3.5 Assurance Fund
Article 169 - (1661) Court of Admiralty
A Court of Admiralty, also known as Admiralty Court or “Courts-Martial” or "Prize Court", is a type of quasi-military administration first defined by the act 1661 (13Car2. S1.c.9) associated with a type of Assurance Fund originally administered by Greenwich Hospital, whereby assurances were given to the Crown and the Parliament of Westminster to maintain and enforce discipline amongst the military (naval) ranks, punish deserters and any munities; and crush and punish rebellions in any dominion, state, province, colony or territory under the control of the Crown; and administer the occupation and functions of government of any occupied or disputed territory; and seize and disburse the goods and wares of enemies of the state as “prize goods”; and salvage and retrieve property and goods lawfully subject to the control and jurisdiction of the Crown; and care for the pensions and well-being of widows and orphans of deceased servicement and the rehabilitation of injured servicemen.
Since the inception of Admiralty Law from the 17th Century, there have existed two primary forms of Admiralty Courts being the High Court of Admiralty and Courts of Vice Admiralty (Vice Admiralty Courts):
(i) The High Court of Admiralty was first formed in 1661 (13Car2. S1.c.9), following the formal definition of Admiralty Law by King Charles II of England in Westminster Statute and in significant treaties. The first dedicated High Court of Admiralty was the “White House”, deliberately mislabeled as the “Queen’s House” at Greenwich and the formal home of the Lord High Admiral (and then later the official home of the First Lord of Admiralty until 1871). The Court required the Lord High Admiral (or deputy) and three or four other substantial persons be appointed by the Lord Chancellor; and
(ii) Courts of Vice Admiralty as first introduced in 1707 (6Ann. c.37) whereby the Governor (or their deputy) of a particular colony, plantation or settlement being “beyond the seas” was granted by commission the military power and jurisdiction of Vice Admiral under the High Court of Admiralty to conduct summary cases (without juries or normal common law procedures) over matters relating to maritime activities, military discipline and seizure and condemnation of prizes, for a fee of five percent (5%) of the prize money. Over time, various “lesser” courts of Vice Admiralty were formed by statute including Courts Martial, Admiralty County (Prize) Court, Admiralty Registrar Prize Court, Surrogate Vice Admiralty Court and in 1873 the High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division (Admiralty).
In regards to Courts of Vice Admiralty (Vice Admiralty Courts):
(i) The first Courts of Vice Admiralty were in the colonies of North America from 1707 (6Ann. c.37), then other strategic British Colonies such as Gibraltar and Bermuda. However, the Governors of private companies such as the South Seas Company (1710) and the East India Company (1707) were also granted the powers by commission of Vice Admiralty; and
(ii) The lower court of Vice Admiralty known as “Courts Martial” and "Martial Law" was first defined by Westminster in 1745 (18 Geo2. c.35) whereby a jury of thirteen commissioned officers, led by a senior flag officer could hold court with the powers of Vice Admiralty for the trial of serious crimes and capital punishment pertaining to Seamen, Mariners or "Men born on British Vessels" within the jurisdiction of Admiralty; and
(iii) The lower court of Vice Admiralty known as an Admiralty “County Court” or simply a “Prize Court” was first defined in 1756 (29Geo2. C.27) whereby a single commissioned flag officer with the powers of Vice Admiralty could hear matters and disputes concerning property and goods, particularly "res/re" (property) seized and condemned goods. The powers of such Prize Courts were initially restricted to North America and refined through the acts of 1757 (30Geo2. C.8) and (30Geo2. c.11). However, the concept of Admiralty County Courts and Prize Courts was extended to all British countries, dominions, colonies, territories and settlements by 1868 (31&32Vict. c.78); and
(iv) The lower court of Vice Admiralty known as an “Admiralty Registrar” Prize Court was first defined in 1810 (50 Geo. III. c. 118) and further defined in 1875 (36&37Vict.c.77) whereby Registrars of Admiralty and later “Ecclesiastical and Admiralty Causes” could hear evidence and enter records of condemnation or release of Prize Goods, or payment or issuance of Fines; and
(v) The lower court of Vice Admiralty operating as a “surrogate” Vice Admiralty Court was first defined in 1816 (56 Geo.III. c.82) whereby in the absence of offices failing to be filled by commissioned flag officers within any Vice Admiralty Court, surrogates could be nominated to fill such positions as if they were valid commissioned flag officers. Thus for the first time, civilians could effectively function “as if” commissioned military officers within Vice Admiralty Courts as “surrogates”; and
(vi) The High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division (Admiralty) was first introduced in 1873 (36&37Vict.c.66) through the formation of the Supreme Court of Judicature having jurisdiction within England and Wales only for High Court of Admiralty and Vice Admiralty matters.
