Vice-Admiralties of the Coast

From Naval History Archive
Jump to navigationJump to search
Vice-Admiralties of the Coast
Flag of the Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom.svg
Flag of the Board of Admiralty
Admiralty overview
Preceding Admiralty
Dissolvedc. 20th century
JurisdictionEngland Kingdom of England
Flag of the Kingdom of Ireland 1783 to 1801.png Kingdom of Ireland
Kingdom of Great Britain Kingdom of Great Britain
Flag of Scotland 1542 to 2003.png Kingdom of Scotland
United Kingdom United Kingdom
HeadquartersNation Wide
Admiralty executive
Parent AdmiraltyAdmiralty and Marine Affairs Office
Department of Admiralty

The Vice-Admiralties of the Coast the origin of these offices are traceable to the much earlier offices of the Wardens of the Coast created in the 13th century. These posts were established in maritime counties of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.[1] They were administered by a Vice-Admiral of the Coast they were chiefly responsible for naval and judicial administration in each maritime county, and the local defence of their county. They were both deputy law officers and shore commanders of the office of the Lord Admiral of England. In 1660 their function came under the control of the Board of Admiralty by the 19th century they began to be phased out though some survived in name only into the 20th century. They formed a component part of the Judicial Department of the Department of Admiralty


The origins of the office of vice admiral of the coast are obscure but are believed to have evolved out of the much earlier offices of Wardens of the Coast from the 14th century. In their fully developed form the arrangements provided for vice admiralty jurisdictions in each of the twenty maritime counties of England, in north and south Wales and in each of the four provinces of Ireland.[1]

William Gonson was appointed to the vice admiralty of Norfolk and Suffolk in 1536. No earlier appointment of a vice admiral has been traced and it is possible that this was the date of the institution of the office. However, it is not clear that this development was part of a comprehensive scheme for the appointment of vice admirals in all the coastal counties. The evidence for such an arrangement becomes available only in the reign of Elizabeth I and it is for this reason that this reign has been taken as the point of departure for the present lists. From this period vice admirals acquired a more public profile than they had enjoyed previously. In the second half of the sixteenth century they increasingly received orders from the privy council. In 1561, apparently for the first time, the crown addressed instructions directly to the vice admirals.[1]

In principle each vice admiralty was presided over by a single vice admiral but this was not invariable. In certain cases two or more jurisdictions were combined. These were usually contiguous as was the case with the four northern counties of Cumberland, Durham, Northumberland and Westmorland, Cheshire and Lancashire, Norfolk and Suffolk and Lincoln and York. Exceptionally the northern counties were combined with Dorset 1611-40. In 1601 Cornwall was divided into northern and southern parts while a separate vice admiral for the isles of Scilly was appointed in 1570 and served during the 1630s. The northern part of Devon was separated from the rest of the county for the purposes of the vice admiralty between 1603 and 1623. A distinct vice admiral served for the isle of Wight between 1567 and 1571 and for the hundred of Milton in Kent between 1585 and 1607.[1]

Before 1585 there appears to have been no settled policy governing the allocation of vice admirals in Wales. In some instances appointments were made to a single county, in others to a group of counties. In 1585 the principality was divided into northern and southern parts each with its own vice admiral. This arrangement proved to be permanent. Initially a single vice admiral served for the whole of Ireland. In 1585 a distinct vice admiralty was created for Munster and eventually the same course was adopted in the case of the three other provinces. In 1606 a separate vice admiral was appointed to part of Ulster. In some instances the office of vice admiral was held jointly by two or more holders as in the cases of Sir Thomas Woodhouse, Sir William Woodhouse and Henry Woodhouse in Norfolk and Suffolk, Sir Lionel Tollemache and Sir Michael Stanhope in Suffolk and frequently in Devon.[1]

The office of vice admiral was in the gift of the lord high admiral. The process of appointment was initiated by a warrant signed by him directing the judge of the admiralty court to make out letters patent under the seal of that court. These letters patent ran in the name of the lord high admiral. However, when that office was in commission (1628-38), the warrant was signed by the commissioners but the letters patent ran in the name of the king. During the Interregnum appointments were made at various times by Warwick, the parliamentarian lord high admiral, the parliamentary admiralty committee, the council of state and the protector. Only three appointments of vice admirals in the service of the royal government at Oxford have been traced: Francis and John Basset of North Cornwall (1644), Sir Charles Trevanion of South Cornwall (c. 1643) and Sir John Berkeley of Devon (c. 1644).[1]

The definitive document of appointment was the letters patent. However, for the period in question there appears to be no central record of instruments issued under the admiralty seal equivalent to the patent roll for those issued under the great seal. In consequence the dates of these documents have to be sought elsewhere. The texts of letters patent exist for the appointments of William More to Sussex (1559, 1577, 1585), Lord Cobham to Kent and Sir Edward Hoby to Kent (Milton Hundred) (1585), Sir Michael Stanhope to Suffolk (1595), Lord Berkeley to Gloucester (1603), Francis Vivian to South Cornwall (1607) and the Earl of Mulgrave to York (1652). In certain cases the dates of letters patent are recited in other documents. Otherwise reliance has to be placed on the warrants which in most cases are likely to bear dates anterior to the eventual letters patent.[1]

