Board of Admiralty

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ADMIRALTY—shall mean the Lord High Admiral for the time being of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and, when there shall be no such Lord High Admiral in office, any Two or more of the Commissioners for executing the Office of Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom.
—The Queen's Regulations and Admiralty Instructions for the Regulation of Her Majesty's Naval Service (1879).

The Board of Admiralty was formerly the authority charged with the command and administration of the Naval Service and Royal Navy from 1831 to 1964. Previously the navy had been administered by a Navy Board and operationally controlled by the Board of Admiralty exercising the office of Lord High Admiral.

The term Admiralty has become synomynous with the command and control of the Royal Navy, partly personified in the Board of Admiralty and also in the Admiralty buildings in London from where operations were in large part directed.


Great Seal of Office of the Lord High Admiral.

In 1822 the quorum of the Admiralty Board was reduced from three to two if less than six commissioners were present.[1] In 1832 all authority, powers, and duties of the Principal Officers, Commissioners of the Navy and Commissioners of Victualling were transferred to the Commissioners for executing the Office of Lord High Admiral, and quorum for the Admiralty Board reduced to two, irrespective of the number of Commissioners.[2]

Between 1832 and 1869 the Board consisted of the First Lord of the Admiralty, four Naval Lords, a Civil Lord, a First or Parliamentary Secretary and a Second or Permanent Secretary.

By Order in Council of 14 January, 1869, the Naval Lords were designated as "Assistants" to the First Lord of the Admiralty, who was "responsible to Your Majesty and to Parliament for all the business of the Admiralty." The number of Naval Lords was reduced from to three, and the office of Controller of the Navy merged with that of Second Naval Lord to become Third Lord and Controller. The Second Naval Lord's duties regarding personnel were merged into those of the First Naval Lord. The Parliamentary Secretary became responsible to the First Lord for finance, and the Civil Lord became his assistant. The Permanent Secretary was responsible to the First Lord for control of the Admiralty Secretariat.

By Order in Council of 19 March, 1872, the position of Second Naval Lord was restored, and that of Third Naval Lord abolished. The office of Comptroller of the Navy was re-established to be held by an officer not on the Board. The Naval Lords, rather than being "Assistants" to the First Lord, were "to be responsible" to him. The number of Secretaries was increased to three: The Parliamentary Secretary, the Permanent Secretary, and a Naval Secretary.

This state of affairs lasted a decade, until by Order in Council of 10 March, 1882, the "Comptroller of the Navy" became an additional naval lord on the Board. An Additional Civil Lord, not a member of either House of Parliament, was to be appointed to assist the Comptroller. Upon a vacancy occurring in the office of Naval Secretary the position was to lapse, leaving the Parliamentary Secretary and the Permanent Secretary. The Naval Secretaryship was abolished on 8 May. An Additional Civil Lord served on the Board between 1882 to 1885, after which the office lapsed.

In 1904 the structure was altered in detail by Order in Council of 10 August, 1904. On the Board with the First Lord sat the First Sea Lord, Second Sea Lord, Third Sea Lord and Controller, Fourth Sea Lord, and Civil Lord. The Secretaries to the Board were the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary and the Permanent Secretary.


Duties were assigned to each Lord Commissioner by the First Lord and defined in a Minute of the Board, and amended form time to time.[3][4] The December, 1888, distribution of business, issued on 12 January, 1889, was ordered by the Permanent Secretary "to be posted in the room of each Member of the Board and the Private Secretaries."[5]

Great War

On 12 October, 1914 the Third and Fourth Sea Lords addressed the following minute to Battenberg:

At the beginning of the war we were informed that it was not intended that we should take part in Councils of War. We preferred a verbal request to the Secretary that reports on operations which may be rendered from time to time to the Admiralty should be circulated to us confidentially for information.
This request has so far not been complied with. We do not want to raise difficulties at this time, but we feel that it is wrong, that as Naval Members of the Board, we should be kept in complete ignorance both of the general policy adopted and also of the decisions taken on proposals which are important, but which in most cases cannot be said to be either secret or confidential.
This feeling has become accentuated by the loss of 2,000 naval ratings, which we hear from the public press have become interned in Holland. We feel strongly that it would have been well and proper if we had been given an opportunity of discussing with you such an important proposal as the organisation and equipment of the so-called Naval Division.
We are aware that we have no right to insist on Board discussion, but we cannot - nor do we wish to - divest ourselves of all responsibility for Admiralty policy at this time; and we respectfully urge that our anomalous position would be improved and precedent would be observed if you could consent to arrange for periodical meetings of Naval Members of the Board, at which Meetings you could put us in possession of important proposals, and the lines on which you think we should proceed.[6]

