HAWKE, Sir Edward (1710-81), of Scarthingwell Hall, Yorks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



28 Dec. 1747 - 20 May 1776

Family and Education

b. 21 Feb. 1710, o.s. of Edward Hawke, barrister, of L. Inn by Elizabeth, da. of Nathaniel Bladen of Hemsworth, Yorks., wid. of Col. Ruthven.  m. 1737, Catherine, da. and h. of Walter Brooke of Burton Hall, nr. Hull, gd.-da. and coh. of William Hammond of Scarthingwell Hall, 3s. 1da.  suc. fa. 1718.  K.B. 14 Nov. 1747; cr. Baron Hawke 20 May 1776.

Offices Held

Entered navy 1720; lt. 1729; cdr. 1733; capt. 1734; r.-adm. 1747; v.-adm. 1748; adm. 1757; adm. of the fleet 1768.

P.C. 10 Dec. 1766; first Ld. of Admiralty Dec. 1766-1771.


Hawke’s first great naval success was in October 1747, when he attacked a French convoy off Belle Isle and captured seven out of nine ships. For this he was created K.B. Shortly afterwards he was returned to Parliament on the Admiralty interest at Portsmouth. In 1754 he was returned again without a contest. But on 11 Apr. 1755 Vice-Admiral Edward Boscawen wrote to his wife from Portsmouth:1 ‘Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hawke is become very unpopular here and, though Member for and alderman of the town, yet is despised.’

In 1755 Hawke commanded a squadron in the Mediterranean, and in 1756 was sent to relieve Byng off Minorca. In August 1757 Lord Anson, first lord of the Admiralty, wished to appoint Hawke to a seat at the Board; Pitt was in favour, but Newcastle claimed that he had promised it to Hans Stanley, and told Anson ‘that he would go into the Closet and settle it for Mr. Stanley, or he would never go to the Treasury again’.2 Newcastle promised Hawke his support for the next vacancy, to which Hawke replied on 27 Aug.:3 ‘I am greatly concerned that I should be the means of giving your Grace so much trouble ... and I beg your Grace will pardon my freedom in telling you that I think it too late for me to come to that Board at all.’

He was now appointed naval commander of the expedition preparing against Rochfort. On 25 Sept. in a council of war held off Rochfort, Hawke gave his opinion that the landing could be effected but refused ‘to be a judge of land operations’;4 however, the attack was abandoned, and Hawke returned with the fleet to England. Sir John Mordaunt, who commanded the land forces, was court martialled for his part in this fiasco, but Hawke escaped censure: Anson was satisfied with his behaviour, and the King gave him ‘a good reception’.5

At the end of 1757 he was appointed to command a squadron in the Channel, but in May 1758 struck his flag when ordered to detach ships to another squadron. In May 1759 he was entrusted with the task of preventing the invasion which France was known to be preparing. For six months he blockaded Brest, but in November 1759 bad weather forced him to return to England and the Brest fleet escaped. Hawke put to sea again, overtook the French fleet, and in Quiberon Bay almost annihilated it. Newcastle described this victory as ‘the most glorious event that has happened, at least this century, for this country at sea’;6 and Sir John Knox Laughton as ‘the greatest victory at sea since the defeat of the Spanish Armada’.7 Hawke received the thanks of the House of Commons, and was given a pension of £2,000 p.a. on Ireland.

Hawke remained at sea till September 1762, when he struck his flag for the last time. He does not appear in Henry Fox’s list of Members favourable to the peace preliminaries, December 1762, but did not vote against them, 9 and 10 Dec. He seems to have been counted as a Government supporter by Grenville, and voted with Administration on general warrants, 6 Feb. 1764, though Augustus Hervey wrote to Grenville, 15 Feb. 1764: ‘Sir Edward Hawke—divided against us [on] divisions to adjourn and supposed not to enter into the consequence’.8 Rockingham in July 1765 classed him as ‘pro’. In December 1766 he was appointed first lord of the Admiralty by Chatham who was determined the office should no longer be a mere political prize. The appointment gave Hawke Cabinet rank, but he carried no weight except in business of his own department; and during a Commons debate on East India affairs, 6 Mar. 1767, he embarrassed his Cabinet colleagues by blurting out that they were seriously divided on the subject.9 Horace Walpole wrote that Hawke ‘though so brave and fortunate a commander, had never been a man of abilities’, and by 1770 was ‘worn out, grown indolent, and ... almost superannuated, paying so little attention to the fleet, that the ships were rotted in harbour’.10 There was a good deal of criticism of the state of the navy during the Falkland Islands crisis, and on 12 Dec. 1770 it was suggested that there should be an inquiry before more money was voted. Hawke replied:11

Everything is in more forwardness than I ever knew in any war ... Ships are now getting ready to be manned if wanting—people are apt to misrepresent things ... The ships are better now than in 1765. I never knew such ships ... This is the true state of things. I have drudged in this service not to fill my pockets.

On 5 Jan. 1771 Thomas Bradshaw wrote to the Duke of Grafton:12

I know he [Hawke] is very ill, and that Lord North has now a letter from him to Lord Rochford, in his possession, in which the poor old man tells him that he finds himself unable to attend Cabinets, or St. James’s; and that, if he does not very soon find an alteration in his health for the better, he shall endeavour to creep once more to St. James’s; and there thanking the King for all his kindnesses to him, lay his office at his feet.

No vote by Hawke is reported after his resignation in January 1771. Robinson’s survey on the royal marriage bill, March 1772, lists him as ‘pro, sick, present’, but before the general election in 1774 he was classed ‘doubtful’. Nevertheless he was continued on the Admiralty interest at Portsmouth until created a peer.

He died 17 Oct. 1781.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: John Brooke


  • 1. Naval Misc. iv. (Navy Recs. Soc.), 171.
  • 2. Anson to Hardwicke, 10 Aug. 1757, Add. 35359, ff. 399-400.
  • 3. Add. 32873, f. 309.
  • 4. Minutes of the council of war, Chatham mss.
  • 5. Add. 35359, f. 401; Grenville Pprs. i. 213-14.
  • 6. Add. 32899, f. 196.
  • 7. DNB.
  • 8. Grenville mss (JM).
  • 9. Brooke, Chatham Admin. 113.
  • 10. Mems. Geo. III, iv. 137.
  • 11. Brickdale’s ‘Debates’.
  • 12. Grafton, Autobiog. 260.