also Controller of the Navy, was responsible for the Material Departments; the Fourth (or junior) Sea Lord, later 'Fourth Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Supplies', was responsible for the Transport, Victualling and Medical Departments; the Civil Lord was responsible for civilian staff, the Works Departments and naval lands; the Parliamentary (or parliamentary and financial) Secretary was responsible for finance generally, the preparation of estimates and parliamentary business; the Permanent Secretary was head of the Secretary's Department.[4]

During the First World War the number of Sea Lords was increased at one time to eight and the number of Civil Lords to three, but after the war most of these extra members left the Board. In 1938 the title of the Board member designated Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Air) was altered to Fifth Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Air Services. During both World Wars a civilian Controller of Merchant Shipbuilding and Repair was added (responsibility for this remained with the Admiralty until 1959, when it passed to the Ministry of Transport). For fuller details of Board membership during this period see The Second World War: A Guide to Documents in the Public Record Office (PRO Handbooks No.15) pp13–24. The specialist departments of the Board of Admiralty changed their names and functions, and varied in number, from time to time, but the system on which the Admiralty was organised continued unchanged until 1 April 1964, when the Board became the Admiralty Board of the Defence Council of the Ministry of Defence, the office of Lord High Admiral itself being vested in HM the Queen.[4]


Duties were assigned to each Lord Commissioner by the First Lord and defined in a Minute of the Board, and amended form time to time. the Secretary to the Admiralty "to be posted in the room of each Member of the Board and the Private Secretaries.[6]


The Lords Commissioners were entitled collectively to be known as "The Right Honourable the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty", and were commonly referred to collectively as "Their Lordships" or "My Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty", though individual members were not entitled to these styles. More informally, they were known in short as "The Lords of the Admiralty". That, for example, is the term invariably used throughout the well-known Horatio Hornblower series of historical novels.


With the abolition of the Board of Admiralty and its merger into the Ministry of Defence in 1964, formal control of the Navy was taken over by the Admiralty Board of the Defence Council of the United Kingdom, with the day-to-day running of the Navy taken over by the Navy Board. The office of Lord High Admiral was vested in the Crown (i.e. in the person of the current British monarch) and that of First Lord of the Admiralty ceased to exist, but the First, Second and Third Sea Lords retained their titles, despite ceasing to be Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty.

In 2011, currently Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the title of Lord High Admiral on the Duke of Edinburgh.

See also


  1. Lovell, Tony; Harley, Simon. "Board of Admiralty". Dreadnought Project, 14 October, 2104. Retrieved 6 November 2016.
  2. 1 2 Eberle, James, Sir, Admiral (2007). Wider horizons : naval policy & international affairs. Broompark: Roundtuit Pub. p. 1. ISBN 9781904499176.
  3. "MOD historical summary" (PDF).
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 This article contains OGL licensed text This article incorporates text published under the British Open Government Licence: "Records of the Navy Board and the Board of Admiralty". National Archives, 2016. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
  5. p.14, Roskill
  6. Harley, Simon; Lovell, Tony. "Board of Admiralty". Dreadnough Project.Org,. Retrieved 4 November 2016.


  • 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 Stationary Office. Copy in Greene Papers. National Maritime Museum. GEE/19.
  • Roskill, S.W., Capt. DSC. RN., The War at Sea, 1939–1945, vol. I, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1954.
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External links

Board of Admiralty
Civil Lords
First Lord of the Admiralty (1628 1964)
Civil Lord of the Admiralty (1832 1964)
Additional Civil Lord of the Admiralty (1882 1885, 1912 1917)
Admiralty Controller (1832 1869)
Naval Lords
Naval Lord Commissioner (1682 1828) • First Naval Lord (1828 1904) • First Sea Lord (1904 1917) • First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff (1917 1964)
Second Naval Lord (1830 1869, 1872 1904) • Second Sea Lord (1904 1917) • Second Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Personnel (1917 1964)
Third Naval Lord (1830 1869) • Third Lord and Controller (1869 1872) • Third Naval Lord and Controller of the Navy (1882 1904) • Third Sea Lord and Controller of the Navy (1904 1912) • Third Sea Lord (1912 1917) • Third Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Matériel (1917 1918) • Third Sea Lord and Controller (1918 &ndash 1964)
Junior Naval Lord (1868 1904) • Fourth Sea Lord (1904 1917) • Fourth Sea Lord and Chief of Supplies and Transport (1917 1955)
Fifth Sea Lord (1917) • Fifth Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Air Service (1917 1918)
Staff Naval Lords
Deputy First Sea Lord (1917 1919)
Deputy Chief of Naval Staff (1917 1964)
Vice Chief of Naval Staff (1941 1964)
Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (1917 1936)
Civil Secretaries
First Secretary to the Admiralty (1652 1871) • Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (1871 1886) • Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (1886 1959) •
Joint-Deputy Secretary to the Admiralty (1702 1766) • Second Secretary to the Admiralty (1783 1857) • Permanent Secretary to the Admiralty (1869 1872) • Permanent Secretary to the Admiralty (1882 1964) •
Naval Secretary to the Board of Admiralty (1872 1882)
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