General at Sea

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General at Sea
Flag of the General at Sea 1650 to 1659.gif
Command flag of a General at Sea from 1650 to 1659
Country England
Service branchFlag Commonwealth and Protectorate Navy 1658 to 1660.gif Commonwealth Navy
Next lower rankVice-Admiral
Equivalent ranksAdmiral

General at Sea also referred to as General of the Fleet[1]), was the highest position of command of the Commonwealth Navy, and approximates to the current rank of Admiral. Alongside others, the generals at sea were also appointed as Commissioners for the Admiralty and Navy.[1]

The generals at sea were referred to both by the title of 'general' and by their former army ranks interchangeably.[2] Today, the title 'admiral' is also commonly – if incorrectly – used.

During the early days of the Commonwealth of England and later during the Protectorate the Generals at Sea were in sole charge of all military units of the Commonwealth Navy whilst civil adminstartion of the navy was administered by various Admiralty and Council of State commissions and committees.[3]


In February 1649, within a month of the execution of Charles I, the Council of State suspended the office of Lord High Admiral of England and replaced it with a new Admiralty Commission, and Colonel Robert Blake, Colonel Edward Popham and Colonel Richard Deane were appointed by Parliament as the first generals at sea[4] and Commissioners for the Admiralty and Navy.[5]

After Popham's death in 1651 he was succeeded in 1652 by General George Monck.[6]

Deane was recalled to serve in the army in May 1651, before resuming his post as general at sea in 1652, but was killed at the start of the Battle of the Gabbard on 1 June 1653.[7]

Following the death of Deane, Blake and Monck continued to serve alone until 3 December 1653, when Parliament decided to increase the number of generals at sea to four, with a quorum of two, appointing Major-General John Desborow and Vice-Admiral William Penn (who had been recommended by Monck[8]) to serve alongside Blake and Monck as generals at sea, with all four also serving as Commissioners for the Admiralty and Navy along with Colonel Philip Jones, Colonel John Clerk, John Stone, Major William Burton, Vincent Gooking and Lieutenant-Colonel Kelsey.[1]

Penn's naval career was suspended after the failure to successfully execute the Western Design against Spanish colonies in the West Indies in 1655, which resulted in his temporary imprisonment in the Tower of London.[8]

In January 1656, Edward Montague was appointed general at sea.[9][10] General Robert Blake continued to serve until his death at sea on 7 August 1657,[5] and Montagu until 1665.[9]

Rank Insignia and Personal Flags

HMS Saint George launched in 1622 at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1657 was the flag ship of General at Sea Sir Robert Blake commanding the white squadron depicting the positions of his flags painted in 1901 by the British maritime painter Charles Dixon (1872–1934)


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

Gallery of Generals at Sea


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "House of Commons Journal Volume 7: 3 December 1653". Journal of the House of Commons: volume 7: 1651-1660. Institute of Historical Research. 1802. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  2. Thomas Birch (1742). "State Papers, 1650: July-September". A collection of the State Papers of John Thurloe, volume 1: 1638-1653. Institute of Historical Research. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  3. Davies, J. D. (2008). Pepys’s Navy: Ships, Men and Warfare 1649-89. Barnsley, England.: Seaforth Publishing. p. 27. ISBN 978-1-78383-022-0.
  4. Blake Museum staff. "Who was Robert Blake?". Blake Museum. Archived from the original on 2 October 2011. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Plant, David (18 April 2010). "Robert Blake 1599-1657". British Civil Wars & Commonwealth.
  6. Plant, David (30 May 2007). "George Monck 1608-70". British Civil Wars & Commonwealth.
  7. Plant, David (7 February 2008). "Richard Deane, 1610-53". British Civil Wars & Commonwealth.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Plant, David (7 November 2005). "William Penn, c.1621-70". British Civil Wars & Commonwealth.
  9. 9.0 9.1 "The History of Edward Montagu". Montagu's Regimental Website. Archived from the original on 26 February 2012. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  10. Plant, David (2 June 2010). "Timeline 1656". British Civil Wars & Commonwealth.
  11. Perrin, W. G. (1922). "Admirals: Flags of Command". British flags, their early history, and their development at sea; with an account of the origin of the flag as a national device. Cambridge, England: Cambridge : The University Press. pp. 73–109.