Sir John Lawson, the son of a poor man at Hull, entered the navy as a common sailor, rose to the rank of admiral, and distinguished himself during the Protectorate. Though a republican, he readily closed with the design of restoring the King. He was vice-admiral under the Earl of Sandwich, and commanded the “London” in the squadron which conveyed Charles II. to England. He was mortally wounded in the action with the Dutch off Harwich, June, 1665. He must not be confounded with another John Lawson, the Royalist, of Brough Hall, in Yorkshire, who was created a Baronet by Charles II, July 6th, 1665.
This text comes from a footnote on a diary entry in the 1893 edition edited by Henry B. Wheatley.
David Quidnunc • Link
Lawson, very early in 1660
"Vice-Admiral Lawson, who is confusingly against the army and in favour of the Rump, has brought the fleet into the Thames and looks as though he might be preparing to blockade London, cutting off the coal and corn on which it depends; he has his own programme of republican reform that he has submitted to the City an had rudely rejected. . . . Neither Pepys nor anyone else could be sure what Monck or Lawson had in mind, because neither was sure himself yet; both had explicitly repudiated the idea of support for a restored monarchy . . ."
-- Claire Tomalin, "Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self," p. 88, 89.
Pedro • Link
Lawson (Summary from Ollard's biography of Montagu)
Lawson, the sea officer par excellence, was much liked and admired by the sailors.
(1660 Edward Montagu) “On Feb 23rd Parliament elected him member of Council of State. On March 2nd it appointed him, along with Monck, General at Sea. Since Monck was Commander in Chief of the Army this gave Edward in practice sole command of the fleet. He was also made a Commissioner of the Admiralty and both his regiment of horse and his lodgings in Whitehall were restored to him…
The chief hazard that confronted Montagu in establishing himself as the effective Commander in Chief of the fleet was the presence of Sir John Lawson in that very capacity. Lawson, it will be remembered, had refused to go as Blake’s Vice-Admiral to the Med on grounds that were manifestly political and had resigned his commission. A year later he had been briefly taken into custody on suspicion of being involved in a Fifth Monarchy conspiracy against the Protectorate and had not been subsequently employed by either Oliver or Richard. On Richard’s fall he had at once been recalled by the Rump to command the fleet in the Channel, obviously as a counterweight to Montagu the commanding the fleet that had been sent to the Sound. On Montagu’s return and dismissal he had been confirmed as sole Commander in Chief and demonstrated his loyalty to his Republican employers by bringing the fleet into the Thames and threatening a complete blockade of London when the Army leaders turned the Rump out. On the face of it he had acted in naval terms exactly as Monck had in bringing his troops to the defence of the Government against a military coup. But everyone knew that Lawson was a strong partisan of left-wing opinions in politics and religion and no one knew whether Monck had any opinions at all.
In this way Lawson had provided Montagu with his card of re-entry…elected a member of the new Council of State from which Lawson had been dropped…Lawson was a popular officer, a bred seaman not a government nominee. He had shown that he was ready to risk his position for his beliefs.
…(23rd March Montagu/Pepys on the Swiftsure Lawson came aboard)…This was a great point gained for though Lawson had not concealed his strong Republican sympathies no one thought him devious. He might not like the way things were going but there was no reason why he should not, like many others, accept what he saw he could not alter. In fact he was to prove a loyal and successful flag officer in the navy of the Restoration.
…Montagu can justly claim credit for achieving this delicate transition but it would hardly have been so swift and painless without Lawson’s support. Clearly the two men got on…
Pedro • Link
For a good write up see...
Michael Robinson • Link
Per L& M Companion:
" ... He was particularly concerned with Tangier as one of the contractors for the mole. ... He died far from wealthy but not penniless. His pension (L500 p.a.) was continued (since he had died in service.) He had two houses, and an interest in a ballast quay and the Tangier mole. ... The Mr. Lawson who was involved in the settling of his affairs after his death was either his cousin John Lawson, grocer, or the grocer's son James. Both were overseers of his will. The father received under the will a velvet coat and a 'flea-bitten gelding.' "
Lawson, therefore, once among the foremost supporters of what was called the commonwealth, seeing at length the erroneous principles of his own politics, honestly and wisely came, very early, into the measures taken by Monk for the demolition of that tyranny which he himself had, among others, contributed to erect and aggrandize. On the return of admiral Montague from the Baltic, Lawson was pitched upon, by the parliament, as the fittest person to take the command of the fleet: and from the measures so prudently concerted between admiral Montague, general Monk, and himself, the restoration of monarchy was effected with a tranquillity displeasing to some, and astonishing to all; a tranquillity which added new lustre to the characters of those who had, with such prudence, projected, and with so much firmness executed so great an undertaking. One of the first acts of royalty exercised by Charles, after the parliamentary acknowlegement of his office and authority, was that of conferring knighthood on Lawson, a moderate compensation, perhaps, for the services rendered by him, yet strongly indicative of their intrinsic worth, from the time and manner in which it was bestowed. Charles, however, had scarce taken possession of his throne, when he gave sir John Lawson a more substantial proof of his good opinion, by appointing him a commissioner of the navy. Very soon afterwards he was sent vice-admiral, under the earl of Sandwich, into the Mediterranean, and, after having assisted in the demolition of the Algerine shipping, was left, by the earl, with a squadron to harrass the enemy and protect our own trade. This service he most effectually performed; but, during the time he was engaged in it, a misunderstanding arose between him, and the Dutch admiral, De Ruyter, respecting a naval compliment, a salute, which afforded the latter a pretext for withdrawing himself; and, at a future day, one to king Charles, for declaring war against the States. The conduct of sir John, in this disagreable affair, is, however, to be attributed to its true cause, not to any captious turn in the temper of the admiral himself, but to his positive orders, not to return the salute to the ships of any prince or state whatsoever.
Biographia navalis, v.1. J. Charnock, 1794
Sir John Lawson, who was the son of a poor man at Hull, was, when he entered into the sea-service, upon the same foot with Pen, and, like him, rose by regular gradations to an admiral. He was in all the actions under Blake, who saw and did justice to his merit. As he was a man of excellent sense, he made the justest observations upon naval affairs; though in his manners he retained much of the bluntness and roughness of the tarpaulin. He was often advised with by the duke of York, who had a high opinion of his judgment. He acquitted himself with great courage and conduct in many engagements with the Dutch; particularly in 1653, when he and Pen were rewarded with gold chains for their eminent services. The Algerines, who were robbers by principle and profession, and had erected piracy into a system of government, were effectually chastised by him, and compelled to submit to a more disadvantageous peace than they had ever made with any of the states of Christendom. He was vice-admiral under the earl of Sandwich, whom he, for a short time, succeeded in command, when he was dismissed by the parliament. Though he was in his heart a republican, he readily closed with the design for restoring the king. He died in June, 1665, of a shot in the knee, which he received in an engagement with the the Dutch, in which he was observed to exceed all that he had done before.
---A Biographical History of England. J. Granger, 1779.
LAWSON, Sir JOHN (d. 1665), admiral; in command of ships in the parliament's service, 1642-6, 1651-3, 1654-6; dismissed from the public service, apparently on political grounds, 1656; anabaptist and republican; implicated in the conspiracy of the Fifth monarchy men and arrested, 1657; commander-in-chief of the fleet, 1659; co-operated with Monck in the Restoration, 1660; knighted, 1660; vice-admiral of the red squadron in the war with the Dutch, 1665; died of a wound received in action.
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.
Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.