Commonwealth Navy

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Commonwealth Navy
Flag Commonwealth and Protectorate Navy 1658 to 1660.gif
Flag Commonwealth and Protectorate Navy 1658 to 1660
AllegianceFlag of the Commonwealth of England.png Commonwealth of England
Flag of the Protectorate 1653 to 1659.jpg, Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland
(The Protectorate)
BranchEnglish Armed Forces
Part ofAdmiralty and Marine Affairs Office
Garrison/HQPortsmouth, England.
Commander-in-ChiefLord Admiral, Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick
Admiral William Batten
Lord Admiral, Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick
Second-in-CommandGeneral at Sea

The Commonwealth Navy[1] also called the Commonwealth and Protectorate Navy previously referred to as the Parliamentary Navy (1642-1649) is the name modern historians call the former Navy Royal superseding the English Civil War period.[2].

It was the primary naval force of first the Commonwealth of England (1649–1653), (1659–1660) and then later the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland or the Protectorate (1653-1659).

Following the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II of England in 1660 the commonwealth navy was formally reestablished as the Royal Navy.


Stuart Period

Charles I

During the early Stuart period, England's relative naval power deteriorated, and there were increasing raids by Barbary Corsairs on ships and English coastal communities to capture people as slaves, which the Navy had little success in countering.[3] Charles I undertook a major programme of warship building, creating a small force of powerful ships, but his methods of fundraising to finance the fleet contributed to the outbreak of the English Civil War.[4]

Charles I levied "ship money" from 1634 and this unpopular tax was one of the main causes of the first English Civil War from 1642–45. At the beginning of the war in the summer of 1642 the Navy Royal, then consisting of 55 vessels, was seized by [[Parliament of England.[5] During the war the royalist side used a number of small ships to blockade ports and for supplying their own armies. These were afterwards combined into a single force. Charles had surrendered to the Scots and conspired with them to invade England during the second English Civil War of 1648–51. In 1648 part of the Parliamentary Navy mutinied and joined the Royalist side. However, the Royalist Fleet was driven to Spain and destroyed during the Commonwealth period by Robert Blake.

The execution of Charles I forced the rapid expansion of the navy, by multiplying England's actual and potential enemies, and many vessels were constructed from the 1650s onward. This reformation of the navy was also carried out by Blake.[6] In the wake of this conflict and the abolition of the monarchy, the new Commonwealth of England, isolated and threatened from all sides, dramatically expanded the new Parliamentary Navy, which became the most powerful in the world.

Commonwealth and Protectorate period

The outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642 began a period in which England's naval position was severely weakened. Its navy was internally divided, though its officers tended to favour the parliamentary side; after the execution by public beheading of King Charles in 1649, however, Oliver Cromwell was able to unite his country into the Commonwealth of England. He then revamped the navy by expanding the number of ships, promoting officers on merit rather than family connections, and cracking down on embezzlement by suppliers and dockyard staff, thereby positioning England to mount a global challenge to Dutch trade dominance.

The mood in England grew increasingly belligerent towards the Dutch. This partly stemmed from old perceived slights: the Dutch were considered to have shown themselves ungrateful for the aid they had received against the Spanish by growing stronger than their former English protectors; they caught most of the herring off the English east coast; they had driven the English out of the East Indies; and they vociferously appealed to the principle of free trade to circumvent taxation in the English colonies. There were also new points of conflict: with the decline of Spanish power at the end of the Thirty Years' War in 1648, the colonial possessions of the Portuguese Empire (already in the midst of Portuguese Restoration War) and perhaps even those of the Spanish Empire itself were up for grabs.

Cromwell feared the influence of both the Orangist faction at home and English royalists exiled to the Republic; the Stadtholders had supported the Stuart monarchs—William II of Orange had married the daughter of Charles I of England in 1641—and they abhorred the trial and execution of Charles I.