In 1917 the office of First Sea Lord was merged with that of the Chief of the Admiralty War Staff, making the First Sea Lord effectively chief of operations as well as Chief of the Naval Staff. In the same year the position of Fifth Sea Lord was created to provide direct Board oversight to the swiftly-expanding Royal Naval Air Service - giving due recognition to the importance of naval aviation.


  1. 3 George IV., c.19. See The Statutes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. pp. 58-59.
  2. 2 & 3 William IV., c.40. See The Admiralty Statutes. pp. 73-75.
  3. H.L. 30, 1871. p. vii.
  4. Copy of Board Minutes of 26 November, 1900, with attached amended Distribution of Business. The National Archives. ADM 116/3392.
  5. Docket dated 11 January, 1889. "Table of Distribution of Business amongst Members of Board & Secretaries." The National Archives. ADM 116/3392.
  6. British Library. Jellicoe Papers. Add. MSS. 49041. f. 43.


  • The Statutes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, 3 George IV. 1822. London: By His Majesty's Statute and Law Printer. 1822.
  • Dicey, Albert Venn; Goddard, John Leybourn (1886). The Admiralty Statutes being the Public Statutes Actually in Force Relating to the Admiralty and Her Majesty's Navy From 5 & 6 Edw. VI. (A.D. 1552) to 48 & 49 Vict. (A.D. 1885) inclusive. London: For Her Majesty's Stationary Office.
  • Hamilton, C. I. (2011). The Making of the Modern Admiralty: British Naval Policy-Making, 1805-1927. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521765183. (on
  • Hamilton, Admiral Sir. R. Vesey, G.C.B. (1896). Naval Administration: The Constitution, Character, and Functions of the Board of Admiralty, and of the Civil Departments it Directs. London: George Bell and Sons.
  • Logan, Karen Dale (1976). The Admiralty: Reforms and Re-organization, 1868-1892. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. University of Oxford.
  • Miller, Francis H. (1884). The Origin and Constitution of the Admiralty and Navy Boards, to which is added an Account of the various Buildings in which the Business of the Navy has been transacted from time to time. London: For Her Majesty's Stationary Office. Copy in Greene Papers. National Maritime Museum. GEE/19.
  • Naval Staff, Training and Staff Duties Division (1929). The Naval Staff of the Admiralty. Its Work and Development. B.R. 1845 (late C.B. 3013). Copy at The National Archives. ADM 234/434.

Board of Admiralty
Civilian Lords
First Lord of the Admiralty
Civil Lord of the Admiralty
Additional Civil Lord of the Admiralty (1882 – 1885, 1912 – 1917)
Controller (1917 – 1918)
Naval Lords
First Naval Lord (– 1904) • First Sea Lord (1904 – 1917) • First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff (1917 –)
Second Naval Lord (– 1869, 1872 – 1904) • Second Sea Lord (1904 – 1917) • Second Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Personnel (1917 –)
Third Naval Lord (– 1869) • Third Lord and Controller (1869 – 1872) • Third Naval Lord and Controller of the Navy (1882 – 1904) • Third Sea Lord and Controller of the Navy (1904 – 1912) • Third Sea Lord (1912 – 1917) • Third Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Matériel (1917 – 1918) • Third Sea Lord and Controller of the Navy (1918 –)
Junior Naval Lord (– 1904) • Fourth Sea Lord (1907 – 1917) • Fourth Sea Lord and Chief of Supplies and Transport (1917 –)
Fifth Sea Lord (1917) • Fifth Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Air Service (1917 – 1918)
Staff Lords
Deputy First Sea Lord (1917 – 1919)
Deputy Chief of Naval Staff (1917 –)
Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (1917 –)
First Secretary to the Board of Admiralty (– 1869) • Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Admiralty (1869 – 1904) • Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Board of Admiralty (1904 –)
Second Secretary to the Board of Admiralty (– 1869) • Permanent Secretary to the Board of Admiralty (1869 – 1877, 1880 –)
Naval Secretary to the Board of Admiralty (1872 – 1882)