Military Wiki
The Earl Howe
Richard Howe, painted by John Singleton Copley. 1794
Born (1726-03-08)March 8, 1726
Died August 5, 1799(1799-08-05) (aged 73)
Place of birth London, England
Allegiance  Kingdom of Great Britain
Service/branch  Royal Navy
Years of service 1740–1799
Rank Admiral
Battles/wars Jacobite Rising
War of the Austrian Succession
Seven Years' War
Battle of Quiberon Bay
Battle of Cape Spartel
First Coalition
Glorious First of June
Awards Knight of the Order of the Garter

Admiral of the Fleet Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe, KG (8 March 1726 – 5 August 1799) was a British naval officer, notable in particular for his service during the American War of Independence and French Revolutionary Wars. He was the brother of William and George Howe.

Howe joined the navy at the age of thirteen and served throughout the War of the Austrian Succession. During the Seven Years War he gained a reputation for his role in amphibious operations against the French coast as part of Britain's policy of naval descents. He took part in the decisive British naval victory at the Battle of Quiberon Bay in 1759. He is best known for his service during the American War of Independence, when he acted as a naval commander and a peace commissioner with the American rebels, and for his command of the British fleet during the Glorious First of June in 1794.

Early career

Howe was born in London, the second son of Emanuel Scrope Howe, 2nd Viscount Howe, who died as governor of Barbados in March 1735, and of Charlotte, a daughter of Baroness von Kielmansegg, afterwards Countess of Darlington, the half-sister of King George I which does much to explain his early rise in the navy. Richard Howe entered the navy in the Severn, one of the squadron sent into the south seas with George Anson in 1740.[1] The Severn failed to round Cape Horn and returned home.[1] Howe next served in the West Indies aboard Burford and was present when she was severely damaged in the unsuccessful attack on La Guaira on 18 February 1743.[1] He was made acting-lieutenant in the West Indies in the same year, and the rank was confirmed in 1744.[1]

During the Jacobite Rising of 1745, he commanded the sloop Baltimore in the North Sea, and was severely wounded in the head while cooperating with a frigate in an engagement with two French privateers.[1] In 1746, he became post-captain, and commanded Triton in the West Indies.[1] As captain of Cornwall, the flagship of Sir Charles Knowles,[1] he was in the battle with the Spaniards off Havana on 2 October 1748. Between the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years' War, Howe held commands at home and on the west coast of Africa.

Seven Years War

The Battle of Quiberon Bay by Nicholas Pocock. Howe took part in the battle as a captain. The overwhelming British victory at Quiberon Bay ended the prospect of a French Invasion of Britain or Ireland.

In 1755, he went with Edward Boscawen to North America as captain of Dunkirk,[1] and his capture of the French Alcide was the first shot fired in the war.[1] From then until the peace of 1763, he served in the Channel in various more or less futile expeditions against the French coast, gaining a reputation as a firm and skillful officer for his role in the series of naval descents on the French coast including the Raid on Rochefort,[1] Raid on St Malo,[1] Battle of Saint Cast[1] and the Raid on Cherbourg.[1] He was particularly noted for his conduct at Rochefort, where he had taken the Ile d'Aix, and was described by George Rodney as performing his duties "with such cool and steady resolution, as has most justly gained him the universal applause of army and navy".[2] On 20 November 1759, he led Hawke's fleet as captain of Magnanime in the Battle of Quiberon Bay where the British won a decsisive victory, forestalling a Planned French Invasion of Britain.

After the death of his elder brother, killed near Ticonderoga on 6 July 1758, he became Viscount Howe in the Peerage of Ireland.[1] In 1762, he was elected M.P. for Dartmouth,[1] and held the seat until he was elevated to the House of Lords as Earl Howe in the Peerage of Great Britain. During 1763 and 1765, he was a member of the Admiralty board.[1] From 1765 to 1770, he was treasurer of the navy.[1] At the end of his tenure, Howe was promoted to Rear admiral, and made Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet.[1] He was promoted again, in 1775, to Vice admiral.[1] In February 1776 he was appointed to the command of the North American Station.[1]

American War of Independence

At the beginning of the American War of Independence, Howe was known to be sympathetic to the colonists.[1] He had known Benjamin Franklin,[1] who was a friend of his sister, a popular lady in London society. Howe had written to Franklin in a peacemaking effort. Because of his known sentiments, he was selected to command in America. He was joined in a commission with his brother, General Sir William Howe, head of the land forces, to attempt a reconciliation.[1] A committee appointed by the Second Continental Congress conferred with Howe in September 1776, but nothing came of it.


