The decade with which this volume deals saw the Navy was emerging from its adolescence, begun under Henry VIII and continued under Elizabeth, into an adulthood where a permanent fleet was maintained by the Crown with an established administration to oversee it. It developed into the largest state enterprise, indeed the largest organisation in the country except, perhaps the Church, a position it would maintain for more than two centuries.
What the documents in this volume illustrate is really the inevitable ‘growing pains’ of the administrative body in its early days. That body comprised the three Principal Officers: the Treasurer, the Surveyor, the Comptroller and the Clerk of the Navy – later the Clerk of the Acts; they were supported by a relatively small number of lesser clerks, mainly those administering the dockyards under the Master Attendants. In the period in question this probity was lacking with the result that the abuses and corruption became so notorious that the two Commissions, that are the subject of this book, were set up to examine them.
The documents in the volume comprise the Letters Patent which set them up, nominated the Commissioners and gave them their instructions, and the vast number of depositions made by the witnesses called to appear before the Commission. The situation was complicated by the political patronage afforded to some of parties involved, and for this reason the findings of the first Commission, which uncovered widespread abuses, was not acted upon. The second Commission of 1618 was effective.