Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Batten, William

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BATTEN, Sir WILLIAM (d. 1667), admiral, is stated by Burke to have been the son of Andrew Batten, of Easton St. George, near Bristol; though his career, so far as we can now trace it, connects him rather with the east country. Andrew Batten served for many years as master in the royal navy (Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, 3 April 1621; 14 Jan. 1627–8), and was on 27 Feb. 1626–7 ordered by the special commissioners for inquiring into the state of the navy to complete the survey of cordage at Chatham. Afterwards he engaged in commerce, and (13 Dec. 1632) is described as master of the Salutation of Yarmouth. We may thus identify William Batten, the son of Andrew, with the William Batten who, on 24 Aug. 1626, obtained letters of marque for the Salutation, then called of London, owned by Andrew Hawes and others, and who, in conjunction with Andrew Hawes and others of Yarmouth, was ordered (1 April 1629) ‘to enter into a bond of 1,000l. that the Salutation of Yarmouth should not make any voyage for whale fishery to any countries within the compass of the Muscovy Company's patent’ [see Baffin, William]. There is no further mention of him till his appointment in 1638 as surveyor of the navy. ‘On Sunday last’ (16 Sept.), wrote the Earl of Northumberland's secretary to Sir John Pennington, ‘Captain Batten kissed his majesty's hand for the surveyor's place. His patent is drawing “during pleasure only,” as all patents must run hereafter. Here has been much striving for the place, Sir Henry Mainwaring, Captain Duppa, Mr. Bucke, cum multis aliis; but the king, with the help of somebody else, thought him the fittest man’ (19 Sept. 1638). The way in which Batten's name is thus introduced shows that he was far from being the ‘obscure fellow unknown to the navy’ described by Clarendon; and though the reference to ‘the help of somebody’ confirms Clarendon's more direct statement that he was made surveyor ‘for money,’ it was merely in accordance with the custom of the age, in which the price of the post was almost publicly quoted at 1,500l. (Monson's ‘Naval Tracts’ in Churchill's Voyages, iii. 331b.) It does not appear whether Batten had held any naval command before his appointment as surveyor; it is not improbable that he had, for in March 1642 he was appointed second in command of the fleet under the Earl of Warwick. During the years immediately following, the action of the navy was for the most part purely national: as between the king and the parliament, it remained, to a great extent, neutral; but it resolutely prevented foreign interference, and readily obeyed the orders of parliament ‘to prevent the bringing over soldiers, money, ordnance, and other ammunition from beyond the seas to assist the king against the parliament of England’ (29 Nov. 1642, Penn, i. 71). About the middle of February 1642–3 Batten, in command of four ships at Newcastle, learned that a vessel had sailed from Holland with a quantity of arms and ammunition, which she intended to land at Bridlington quay. He at once went there, and finding the boats engaged in landing these stores, he opened fire on them; with what success does not appear. Queen Henrietta Maria had taken a passage from Holland in this same vessel, and was in the village at the time. According to Clarendon: ‘Finding that her majesty was landed, and that she lodged upon the quay, Batten, bringing his ships to the nearest distance, being very early in the morning, discharged above a hundred cannon (whereof many were laden with cross-bar shot) for the space of two hours upon the house where her majesty was lodged; whereupon she was forced out of her bed, some of the shot making way through her own chamber, and to shelter herself under a bank in the open fields.’ In point of fact, it does not appear that Batten knew of the queen's presence, or could in any case have acted otherwise than he did (Penn, i. 71–6, where the story is discussed in some detail). During the rest of the civil war Batten continued in active command of the fleet under the lord admiral ‘in the service of the king and parliament;’ and in May 1647 brought into Portsmouth a fleet of fifteen Swedish ships, men-of-war and merchantmen, for refusing to pay the accustomed homage to the English flag in the narrow seas; on which the admiralty committee reported to both houses of parliament that it was of opinion ‘that the vice-admiral's (Batten's) and rear-admiral's (Richard Owen's) proceedings in order to the maintenance of this kingdom's sovereignty at sea be approved of by both houses’ (Penn, i. 242–4).

