The Rupert and Monck Letterbook, 1666

In 1666 Prince Rupert and George Monk, Duke of Albemarle were appointed by Charles II to a joint command of the fleet that had been engaged in the Second Dutch War, fought largely at sea, for five years without either side gaining much advantage.

The appointment of two men to share a single responsibility is a risky thing to do at the best of times and, on the face of it, appointing such contrasting characters as Rupert and Monk appeared to be asking for trouble; but the King was a shrewd judge of men, he knew his dashing – at times impetuous – nephew well and had known Albemarle since the latter had been instrumental in bringing about the Restoration. Both were long serving soldiers with considerable seagoing experience and both were accomplished organisers of military affairs; they had known each other for some years and it is fair to assume that they respected each others capabilities.

The letters themselves give a strong indication of harmonious co-operation. The pair, particularly Albemarle, had a significant influence of the development of naval battle tactics. This period saw the genesis of the method of fighting fleet actions in a ‘line of battle’ that was to persist right up to Jutland in 1916.

At the time that Albemarle took command of the fleet, naval battles were conducted as a general mêlée but he applied a soldier’s orderly approach to disposing of forces for a land battle and in 1653 he had laid down instructions for fighting in line.

The letters give an insight into how the new naval administration being put together by the Duke of York and Samuel Pepys was developing. There were familiar problems with pay, victualling and the quality of ship construction but these may be seen as largely the natural result of a rapidly expanding organisation.

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About Powell, Timings

J Roland Powell was born in London in 1889, the son of a clergyman. Educated at Sherborne School he graduated with a degree in History from Queen’s College, Cambridge, in 1911. He served as a chaplain with the Yeomanry in the Middle East during World War One, and believed himself to be ‘the only man to have organised a whist drive on the Mount of Olives’. He then held a number of curacies, principally in London, where he spent several years working in Limehouse, before becoming Vicar of Kingsbury, greater London, in 1931. He served on the Council of the Navy Records Society for many years, subsequently serving as a vice-president, and died in Bedford in 1980.

Publications include:

  • The Letters of Robert Blake (Navy Records Society, 1937)
  • The Navy in the English Civil War (1962)
  • Documents Relating to the Civil War (Navy Records Society, 1963)
  • The Rupert and Monck Letterbook (Navy Records Society, 1969)
  • Robert Blake: General at Sea (1972)

E.K. Timings was Head of the Search Department at the Public Records Office. He is frequently thanked in the introduction and acknowledgements in history volumes relating to the 17th century.

His publications include

  • Letter From The Past. Memories of a Victorian Childhood, with Caroline Timings (1954).
  • Calendar of State Papers in the Public Record Office. Domestic Series, James II, Volume I, February – December 1685 (H.M.S.O. 1960).
  • Documents Relating to the Civil War, 1642-1648, with Rev. J.R. Powell (Navy Records Society, 1963).
  • Calendar of State Papers in the Public Record Office. Domestic Series, James II, Volume Ii, January – December 1689 (H.M.S.O., 1964).
  • The Rupert and Monk Letter Book, 1666, with Rev. J.R. Powell (Navy Records Society, 1969).