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Richard Howe

Richard Howe

The British admiral Richard Howe, Earl Howe (1726-1799), commanded England's naval forces during the early years of the American Revolution and won the "First of June" victory over the French in 1794.

Richard Howe was born on March 8, 1726, in London. He entered the British navy at the age of 13 and saw service in the South Atlantic and the West Indies. By 1745 he had received his first command. In June 1755 he captured a French vessel off the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, thus firing the first formal exchange of the French and Indian War. On the death of his older brother in 1758, he became Viscount Howe in the Irish peerage. He served on the Admiralty Board and as treasurer of the navy. On the eve of the American Revolution, in 1775, he was advanced to the rank of vice admiral.

Howe and his younger brother, Gen. William Howe, played important parts in the American Revolution. They had a difficult mission: they were to crush the rebels militarily but also negotiate restoration of peace. The British armies, under William Howe, were generally successful in the summer and fall of 1776, but they failed to crush the colonial army. And the colonists, having declared independence in 1776, refused to negotiate on terms that implied willingness to submit to British control.

In 1776 and 1777 Richard Howe's fleet was limited to transporting and supplying the army under his brother's command. The admiral's only notable contribution came in August 1778, when his forces roughed up several French vessels, thus helping prevent a cooperative Franco-American attack on the British forces at Newport, R.I.

Frustrated by continuing American resistance, irked by criticism at home, and feeling he had not received adequate support, Richard Howe resigned his command in October 1778. In the succeeding months a pamphlet war over the American Revolution was waged in England, culminating in an inconclusive parliamentary investigation. Meanwhile, Howe refused to serve under the existing ministry.

In 1782 Howe was granted a new command, promoted in rank, and made a British peer—Viscount Howe of Langar. These signs of confidence were justified by his relief of Gibraltar in October in the face of superior French numbers. From 1783 to 1788 he served as first lord of the Admiralty. He was created Earl Howe in 1788.

In 1793, after the start of the French Revolutionary Wars, Howe was put in command of the Channel fleet. The following year, when a French fleet attempted to prevent him from intercepting a convoy of provisions headed toward Brest from the United States, there occurred the series of high-sea engagements off Ushant collectively known as the "Battle of the Glorious First of June." The British victory, though not total, was great and caught the imagination of the public.

Howe helped negotiate a settlement in a naval mutiny at Spithead in 1797. He died on Aug. 5, 1799, in London.

Further Reading

The most thorough study of Howe in America is Troyer S. Anderson, The Command of the Howe Brothers during the American Revolution (1936). Most of the family papers were destroyed by fire. □

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Howe, Richard

Howe, Richard (1726–99). Descended through his mother from a half-sister of George I, Howe was commissioned in the navy in 1745, seeing active service through to 1758, when he succeeded his elder brother as 4th viscount in the Irish peerage, becoming also MP for Dartmouth until 1782. He was already known as ‘the Sailor's Friend’. Promoted admiral in 1770, Howe's professional standing, influence, and conciliatory disposition saw him given wide powers in 1776 to try to negotiate peace in America. After two indecisive years and lacking the ministerial support he expected, Howe gave up in disillusion. Raised to a British peerage in 1782, he relieved Gibraltar that October, and from 1783 to 1788, when he became an earl, was 1st lord of the Admiralty. Imperturbable in demeanour and high professionalism, Howe was notably lacking in lucidity of expression. But his standing as a leader was further enhanced by the ‘Glorious First of June’ victory (1794), and his reputation proved important in quelling the Spithead mutiny in spring 1797, in which year he received the Garter.

David Denis Aldridge

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Howe, Richard Howe, Earl

Richard Howe Howe, Earl, 1726–99, British admiral; elder brother of Viscount Howe. He won early recognition in the Seven Years War for his operations in the English Channel. After the outbreak of the American Revolution, he was given (1776) command of the North American fleet. He and his brother were commissioned to seek a peaceful settlement of the dispute with the colonies, but negotiations at Staten Island in 1776 came to nothing, and he supported (1777) his brother's successful campaign against Philadelphia. In 1778 he outmaneuvered the French fleet under the comte d'Estaing in its attempt to cooperate with land troops to take British-held Newport, R.I. He resigned later that year, but in 1782 he assumed command of the Channel fleet and relieved the siege of Gibraltar. Howe is best remembered for his decisive victory over the French fleet in the battle called the First of June in 1794. Created Earl Howe in 1788, he was popularly known as Black Dick.

