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