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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." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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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, Earl." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Howe, Richard Howe, Earl." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved October 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/howe-richard-howe-earl