Admiralty. In England at a very early period the administration of the navy, and of all affairs pertaining to commerce, ships, and navigation, or connected in any way with the high seas or the navigable waters of the realm, seems to have been delegated to a naval officer of high dignity called the lord high admiral, deriving his authority directly from the sovereign, and invested with powers over some of the sovereign's most important prerogative rights. His functions, covering originally all maritime affairs, extended also to the private concerns of the subject in commercial trade. All of his powers which required judicial action were delegated to a court of admiralty, and they still remain its characteristic function. That part of the jurisdiction which was purely executive, and which related especially to the navy and the royal privilege, was at a very early date transferred to other departments or tribunals. Originally, then, the high court of admiralty in England was the court of the lord high admiral, and its judge was his lieutenant. The admiral also appointed vice admirals, and their lieutenants in turn were the judges of the vice admiralty courts in different parts of the kingdom.

The commission usually issued to the admiral of England in the 16th and 17th centuries gave him cognizance of "debts, bills of exchange, policies of insurance, accounts, charter parties, contractions, bills of lading, and all other contracts which any ways concern moneys due for freight of ships, moneys lent to be paid beyond the sea at the hazard of the lender, and also of any cause, business, or injury whatsoever had or done on or upon or through the seas or public rivers, or fresh waters, streams, havens, and places subject to overflowing, within the flowing and ebbing of the sea, upon their shores or banks, from the first bridges toward the sea, throughout our kingdom or dominions aforesaid, or elsewhere beyond the seas, or in any parts beyond the seas whatsoever," etc. A commission of the time of Henry VIII. gives to the admiral authority in cases of treasons, rob-beries, and other crimes on the seas or other waters within the king's maritime jurisdiction. But these commissions, though full and large, are, it must be remembered, of a comparatively recent date; for the admiralty jurisdiction is very ancient, and the "Black Book of the Admiralty," a sort of code of the admiralty law of England, compiled probably about the beginning of the 14th century, contains constitutions of John (1199), Richard I. (1189), and Henry I. (1100), relating to the admiralty.

The jurisdiction of the court was modelled after that of the consular courts of the Mediterranean. Its decisions were governed by the practice of those and the like courts on the continent by the ancient customary laws of the sea and commerce, and by those collections - such as the laws of Rhodes and Oleron, the Waterricht of Wisby, the Hanseatic ordinances, and the Consolato del Mare - which from time to time shaped the admiralty law of Europe. From the course of the administration of the law in those continental courts from which the English admiralty borrowed its procedure, and from the fact that its characteristic jurisdiction related so largely to commercial dealings with the states of continental Europe where the Roman law prevailed, the law and practice of the English court adopted and followed also the principles and rules of that system of jurisprudence. But the Roman law was regarded in those early periods with great jealousy and suspicion in England, and many efforts were made to restrain the jurisdiction of the admiralty within the narrowest possible limit. It was charged in the reign of Edward III. that now the admiralty claimed jurisdiction of trespasses on land and within the bodies of counties, and undertook to regulate the wages of labor and the prices of provisions.

As a result of the complaint it was enacted in the 13th year of Richard II. (1390), that "the admirals and their deputies shall not meddle henceforth of anything done within the realm, but only of a thing done upon the sea; " and in the 15th year of the same reign (1392), that "all manner of contracts, pleas, and quereles, and all other tilings rising within the bodies of coun- ties, as well by land as by water, as afore, and also wrecks of the sea, shall be determined and remedied by the laws of the land, and not before nor by the admiral nor his lieutenant in any wise." The admonitions of these statutes were still further emphasized by a law of Henry IV. (1411), which not only inflicted fines on persons proceeding in the admiralty courts in the forbidden causes, but also fined the admiralty judges who entertained their suits. About the same time the common law courts began to issue their prohibitions to the courts of admiralty, forbidding their interference in certain disputed cases. This matter of prohibitions became the subject of a sort of convention between the judges of the rival courts early in the reign of Elizabeth (1575), which quelled the discord until the next reign.

Coke (1551-1633) repudiated the agreement just referred to, though it had been observed for a quarter of a century, on the ground that it was not signed, and that the justices of the queen's bench had never assented to it; and he accordingly sent out prohibitions from his court more fierce than had ever issued yet. There was never much peace with the admiralty courts during his time, and the common law courts had their own way. In 1632 cer- tain ordinances were drawn up by the king and his council and the judges of the two; courts, which were again favorable to the admiralty. But these were set aside by the commonwealth, and in turn a new ordinance of that period (1648), still more favorable to the admiralty, was annulled at the restoration, and the common law judges began anew with their prohibitions. The jurisdiction of the court was now very much narrowed, and among the more important branches of it which were lost were cases of seamen's wages, freight, charter parties, claims for the building, repairing, or supplying of ships, and questions involving disputes of title to ships. The statute 3 and 4 Victoria began to repair and restore the damaged capacity of the admiralty.