Admiral of the North and West

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Office of the Admiral of the North and West
Northern and Western Admiralty
Reports toPrivy Council of England
NominatorMonarch of England
AppointerMonarch of England
Subject to formal approval by the King-in-Council
Term lengthNot fixed , (usually for life)
Inaugural holderSir Ralph de Spigurnell
Formation1387-1401, 1407-1408

The Admiral of the North and West [1] or Admiral of the North and Western Fleets was a former senior appointment of the Navy Royal. The post holder was in command of the English Navy's North and Western Fleets operating in the North Sea, the English Channel, the Southern Irish Sea and Atlantic from 1387 to 1401 and again from 1407 to 1408.


The origins of the office Admiral of the North and West dates back to 7 July 1364 with appointment of Sir Ralph de Spigurnell, originally styled Admiral of the North and West Sea.[2] The office was styled by different names from its establishment such as Admiral of the North and West Stations. From 28 April 1369 to 24 November 1377 there was no further appointments until the post was revived with the appointment of Michael, Lord Wingfield he held the office very briefly until December 1377 when it once again ceased. On 10 December 1386 it was revived again with the appointment of Richard FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel he held the post until 18 May 1389. There would be a further four appointments from May 1389 to April 1400 before the office ceased again. It was established for the final time on 23 December 1406 the command being given to John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset. The last Commander-in-Chief was Thomas Beaufort, Earl of Dorset, from 1408 until 1414. It was considered one the English Navy's most important Naval Commands from the mid-14th century until the beginning of the 15th century.Two of the office holders Sir John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset and Thomas Beaufort, Earl of Dorset both retained the title for life. The first royal commission as Admiral to a naval officer was granted in 1303. By 1344 it was only used as a rank at sea for a captain in charge of a fleet or fleets.[3] In 1410 the High Admiral of England Sir Thomas Beaufort (afterwards duke of Exeter), distributed the responsibilities of his office by appointing three lieutenants, Edmund Arnold, was made responsible for the safe-keeping of the seas to the north and west.[4]

Rank and Role

The naval defence of England from the end of the 13th century was divided into regional commands or 'admiralties' until the end of the fourteenth Century.[5] The appointment of an admiral was not regarded by the English government at the time as an honourary post subordinate to a military rank, their importance attached to their office can be confirmed by the recording of their allowances paid recorded in the Calendar of Patent Rolls.[6] In the fourteenth Century Admirals were paid a respectable salary which was only granted because the position was viewed as substantially important. In addition the rank of admiral was only granted to men of high prestige within feudal hierarchy, most recipients of the office were usually knights but more often earls.[7] The Admirals duties usually consisted of assembling fleets for naval expeditions undertaken by the monarch on campaign, maintaining order and discipline and supervising the work of the Admiralty Courts for each region. On major military expeditions the Admiral would go to sea with their fleets and accompany the overall Commander-in-Chief of both sea and land forces usually the King himself but sometimes a nobleman of higher rank than the admiral. Their role was to observe and direct naval battles but not necessarily taking part in them, themselves.[7] However from 1344 onward their role was moving from primarily administrative role to that of a sea of a seagoing command.[8]

In 1337 the first known record of the appointment of a "vice-admiral' was granted to a Nicholas Ususmaris, a Genoese, he was made Vice-Admiral of the King's fleet of galleys, and all other ships of Aquitaine. However these appointments were far and few between. There was two further instances of the appointment of Vice-Admirals to Sir Thomas Drayton as Vice-Admiral of the Northern Fleet and Sir Peter Bard Vice-Admiral of the Western Fleet both on 28 July 1338.[9]

Special assistants were appointed to handle two important sub-divisions of the admirals powers. The first was the admiral's lieutenant, or deputy, refereed to as sub-admirals, who handled administrative and legal duties and each of these admirals had one and often retained more knowledge than the Admiral himself in relation to the sea and coastal communities.[10] It would not be until the early 15th century that they would appointed on a more regular basis however they were referred to at this time as the admirals Lieutenant-General this office eventually became known as the Lieutenant of the Admiralty.[11]

The second was the Wardens of the Coast for each region who were responsible for the direction and co-ordination of the fleet, the equipping of boats and processing payments to sailors and superintendence of the Sea Guard Militia assigned to each coastal county.[7] From the mid fourteenth century there was move to centralise these regional naval authority's as seen with the appointment of the Admiral of the Southern, Northern and Western fleets sometimes refereed to as Admiral of the Fleet or Admiral of England and the Admiral of the North and West this tendency towards unifying regional naval authorities under one admiral eventually led to the creation of the office of the Lord-Admiral of England[7]

