Nigel Essenhigh

Admiral Sir Nigel Richard Essenhigh GCB, DL (born 8 November 1944) is a former Royal Navy officer who served as First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff from 2001 to 2002. He served as a navigating officer before commanding the Type 42 destroyer HMS Nottingham and then the Type 42 destroyer HMS Exeter during the Gulf War. As First Sea Lord he entered into a contract to acquire up to 150 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft for the UK's two new aircraft carriers. In retirement he worked for Northrop Grumman and became a non-executive director of Babcock International. He remains a Deputy Lieutenant of Devon.

Sir Nigel Essenhigh
Born8 November 1944 (age 74)
Newcastle upon Tyne, England
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchRoyal Navy
Years of service1963–2002
Commands heldFirst Sea Lord
Commander-in-Chief Fleet
HMS Exeter
HMS Nottingham
Battles/warsGulf War
AwardsKnight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath

Naval career

HMS Nottingham D91
The destroyer HMS Nottingham which Essenhigh commanded during the early 1980s
The destroyer HMS Exeter which Essenhigh commanded during the Gulf War

Essenhigh was born in Newcastle upon Tyne and educated at St. Cuthbert's School.[1] He joined the Royal Navy in 1963 and, having been promoted to sub-lieutenant on 4 June 1965[2] and to lieutenant on 1 May 1967,[3] he qualified as a principal warfare officer in 1972, specialising in navigation.[4] He served as a navigating officer on the frigate HMS Juno and then the destroyer HMS Antrim before joining the staff of the Flag Officer Sea Training.[4] Promoted to lieutenant commander on 1 May 1975,[5] he was posted to the destroyer HMS Glasgow in 1978.[4]

After his promotion to commander on 31 December 1980,[6] Essenhigh joined the Ministry of Defence for duty with Naval Manpower Training: he worked on the 1981 Defence Review.[4] He took command of the Type 42 destroyer HMS Nottingham in 1982[7] and saw service in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and West Indies.[4] His next post was on board HMS Ark Royal during its construction in 1984.[4] Promoted to captain on 31 December 1985,[8] he attended the Royal College of Defence Studies in 1986 and then returned to the Ministry of Defence to be Assistant Director (Weapons and Ships) in the Naval Plans Department in 1987.[4] He took command of another Type 42 destroyer, HMS Exeter, in April 1989,[9] and saw operational service during the Gulf War.[10]

Essenhigh attended the Higher Command and Staff Course at the Staff College, Camberley in 1992 before being promoted to commodore and becoming Director of Naval Plans and Programmes at the Ministry of Defence later that year.[9] Following promotion to rear admiral, he took up the position of Hydrographer of the Navy in February 1994 and, having been promoted to vice admiral, he became Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Programmes) in March 1996.[11] In September 1998 he was promoted to full admiral and was appointed to the post of Commander-in-Chief Fleet[9] as well as NATO Commander-in-Chief Eastern Atlantic and NATO Commander Allied Naval Forces North West Europe.[12] He was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in the 1999 Birthday Honours.[13]

In January 2001 he became First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff.[9] In that role he entered into a contract to acquire up to 150 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft for the UK's two new aircraft carriers.[14] He was advanced to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in the 2002 Birthday Honours[15] and retired on 3 December 2002.[16]

Later career

In retirement Essenhigh became an advisor to Northrop Grumman and from 2010 to 2011 he was chief executive of its Information Systems Europe business, involved in the supply of command, control, and intelligence and counter-IED products to customers throughout Europe.[12] He was also a non-executive director of Babcock International[17] and Patron of Journey South 2007, an expedition to the South Pole.[18] He has an interest in local matters and he remains a Deputy Lieutenant of Devon.[19] His wife Susie is sponsor of the frigate HMS St Albans.[20]

As essayist

On 13 June 2015, after the previous month's general elections, and together with Admiral of the Fleet Lord Boyce, Field Marshal Lord Walker and Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter Squire, he painted the UK Armed Forces as "feeble" and said "We are appeasing our enemies and making the same mistakes as in the 1930s during the rise of Nazism." He characterised the status quo as "parlous", argued for a review that would be "policy-led" as opposed to "resource-driven" and closed with an appeal for a review that "must demonstrate to potential enemies that Britain continues to be a country that will not be coerced into submission through military weakness when diplomacy fails in the future, as it did in the Thirties."[21] The essay garnered at least two responses:

