As this site has an interest in the Alan Lewrie novels by Dewey Lambdin, I’m going to take a moment to profile the historical character who becomes Lewrie’s patron and the source of his “interest” which leads to his continuous employment as naval officer and subsequent advancement, Admiral Sir Samuel Hood.
Hood was the son of an Anglican churchman and entered the Royal Navy in 1741 at the rather advanced age of 17. He didn’t have the meteoric rise in ranks that marked other famous admirals. He spent the obligatory 6 years at sea before receiving his promotion to lieutenant at a time when it was common for children’s names to be entered on the books of a man-o-war while still toddlers in order to ensure they could be promoted to lieutenant as soon as they reached age 20. He received his first command 8 years later and was made post captain in 1757 at age 33.
He enters our picture in 1781 when he commanded a squadron under Admiral Thomas Graves at the Battle of the Capes. Graves was probably one of most significant mediocrities produced by the Royal Navy and his inept handling of his fleet led to he defeat of the British fleet and the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown:
At 3:45 P.M., with the two fleets on nearly parallel courses a mile or two apart, Graves hoisted the signal “line ahead,” meaning that his ships were to remain in single file, bow to stern, as they approached the enemy. As the forward end, or “van,” of the British line approached the French at a slight angle, forming a “V,” Graves signaled for his fleet to “bear down and engage,” meaning that each ship was to engage its opposite in battle. However, Graves continued to fly the signal for “line ahead.” Hood, knowing that the requirement to follow the “line ahead” signal superceded all other signals, remained doggedly in line in the rear, positioned too far back to be actively engaged. For nearly an hour and a half, only the van of the British fleet engaged de Grasse’s ships. Finally, at 5:20 P.M., Graves lowered all signals and hoisted the sign for “close action.” Hood’s squadron joined the fight. However, by this time, three British ships had been disabled.
As the afternoon wore on, de Grasse ordered his ships to break contact and bear away. The battle ended by 6:30 P.M., as daylight failed.
This remains a source of controversy among naval historians and causes our hero, Alan Lewrie, to brand Hood a poltroon for not joining the melee. In The French Admiral, Hood expresses his admiration for Lewrie and appears again in The King’s Privateer as his patron.