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Admiral Sir John Lawson, part of the Flagmen of Lowestoft series by Sir Peter Lely

Sir John Lawson (born ca. 1615–1665 Scarborough, North Yorkshire) was an English naval officer and republican who served in a number of campaigns, including the First Anglo-Dutch War under Admiral Robert Blake,[1] and the Second Anglo-Dutch War in which he died in battle.[2][3]

Lawson was in command of ships in the parliament's service during and after the English Civil War, 1642–6, 1651–3, 1654–6. He was dismissed from the public service, apparently on political grounds in 1656. An anabaptist and republican, he was implicated in the conspiracy of the Fifth Monarchists and arrested in 1657. However, soon released, he was appointed commander-in-chief of the fleet by rump-parliament in 1659 to counter General at sea Edward Montagu.[4] But later on both co-operated with General George Monck in the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. A grateful King Charles II of England knighted him in 1660.

In June 1661, with his flag in the Swiftsure, Lawson accompanied Montagu, now earl of Sandwich, to the Mediterranean to stem the burgeoning corsair activity. Lawson was present when Sandwich and the earl of Peterborough took over Tangier and he bought property in the new English possession; Lawson had been enthusiastic in support of taking Tangier when questioned by the King.[5] When Sandwich went to Lisbon to conduct the new Queen Catherine of Braganza to England, Lawson remained in command of a strong squadron with instructions to coerce Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli into observing treaties not to molest English shipping. After capturing several corsair ships, releasing some two hundred captives and selling about the same number of Moors into slavery, he compelled them to renew the treaties. He returned to England for the winter of 1662–3, and again for that of 1663–1664; and the Algerines, seizing the opportunity, recommenced their piracies. In May, Lawson was again in the Mediterranean, but before the corsairs could be reduced he was ordered home.

Commissioned as the vice-admiral of the red squadron for the Second Anglo-Dutch War in 1665, he died of a wound received at the Battle of Lowestoft.[2]


Further reading


  1. ^ Dixon, 1852, pp. 230-231
  2. ^ a b Lee 1903, p. 775 (also main entry xxxii 292)
  3. ^ David Plant,John Lawson, c.1615-65 Archived 15 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine British Civil Wars and Commonwealth website
  4. ^ Capp 1989, p. 335.
  5. ^ Routh, Enid M G (1912). Tangier, England's Lost Atlantic Outpost. London: John Murray. p. 6.

1893 text

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.

11 Annotations

First Reading

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…

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.' "

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

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

Bill  •  Link

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.

Bill  •  Link

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.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Admiral Sir John Lawson was not only a first-rate naval officer, but also a man of principle and loved by seamen. With good reason:

From LAWSON LIES STILL IN THE THAMES by Gill Blanchard, Amberley Publishing 2017, ISBN 978 1 4456 6123 page 89:

"The sailors in William Penn's fleet presented their own petition in October, and John [Lawson] backed it wholeheartedly. On 17 October 1654 John held a council of war at Spithead, where he persuaded his colleagues to approve the sailor's petition. Their demands were highly significant in political terms, as the sailors followed their demands to be paid more regularly with an appeal to parliament to end impressment. It was, they said, a form on bondage that no freeborn Englishman should endure. The sailors pointed to a number of army declarations on the same subject which reinforced their case, so had good grounds for expecting parliamentary agreement. One naval correspondent confided his fears that if the opportunity arose, three-quarters of the fleet would turn their guns against Cromwell and his government as willingly as they had against the king." -- citation: Lawson, "A Declaration"; Penn, Vol. 2 pp, 188-194

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

From LAWSON LIES STILL IN THE THAMES by Gill Blanchard, Amberley Publishing 2017, ISBN 978 1 4456 6123 page 159:

In late 1659 and early 1660 Lawson is in the Med.: "... [Admiral] John [Lawson] was on patrol hunting for Barbary corsairs while the rest of his fleet continued bombarding Algiers when he captured two enemy ships and freed another from Genoa laden with oil, which the Barbary pirates had taken. One of the vessels was commanded by a renegade; a European who had joined the pirates and converted to Islam. John and his crew made slaves of the 125 captives they took, but released over 30 Christians from different countries who were being held. Slaves taken by John and his fleet were sold to the Spanish while they executed those renegade Christians who had given up their religion and become Muslims." -- Lawson, , "A Declaration; Narrative; Two letters, 1659"; Monthly Intelligencer, Dec. 1659-1660; Publick Intelligencer 26 Dec. 1659-2 Jan. 1660.

So that's what they did with captive Barbary pirates.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Before the civil wars broke out, Capt. John Lawson married Isabella, daughter of William Jefferson of Whitby, who survived him, with three daughters, Isabella, Elizabeth, and Anna, and a son, Samuel Lawson, who was a merchant.

During her father's life, Isabella married Daniel Norton of Southwick, Hampshire. Sir John must have loved her, because he liquidated about half of his estate to pay her dowry. Obviously, he expected to live longer and have time to enlarge his estate again, but that was not to be.

Daughters Elizabeth and Anna were minors at the time of Adm. Lawson's death. In his will (in Somerset House), dated 19 April 1664, he desires his pension of 500l. to be settled if possible on his two younger daughters. To Elizabeth he leaves 'a gold chain that was given me in Portugal in 1663.' for her eldest son; and to Isabella 'a gold chain that was given me in the Dutch war, 1653.'

From LAWSON LIES STILL IN THE THAMES by Gill Blanchard, Amberley Publishing 2017, ISBN 978 1 4456 6123 and…

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