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The Admiralty was historically the authority in the United Kingdom responsible for the command of the Royal Navy. Originally exercised by a single person, the office of Lord High Admiral was from the 18th century invariably put "in commission", and was exercised by a Board of Admiralty, officially known as the Commissioners for Exercising the Office of Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, etc. (alternatively of England, Great Britain or the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland depending on the period).
In 1964 the functions of the Admiralty were transferred to a new Admiralty Board, which is a committee of the tri-service Defence Council of the United Kingdom and part of the Ministry of Defence. The new Admiralty Board meets only twice a year, and the day-to-day running of the Royal Navy is controlled by a Navy Board (not to be confused with the historical Navy Board described later in this article). It is now uncommon for the various authorities now in charge of the Royal Navy to be referred to simply as "the Admiralty"
The title of Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom is now vested in the Sovereign. However, there continues to be a Vice Admiral and a Rear Admiral of the United Kingdom, both of which are honorary offices.
The office of Admiral of England, or Lord Admiral and later Lord High Admiral was created in around 1400. In 1546 King Henry VIII established the Council of the Marine, later to became the Navy Board, to oversee administrative affairs of the naval service. Operational control of the Navy remained the responsibility of the Lord High Admiral, who was one of the nine Great Officers of State.
In 1628, Charles I put the office of Lord High Admiral into commission and control of the Royal Navy passed to a committee in the form of the Board of the Admiralty. The office of Lord High Admiral passed a number of times in and out of commission until 1709, after which the office was permanently in commission.
The members of the Board of Admiralty were known as the Lords Commissioners of Admiralty. The Lords Commissioners were always a mixture of admirals, known as Naval Lords or Sea Lords, and civilian lords, normally politicians. The president of the Board was known as the First Lord of the Admiralty.
After 1806, the First Lord of the Admiralty was always a civilian, while the professional head of the navy came to be (and is still today) known as the First Sea Lord.
In 1831 the Navy Board was abolished as a separate entity and its duties and responsibilities were given over to the Board of Admiralty.
In 1964 the Admiralty was subsumed into the Ministry of Defence along with the War Office and the Air Ministry. Within the expanded Ministry of Defence are the new Admiralty Board, Army Board and Air Force Board, each headed by the Secretary of State for Defence. As mentioned above, there is also a Navy Board in charge of the day-to-day running of the Royal Navy.
Old Admiralty Building
The seat of power of the Admiralty in Whitehall was designed and built by Thomas Ripley, a former carpenter and protegé of Sir Robert Walpole, whose creation provoked the scorn of Pope:
- See under Ripley rise a new White-hall,
While Jones' and Boyles' united labours fall.
- — The Dunciad (1743), book III, ii, 327-8