What is the Lord High Admiral?

Introduction

The Lord High Admiral (of England, Great Britain and then the United Kingdom, beginning in the 14th century) is the titular head of the Royal Navy.

Most have been courtiers or members of the Royal Family, and not professional naval officers.

The office of Lord High Admiral is one of the nine English Great Officers of State.

Lord High Admiral of the UK
Lord High Admiral of the UK

Brief History

The office was created in England late 14th century sometime between 1405/06 and 1412 the two existing older naval commands that of the Admiral of the North and Admiral of the West were unified with this office.

During the reign of Henry VIII (1509-1547) the English Navy had expanded to a point where it could not be managed by a single Lord High Admiral alone, therefore day-to-day management of the navy was handed over to a committee that later became known as the Navy Board. The navy board had Samuel Pepys as one of its members during the reign of Charles II (1660-1685), and it ran side-by-side with the Board of Admiralty.

From the early 17th century onwards, when an individual Lord High Admiral was appointed, there was also a Council of the Lord High Admiral which assisted him to perform some of the duties of the Admiralty. When this office was not occupied by an individual, it was “put into commission” and exercised by a Board of Admiralty headed by a First Lord of the Admiralty; this was the usual arrangement from 1709 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, and was not abolished as an official naval post until 1964. In 1964, the office of First Lord of the Admiralty was also abolished and the functions of the Lords Commissioners of Admiralty were transferred to the new Admiralty Board becoming a sub-committee (Navy) of the tri-service Defence Council of the United Kingdom. At the same time, the ancient title of Lord High Admiral was then resumed by the sovereign personally.

Elizabeth II held the title for the next 47 years, until in 2011 she conferred the office upon her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh as part of the celebrations for his 90th birthday. The Queen chose this title to honour her husband with as he served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, and gave up a promising naval career to support her as consort.

Title

  • High Admiral of England, Ireland and Aquitaine, 1385 to 1512.
  • Lord Admiral of England, 1512 to 1638.
  • Lord High Admiral of England, 1638 to 1707.
  • Lord High Admiral of Great Britain, 1707 to 1709.
    • Before 1707, a separate office of Lord High Admiral existed for Scotland.
    • Following the Act of Union 1707, all jurisdictions were placed under the office of Lord High Admiral of Great Britain.
  • Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom, 1801 to Present.
    • Office ‘in commission’ from 1801 to 1827 and 1828 to 1964.
    • Prince William Henry, The Duke of Clarence, held the office from 10 May 1827 to 19 September 1828.
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