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Earl Richard Howe

Earl Richard Howe was born at London, March 8,1726. He was a grandson of a mistress of George I ("a relationship," says David Hannay, in Encycl. Britt., eleventh ed., "which does much to explain his early rise in the navy"). At the age of 14 he entered the Severn as midshipman and started for the South Seas, but the ship, having been disabled in a storm, returned to England. He went next to the West Indies on the Burford (Captain Lushington); in an attack on La Guayra the ship was damaged and the captain killed. In 1744 he was made acting lieutenant; and in the next year he commanded the sloop Baltimore and was wounded in the head in a fight with two French privateers.

Made post captain in 1746, he commanded the Cornwall and brought her back injured from a fight with the Spaniards off Havana. He held various other commands between that time and the beginning of the Seven Years' War, and during that war he engaged in various trivial operations against the coast of France, which, whether failures or triumphs, added to his fame. In 1759, as captain of the Magnanime, he led Hawke's fleet to victory at Quiberon. From 1762 until the outbreak of the American Revolution Howe did shore duty; he ran for Parliament and was elected; was a member of the admiralty board and treasurer of the navy. In 1775 he was appointed vice admiral.

In 1776 Lord Howe was appointed commander in chief of the North American station, with powers to treat with the disaffected colonists, as it was known that he was friendly to them. He conferred with governors of the colonies and communicated with George Washington, but meantime kept a firm hold on the cities of New York and Philadelphia. The sending of a new peace commission to America offended Howe and led him to resign, but before he could return to England the French fleet under d'Estaing, of nearly twice the strength of Howe's, arrived and he stayed on. He prevented it from entering New York harbor and forced it out of Newport harbor, so that it eventually found refuge in Boston harbor, where it was of least value. These maneuvers were a fine combination of caution and calculated daring. Howe returned to England and refused further service, embittered at the ministry's bungling and antagonism to him.

In 1782 a change of ministry occurred and Howe was appointed admiral of the blue and ordered to watch the Dutch fleet in the Channel. He also protected incoming ships from the combined French and Spanish fleet. He next convoyed a large number of supply ships to the beleaguered garrison at Gibraltar and, though the fleet of the enemy was superior to his own, he landed his supplies and men and returned without injury, due to his extraordinarily fine handling of his fleet and to the incapacity of the enemy's. From the age of 56 to 67 years he performed land service, much of the time as first lord of the admiralty. In 1790 he was again called upon to command the Channel fleet, as admiral of the white.

Finally, as admiral and commander in chief of the fleet, he, in 1794, fought the "battle of the first of June," in which he won a brilliant victory by hard fighting, though it was not decisive. He died five years later, his one remaining service being to compose an extensive mutiny, largely due to failure in discipline resulting from his advanced age. He quieted the disturbance by granting the mutineers all they asked. He died August 1799.

Howe was was remarkably taciturn. Once, early in his career, an army officer of rank addressed him questions without receiving a reply and said: "Mr. Howe, don't you hear me? I have asked you several questions." Howe answered: "I don't like questions." Says a contemporary: "Howe was undaunted as a rock, and as silent, the characteristics of his whole race." "Howe never made a friendship except at the mouth of a cannon." Howe was thorough. His most important success was with a large fleet whose maneuvers he planned with great detail and completeness. He was a great tactician, but not so much of a fighter as Nelson. He was a rigid disciplinarian. Howe was patient, was without great personal ambitions, and never sought pension or remuneration.

Howe was fearless. To a lieutenant who came to him in perturbation saying "the ship is on fire close to the magazine; but don't be frightened, we shall get it under control shortly," Howe replied, "Frightened, sir! What do you mean? I never was frightened in my life." He was composed under suspense. Once in a stormy night, when there was danger of the ships running afoul of each other, a captain who had spent a sleepless night asked him how he had slept. Lord Howe replied that "he had slept perfectly well, for as he had taken every possible precaution he could before dark, he laid himself down with a conscious feeling that everything had been done which it was in his power to do for the safety of the ships . . . and this conviction set his mind at ease." The stimulus of impending battle, even at the age of 70, revived the fires of youth; he displayed an animation of which he would hardly have been thought capable at his age.

He felt deeply, so he resented the treatment he had received while in America from the British ministry. His brother William, commander in chief of the British forces in America in the early part of the Revolution, resigned his command at about the same tune with the same feeling.

His elder brother, George Augustus, ranked third in the naval list and was killed in the Ticonderoga expedition of 1758. Howe was a fighter, if necessary. He came of fighting stock, but he was at his best as tactician and administrator. His father was governor of the Barbados; his father and his father's father were members of Parliament.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:08:32 ZULU