Modern Chatelaines at the Admiralty he wife of the official head of the Navy holds a position of special charm and interest. Who does not feel a thrill of patriotism at the mention of the "wooden walls of old England," and at their successors, the giant ironclads which guard our native shores ?
Everything connected with the sea appeals to British sentiment, and one can hardly-pass a sailor in the streets without a stirring of the pulse and an instinctive thought of our great naval heroes - of Nelson and of duty. The sailor may sometimes be a rollicking fellow ashore, but in the grim realities of his profession he faces the perils of the mighty deep and the thunder of the guns that we may dwell secure.
The wife of the First Lord of the Admiralty had an inspiring sight at the Coronation Naval Review at Spithead, when she saw the Fleet lying at anchor in seven columns, each five miles long. It was stupendous to think of the power and strength of those miles of floating battleships. All the imposing array, with their gallant crews, come under the jurisdiction of the First Lord, together with every national craft afloat, every sailor in the Navy - from admiral to the rawest naval cadet - the dockyards, the naval hospitals, and every station at home and abroad where British vessels lie.
The wife of the First Lord has, indeed, a wide field of interest and great opportunities for helping by her presence and influence the various schemes and institutions for the benefit of sailors and seamen when she accompanies her husband to the dockyards and naval stations.
The office of First Lord of the Admiralty dates from 1708. Prior to that time the head of the Navy was the Lord High Admiral, a picturesque and autocratic person, who carried things with a high hand in Tudor times, when the Royal Navy was first organised. Lord Howard* of Effingham was the Lord High Admiral of her High Mightiness, Queen Bess, and covered himself with glory at the rout of the Armada.
The office continued to be held until the early part of the seventeenth century, when the control of the Navy was confided to a Board of Commissioners, consisting of the chief officers of the State. At the Restoration, the office of Lord High Admiral was revived in the person of the Duke of York. Then, for a time, Charles II. took the office to himself, and James II. resumed it on his accession.
At the Revolution, the Naval Department was again put into commission, until Queen Anne's husband, Prince George of Denmark, was made Lord High Admiral. The Earl of Pembroke succeeded Prince George in the office for a year, when a Commission of Lords of the Admiralty was again appointed, and has continued, with the exception of a brief interval, when William, Duke of Clarence, was Lord High Admiral.
A story is told that when the Duke of Clarence was dining with his brother, the Prince Regent, at the Pavilion in Brighton, he said to Croker, then Secretary to the Admiralty: "Ah, if ever I am King, I will be my own First Lord of the Admiralty."
"Does your Royal Highness recollect," asked Croker, "what English King was his own First Lord the last time ? "
The Duke shook his head, and replied in the negative.
"It was James II., sir," said Croker significantly. There was a general laugh, at which the Duke was annoyed, and the Prince Regent greatly displeased.
At the head of the Board is the First Lord, who, by virtue of his office, is a member of the Cabinet. He receives 4,500 per year, with Admiralty House as a residence. His colleagues are the other five Lords of the Admiralty, or Commissioners, together with the Political and Financial Secretary and the Permanent Secretary.
The wife of the First Lord has in the official residence a home of great historic interest. Old Admiralty House adjoins the Horse Guards in Whitehall, and the mellowed bricks of the Georgian mansion show grey and hoary against the pile of palatial buildings which form the new Admiralty offices. It stands on the site of old Wallingford House, the birthplace of the notorious Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.
It was upon its roof that the Archbishop fell down in a swoon as he saw the axe fall on the neck of Charles I., down below on the scaffold at Whitehall.
A handsome architectural screen shuts off Admiralty House from Whitehall, and beyond the screen the buildings surround three sides of the courtyard. The centre building has a portico with four lofty Ionic columns, and above are the Admiralty arms.
As the visitor enters the vestibule with its air of antiquity, the figure of Nelson greets him, and up the staircase to the Board Room the hero himself often passed. To Old Admiralty House the body of Nelson was borne from the funeral barge which conveyed it in solemn procession up the river from Greenwich to the water-stairs at Whitehall. Sixteen men of the Victory carried their chief, amidst the strains of the Dead March and the booming of minute guns, across to the Admiralty, where it lay in state in the Captains' Room until taken for burial to St. Paul's.