Admiral of the Fleet (Royal Navy)

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The rank of Admiral of the Fleet was the highest officer rank in the Royal Navy, equivalent to Field Marshal in the British Army. The establishment was generally fixed at three during the Dreadnought period, and tended to be filled by the most senior officers of the rank of Admiral as vacancies occurred. Officers of outstanding merit could be specially promoted Admiral of the Fleet supernumerary to the establishment by Order-in-Council, either on the Active or Retired Lists.


With the death of Admiral of the Fleet Sir Thomas Byam Martin in October, 1854, the rank went into temporary abeyance. The senior Admiral on the Active List, Admiral Thomas Le Marchant Gosselin, whilst he had enjoyed twenty-nine years of full pay, had subsequently been on half-pay (i.e. unemployed) for forty-five years, and was eighty-nine years old. When he died in 1857, the next senior Admiral, Sir Charles Ogle, was promoted. In 1862 a second Admiral of the Fleet was appointed, and a third in 1863. Provided that the most senior officer on the Admirals' list had flown his flag at sea for two years or served as a Commander-in-Chief, he was guaranteed elevation to Admiral of the Fleet upon a vacancy arising. However, in 1892 Admiral Sir Algernon F. de Horsey was passed over at the request of Queen Victoria in favour of Admiral Sir John E. Commerell.[1]

At least three Admirals were promoted to Admiral of the Fleet on the Retired List under the provisions of the Order in Council of 22 February, 1870, namely Sir Alexander Milne, Bart., the Earl of Lauderdale, and Sir George R. Mundy.

In 1914 it was decided that in future "Admirals of the Fleet will be selected by His Majesty from the Admirals on the Active List who have served with distinction as Flag Officer, without regard to seniority." At the same time the Board of Admiralty decided that the qualifications for the rank would be "To have served as First Sea Lord for upwards of twelve months, or to have commanded the principal Fleet, for a period of twelve months, or to have performed special war or other conspicuous service since the attainment of captain's rank."[2] At this time it was suggested by the Fourth Sea Lord, Rear-Admiral William C. Pakenham, that "Opportunity might be taken to change the title to Fleet Marshal."[3]

Permitted Retinue

In 1888, a Royal Navy Admiral of the Fleet was allotted the Secretary, Flag Lieutenant and Coxswain afforded all flag officers, Commodores First Class and Captains of the Fleet, as well as a generous twelve domestics – two more than an Admiral enjoyed.[4]


The provisions of the Order in Council of 22 February, 1870, set the retirement age of Admirals of the Fleet at seventy years old.[5] In accordance with the provisions of the Order in Council of 16 July, 1914, Admirals of the Fleet promoted to that rank after that date were to be retired five years from the date of such promotion, but not until they had reached the age of sixty-five.[6]

On 4 March, 1940, it was announced that King George VI had approved that in future all Admirals of the Fleet would be borne on the Active List and that all those on the Retired List would be restored to the Active List, and replaced on it with their original seniorities.[7]


  1. Clowes. VII. pp. 13-14.
  2. Hansard: HC Deb 10 August 1916 vol 85 c1207.
  3. Minute of 5 September, 1913, in docket entitled "Retirement of Officers not to be employed again." ADM 1/8370/65.
  4. The Navy List. (February, 1888). p. 190.
  5. Order in Council of 22 February, 1870.
  6. Order in Council of 16 July, 1914.
  7. The London Gazette: no. 34807. p. 1393. 8 March, 1940. Those replaced on the Active List were: Oliver, Brock, Keyes, Field and Tyrwhitt.


  • Clowes, Sir Wm. Laird (1903). The Royal Navy: A History From the Earliest Times to the Death of Queen Victoria. Vol. VII. London: Sampson Low, Marston and Company Limited.