The era of the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars contained hundreds of highly dedicated naval officers whose names have been largely forgotten and appear as obscure footnotes in equally obscure books. Indeed, when one advances outside the circle of Howe, Jervis, Cornwallis, Nelson, and Parker few of the names of even the brightest lights of the era are recognizable to the modern eye. One of those is Admiral Sir Edward Codrington.
Codrington was born on April 27, 1770, the third son in a ancient and prominent Gloucestershire family. What should have been a comparatively easy life was interrupted in infancy when he was orphaned. He was taken in by an uncle, given a moderate education, and at age 13 was packed off to the navy. He was initially posted to HMS Augusta as a midshipman. He served successively in Brisk (16), Assistance (50), Leander (50), Ambuscade (32), Formidable (90), and Queen Charlotte (100). He progressed from midshipman to master’s mate and passed the examination for lieutenant in 1793 but as there were no vacancies for a lieutenant, he served for a period as an acting lieutenant until Admiral Howe aboard his flagship, Queen Charlotte.
When war broke out he was made lieutenant into HMS Santa Margarita (36). Under Howe’s patronage, he was transferred to Pegasus (28) which was designated to be a repeating frigate for Queen Charlotte to be the signaling officer. When Howe promoted his first lieutenant to be commander he brought Codrington on board Queen Charlotte as the junior lieutenant. He served with distinction during the actions of May 28, May 29, and The Glorious First of June and was promoted commander into the fireship Comet (14). In October 1784 he was made post into Babet (20) and was with Sir Alexander Hood, later Lord Bridport, at the Battle of Groix.
He continued his meteoric rise leaving the 20 gun Babet for Druid (32) in July. Druid was based in Cork and was badly in need of repair. When the French invasion force arrived in December 1796, Codrington disregarded the wishes of the admiral at Cork, Sir Robert Kingsmill, and took led a small squadron consisting of the frigates Druid, Unicorn, and Doris which captured Ville de L’Orient, a 36 gun frigate armed en flute and carrying some 400 French hussars.
The physical state of Druid forced it to go into drydock for extensive repairs and Codrington went on half pay, voluntarily it seems, and lived the life of a country gentleman, marrying in 1802. He didn’t go to sea again after the Peace of Amiens.
When war renewed in 1803 he was given HMS Blake (74) and responsibility for raiding the Catalan coast which he did admirably. He was promoted to rear admiral in 1814, commanded the British fleet at the Battle of Navarino and remained active in the service and politics until his death in 1851.