Navy Board, In-Letters And Orders

Navy Board, In-letters, March to April 1689.

Administrative / biographical background
William III valued men he could trust above a position of importance, preferring to ‘work through men, and not through their offices.’ His new council appointed several Admiralty Board officials to comment their appointment on 8 March 1688. He appointed men of ‘good will’ to rally to the Protestant cause. Concealed beneath a multiplication of offices was a simple personal government through a handful of trusted advisors. The Admiralty was placed in commission by a Board largely chosen by the House of Commons and Naval or administrative experience was not heavily represented. However the senior officials had to have decent naval experience. From 1689 both Arthur Herbert, earl of Torrington and Edward Russell fitted this bill. They had both risked their lives planning William’s arrival resulting in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and thus were vulnerable should the Stuarts restore power. They were dependent on William for their protection. Few people liked Torrington and Pepys remarked of him that he was ‘of all the worst men living’ and ‘Herbert is the only man that I do not know to have any one virtue to compound for all his vices.’ Herbert’s virtues were of the political and professional sort and became William’s First Sea Lord and commander-in-chief at sea. This is the period after Pepys’s dismissal from the administration of the Navy and in 1693 Pepys heard from his old colleague Sir James Houblon of a meeting with their friend Sir John Lowther (see commissioners list above): ‘He told me that Sir John Lowther of the Admiralty came lately to discourse him. When Sir J H observing him in jest and earnest that we were at length come to one improvement in our conduct, namely, of being able to keep a secret, forasmuch as nobody could tell to this day whither our Fleet’s last orders were to carry them…Whereto Sir J. L. replied that none could know less of it than they of the Admiralty, the orders not only for their sailing, but even for their victualing going straight from the Cabinet. And this he delivered by way of complaint of their being no better treated than they are in their office, but made when they are called to wait without, as most ordinary attendants do. Which I cannot reflect on but with the last degree of indignation, when I consider…the political absurdity of having so great a trust committed to people whose ignorance or unfaithfulness are by this usage asserted by the State that employs them.’ Many of these men were not often present at the Board. Politics, parliament or court claimed their attendance. The quorum of three could be mustered with difficulty. Of the 1689 Board, Sir Michael Warton and Sir William Sacheverell rarely troubled to attend and Sir Thomas Lee was generally too ill to. ‘With Torrington at sea, only three Lords Commissioners remained to transact the trivia which the new order left them to decide. As a sort of post-office, they were allowed to repeat the orders transmitted to them by the Secretary of State in order to quiet the tender constitutional consciences of parliamentary opponents, but though the hand was the hand of the Admiralty, the voice was the voice of Daniel Finch, earl of Nottingham and Secretary of State for the Northern Department, who dealth with naval affairs..’ from p38-39 The Admiralty by NAM Rodger, see chapter on Insipid Ignorants.

Record Details

Item reference: ADM/A/1758
Catalogue Section: Public records: records of the central administration of the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy
Level: FILE
Date made: 1689
Creator: Navy Board, In-Letters And Orders
Credit: © Crown copyright. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

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