Howe was ordered to institute a naval blockade of the American coastline, but this proved to be ineffectual. Howe claimed to have too few ships to successfully accomplish this, particularly as a number had to be detached to support operations by the British army. As a result large amounts of covert French supplies and munitions were smuggled to America. It has been suggested that Howe's limited blockade at this point was driven by his sympathy with and desire for conciliation with the Americans.[3]

By 1778 the blockade was more promising, with many merchant ships being taken. Howe still complained to London that while his ships were able to successfully guard the southern colonies, the blockade of the northern colonies was still ineffective.[4] His requests for more ships were rejected as the Admiralty wanted to keep much of the fleet at home to protect against a Franco-Spanish invasion of the British Isles, should they enter the war.

New York and Philadelphia

The strategy of the British in North America was a combination of operations aimed at capturing major cities and a blockade of the coast.[5] In 1776 the British captured New York City with combined operations between the army and the navy. In 1777 Admiral Howe provided support to his brother's operation to capture Philadelphia, ferrying Howe's army to a landing point from which they successfully marched and took the city. Howe spent much of the remainder of the year concentrating on capturing the forts that controlled entry to the Delaware River without which ships could not reach Philadelphia.

News of the capture of a separate British army under John Burgoyne threw British plans into disarray. Howe spent the winter in Newport, Rhode Island.[6]


The appointment of a new peace commission in 1778 offended the admiral deeply, and he resigned his command. His resignation was reluctantly accepted by Lord Sandwich, then First Sea Lord, but before it could take effect France declared war, and a powerful French squadron was sent to America under the Comte d'Estaing.[1] Greatly outnumbered and forced to take a defensive stance, Howe nevertheless baffled the French admiral at Sandy Hook,[1] and defeated d'Estaing's attempt to take Newport, Rhode Island by a fine combination of caution and calculated daring.[1] On Admiral John Byron's arrival from England with reinforcements, Howe left his station in September 1778.[1]

Declining to serve afterwards, he cited distrust of Lord North and a lack of support during his command in America. He was further embittered by the replacement of himself and his brother as peace commissioners, as well as by attacks in the press against him by ministerial writers including the prominent American Loyalist Joseph Galloway. An enquiry in Parliament demanded by the Howe brothers to justify their conduct in America was held during 1779 but ended inconclusively.[7] Howe spent much of the next three years with the opposition attacking the government's alleged mismanagement of the war at sea. The only exception was his support of a motion of thanks to Admiral Rodney for his decisive victory against the Spanish during the Moonlight Battle.[8]

As Howe had joined the opposition in Parliament to North's government, it was clear that until it was replaced he would be unable to secure a fresh naval command. Despite the setback at Saratoga, and the entry of France, Spain and the Dutch Republic into the war North's government continued to gain strength until October 1781 when a British army under Lord Cornwallis was forced to surrender to a combined Franco-American force at Yorktown. Although the government was able to continue for several more months its effective power had been sapped.[9] In March 1782 the House of Commons passed a motion ending offensive actions against the American rebels, although the war around the rest of the globe continued with the same intensity. North's government then fell to be replaced by a weak coalition of Whigs led by the Marquess of Rockingham.


Not until the fall of Lord North's government in March 1782 did Howe once again accept a command - this time the Channel Fleet. Despite the suspension of hostilities in America, the war in Europe continued with the same force and the Royal Navy was severely stretched in having to deal with the French, Spanish and Dutch fleets. Howe received instructions from Augustus Keppel, the new First Lord of the Admiralty to proceed to Portsmouth and take command of the Channel Fleet which he did on 20 April.

Howe's task was complex. He had to protect inbound trade convoys from the Americas, keep track of the Franco-Spanish fleet, while also keeping an eye on the Dutch fleet at port in the Texel but reportedly ready to sail. He also had to keep in mind the need to attempt a relief of Gibraltar which had been under siege for several years and would be forced to surrender if it wasn't resupplied soon. Howe had to accomplish these tasks with significantly fewer ships than his combined opponents. Keppel observed the Royal Navy's best hope was to quickly shift their limited forces from one area of danger to another.[10]

In May Howe took a number of ships to the Dutch coast to scout out Dutch preparations. If the Dutch made a sortie into the North Sea they would be able to threaten Britain's vital Baltic convoys, including precious naval stores which were needed for continuing the war. This in turn might lead the Dutch to launch attacks on the East coast of England. As the Dutch fleet appeared unlikely to immediately put to sea, Howe returned to Britain leaving a squadron of nine ships to keep a watch on the Texel.[10] The French and Spanish fleets had sailed from Brest and Cadiz and combined in the Western Approaches, where they managed to capture some merchant ships. Howe put to sea to try and monitor them, and received information that a major trade convoy was incoming from the West Indies.[11]