See I. D. Gruber, The Howe Brothers and the American Revolution (1972).

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Howe, Richard

Howe, Richard

HOWE, RICHARD. (1726–1799). First Earl Howe and British admiral. The brother of George and William Howe, Richard went to sea very young, serving from 1735 in a merchant ship, the Thames. His naval service began on 16 July 1739 on HMS Pear. On 24 May 1744 he passed for lieutenant and was promoted to post-captain on 10 April 1746. He distinguished himself with Boscawen in 1755, at Rochefort (September 1757), and at Quiberon Bay (20 November 1759). On 23 May 1757 he was elected member of Parliament for Dartmouth, a seat he held until his elevation to the British peerage in 1782. (His Irish title of Viscount Howe, inherited from George in 1758, did not debar him from the Commons). In 1762 he took up his parliamentary seat and turned to politics. He was a lord of admiralty (1763–1765) and later treasurer to the navy. During the 1770 Falkland Islands crisis he was rear admiral commanding the Mediterranean fleet.

Howe's period as naval commander in chief and (with his brother William) joint peace commissioner in America is still controversial. The Howes had longstanding contacts with America and Richard Howe met Benjamin Franklin in London in 1774. Howe himself insisted on having political as well as military powers to end the rebellion and was (rightly) dissatisfied with the very limited commission he and William were actually given. His orders to blockade the entire American coastline to intercept military supplies from France were impossible to execute properly, partly because first lord of the admiralty John Montagu, earl of Sandwich, insisted on keeping the bulk of the navy at home. In addition he had to support his brother's military operations, and, on balance, Lord Howe tended to give priority to the latter. Even so, shortages of shipping and supplies, combined with difficult strategic and navigational constraints, gave these operations the appearance of unwonted slowness. These circumstances have been used to argue that the Howes were both incompetent and bent on peace at almost any cost, and that their slowness effectively lost the war for Britain.

When Richard arrived off Staten Island on 12 July 1776, William's army was too small and ill-equipped to attack New York. The brothers had to wait but were not inactive. Between 12 and 18 July Richard pushed a small force high up the Hudson to Tappan Sea, deep in Washington's rear. On 14 July the Howes, knowing they had too little to offer, began negotiations that soon proved futile. But once William was satisfied that his army was ready for a campaign, Richard landed him on Long Island on 22 August. William's victory on 27 August pinned Washington against the water. However, William was reluctant to make a frontal attack on the American earthworks, and contrary winds prevented Richard from getting ships into the East River in time to intercept Washington's escape on 29-30 August. It was now up to Richard Howe to mass boats, transports, and covering warships in the East River ready for the proposed landing at Kip's Bay, Manhattan. That required very precise conditions of wind, tide, and darkness and another inevitable delay. During the pause the Howes again tried negotiations, which duly broke down on 11 September. Within days Richard Howe was able to run vessels into the East River, and the troops landed at Kip's Bay on 15 September. The pattern suggests that, for the Howes, negotiation was a complement to military action, not a substitute.

In 1777 Lord Howe's main preoccupation was the safe conveyance of William's troops to Philadelphia. Once again the Howes faced intractable delays: the late arrival of sufficient shipping from Britain, the need to watch Washington's movements before choosing a landing place, and the consequent decision to disembark in Chesapeake Bay. Philadelphia was occupied on 26 September, but not until 23 November was Lord Howe able to force the Delaware. Both brothers were dissatisfied by the narrowness of their diplomatic powers and by the level of support they received from home. William had already offered his resignation, and Lord Howe followed suit early in 1778. He stayed to confront D'Estaing until 26 September, when he judged it safe to sail for home.

Howe refused to serve again under Sandwich and attacked the government in Parliament. He was given the Channel Fleet by the Rockingham ministry on 2 April 1782, and on 20 April he was raised to the British peerage as Viscount Howe. In October he successfully relieved Gibraltar. Howe was first lord of the admiralty until 1788, when he became Earl Howe. On 1 June 1794, again commanding the Channel Fleet, he won "the Glorious First of June" by piercing the French line. On 12 March 1796 he briefly became admiral of the fleet and the following year personally negotiated an end to the Spithead mutiny. He died in London on 5 August 1799.

SEE ALSO Howe, George Augustus; Howe, William; Sandwich, John Montagu, fourth earl of; Tappan Sea.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Gruber, Ira D. The Howe Brothers and the American Revolution. New York: Norton, 1975.

                              revised by John Oliphant

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