The Royal Navy and the Four Nations 1660-1749

The Royal Navy and the Four Nations 1660-1749

This week, Sam McLean (King’s College London) examines the Royal Navy between 1660-1749 through a four nations lenses. 

Following the Restoration of King Charles II to the English throne in 1660, the Royal Navy was defined through a combination of the creation of statute definitions and the creation or resumption of customs that created specific connections between the institution and England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. This blog will look at three aspects of the Royal Navy’s definitions from 1660 to 1749. First, the Act for the Establishing Articles, which provided the Royal Navy’s first legislative definitions. The second section will examine offices and titles, particularly following the Union of 1707. The last section will look at Royal Navy warship names and the geographical associations that were created. Following the Restoration, the Royal Navy was very defined as an Anglo-centric institution, however interesting connections were made to Wales, and Scotland, and Ireland as well.

The Act for the Establishing Articles
After the Restoration in 1660, Parliament was sufficiently concerned about the recreation of the office of Lord High Admiral and the use of royal prerogative that an Act was created that contained the Royal Navy’s Articles of War, but also placed strict limits on the Lord Admiral’s authority. The latter function was contained in this Proviso:

… That this Act or any thing or things therein conteyned shall not in any manner of wise extend to give unto the Lord High Admirall of England for the time being or to any his Vice Admiralls Judge or Judges of the Admiralty his or theire Deputy or Deputies or to any other the Officers or Ministers of the Admiralty or to any others having or claiming any Admirall Power Jurisdiction or Authority within this Realme and Wales or any other the Kings Dominions…[i]

The proviso defined the Royal Navy as a jurisdiction, but also explicitly defined it as being external to England and Wales. This was done so that the courts-martial could not be held for crimes on shore, and that the Lord Admiral could not subvert the civilian courts. This definition remained static until 1749, when the Act for the Establishing Articles was repealed and replaced with the Act for the Amending, Explaining and Reducing into One Act. In the replacement legislation, the proviso was significantly rewritten. The specific territorial references to England and Wales were completely removed. In their place, Article XXXIV extended the authority of the Admiralty to ‘any Part of his Majesty’s Dominions on Shore’, but only when pertaining to mutiny and desertion.[ii] This definition was more flexible, but as a result the connections to the individual nations were subsumed into a greater national identity.

Offices, Commissions and Practices

Where the Royal Navy’s statute definitions were relatively inflexible and hard to change, the use of geographic identities and connections in warrants, commissions and other documents that actively defined the Royal Navy on an ongoing basis reveal some interesting connections. The recreation of former offices such as Lord High Admiral meant association with previous maritime offices. Both James Stuart (first as Duke of York and Albany) and Prince George of Denmark were appointed as Lord High Admiral and Warden of the Cinque Ports.[iii] This was despite the Cinque Ports certainly have being superseded as military and commercial ports. Scotland too had a Royal Navy, and Charles Stuart (6th Duke Lennox) was appointed Lord High Admiral of Scotland following the Restoration. In 1668, he was further appointed Vice-Admiral of Kent, showing how individuals held offices in both Kingdoms.[iv] Following his death in 1672 (and the passage of the Test Act in England), the Duke of York and Albany was appointed Lord High Admiral of Scotland in 1673.[v]

After the Union of 1707, Scottish identities began to be incorporated into the Royal Navy’s definitions, or a new national identity was communicated that subsumed both England and Scotland.[vi] The new national identity was recognized in documents such as orders-in-council that referred to titles and positions. For example a commission for councillors to serve as Commissioners executing the Office of Lord High Admiral in 1710 referred to Queen Anne as ‘of Great Britain’.[vii] The gentlemen and officers in question were named to execute the office of: ‘Lord High Admiral of our Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and of the dominions, islands and territories respectively belonging, and of our high Admiral of New England, Jamaica, Virginia’, and various other colonies.[viii] This is compared to an earlier Order-in-Council from 1702 in which Prince George of Denmark was referred to as the Lord High Admiral of England, and Anne as ‘Queen of England, Scotland, France and Ireland’.[ix] Further, On 21 July 1707, an Order-in-Council directed that Royal Navy warships should fly the new ‘Union flag commonly called the Jack flag’ at bowsprit-end, and discussed its use in various signals, including calling a council-of-war.[x] Like with the legislative definitions, specific national identities were subsumed into the new British national identity.