  • A journalistic report that restated Essenhigh's case, and noted that the Chancellor sought sweeping cuts, while Squire added that "Russia must now be the number one and major threat. What is going on in Eastern Europe, in Ukraine and so forth, could spill over into a major conflict" and Boyce reiterated that "Putin is behaving in a very aggressive and expansionist way and the Government does not seem to take it seriously because it is inconvenient to have to do something about it."[22]
  • A direct response from Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon, that "Our Armed Forces are anything but 'feeble'". Fallon reiterated the government position that the international aid for law enforcement and women's rights budget should also be taken into account, as he said that "Those who belittle our Armed Forces’ efforts fail to recognise that our national security depends on tackling the causes of instability, not just treating the symptoms."[23]


  1. ^ "Old Boys". St. Cuthbert's School. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
  2. ^ "No. 43666". The London Gazette (Supplement). 4 June 1965. p. 5362.
  3. ^ "No. 44296". The London Gazette (Supplement). 21 April 1967. p. 4579.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g People of Today 1994, Debrett's Peerage Limited, 1994, ISBN 1 870 520 19 X
  5. ^ "No. 46557". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 April 1975. p. 5513.
  6. ^ "No. 48490". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 January 1981. p. 459.
  7. ^ "Royal Navy traditions die hard". ABC. 8 July 2002. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
  8. ^ "No. 50398". The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 January 1986. p. 551.
  9. ^ a b c d "Royal Navy Senior Appointments" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 March 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
  10. ^ "No. 52589". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 June 1991. p. 47.
  11. ^ "Ministry of Defence and Tri-service Senior Appointments" (PDF). Retrieved 18 August 2012.
  12. ^ a b "Northrop Grumman Appoints Sir Nigel Essenhigh as Chief Executive for Defence and Civil IT, and C4ISTAR Business in Europe". Northrop Grumman. 18 January 2010. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
  13. ^ "No. 55513". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 June 1999. p. 2.
  14. ^ "Britain signs up for new supersonic fighter in £1bn deal with Pentagon". 18 January 2001. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
  15. ^ "No. 56595". The London Gazette (Supplement). 15 June 2002. p. 2.
  16. ^ "No. 56777". The London Gazette (Supplement). 10 December 2002. p. 14983.
  17. ^ "Sir Nigel Essenhigh GCB". Babcock International. Archived from the original on 1 September 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
  18. ^ "Sponsors". Journey South 2007. Archived from the original on 26 November 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
  19. ^ "Appointments". Lord-Lieutenant of Devon. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
  20. ^ "Finally St Albans". Worshipful Company of Marketors. 18 July 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
  21. ^ "Our defence cuts leave us looking feeble in the eyes of the world". 13 June 2015. Retrieved 25 June 2015.
  22. ^ "Defence chiefs: UK 'feeble' on world stage". 13 June 2015. Retrieved 25 June 2015.
  23. ^ "Michael Fallon: Our Armed Forces are anything but 'feeble'". 20 June 2015. Retrieved 25 June 2015.
Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Michael Boyce
Commander-in-Chief Fleet
Succeeded by
Sir Alan West
First Sea Lord
Alan West, Baron West of Spithead

Alan William John West, Baron West of Spithead, (born 21 April 1948) is a retired admiral of the Royal Navy and formerly, from June 2007 to May 2010, a Labour Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the British Home Office with responsibility for security and a security advisor to Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Prior to his ministerial appointment, he was First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff from 2002 to 2006.

Anthony Hoskins

Admiral Sir Anthony Hiley Hoskins, (1 September 1828 – 21 June 1901) was a Royal Navy officer. As a junior officer, he took part in the Cape Frontier War of 1851 and then saw action at the Battle of Canton in December 1857 and the Battle of Taku Forts in May 1858 during Second Opium War. Once promoted to flag officer rank, he acted as Second-in-Command of the Fleet at the bombardment of Alexandria in July 1882 during the Anglo-Egyptian War. He went on to be First Naval Lord in September 1891 but in that role took a relaxed view of the size of the Fleet and did not see the need for a large shipbuilding effort on the scale envisaged by some of his colleagues, such as Admiral Sir Frederick Richards and Admiral Sir John Fisher who were concerned about French and German naval expansion.

