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The Master-General of the Ordnance (MGO) was a very senior British military position before 1855, when the Board of Ordnance was abolished.


Usually held by a serving general, the Master-General of the Ordnance was responsible for all British artillery, engineers, fortifications, military supplies, transport, field hospitals and much else, and was not subordinate to the commander-in chief of the British military. In 1764 it established the British standard ordnance weights and measurements for the artillery, one of the earliest standards in the world.


The Office of Armoury split away from the Privy Wardrobe of the Tower (of London) in the early 15th century. The Master of the Ordnance came into being in 1415 with the appointment of Nicholas Merbury by Henry V. The Office of Ordnance was created by Henry VIII in 1544 and became the Board of Ordnance in 1597. Its head was the Master-General of the Ordnance; his subordinates included the Lieutenant-General of the Ordnance and the Surveyor-General of the Ordnance.[1] Before the establishment of a standing army or navy, the Ordnance Office was the only permanent military department in England.

The position of Master-General was frequently a cabinet-level one, especially in the late 18th and early 19th centuries when it was normally a political appointment. In 1855 the post was discontinued and certain of the ceremonial aspects of the post were subsequently vested in the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces.[2] In 1904 the post was re-established and until 1938 the Master-General of the Ordnance was the Fourth Military Member of the Army Board.[3]

In 1913 the control of military aviation was separated from the responsibilities of the Master-General of the Ordnance. A new Department of Military Aeronautics was established and Brigadier-General Henderson was appointed the first director.[4]

The role still exists but is now held by a major-general.

Masters of the Ordnance 1415–1544

  • Nicholas Merbury, 1415–1420 [5]
  • John Hampton 1429
  • Thomas Vaughan 1450
  • John Judde 1456-?1460 (died 1460)
  • Richard Guildford 1485–>1493
  • Robert Clifford
  • Sir Sampson Norton 1511
  • Sir Henry Willoughby 1513
  • Sir William Skeffington ?-1529
  • Bernadyne de Wallys 1536
  • Sir Christopher Morice 1541

Masters-General of the Ordnance, 1544–1855

William Berkeley, 1st Baron Berkeley
Sir John Duncombe
Thomas Chicheley
  • Sir Thomas Chicheley 1670–1679
  • in commission 1679–1682
Sir John Chicheley
Sir William Hickman, 2nd Bt.
Sir Christopher Musgrave


Post vacant from 1855 to 1904
Holders of the post have included:[6]

The post was abolished by Hore-Belisha, the Secretary of State for War, as he perceived it to be a block on production, transferring tank development responsibility to the Director General of Munitions Development. It was not reinstated until 1959

Notes and references

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