Warship Names

Examining the Royal Navy’s use of placenames for warships shows a trend different than the two cases above. Many of the warships that the Royal Navy inherited from the Commonwealth’s navy had geographic names, and perpetuated a strongly Anglo-centric institutional identity. For example, following the Restoration, the Royal Navy had a firstrate named London (which blew up in 1665), and was replaced by the second-rate Loyal London, which was burned by the Dutch in the Medway raid of 1667.[xi] Third rate ships built under the Thirty Ships program of 1677 included the Pendennis, Northumberland, Essex, Kent, Exeter, and Suffolk.[xii] Under the 1706 Establishment, third rate ships included Humber, Cumberland, Devonshire, Dorsetshire, Cambridge and Newark.[xiii]


Warship names did show connections between the Royal Navy and Wales and Ireland. The third-rate Monmouth was built in 1664, and although named for Charles II’s illegitimate son, did provide a connection between the Royal Navy and Wales.[xiv] Perhaps the most important Welsh place name for the Royal Navy was Pembroke. The first Pembroke was a fifth-rate, built in 1655 and lost in 1667. After that, a further four Pembrokes were built for the Royal Navy prior to 1749. Sadly, they all suffered ill fates. The second was captured by the French and wrecked, the third again captured by the French then sold to Spain, the fourth was broken up in 1726 after only 16 years of service. The fifth was built in 1733, the foundered in 1745. She was raised, then finally wrecked in the East Indies in 1749.[xv] Despite these fates, the Royal Navy has continued to use the name since. The Royal Navy has also used several Irish place names for warships. In 1692, the 80 gun ship Boyne was so named to celebrate William III’s victory there the year before. In 1697, an 80 gun ship was named Ranelagh.

In this period before union, Scottish names were not entirely neglected. Indeed, third rate ships launched in 1679 and 1705 were named Stirling Castle.[xvi] Following the Union of 1707, more Scottish names were incorporated into the Royal Navy’s traditions. The first Royal Navy warship Edinburgh was a former Royal Scottish Navy vessel, but the third rate Warspite (1666) was renamed Edinburgh in 1721.[xvii] Also following the Union, the Scottish warship Royal Mary was brought into Royal Navy service as the Glasgow.

During the period 1660-1749, the Royal Navy was indeed continually defined as an Anglo-centric entity. In many of its attributes, individual national identities and associations were subsumed by a new British institutional identity following Union in 1707. However, an examination of warship names shows that Wales, Ireland and Scotland were also represented. The Royal Navy was a complex institution whose identities and existence were constantly redefined. Using a four nations approach to study the Royal Navy’s definitions and identities will challenge the perceptions of the Royal Navy’s monolithic British identity, and help to understand how different communities contributed to the creation of the institutional definitions.

[i] ‘Charles II, 1661: An Act for the Establishing Articles and Orders’, Statutes of the Realm Volume 5, 1628-80

[ii] National Library of Australia, ‘Articles of War- South Seas Companion Cultural Artefact’

[iii] “Lord High Admiral and Commissioners of the Admiralty 1660-1870,” in Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume 4, Admiralty Officials 1660-1870, ed. J C Sainty (London: University of London, 1975), 18-31. British History Online, accessed July 14, 2016,

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Legislation.Gov.UK, ‘Union with Scotland Act, 1706’,

[vii] NMM, CAD/A/3 f1

[viii]NMM, CAD/A/3 f1

[ix]NMM, CAD/A/3 f19

[x]NMM CLU/5 f181.

[xi]Lavery, Ship of the Line Vol. 1, 160.

[xii]Lefevre, ‘”We have … great work which the Nations Eyes is upon”’

[xiii]Ibid., 73

[xiv] Lavery, Brian (2003) The Ship of the Line – Volume 1: The development of the battlefleet 1650-1850. Conway Maritime Press


[xvi]  Ibid.

[xvii]Winfield, British Warships 1603-1714, 204.

Sam McLean is a PhD student at King’s College London, in the Department of War Studies. He is the Social Media Editor for, and is a Councilor for the Canadian Nautical Research Society. His research interests include the creation of institutional identities and definitions. He tweets at @Canadian_Errant

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