Howe had only 25 ships-of-the-line against 36 enemy ships under Admiral Córdoba and was separated by them from the convoy he was ordered to protect. He sent a message for the convoy to put into safety in ports in Ireland. Howe then took his fleet through a dangerous route, around the north side of the Isles of Scilly. This allowed him to get between the inbound convoy and the Franco-Spanish fleet as well as allowing him to gain the weather gauge which would be a major advantage in any battle.[12] The next morning the Franco-Spanish fleet had disappeared. After waiting a while Howe decided to go in pursuit of them, later receiving news that the West Indian convoy had safely reached harbour in the English Channel. The Franco-Spanish fleet had been blown southwards by a strong gale, and then received orders in early August to return home.[13]

The British had feared that Córdoba's combined fleet would be joined by the Dutch fleet to give the Allies overwhelming superiority in the English Channel. However the Dutch were almost completely inactive and chose not to put to sea. Howe was then able to focus on the last major task of 1782, the relief of Gibraltar.

Relief of Gibraltar

That autumn, he carried out the relief of Gibraltar — a difficult operation, 46 French and Spanish ships-of-the-line against only 33 of his own. The exhausted state of the fleet made it impossible for Howe to fit his ships properly or supply them with good crews, and Howe's progress to Gibraltar was hampered by the need to escort a large convoy carrying stores. Still, Howe handled his makeshift fleet brilliantly and took advantage of an awkward and unenterprising enemy.[1] Howe successfully relieved Gibraltar and fought an indecisive action at the Battle of Cape Spartel after which he was able to bring his fleet safely back to Britain, bringing an effective end to the year's campaign.

Negotiations between the various war participants had been taking place through 1782 and they were able to reach a settlement. The Peace of Paris brought an end to the conflict.

First Lord of the Admiralty

Howe served as First Lord of the Admiralty in the government of William Pitt (above) between 1783 and 1788.

From 1783 until 1788, he served as First Lord of the Admiralty during the Younger Pitt's first ministry.[1] The task was often difficult, for he had to agree to extreme budgetary constraints and disappoint the hopes of many officers who were left unemployed by the peace. Nonetheless, during his time in office a number of new ships were built as part of a naval arms race with France and Spain. During his time at the Admiralty, Howe oversaw a number of innovations to signalling.[14]

Howe felt constantly undermined by Charles Middleton, the Comptroller of the Navy. Pitt often completely bypassed Howe on naval decisions and went directly to Middleton. By 1788 Howe grew tired of this and he resigned his post as First Lord despite efforts to persuade him to stay. To show their goodwill and approval of him, the government awarded Howe an Earldom.[15]

Spanish Armament

In 1790 a dispute by Britain and Spain over the Nootka Sound on the $3 of North America threatened to spark a war between the two states. Lord Howe, as one of the most senior and experienced officers still serving, was offered command of the Channel Fleet which he accepted. Howe was appointed to the position in May 1790 and took up his post in Portsmouth in July 1790. Consisting of 35 ships-of-the-line the Channel Fleet put to sea and cruised for around a month to the west of Ushant before returning to port. The Crisis was then settled peacefully by diplomats and Howe was able to return to his retirement on land.[16]

During a similar crisis with Russia in 1791 known as the Russian Armament Howe was not offered any command most likely because he was suffering from .[17]

French Revolutionary War

Glorious First of June

On the outbreak of the War of the First Coalition against France in 1793, he was again given command of the Channel fleet.[1] The following year would be the greatest of his career, including the victory of the "Glorious First of June".[1] Although now nearly seventy years old, Howe displayed a tactical originality uncommon in such a veteran. Howe's active service ended after the campaign, but he continued to hold nominal command of the Channel Fleet by the king's decree. In 1797, he was called on to pacify Spithead mutineers,[1] and his powerful influence upon the sailors who revered him was conspicuously shown. (It also helped that in his talks with the mutineers, Howe saw the justice in their demands, and negotiated a settlement that satisfied most of them.)

Later career and legacy

Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe, as painted by Henry Singleton, ca. 1795.

In 1782, he was created Viscount Howe of Langar, and, in 1788, Baron and Earl Howe.[1] In June 1797, he was made a Knight of the Order of the Garter. Howe was buried in his family vault at St. Andrew's Church, Langar, in Nottinghamshire.[1] His monument by John Flaxman is in St Paul's Cathedral.[1]

Four British warships have borne the name HMS Howe in his honour.