First Sea Lord

The First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff (1SL/CNS) is the professional head of the United Kingdom's Royal Navy and the whole Naval Service. Originally the title was the Senior Naval Lord to the Board of Admiralty when the post was created in 1689. The office holder was then re-styled First Naval Lord from 1771. The concept of a professional "First Naval Lord" was introduced in 1805 and the title of the First Naval Lord was changed to "First Sea Lord" on the appointment of Sir John Fisher in 1904. From 1923 onward, the First Sea Lord was a member of the Chiefs of Staff Committee; he now sits on the Defence Council and the Admiralty Board.The current First Sea Lord is Admiral Tony Radakin (appointed in June 2019). Since 2012 the flagship of the First Sea Lord has been Horatio, Lord Nelson's ship of the line, HMS Victory.

Frederick Grey

Admiral The Hon. Sir Frederick William Grey GCB (23 August 1805 – 2 May 1878) was a Royal Navy officer. As a captain he saw action in the First Opium War and was deployed as principal agent of transports during the Crimean War. He became First Naval Lord in the Second Palmerston ministry in June 1861 and subsequently published a pamphlet Admiralty Administration, 1861–1866 describing his reforms which included, inter alia, the notion that all senior naval promotions and appointments should be non-political and should be discussed and agreed by the Naval Members of the Admiralty Board on a collective basis before recommendations were made to the First Lord of the Admiralty.

George Darby

Vice Admiral George Darby (c.1720 – 1790) was a Royal Navy officer. He commanded HMS Norwich at the capture of Martinique in 1762 during the Seven Years' War. He went on to command the Channel Fleet during the American Revolutionary War and later in that war served as First Naval Lord when he commanded the force that relieved Gibraltar from its siege by the Spanish in April 1781.

HMS Exeter (D89)

HMS Exeter was a Type 42 destroyer, the fifth ship of the Royal Navy to be named Exeter, after the city of Exeter in Devon. The vessel fought in the Falklands War and the first Gulf War, she was scrapped in 2009.

HMS Nottingham (D91)

HMS Nottingham was a batch two Type 42 destroyer of the Royal Navy, named after the city of Nottingham, England. She was launched on 18 February 1980, and commissioned on 8 April 1983 as the sixth ship to bear the name.

Her commanding officer at commissioning was Commander Nigel Essenhigh (in his first major command role) who went on to become First Sea Lord.

On her first cruise to Oporto, Portugal and then Gibraltar the destroyer lost two sailors to a drowning incident while on shore leave visiting a beach in Oporto.

In November 2000, Nottingham completed a major refit, which was intended to extend her operational life to 2012, although she was later placed in reserve and decommissioned on 11 February 2010.

Hastings Yelverton

Admiral Sir Hastings Reginald Yelverton, (born Hastings Reginald Henry; 21 March 1808 – 24 July 1878) was a Royal Navy officer. As a junior officer he took part in a major action against pirates off Candia in June 1826 and was involved in protecting British interests during the Portuguese Civil War during the early 1830s. He saw action in the Crimean War as Captain of one of the two ships that captured a Russian barque beneath the batteries at Ekenäs in Finland in May 1854. Then in July 1873 he took part in the suppression of the Cantonal Revolution in Cartagena. He became First Naval Lord in September 1876 and in that role implemented a series of economies demanded by the Disraeli ministry but was also involved in ordering the small, cheap and thoroughly unsuccessful ironclad Ajax-class battleships.

Henry Priestman (Royal Navy officer)

Captain Henry Priestman (ca. 1647 - 20 August 1712) was a Royal Navy officer and politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1695 to 1698.

Hyde Parker (Royal Navy officer, born 1784)

Vice-Admiral Hyde Parker CB (1784 – 26 May 1854), sometimes referred to as Hyde Parker III, was a Royal Navy officer. As a junior officer he took part in the capture of the Cape of Good Hope in January 1806 during the Napoleonic Wars. He also commanded the naval forces at the siege of Machias in September 1814 and took the surrender of the frigate USS President in January 1815 during the War of 1812. He became First Naval Lord in February 1852 and in that capacity he ensured that all new warships being procured were propelled by steam and he also increased the size of the active fleet.

