Posted by Ken on March 10, 1998 at 15:52:40:
In response to A question on British Naval ranks, written by Lynn on March 10, 1998 at 14:27:19
] I don't know if any of you can help with this, but what rank is before (one step lower than) Captain in the British navy? How many steps are there between Captain and Admiral?
Commander. Usually during the early part of the Wars, it was a temporary rank, in the sense that it was a steppingstone on the way to captain, and no one stayed commander very long. But by the end of this period, there was quite a list of commanders who stayed that way--not enough ships to promote them, basically. In another few years, commanders began to be assigned to ships that already had captains, but that is post-Austen.
Rear admiral is the next step after captain. Yes, there is a temporary rank of commodore, but that designates a captain who commands other captains, and is a temporary rank; it reverts when the captain finishes up whatever job he was assigned the ships to do. Vice admiral would be next, then admiral. However, there were 3 divisions of these ranks as well, and, after, um, 1809 (?) an overall admiral of the fleet, making 10 flag-grade ranks in all. The reasons for such an elaborate structure go back to the 17th century and don't really bear on your question.
] In Persuasion it says "but a Captain Frederick Wentworth...who being made commander in consequence of the action off St. Domingo...". So he is a Captain, but what was he before he was a Captain? And by commander does she just mean a commander of a ship?
First, Wentworth's promotion could have meant several different things, but they all mean he did well in this particular naval battle (which saw the capture or destruction of 5 French ships of the line); he was promoted from lieutenant to commander as a reward. Technically, he should have been given an independent command at that point, not of one of the 6 rated classes of ships, but of an unrated vessel--sloop of war, bomb ketch, etc. But such became increasingly hard to find as the wars went on. The 6 rated classes all had to have captains in permanent command of them. But commander was an actual rank, just as it is today. It just might or might not have had a vessel to go with it.
] Any help would be greatly appreciated. I have a feeling that the American ranks might be very different (or at least the years between when JA wrote and when I had my experience of the navy have made a big difference, because a Captain in the navy now in America is a pretty high up rank).
Actually, that hasn't changed. A captain of 3 years senority was considered fully the equivalent of a colonel in the army then, and a captain today is also considered the equivalent of a colonel. What has changed is that there are fewer flag ranks today, and more junior officer ranks.
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