Where the instrument of appointment specifies the tenure on which the office was to be held this fact is noted in the lists. Under Clinton (Lincoln) there was no clear preference as between tenure for life or tenure during pleasure. Under Howard of Effingham (Nottingham) and Buckingham life tenure was particularly favoured. However, from the time when the admiralty was placed in commission in 1628 pleasure tenure became the general rule. Three appointments were made during good behaviour: Luke Robinson to York, Anthony Stapley to Sussex (1651) and John Fenwick to Durham (1652). It would appear that the lord high admiral was not competent to make an appointment for more than his official life. It was evidently for this reason that an incoming lord high admiral was at liberty to confirm or set aside his predecessor's appointments whether they had been made for life or during pleasure.[1]

In 1660 they came under direct control of the Board of Admiralty by the 19th century the posts began to be gradually phased out. So far as possible the lists are based on the warrants of appointment. The sequence of surviving warrants is not complete. Where they are lacking approximate periods of service have been established by reference to periodic lists of, or incidental references to, vice admirals.

The compilation of the lists has been rendered particularly difficult by the confusion between vice admirals and their deputies. It can be demonstrated that, in certain cases, an individual designated a vice admiral was in fact a deputy. It has to be conceded, however, that the distinction is not clear in every case and that further research may modify some conclusions. Unless otherwise stated information about peers and baronets has been taken from the Complete Peerage and Complete Baronetage.[1]


The Vice-Admiralties were chiefly responsible for naval and judicial administration in each maritime county, and the local defence of their county. They were both deputy law officers and shore commanders of the [[Lord Admiral of England] and would include, deciding the lawfulness of prizes at the Prize Court captured by Privateers, dealing with salvage claims for wrecks, they acted acting as a Judge and administered the role of the Impress Service. The earliest record of an appointment was of William Gonson as Vice-Admiral of Norfolk and Suffolk in 1536.[1]

Vice-Admiralties of


In England they included the.[1]

  1. Vice-Admiralty of Cheshire
  2. Vice-Admiralty of Cheshire and Lancashire
  3. Vice-Admiralty of Cornwall
  4. Vice-Admiralty of Cumberland
  5. Vice-Admiralty of Devon
  6. Vice-Admiralty of Dorset
  7. Vice-Admiralty of Durham
  8. Vice-Admiralty of Essex
  9. Vice-Admiralty of Gloucester
  10. Vice-Admiralty of Hampshire
  11. Vice-Admiralty of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight
  12. Vice-Admiralty of Kent
  13. Vice-Admiralty of Kent and the Milton Hundred
  14. Vice-Admiralty of Lancashire
  15. Vice-Admiralty of Lincoln
  16. Vice-Admiralty of Norfolk
  17. Vice-Admiralty of North Cornwall
  18. Vice-Admiralty of North Devon
  19. Vice-Admiralty of Northumberland
  20. Vice-Admiralty of Scilly
  21. Vice-Admiralty of Somerset
  22. Vice-Admiralty of South Cornwall
  23. Vice-Admiralty of Suffolk
  24. Vice-Admiralty of Sussex
  25. Vice-Admiralty of Westmoreland
  26. Vice-Admiralty of the West
  27. Vice-Admiralty of York


Before 1585 there were no settled arrangements for assigning vice admirals to the five coastal counties of North Wales and appointments are simply listed chronologically without regard to county. From 1585 a single vice admiral served for all the counties. Before 1585 it appears to have been the practice for three of the counties of South Wales, Cardigan, Carmarthen and Pembroke, to be grouped under a single vice admiral while a distinct vice admiral served for Glamorgan. Thereafter all four counties were placed under a single vice admiral.

In Wales they included the.[1]
  1. Vice-Admiralty of Cardigan, Carmarthen and Pembroke
  2. Vice-Admiralty of Cardigan, Carmarthen, Glamorgan and Pembroke
  3. Vice-Admiralty of Glamorgan
  4. Vice-Admiralty of Monmouth (established in 1660)
  5. Vice-Admiralty of North Wales (included Anglesey, Carnarvon, Denbigh, Flint and Merioneth)
  6. Vice-Admiralty of South Wales


Vice-Admiralties of the Coast of Scotland were established from 1660 onward.[1]

  1. Vice-Admiralty of Orkney and Shetland
  2. Vice-Admiralty of Scotland
  3. Vice-Admiralty of the Western Coast


A single vice admiral served for the whole of Ireland until 1585 when Munster was detached. Separate vice admiralties had been established in Ulster by 1602, Leinster by 1612 and Connaught by 1615.[1]

  1. Vice-Admiralty of Connaught
  2. Vice-Admiralty of Leinster
  3. Vice-Admiralty of Munster
  4. Vice-Admiralty of Ulster
  5. Vice-Admiralty of Ulster and between Blackwater and Bann


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 Sainty, J. C.; Thrush, J. D. (28 September 2006). "Office-Holders: Vice Admirals of the Coasts 1558-1660". University of London. Retrieved 4 July 2019.


  2. Vice Admirals of the Coasts 1558–1660: The Institute of Historical Research: University of London, England, 5 Apr 2005 - 8 Nov 2016


The Provisional lists compiled by J C Sainty and A D Thrush with additional information kindly supplied by Geoffrey Harris and Paul Hunneyball, Institute of Historical Research University of London December 2004 are preserved at