John Chicheley

Rear Admiral Sir John Chicheley (c. 1640 – 20 March 1691) was a Royal Navy officer. He commanded a squadron at the Battle of Schooneveld in June 1673 and the Battle of Texel in August 1673 during the Franco-Dutch War. He went on to be Commissioner of the Ordnance and then Senior Naval Lord. He was also a Member of Parliament.

Michael Boyce, Baron Boyce

Admiral of the Fleet Michael Cecil Boyce, Baron Boyce, (born 2 April 1943) is a retired Royal Navy officer who now sits as a crossbench member of the House of Lords.

Boyce commanded three submarines and then a frigate before achieving higher command in the Navy and serving as First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff from 1998 to 2001 and then as Chief of the Defence Staff from 2001 to 2003. As Chief of Defence Staff he is believed to have had concerns about US plans for a national missile defence system. In early 2003 he advised the British Government on the deployment of troops for the invasion of Iraq, seeking assurances as to the legitimacy of the deployment before it was allowed to proceed.

Robert Man

Admiral Robert Man (died 1783) was a Royal Navy officer. He commanded the third-rate HMS Lancaster at the Siege of Louisbourg in June 1758 during the French and Indian War. He went on to become commander-in-chief of the Leeward Islands Station, then Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet and finally First Naval Lord.

Sir Robert Harland, 1st Baronet

Admiral Sir Robert Harland, 1st Baronet (ca. 1715 – 21 February 1784) was a Royal Navy officer. He commanded HMS Tilbury at the Second Battle of Cape Finisterre in October 1747 during the War of the Austrian Succession and commanded HMS Princess Louisa at the Battle of Lagos in August 1759 during the Seven Years' War. He went on to be Commander-in-Chief of the East Indies Station and then First Naval Lord.

Sir William Martin, 4th Baronet

Admiral Sir William Fanshawe Martin, 4th Baronet, (5 December 1801 – 24 March 1895), was a Royal Navy officer. As a commander, he provided valuable support to British merchants at Callao in Peru in the early 1820s during the Peruvian War of Independence. He became First Naval Lord in the Second Derby–Disraeli ministry in March 1858 and in that capacity acted as a strong advocate for the procurement of Britain's first ironclad warship. He went on to be Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet and in that role provided important assistance during the Italian disturbances in 1860 and 1861, reformed the system of discipline in his fleet and developed a comprehensive system of manoeuvres for steam ships.

St Cuthbert's High School

St. Cuthbert's Catholic High School is a boys-only Roman Catholic secondary school with academy status located on Gretna Road in the Benwell Hill area of Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

Tony Radakin

Admiral Anthony David Radakin, (born 10 November 1965) is a senior Royal Navy officer. He has served as First Sea Lord, the professional head of the Naval Service, since June 2019. He was Chief of Staff, Joint Forces Command from 2016 to 2018, and the Second Sea Lord and Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff from 2018 to 2019.

Vere Beauclerk, 1st Baron Vere

Admiral Vere Beauclerk, 1st Baron Vere (14 July 1699 – 21 October 1781), known as Lord Vere Beauclerk until 1750, was a Royal Navy officer, British peer and politician who sat in the House of Commons for 24 years from 1726 to 1750. After serving various ships in the Mediterranean and then commanding the third-rate HMS Hampton Court, he joined the Board of Admiralty, ultimately serving as Senior Naval Lord.

William Staveley (Royal Navy officer)

Admiral of the Fleet Sir William Doveton Minet Staveley (10 November 1928 – 13 October 1997) was a Royal Navy officer. Staveley saw service as a minesweeper commander on coastal patrol during the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation before commanding a frigate and then an aircraft carrier and ultimately achieving higher command in the Navy. He served as First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff in the late 1980s. In that role he fought hard for a fleet large enough to meet NATO commitments.

Senior Naval Lords (1689–1771)
First Naval Lords (1771–1904)
First Sea Lords (1904–present)


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