Admiralty

Admiralty

[ad-mer-uhl-tee]
Admiralty, in British government, department in charge of the operations of the Royal Navy until 1964. Originally established under Henry VIII, it was reorganized under Charles II. Five lords commissioners composed the board of Admiralty, each gradually developing his own field of specific responsibility, with the first lord responsible to Parliament. In 1832 it absorbed the navy board, previously responsible for the administrative organization. In 1964 the Admiralty became the navy department, coequal with the other service departments, of the ministry of defense. The navy is now directed by the Admiralty Board of the Defense Council, which consists of 4 naval and 7 civilian members, including the secretary of state for defense, who serves as chair.

Island group, Papua New Guinea. An extension of the Bismarck Archipelago comprising about 40 islands, the Admiralty Islands lie about 190 mi (300 km) north of the mainland of Papua New Guinea in the South Pacific Ocean. Most of the land area of the islands is contained in Manus Island, which is the site of Lorengau, the islands' principal settlement. First sighted by the Dutch explorer Willem Schouten in 1616, it was named by the British captain Philip Carteret in 1767. Subsequently ruled by the Germans, Australians, and Japanese, the islands were made part of the UN Trust Territory of New Guinea in 1946. When Papua New Guinea attained independence in 1975, the islands became part of that country.

Learn more about Admiralty Islands with a free trial on Britannica.com.

The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the United Kingdom responsible for the command of the Royal Navy. Originally exercised by a single person, the office of Lord High Admiral was from the 18th century onward almost invariably put "in commission", and was exercised by a Board of Admiralty.

In 1964 the functions of the Admiralty were transferred to a new Admiralty Board, which is a committee of the tri-service Defence Council of the United Kingdom and part of the Ministry of Defence. The new Admiralty Board meets only twice a year, and the day-to-day running of the Royal Navy is controlled by a Navy Board (not to be confused with the historical Navy Board described later in this article). It is not uncommon for the various authorities now in charge of the Royal Navy to be referred to simply as The Admiralty.

The title of Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom is now vested in the Sovereign. However, there continues to be a Vice-Admiral of the United Kingdom and a Rear-Admiral of the United Kingdom, both of which are honorary offices.

History

The office of Admiral of England (or Lord Admiral and later Lord High Admiral) was created around 1400, though there were before this Admirals of the Northern and Western Seas. In 1546 King Henry VIII established the Council of the Marine, later to become the Navy Board, to oversee administrative affairs of the naval service. Operational control of the Navy remained the responsibility of the Lord High Admiral, who was one of the nine Great Officers of State.

In 1628, Charles I put the office of Lord High Admiral into commission and control of the Royal Navy passed to a committee in the form of the Board of Admiralty. The office of Lord High Admiral passed a number of times in and out of commission until 1709, after which the office was almost permanently in commission (the last Lord High Admiral being the future King William IV in the early 19th century).

In 1831 the Navy Board was abolished as a separate entity and its duties and responsibilities were given over to the Admiralty.

In 1964 the Admiralty was subsumed into the Ministry of Defence along with the War Office and the Air Ministry. Within the expanded Ministry of Defence are the new Admiralty Board, Army Board and Air Force Board, each headed by the Secretary of State for Defence. As mentioned above, there is also a new Navy Board in charge of the day-to-day running of the Royal Navy.

The Board of Admiralty

When the office of Lord High Admiral was in commission, as it was for most of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries until it reverted to the Crown, it was exercised by a Board of Admiralty, officially known as the Commissioners for Exercising the Office of Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, &c. (alternatively of England, Great Britain or the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland depending on the period).

The Board of Admiralty consisted of a number of Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty. The Lords Commissioners were always a mixture of admirals, known as Naval Lords or Sea Lords, and Civil Lords, normally politicians. The quorum of the Board was two commissioners and a secretary.

The president of the Board was known as the First Lord 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.

Admiralty buildings

The Admiralty complex lies between Whitehall, Horse Guards Parade and The Mall and includes five buildings. Since the Admiralty no longer exists as a department, these are now used as an "office bank" by the British government:

The Admiralty

The oldest building, this was long known simply as The Admiralty, and is now referred to popularly as the Old Admiralty and officially as the Ripley Building.

It is a three storey u-shaped brick building, and completed in 1726. Alexander Pope implied the architecture is rather dull, lacking either the vigour of the baroque style which was fading from fashion at the time, or the austere grandeur of the Palladian style which was just coming into vogue. It is mainly notable for being perhaps the first purpose built office building in Great Britain. It contained a board room, other state rooms and offices and apartments for the Lords of the Admiralty. Robert Adam designed the screen which was added to the entrance front in 1788. Nowadays the Ripley Building is allocated to the Cabinet Office and contains government function rooms.

Admiralty House

Admiralty House is a moderately proportioned mansion to the south of the Ripley Building, built in the late 18th century as the residence of the First Lord of the Admiralty, serving that purpose until 1964. Winston Churchill was one of its occupants. It lacks its own entrance from Whitehall, and is entered through the Ripley Building. It is a three storey building in yellow brick with neo-classicistic interiors. Its rear facade faces directly onto Horse Guards Parade. The architect was Samuel Pepys Cockerell. There are now three ministerial flats in the building

Old Admiralty Building (or Admiralty Extension or OAB)

This is the largest of the Admiralty Buildings. It was begun in the late 19th century and redesigned while the construction was in progress to accommodate the extra offices needed due to the naval arms race with the German Empire. It is red brick building with white stone detailing in the Queen Anne style with French influences. It is now used by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff refer to the building as the OAB (Old Admiralty Building).

Admiralty Arch

Admiralty Arch is linked to the Old Admiralty Building by a bridge. In architectural terms, it is part of the ceremonial route from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace. It contains further office space currently used by the Cabinet Office.

The Admiralty Citadel

This is a squat windowless World War II fortress north west of Horse Guards Parade, now covered in ivy. See Military citadels under London for further details.

"Admiralty" as a metaphor for "sea power"

In some cases, the term admiralty is used in a wider sense, as meaning sea power or rule over the seas, rather than in strict reference to the institution exercising such power. For example, the well-known lines from Kipling's Song of the Dead:

If blood be the price of admiralty,

Lord God, we ha' paid in full!

References

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