In respect of the place known as Greenwich Hospital, Greenwich Park and the Woolwich area situated along the River Thames around 5 miles (8km) south-east of Westminster Palace:
(i) The area of Woolwich, being the highest hill nearest the center of London and the Thames River, (called Shooter’s Hill) at 423ft (129 metres) has been a military and strategic location of great importance since the foundation of London by the Romans. While Greenwich Park is approximately one mile (1.6km) to the west of Shooter’s Hill and a lower elevation - at 147 feet (45 metres) at its highest point - the highest point of the Park still commands over 200 degree views of the Thames River and nearby London; and
(ii) Following the commencement of the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) against the French, a defensive fortress was built atop Shooter’s Hill and manor house known as Beaufort Court and defenses on the site now occupied as Greenwich Observatory. The Plantagenet’s reclaimed direct control of the area from 1444 after the death of their ally John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, reinforcing the fortress and expanding the manor house. Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry Tudor (Henry VII) was born at the manor house in 1443. After the success of Henry Tudor (Henry VII) at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, King Henry VII made Beaufort Court his official residence. The two sons of the King, Henry Tudor (Henry VIII) and Edmund Tudor were both born at Beaufort Court. Henry VIII maintained Beaufort Court as his principal court from 1509 until moving to York Place (later the site of WhiteHall) by 1530. During the period at Beaufort Court, both Elizabeth Tudor and Mary Tudor were born there; and
(iii) In 1512, the Pisan and Venetian controlled Guild known originally as the “Master Mariners and Merchants of the most glorious and undivided Trinity” was granted a Royal Charter as the first Naval dockyards on the banks of the Thames River down and in front of Beaufort Court, called “WealWicche” (Woolwich) meaning “place of good fortune and female sorcery”. The Pisans and Venetians brought with them master ship makers and the skills to build carracks superior to the Genoese and Portuguese . By 1514 they completed the first great carrack known as Henri Grâce à Dieu “Henry by Grace of God” (Great Harry) being 165 ft (50m), 1,500 ton, 43 heavy gun, 141 light gun, 1,000 crew. Several great carracks followed from the Woolwich dockyards including the Saint Peter, Saint Michael and the famous Saint Mary (Mary Rose); and
(iv) Following the death of Henry VIII in 1547, the Woolwich Dockyards were closed and by 1553 and the ascension of Catholic Queen Mary and Philip II of Spain, the Woolwich Dockyards were stripped, the English navy scuttled and the Guild of Master Mariners and Merchants of the most glorious and undivided Trinity had their Charter revoked. However, upon the ascension of Elizabeth to the throne in (1558-1603), a new commission was granted to the private master mariners guild company known as “The Company of Master Mariners and Merchant Adventurers” under its Master, Francesco Orsini (aka Russo or Russell), 2nd Earl of Bedford, also famously known as Francis “the Draupon” (Drake), to rapidly construct and form a new “private” Royal Navy. Queen Elizabeth then granted the private company rights and leases to Deptford Dockyards and the former Dockyards at Woolwich (Greenwich) as well as the rights to build new dockyards and shipbuilding at Chatham on the River Medway in Kent and at Plymouth on the River Plym in Devon; and
(v) Upon James I of England (1603-1625) ascension to the throne, the guild known as the “Company of Master Mariners and Merchant Adventurers” had its charter revoked and the “private” Royal Navy was dissolved in favor of the professional Royal Navy of Scotland. However, in 1613 the former guild was granted a new charter as a charity known as the “Company of Master Wardens and Brethren of the Trinity” with the maintenance of lighthouses and a lease of Greenwich for the operation of a hospital for retired and injured seamen at Beaufort Court, which became known as Trinity House and “Trinity House Hospital”. However, during the Civil War (1642-1651), Trinity House at Greenwich was destroyed; and
(vi) In 1660 upon Charles II being restored to the throne, the Brethren of the charitable guild of the “Corporation of Master Wardens and Brethren of the Trinity” petitioned the king for a new Royal Charter, the lease of Greenwich as a property mandated Royal Hospital and the assistance in the administration and strengthening of the Navy through Admiralty Law. The King agreed to the lease of a small parcel of land of Greenwich upon which the new Trinity-House Hospital was constructed as well as a new Royal Charter (by 1685), but took control of the large part of Greenwich to his son James II as the Lord High Admiral, commissioning the creation of a new white palace at the park called “The White House” as the first location for the High Court of Admiralty; and
(vii) In 1697, (8&9W.3. c.23), an act was passed creating the Royal Hospital at Greenwich and confirming the contents of the Royal Charter of the Corporation of Trinity-House of the guild holding perpetual lease over Greenwich as the custodians of the Royal Hospital at Greenwich and the creation of a new Assurance and Welfare Fund for Seamen, Military Personnel, Veterans, Widows and the “Brethren” and certain nobility, who stood to gain enormous wealth through property and assets seized in Admiralty and “donated” to run the hospital. A year later (on 4th January 1698), most of the Palace of York Place in London burnt to the ground in mysterious circumstances. The land remained cleared and temporarily turned into parkland, except the Banquet Hall which survived, as King William remained convinced he could raise sufficient funds to rebuild the Palace. Queen Anne also retained hopes of rebuilding the palace until the the Corporation of Master Wardens and Brethren of the Trinity was instrumental in acquiring a perpetual lease for half of the land of the former palace (on the park side) to build an admiralty administration and treasury buildings designed by Christopher Wren. Christopher Wren was also commissioned to construct a grand series of buildings for Greenwich, later known as the “Placentia Palace” in front of the White House (Queen’s House). The Admiralty Buildings in London were also white and soon gained the name “White Hall” (Whitehall). ; and
(viii) In 1729, Corporation of Master Wardens and Brethren of the Trinity changed their name as part of the transformation of British Institutions and Bodies into “parochial parishes” with the formation of the new parish church of Saint Nicholas, Deptford in Kent under the control of the guild. The guild then became known as The Master Wardens and Assistants of the Guild Brethren of the most glorious and undivided Trinity of the Parish of Deptford in the County of Kent; and
(viii) In 1875, the Corporation of Trinity House moved the complete operations of Admiralty, including the High Court of Admiralty and Admiralty Administration to the District of Columbia, with the Executive Mansion renamed the “White House” as the home of the High Court of Admiralty of Great Britain and the First Lord of Admiralty for Great Britain. Greenwich was then converted to the Royal Naval College.