Sir William Batten c.1600-67

Presbyterian naval officer and administrator who served both Parliament and the King during the civil wars

The son of a Somerset mariner, William Batten went to sea himself in the merchant service. In 1638, he took command of the Confident, hired for service in the King's navy. Through the patronage of the Earl of Northumberland, he also acquired an appointment as surveyor of the navy. As a devout Presbyterian, Batten supported Parliament on the outbreak of the First Civil War. Through his Presbyterianism and his connections with the London mercantile community, he was appointed vice-admiral to the Earl of Warwick in 1642.

In February 1643, Queen Henrietta Maria sailed to England with a convoy of supplies and munitions for the Royalists, escorted by a neutral Dutch squadron commanded by Lieutenant-Admiral Tromp. Batten's squadron failed to intercept the convoy at sea but caught it unloading at Bridlington, Yorkshire, and proceeded to bombard the town. The Queen's lodgings were hit and she was forced to take shelter in a ditch. Tromp threatened to attack the Parliamentarian ships if they continued the bombardment and Batten withdrew.

Batten was involved in several operations in support of Parliamentarian land forces during the First Civil War. He supported the defenders of Lyme, Dorset, in June 1644 and assisted at the siege of Plymouth during the winter of 1644-5, where he built a blockhouse that came to be known as Mount Batten. In February 1645, Batten reinforced the garrison at Melcombe, Dorset, enabling the Parliamentarians to storm Weymouth and recapture the town. In August 1645, he supplied naval reinforcement to help Rowland Laugharne defeat Major-General Stradling's Royalists at the battle of Colby Moor. Batten bought 200 sailors ashore to support the storming of Dartmouth, Devon, in January 1646 and in April he took the surrender of Portland. Batten then sailed with twenty men-of-war to the Isles of Scilly in pursuit of Charles, Prince of Wales. He surrounded the island of St Mary's where Charles was sheltering, but a storm scattered Batten's ships on 13 April, allowing the Prince to escape to Jersey.

Under the terms of the Self-Denying Ordinance, the Earl of Warwick was obliged to resign his commission as lord high admiral in April 1645. Batten was appointed commander of the Parliamentarian fleet but, lacking Warwick's political standing, he was not promoted from vice-admiral and his appointment was regarded as temporary. This discouraged him and helped alienate him from the Parliamentarian cause. As a staunch Presbyterian, he also disliked the increasing influence of the Independents in Parliament. From 1646, he was in secret communication with Scottish Presbyterians working for a settlement with King Charles in the Presbyterian interest.

In August 1647, six of the Presbyterian Eleven Members fled abroad after they were ousted from Parliament by the Army. When they were intercepted by Parliamentarian warships, Batten allowed them to continue their journey to the Netherlands. As a result, he was forced to resign as vice-admiral in September 1647. However, Batten retained his post as a Commissioner of the Navy. He continued his secret negotiations with the Scots and began plotting with Royalist agents to bring the fleet over to the King.

The naval revolt in the Downs on the outbreak of the Second Civil War in May 1648 took place before Batten's schemes had reached maturity. Parliament re-appointed the Earl of Warwick commander of the fleet and Batten accompanied him to Portsmouth in June 1648 in his capacity as a naval commissioner. Batten intended to subvert the Portsmouth squadron, but he was now under suspicion. When summoned to London to answer charges of spreading disaffection in the fleet, he boarded the Constant Warwick and sailed to join the Royalists. He was welcomed by the Prince of Wales, who knighted him and made him rear-admiral, but Batten's conversion to the Royalist cause was distrusted by many, including Prince Rupert.

After failing to bring the Earl of Warwick to battle in August 1648, the Royalists were blockaded in Dutch waters. Warwick offered an amnesty to all seamen who wished to return to Parliament. Batten was among those who took advantage of the offer because he disapproved of Prince Rupert's appointment as admiral of the Royalist fleet and suspected Rupert of inciting the seamen against him.

Batten quietly pursued his commercial activities during the Commonwealth and Protectorate years. In March 1660, with the Restoration imminent, he wrote to Charles II offering to arrange transportation back to England for the King and his court. The following June, he was re-appointed to his old positon as surveyor of the navy. Batten's career as surveyor is famous because his corruption and incompetence were mercilessly exposed in the diary of his younger colleague Samuel Pepys. Batten was elected MP for Rochester in 1661. In 1663 he was appointed Master of Trinity House. He died in 1667.


Sources:

C. S. Knighton, Sir William Batten, Oxford DNB, 2004

Bernard Capp, Cromwell's Navy, the Fleet and the English Revolution (Oxford 1989)