The play was licensed for performance by Sir Henry Herbert, the Master of the Revels, on July 3, 1633. In licensing the play, Herbert took the opportunity to record his "delight and satisfaction" with it, and held it up as "a pattern to other poets...for the bettering of manners and language.... The play was acted by Queen Henrietta's Men at the Cockpit Theatre, and was performed at St. James's Palace on Tuesday, November 19, 1633, in honor of the birthday of King Charles I. (A generation later, his son and eventual successor Charles II would watch a revival of the play on November 20, 1662.) The play's subject was topical in 1633: Charles was considering filling the post of Lord High Admiral of England, which had been vacant since the 1628 assassination of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham.
The Young Admiral was one of five of Shirley's plays published in 1637. The play was entered into the Stationers' Register on April 13, 1637, and was issued later that year in a quarto printed by Thomas Cotes for the booksellers Andrew Crooke and William Cooke. Shirley dedicated the play to George Harding, 8th Baron Berkeley, a prominent literary patron of the day.
Shirley's source for the plot of his play was Don Lope de Cardona, by Lope de Vega. Shirley tightens the Aristotelian unities of the plot, and simplifies the story by eliminating some of the more fantastic elements of Lope's story — Vittori doesn't go mad, Cassandra doesn't dress as a man; she also doesn't apparently die and isn't apparently resurrected. It is a rare case in which Shirley's drama can be praised for restraint.
Cesario, however, is drawn to the Sicilian camp by a letter from Cassandra, and there he too is captured. The Sicilian princess Rosinda counters by surrendering to the Neapolitans, which forces the arrangement of a peace treaty. Vittori and Cassandra marry, as do Cesario and Rosinda.
The play's mandatory comic subplot features Rosinda's cowardly servant Pazzorello.