As a result of Cromwell's ambitious programme of naval expansion, at a time when the Dutch admiralty was selling off many of its own warships, the British came to possess a greater number of larger and more powerful purpose-built warships than did their rivals across the North Sea. However, the Dutch had many more cargo ships, together with lower freight rates, better financing and a wider range of manufactured goods to sell — although Dutch ships were blocked by the Spanish from operations in most of southern Europe, giving the British an advantage there.[7]

The Navy (1649-1653)

On 22 February 1649 the English Council of State order that navy ships shall only fly the Cross of St George of England the order was signed off by Oliver Cromwell on 23 February 1649. On 5 March 1649 the Council reversed the previous order and issued a new one that all navy ships carrying Admirals, Vice-Admirals and Rear-Admirals shall fly the Arms of England (Cross of St George) joined with the Arms of Ireland (Gold Harp against a Blue Background).[8]

Early in 1651 Cromwell tried to ease tensions by sending a delegation to The Hague proposing that the Dutch Republic join the Commonwealth and assist the English in conquering most of Spanish America for its extremely valuable resources. This thinly-veiled attempt to end Dutch sovereignty by drawing it into a lopsided alliance with England in fact led to war: the ruling peace faction in the States of Holland was unable to formulate an answer to this unexpected offer and the pro-Stuart Orangeists incited mobs to harass Cromwell's envoys. When the delegation returned home, the English Parliament decided to pursue a policy of confrontation. This led to the First Anglo-Dutch War.

The Navigation Act 1651 cut out Dutch shippers from English trade. Operations of the late 17th century were dominated by the three Anglo-Dutch Wars, which stretched from 1652 to 1674. Forty new ships were built between 1650 and 1654. Triggered by seemingly trivial incidents, but motivated by economic competition, they were notable as purely naval wars fought in the English Channel and the North Sea. In February 1653 the English Channel was closed to Dutch ships which were then forced back to their home ports.[9]

The Navy from (April to May 1658)

The Interregnum saw a considerable expansion in the strength of the navy, both in number of ships and in internal importance within English policy. The Restoration Monarchy inherited this large navy and continued the same policy of expansion of the navy, focusing on making a strong navy full of large ships in order to provide a strong defence under Charles II.[10] At the start of the Restoration, Parliament listed forty ships of the Royal Navy (not of the Summer's Guard) with a complement of 3,695 sailors.[11]

On 12 April 1654 Scotland formally united with England the Council of State issued an order that all navy ships will now fly a flag with the Cross of St George in the Upper Left Canton and Lower Right Canton with the Cross of St Andrew in the Lower Left Canton and Upper Right Canton known as the Arms of the Commonwealth, However according to William Gordon Perrin a specialist on the history of flags it was not flown until 18 May 1658.[12]

The Navy of from (1653 to 1658)

The naval Battle of Portland, or Three Days' Battle took place during 18–20 February 1653 (28 February – 2 March 1653 , during the First Anglo-Dutch War, when the fleet of the Protectorate of England under General at Sea Robert Blake was attacked by a fleet of the Dutch Republic under Lieutenant-Admiral Maarten Tromp escorting merchant shipping through the English Channel.

The naval Battle of Leghorn took place on 4 March 1653 , during the First Anglo-Dutch War, near Leghorn (Livorno), Italy. It was a victory of a Dutch squadron under Commodore Johan van Galen over an English squadron under Captain Henry Appleton. Afterwards, another English squadron under Captain Richard Badiley, which Appleton had been trying to join up with, reached the scene in time to observe the capture of the last ships of Appleton's squadron, but was outnumbered and forced to return to Porto Longone.

The Battle of Scheveningen (also known as the Battle of Texel or the Battle of Ter Heijde) was the final naval battle of the First Anglo-Dutch War. It took place on 31 July 1653 between the fleets of the Protectorate of England and the United Provinces. The Dutch fleet suffered a heavy defeat, but achieved their strategic goal in the short term, as the battle led to the raising of the English blockade of the Dutch coast.

