Lieutenant (Royal Navy)

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Lieutenant (pronounced "lɛˈtɛnənt" or "lɘ'tɛnɘnt")[1] was a commissioned rank in the Military Branch of the British Royal Navy. Lieutenants formed the backbone of the officer corps, being the most numerous class of officer. They served as watchkeeping officers and also specialised, becoming Gunnery, and later Torpedo, Navigating, and Signals officers. From 1863 to 1914 a Lieutenant ranked above a Sub-Lieutenant and below a Commander. Once a Lieutenant attained eight years' seniority in that rank he was entitled to wear an extra stripe half the width of the two he already wore. In 1914 all Lieutenants of eight years' seniority formally became Lieutenant-Commanders.

It was customary for Lieutenants who'd received specialised training to have their specialty indicated by appending a parenthetical initial, such as Lieutenant (G) for a gunner, or Lieutenant (T) for torpedoes. (N) was for Navigation, (S) for Signals and (I) for Interpreter. The parenthetical letters would remain when the officer attained ranks through at least Commander.


In 1879:

234. To qualify a Midshipman—
(a.) for the rank of Lieutenant,—he must have attained the age of 19 years, and have completed Five years' service in the Royal Navy, including the time awarded to him on leaving the Training Ship.[2]


In 1870 the number of Lieutenants was reduced to 600.[3] With the gradual abolition of the Navigating Branch and its replacement of Military Branch officers, in 1879 the number of Lieutenants for Executive Duties was increased to 800, and those for Navigating Duties to 200, for 1,000 in total.[4] The total, including those for Navigating Duties, was raised to 1,150 in 1895,[5] and in 1898 to 1,550.[6] In 1907 the number was increased to 1,700,[7] in 1909 to 1,900,[8] and again in 1911 to 2,000.[9]


In 1856 a Lieutenant was given one "bar of ½ inch Gold Lace round the cuffs".[10] In March 1863 a second stripe was added.[11]

Lieutenant of 8 Years' Seniority

See also: Lieutenant-Commander (Royal Navy).

By an Admiralty order of 30 October, 1877, the "distinguishing Lace" on the cuffs of Lieutenants of eight years' seniority was altered thus: "To wear 2 rows, with a narrow strip of gold braid between; similar to that worn by Staff Surgeons."[12] Under the provision of the Order in Council of 9 March, 1914, Lieutenants of eight years' seniority were given the substantive rank of Lieutenant-Commander.

Lieutenant and Commander

Lieutenants appointed in command of small vessels such as destroyers were given the title of "Lieutenant and Commander." This would appear to stem from the Lieutenant being given a higher status whilst serving as Captain of a ship, as this clause from the 1913 King's Regulations and Admiralty Instructions indicates:

210. If a Lieutenant should from necessity be appointed by a Commander-in-Chief to act as Captain of a ship, he shall receive an acting order as Commander, and be appointed to act as Captain of such ship; and being so appointed, he shall be considered, while he continues under the said appointment, to act in the command of such ship, as a Captain, subject, however, to the orders of all Captains, though the date of his acting order may be prior to the dates of their commissions, for all purposes except sitting as such at courts-martial, with reference to which he is to be considered as a Lieutenant only, and is to sit according to his seniority as a Lieutenant.[13]

In 1914, with the creation of the rank of Lieutenant-Commander, to avoid confusion it was decided to designate such officers as "Lieutenant-in-Command."[14]

Average Age


  1. Stein. pp. 148-149.
  2. The Queen's Regulations and Admiralty Instructions for the Government of Her Majesty's Naval Service (1879). p. 56.
  3. Order in Council of 22 February, 1870.
  4. Order in Council of 29 November, 1879.
  5. Order in Council of 16 July, 1895.
  6. Order in Council of 29 November, 1898.
  7. Order in Council of 11 February, 1907.
  8. Order in Council of 18 October, 1909.
  9. Order in Council of 8 August, 1911.
  10. Docket dated 4 April 1856. The National Archives. ADM 1/5675.
  11. Memorandum No. 32 dated 26 March 1863. The National Archives. ADM 1/5832.
  12. The Navy List. (December, 1877). p. 379.
  13. The King's Regulations and Admiralty Instructions, 1913. Volume I. p. 56.
  14. "House of Commons" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Wednesday, 18 March, 1914. Issue 40474, col E, p. 12.