It was, however, already known that the indignities recently offered to the king's person, and the authority now assumed by the army, were contrary to the spirit and feeling of the navy; and Batten was specially warned (12 June 1647) to ‘observe the tempers of the mariners and improve all means to continue them in a condition of obedience and service to the parliament.’ Three months later Batten himself was ordered by the admiralty committee to attend before them on 17 Sept. He did so, and rendered up his commission, declaring ‘that it was not out of any discontent, that if the state should be pleased to employ him again he was willing to serve them; if they should please otherwise to dispose of that command, he would be content to stay at home’ (Penn, i. 251). His resignation was accepted, and on 19 Oct. Colonel Rainborow, one of the committee, was appointed vice-admiral and commander-in-chief of the fleet. This proceeding roused the utmost indignation in the fleet, and many of the officers refused to serve under Rainborow (A Declaration of the Officers and Company of Seamen aboard His Majesty's Ships, lately reserved for His Majesty's Service, Amsterdam and London, 1648; reprinted in Penn, i. 270–2). They turned Rainborow ashore 28 May, demanded that Batten should be reappointed, and sent him a personal invitation to resume the command. This he did, when eleven ships sailed out of the fleet then in the Downs and went over to Holland, where the Prince of Wales then was; ‘not,’ wrote Batten, ‘as if I were now turned an enemy to parliaments, for I profess I shall, with the hazard of my life and fortunes, endeavour the welfare and being of free parliaments, provided it be with the just rights of the king and his subjects’ (A Declaration of Sir William Batten, late Vice-Admiral for the Parliament, concerning his Departure from London, to his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, for satisfaction of all honest Seamen, and others whom it may concern (London, 1648; reprinted in Penn, i. 266–70). The prince conferred the honour of knighthood on Batten, and was anxious that he should continue in command of the fleet. This, however, Batten refused to do. He accompanied the prince to the Downs, and was with him when he summoned Warwick to return to his allegiance (29 Aug.); but he seems to have been shocked at the idea of fighting against his old admiral, and obtained permission to return to England.

With him also returned Captain Jordan and others, who made their peace with the parliament and served with distinction in the Dutch war. Batten seems to have been undisturbed, and indeed ignored; he took no further service under the parliament or Cromwell. There is no mention of him during the next twelve years; and though it is possible that the Robert Batten, captain of the Garland, who was slain in the fight off Dungeness 29 Nov. 1652, was his son, there is no direct evidence to that effect. On the Restoration (June 1660) Batten was reinstated in his office of surveyor of the navy; in the exercise of its duties his remaining years were passed, during which time, through the pleasant pages of Pepys's Diary, we seem to become almost personally acquainted with him. Pepys was often very much out of humour with Batten, though he continued throughout on good terms with him; and much of what we read in the Diary must be attributed to some passing pique. To say that in an age of almost universal corruption Batten's official hands were not quite clean is unnecessary; but there is something ridiculous in Pepys and Sir W. Warren discoursing on Batten's iniquities for some four hours on end, forgetful even of eating or drinking (4 July 1662); or on another occasion adjourning to a tavern to talk ‘of the evils the king suffers in our ordering of business in the navy, as Sir W. Batten now forces us by his knavery’ (5 May 1664). The relations of Pepys and Warren to each other were of such a nature as to permit us to suspect that Batten's ‘knavery’ may have largely shown itself in restraining the greed of the clerk of the acts or in insisting on a just interpretation of the clauses of a contract (e.g. 10 Feb. 1662–3, 2 Feb. 1663–4, 16 Sept. 1664; cf. MS. Sloane 2751). There is, in fact, no reason to suppose that Batten ever exceeded the bounds of what was then considered fair and right; and the story of Batten's cowardice (4 June 1664) as related to Pepys by Coventry, who said he had it from the king, is probably false (29 Aug. 1648); though it is quite possible that he may have shown marks of agitation, of a spirit torn with conflicting emotions, which the king thought a fitting subject for jest. In 1665 Batten had a serious illness, and lay for four or five days at the point of death. ‘I am at a loss,’ wrote Pepys (7 Feb. 1664–5), ‘whether it will be better for me to have him die, because he is a bad man, or live, for fear a worse should come.’ He revived, however, and lived on for another two years and a half. On 4 Oct. 1667 Pepys notes: ‘Sir W. Batten is so ill that it is believed he cannot live till to-morrow, which troubles me and my wife mightily, partly out of kindness, he being a good neighbour, and partly because of the money he owes me.’ He died on the early morning of 5 Oct., ‘having been but two days sick;’ and on the 12th ‘the body was carried, with a hundred or two of coaches, to Walthamstow, and there buried.’ From 1661 he had sat in parliament as member for Rochester, and since June 1663 had held the honourable post of master of the Trinity House. He was twice married, and left a son and daughter both grown up and married.

[Calendars of State Papers, Domestic, 1619–67. There is in these, as yet, a gap, 1642–8, during a very interesting period, which is only imperfectly filled up by the numerous references and extracts in Penn's Memorials of the Professional Life and Times of Sir William Penn; A true Relation of what passed between the fleet of his Highness the Prince of Wales and that under the command of the Earl of Warwick (4to, 1648); Pepys's Diary, ed. Bright, where the name occupies nearly three columns in the index.]

J. K. L.