In 1655 Blake routed the Barbary pirates and started a campaign against the Spanish in the Caribbean, capturing Jamaica.[13] During the Protectorate Period (1653 to 1658) the personal standard of Oliver Cromwell was used: a quarterly, first and fourth white with a red St. George's Cross (England); second blue with white St. Andrew's Cross (Scotland); third blue with yellow harp (Ireland); and overall an escutcheon bearing Cromwell's personal arms (sable a lion rampant argent).[14]

The Navy from (1658 to 1660)

In 1658 the standard of Oliver Cromwell's as Lord Protector changed, in which the cross of St. George was quartered with the cross of St. Andrew and the Irish Harp, and surmounted by an escutcheon with Cromwell's personal coat of arms became the 'Standard for the General of his Highness's fleet' and the Cross and Harp jack was replaced by the old Union Jack with the addition of a harp in the centre.'[15]

In 1664 the English captured New Amsterdam (later New York City) resulting in the Second Dutch War (1665–1667). In 1666 the Four Days Battle was a defeat for the English but the Dutch fleet was crushed a month later off Orfordness. In 1655 Blake routed the Barbary pirates and started a campaign against the Spanish in the Caribbean, capturing Jamaica.[16]

The Restoration of the Monarchy

Charles II

The English monarchy was restored in May 1660, and Charles II assumed the throne. One of his first acts was to re-establish the Navy, but from this point on, it ceased to be the personal possession of the reigning monarch, and instead became a national institution—formally established as "The Royal Navy". The administration of the navy was greatly improved by Sir William Coventry and Samuel Pepys, both of whom began their service in 1660 with the Restoration. While it was Pepys' diary that made him the most famous of all naval bureaucrats, his nearly thirty years of administration were crucial in replacing the ad hoc processes of years past with regular programmes of supply, construction, pay, and so forth. He was responsible for introduction of the "Navy List" which fixed the order of promotion. In 1683 the "Victualling Board" was set up which fixed the ration scales.


The Navy Royal was seized by parliamentary forces during the early phase of the English Civil War, the parliamentarian navy as it was now known was reorganised into squadrons called the Summer Guard, Winter Guard or Irish Guard.[17] The larger fleets during this period were the Mediterranean Fleet and the Baltic Fleet. It also included specialist expeditionary fleets such as those sent to Barbados, Lisbon and the West Indies.[18]

# Formation Active Ref/Notes
1. Baltic Fleet 1652 – 1659 [19]
2. Barbados Fleet 1651 – 1652 [20]
3. Irish Guard Naval Squadron 1642 – 1653 [21]
4. Lisbon Fleet 1650 – 1652 [22]
5. Mediterranean Squadron 1654 – 1657 [23]
6. Summer Guard 1642 – 1650 [24]
7. Summer Guard of the Irish Sea 1642 [25]
8. West Indies Fleet 1654 – 1655 [26]
9. Winter Guard 1643 – 1649 [27]


# Stations Active Ref/Notes
1. Downs Station 1642 – 1660
2. Jamaica Station 1655 – 1660

Naval Ensigns and Flags (1649-1660)

Ensigns of the Commonwealth Navy

At sea, royalist ships continued to fly the Union Jack of 1606 and the appropriate ensign (different in England and in Scotland before 1707). The parliamentary navy was ordered by the Council of State on 22 February 1649 as follows: "that the ships at sea in service of the State shall onely beare the red Crosse in a white flag". The appropriate order was signed by Oliver Cromwell on 23 February. On 5 March 1649 the Council ordered "that the Flagg that is to be borne by the Admiral, Vice-Admiral, and Rere-Admiral be that now presented, viz., the Armes of England [Red St. George Cross on white] and Ireland [gold harp on blue] in two severall Escotcheons in a Red Flagg, within a compartment."