Places named after Howe include:

  • Cape Howe, on the New South Wales / Victoria border, Australia;
  • Lord Howe Island, off the east coast of Australia;
  • Howe Sound, British Columbia, Canada, and Howe Street in Vancouver;
  • RCSCC 112 Howe, Canadian Sea Cadet Corps located in Peterborough Ontario;

He also lends his name to a boarding house at The Royal Hospital School.

Chapter IV of

  • Types of Naval Officers at Project Gutenberg, by A. T. Mahan was titled Howe: The General Officer, as Tactician.


Lord Howe was married on 10 March 1758 to Mary Hartop,[1] the daughter of Colonel Chiverton Hartop of Welby in Leicestershire, and had three daughters. His Irish title descended to his brother, General William Howe, who died childless in 1814. The earldom and the viscountcy of the United Kingdom, being limited to male heirs, became extinct. The barony passed to his daughter, Sophia Charlotte (1762–1835), who married the Hon. Penn Assheton Curzon. Their son, Richard Curzon-Howe, succeeded his paternal grandfather as Viscount Curzon in 1820 and was created Earl Howe in 1821; he was succeeded by his son, George (1821–1876).


Richard Howe is an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales, and thus of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Prince George of Cambridge and Prince Harry of Wales, who are second, third and fourth in line of succession to the British throne.

Richard Howe was brother to General George Augustus Howe, 3rd Viscount, and Sir William Howe, 5th Viscount Howe. The Family of Hoge quotes The Encyclopædia Britannica as having this to say about the Howes:

"The friendliness of the brothers, Admiral Richard Howe and General William Howe, to the colonies led to their selection for the command of the British forces in the Revolutionary War. It was thought that they could negotiate a settlement with the American forces."


  • Gruber, Ira. Howe Brothers and the American Revolution (1975), the standard biography
  • Syrett, David. Admiral Lord Howe: A Biography. Spellmount, 2006.
  • Warner, Oliver. The Glorious First of June (B.T. Batsford Ltd, 1961)


  • British Magazine , (London, 1783)
  • The Naval Chronicle, Volume 1 (London, 1799) (reisssued by Cambridge University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1-108-01840-1)
  • Sir John Barrow, Life of Richard, Earl Howe, (London, 1838)
  • Memoir of the Life of Admiral Sir Edward Codrington, edited by Lady Bourchier, (London, 1873)
  • J. K. Laughton, From Howard to Nelson, (London, 1899)
  • E. Chevalier, Histoire de la marine francaise, (Paris, 1900)
  • Rodger N.A.M. Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649-1815. Penguin Books, 2006.


  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 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 1.22 1.23 1.24 1.25 1.26 1.27 1.28 1.29 1.30 1.31 1.32 1.33 1.34 1.35 Earl Howe at Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  2. Rodger p.268
  3. Syrett p.63-64
  4. Syrett p.75
  5. Syrett p.66
  6. Syrett p.69-75
  7. Syrett p.95-98
  8. Syrett p.99
  9. Rodger p.343-353
  10. 10.0 10.1 Syrett p.101
  11. Syrett p.102
  12. Rodger p.355
  13. Syrett p.102-103
  14. Syrett p.113-117
  15. Syrett p.113
  16. Syrett p.118-119
  17. Syrett p.119
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911) Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.) Cambridge University Press 
  • The British Admirals of the Fleet 1734 - 1995, Heathcote T. A., Pen & Sword Ltd, 2002, ISBN 0-85052-835-6

External links

Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Walter Carey
John Jeffreys
Member of Parliament for Dartmouth
With: John Jeffreys to 1766
Richard Hopkins 1766–1780
Arthur Holdsworth from 1780
Succeeded by
Charles Brett
Arthur Holdsworth
Military offices
Preceded by
The Viscount Barrington
Treasurer of the Navy
Succeeded by
Sir Gilbert Elliot, Bt
Preceded by
Samuel Graves
Commander-in-Chief, North American Station
Succeeded by
James Gambier
Preceded by
The Viscount Keppel
First Lord of the Admiralty
Succeeded by
The Viscount Keppel
First Lord of the Admiralty
Succeeded by
The Earl of Chatham
Preceded by
John Forbes
Admiral of the Fleet
Succeeded by
Sir Peter Parker
Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Lord Rodney
Vice-Admiral of Great Britain
Succeeded by
The Lord Bridport
Peerage of Great Britain
New creation Earl Howe
1st creation
Viscount Howe
Baron Howe
Succeeded by
Sophia Howe
Peerage of Ireland
Preceded by
George Howe
Viscount Howe
Succeeded by
William Howe

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).