Royal Navy: Admiral Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe

Admiral Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe. Photograph Source: Public Domain

Richard Howe - Early Life & Career:

Born March 8, 1726, Richard Howe was the son of Viscount Emanuel Howe and Charlotte, Countess of Darlington. The half-sister of King George I, Howe's mother wielded political influence which aided in her sons' military careers. While his brothers George and William pursued careers in army, Richard elected to go to sea and received a midshipman's warrant in the Royal Navy in 1740. Joining HMS Severn (50 guns), Howe took part in Commodore George Anson's expedition to the Pacific that fall. Though Anson eventually circumnavigated the globe, Howe's ship was forced to turn back after failing to round Cape Horn.

As the War of the Austrian Succession raged, Howe saw service in the Caribbean aboard HMS Burford (70) and took part in the fighting at La Guaira, Venezuela in February 1743. Made an acting lieutenant after the action, his rank was made permanent the next year. Taking command of the sloop HMS Baltimore in 1745, he sailed off the coast of Scotland in support of operations during the Jacobite Rebellion. While there, he was badly wounded in the head while engaging a pair of French privateers. Promoted to post-captain a year later, at the young age of twenty, Howe received command of the frigate HMS Triton (24).

The Seven Years' War:

Moving to Admiral Sir Charles Knowles' flagship, HMS Cornwall (80), Howe captained the vessel during operations in the Caribbean in 1748. Taking part in the October 12 Battle of Havana, it was his last major action of the conflict. With the arrival of peace, Howe was able to retain sea-going commands and saw service in the Channel and off Africa. In 1755, with the French & Indian War underway in North America, Howe sailed across the Atlantic in command of HMS Dunkirk (60). Part of Vice Admiral Edward Boscawen's squadron, he aided in the capture of Alcide (64) and Lys (22) on June 8.

Returning to the Channel Squadron, Howe took part in the naval descents against Rochefort (September 1757) and St. Malo (June 1758). Commanding HMS Magnanime (74), Howe played a key role in capturing Ile de Aix during the former operation. In July 1758, Howe was elevated to title of Viscount Howe in the Irish Peerage following the death of his older brother George at the Battle of Carillon. Later that summer he participated in raids against Cherbourg and St. Cast. Retaining command of Magnanime, he played a role in Admiral Sir Edward Hawke's stunning triumph at the Battle of Quiberon Bay on November 20, 1759.

A Rising Star:

With the war concluding, Howe was elected to Parliament representing Dartmouth in 1762. He retained this seat until his elevation to the House of Lords in 1788. The following year, he joined the Admiralty Board before becoming Treasurer of the Navy in 1765. Fulfilling this role for five years, Howe was promoted to rear admiral in 1770 and given command of the Mediterranean Fleet. Elevated to vice admiral in 1775, he held sympathetic views pertaining to the rebelling American colonists and was an acquaintance of Benjamin Franklin.

The American Revolution:

As a result of these feelings, the Admiralty appointed him to command the North American Station in 1776, in the hope that he could aid in quieting the American Revolution. Sailing across the Atlantic, he and his brother, General William Howe, who was commanding British land forces in North America, were appointed as peace commissioners. Embarking his brother's army, Howe and his fleet arrived off New York City in the summer of 1776. Supporting William's campaign to take the city, he landed the army on Long Island in late August. After brief campaign, the British won the Battle of Long Island.

In the wake of the British victory, the Howe brothers reached out to their American opponents and convened a peace conference on Staten Island. Taking place on September 11, the Richard Howe met with Franklin, John Adams, and Edward Rutledge. Despite several hours of discussions, no agreement could be reached and the Americans returned to their lines. While William completed the capture of New York and engaged General George Washington's army, Richard was under orders to blockade the North American coast. Lacking the necessary number of vessels, this blockade proved porous.

Howe's efforts to seal American ports were further hampered by the need to provide naval support to army operations. In the summer of 1777, Howe transported his brother's army south and up the Chesapeake Bay to commence its offensive against Philadelphia. While his brother defeated Washington at Brandywine, captured Philadelphia, and won again at Germantown, Howe's ships worked to reduce the American defenses in the Delaware River. This complete, Howe withdrew the fleet to Newport, RI for the winter.

In 1778, Howe was deeply insulted when he learned of the appointment of a new peace commission under the guidance of the Earl of Carlisle. Angered, he submitted his resignation which was reluctantly accepted by the First Sea Lord, the Earl of Sandwich. His departure was soon delayed as France entered the conflict and a French fleet appeared in American waters. Led by the Comte d'Estaing, this force was unable to catch Howe at New York and was prevented from engaging him at Newport due to a severe storm. Returning to Britain, Howe became an outspoken critic of Lord North's government.

These views kept him from receiving another command until North's government fell in early 1782. Taking command of the Channel Fleet, Howe found himself outnumbered by the combined forces of the Dutch, French, and Spanish. Adroitly shifting forces when needed, he succeeded in protecting convoys in the Atlantic, holding the Dutch in port, and conducting the Relief of Gibraltar. This last action saw his ships deliver reinforcements and supplies to the beleaguered British garrison which had been under siege since 1779.

Wars of the French Revolution

Known as "Black Dick" due to his swarthy complexion, Howe was made First Lord of the Admiralty in 1783 as part of William Pitt the Younger's government. Serving for five years, he faced debilitating budget constraints and complaints from unemployed officers. Despite these issues, he succeeded in maintaining the fleet in a state of readiness. With the beginning of Wars of the French Revolution in 1793, he received command of the Channel Fleet despite his advanced age. Putting to sea the following year, he won a decisive victory at the Glorious First of June, capturing six ships of the line and sinking a seventh.

After the campaign, Howe retired from active service but retained several commands at the wish of King George III. Beloved by the sailors of the Royal Navy, he was called upon to aid in putting down the 1797 Spithead mutinies. Understanding the demands and needs of the men, he was able to negotiate an acceptable solution which saw pardons issued for those who had mutinied, pay raises, and the transfer of unacceptable officers. Knighted in 1797, Howe lived another two years before dying on August 5, 1799. He was buried in the family vault at St. Andrew's Church, Langar-cum-Barnstone.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "Royal Navy: Admiral Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). Royal Navy: Admiral Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "Royal Navy: Admiral Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).