Dave Martucci, 29 September 1999

Ensigns of the Protectorate Navy

Scotland was only formally reunited with England by an Ordinance of 12 April 1654 which ordered: "That the arms of Scotland viz: a Cross commonly called the St Andrew's Cross be received onto and borne from henceforth in the Arms of this Commonwealth ... etc"., and according to Perrin (P64) the saltire of Scotland did not reappear on naval flags until an Order of the Council of State dated 18 May 1658 (the jack and from c1653 the flag of subordinate Generals at Sea continuing as the impaled arms of England and Ireland). Christopher Southworth, 16 May 2010

According to "The flagshop" this is a naval ensign of 1659; though I do not know if that means Richard Cromwell's Protectorate or the briefly restored Parliamentary regime. Kenneth Fraser, 30 June 2012

Command Flags Commonwealth and Protectorate Navy

Generals at Sea

Generals at Sea in command of the Red Squadron

Generals at Sea in command of the White Squadron

Generals at Sea in command of the Blue Squadron

Flag Officers of the Fleet

Vice-Admirals Red Squadron

Vice-Admirals White Squadron

Vice Admiral of the Grand squadron

Rear Admiral of the Fleet (Blue) acting as Vice Admiral of the Grand squadron

Note: During this period the rest of the commonwealth fleet was divided into nine formations each assigned red, white and blue colours that included plain flags and the coloured ensigns. At the Restoration

Generals at Sea Squadron Flags Commonwealth and Protectorate Navy


  1. Rose, Susan (2008). The Naval Miscellany. Farnham, United Kingdom: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 97. ISBN 9780754664314.
  2. Tedder, Arthur W. (2019). The Navy of the Restoration. Cambridge: CUP Archive. p. 197.
  3. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 349–363.
  4. Rodger, Safeguard, pp. 379–394, 482.
  5. Andrews, Kenneth R. (1991). Ships, Money and Politics: Seafaring and Naval Enterprise in the Reign of Charles I. Cambridge: CUP Archive: Cambridge University Press. p. 184. ISBN 9780521401166.
  6. "General-at-Sea Robert Blake 1599-1657". National Archives. Retrieved 2 January 2017.
  7. Israel, Jonathan I. (1995). The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness and Fall, 1477–1806. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 713. ISBN 0-19-873072-1.
  8. Martucci. Dave. (29 September 1999). "United Kingdom: Flags of the Interregnum, 1649-1660. "
  9. "The Battle of Portland (a.k.a. The Three Days' Battle), 1653". British Civil Wars Project. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  10. David Davies (1992). Michael Duffy (ed.). Parameters of British Naval Power. University of Exeter Press. pp. 14–38. ISBN 978-0-85989-385-5.
  11. "Complement numbers of the Restoration". British Retrieved 12 July 2007.
  12. Southworth. Christopher. (16 May 2010). "United Kingdom: Flags of the Interregnum, 1649-1660. "
  13. Coward 2002, p. 134
  14. McMillan. Joseph. (27 September 1999). "United Kingdom: Flags of the Interregnum, 1649-1660. "
  15. Bakker. Jarig. (26 September 1999). "United Kingdom: Flags of the Interregnum, 1649-1660. "
  16. Coward 2002, p. 134
  17. Murphy, Elaine (2012). Ireland and the War at Sea, 1641-1653. Woodbridge, United Kingdom: Boydell & Brewer Ltd. p. 92. ISBN 9780861933181.
  18. Harrison, Simon (2010–2018). "Three Decks - Warships in the Age of Sail: Fleet List". S. Harrison. Retrieved 6 October 2019.
  19. Harrison, Fleet List.
  20. Harrison, Fleet List.
  21. Harrison, Fleet List.
  22. Harrison, Fleet List.
  23. Harrison, Fleet List.
  24. Harrison, Fleet List.
  25. Harrison, Fleet List.
  26. Harrison, Fleet List.
  27. Harrison, Fleet List.