The Admirals were logistically supported by the Offices of the Clerks of the Kings Marine who looked after all the navy's finances whilst victualling of the navy was handled by another one of Kings Clerks.[7]

Office Holders


  1. Admiral Sir Ralph de Spigurnell, Baron Spigurnell, (see notes below).[13]
  2. Admiral Michael, Lord Wingfield, (see notes below).[13]
  3. Admiral Richard FitzAlan, 11th Earl of Arundel — 1387 – 18 May 1389.[13]
  4. Admiral Sir John Roches — 21 May 1389 – 1391. [14][13]
  5. High Admiral Edward, Earl of Rutland and Duke of Abermarle — 29 November 1391 – 1393.[13]
  6. High Admiral Sir John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset — 9 May 1398 – 15 November 1399.[1].[13](was bestowed title for life)
  7. Admiral Sir Thomas Percy, 1st Earl of Worcester — 15 November 1399 – 1401.[13]
  8. Admiral Sir John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset, (see notes below).[13]
  9. Admiral Edmund Holand, Earl of Kent, 1407 – 1408.[13]

Lieutenant Admiral of the North and West

  1. Lieutenant Admiral Edmund Arnold, 1410 – 1412.[15]

Additional Notes

  1. Baron Spigurnell he was appointed on 7 July 1364 but it was later cancelled before the start of a campaign).[13]
  2. Michael, Lord Wingfield he was appointed 24 November 1377 but it was later cancelled before the start of a campaign.[13]
  3. John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset he was appointed 23 December 1406 but it was later cancelled before the start of a campaign.[13]
  4. This office is unified into a single commander in chief the High Admiral of England in 1414 as head of a single Admiralty Office.[16]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Beatson, Robert (1788). A Political Index to the Histories of Great Britain and Ireland: Or, A Complete Register of the Hereditary Honours, Public Offices, and Persons in Office, from the Earliest Periods to the Present Time. G. G. J. & J. Robinson. pp. 259–263.
  2. Nicolas, Nicholas H. (1847). A History of the Royal Navy, from the Earliest Times to the Wars of the Roses. Richard Bentley. p. 529.
  3. "History of Naval Ranks and Rates". National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy. 10 November 2015. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  4. "ARNOLD (ARNAUD), Edmund (d.1419), of Dartmouth, Devon and Gascony. History of Parliament Online". London: The History of Parliament Trust. 1964–2019. Retrieved 22 September 2019.
  5. Rodger, N.A.M. (1997). "Captains and Admirals: Social History 1204 to 1455". The safeguard of the sea : a naval history of Britain. Vol 1., 660-1649. London: Penguin. pp. 131–142. ISBN 9780140297249.
  6. Bell, Adrian (2013). The Soldier in Later Medieval England. Oxford: OUP Oxford. p. 45. ISBN 9780199680825.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Rodger pp. 131-142
  8. National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy
  9. Tucker, George (2004). "Introduction". Blackstone's commentaries : with notes of reference to the constitution and laws, of the federal government of the United States, and of the Commonwealth of Virginia; with an appendix to each volume, containing short tracts upon such subjects as appeared necessary to form a connected view of the laws of Virginia as a member of the federal union. Vol. 1 (5 ed.). Clark, New Jersey, United States: Lawbook Exchange Ltd. p. xxxii. ISBN 9781886363168.
  10. Gorski, Richard (2012). "The Admirals". Roles of the Sea in Medieval England. Woodbridge, England: Boydell Press. p. 82. ISBN 9781843837015.
  11. Blomfield, Richard Massie (January 1912). "NAVAL EXECUTIVE RANKS". The Mariner's Mirror. 2 (4): 106–112. doi:10.1080/00253359.1912.10654589.
  12. Haydn, Joseph (1851). The Book of Dignities: Containing Rolls of the Official Personages of the British Empire ... from the Earliest Periods to the Present Time ... Together with the Sovereigns of Europe, from the Foundation of Their Respective States; the Peerage of England and Great Britain ... Longmans, Brown, Green, and Longmans. pp. 151–155.
  13. 13.00 13.01 13.02 13.03 13.04 13.05 13.06 13.07 13.08 13.09 13.10 13.11 13.12 Rodger, N.A.M. (2004). The safeguard of the sea : a naval history of Britain. 660 to 1649. New York: W.W. Norton. pp. 504–506. ISBN 9780140297249.
  14. "Roches, Sir John (c.1333-1400), of Bromham, Wilts. History of Parliament Online". The History of Parliament Trust 1964-2017. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  15. The History of Parliament Trust.
  16. Durston, Gregory (2017). The Admiralty Sessions, 1536-1834: Maritime Crime and the Silver Oar. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 4. ISBN 9781443873611.