History of Chaplains

It is claimed that St Paul was the first Chaplain at sea (27th chapter of the Act of the Apostles) as a closely guarded prisoner who had “appealed unto Caesar.” St Paul can well be regarded as Patron Saint of Naval Chaplains.

 

It is claimed that St Paul was the first Chaplain at sea (27th chapter of the Act of the Apostles) as a closely guarded prisoner who had “appealed unto Caesar.” St Paul can well be regarded as Patron Saint of Naval Chaplains.

There were Chaplains in the King’s ships as early as Edward l’s time (1272-1307). Sir Francis Drake took Master Francis Fletcher “Preacher in this Employment” on the Golden Hind expedition of 1577-1580. During the expedition to Cadiz in 1596, the Captains were directed that God is to be served by the use of prayers twice daily – any man absenting himself was liable to 24 hours in irons.

For a long period there was seldom more than one Chaplain to a fleet or squadron although Buckingham announced in 1626 that the King had ‘given orders for Preachers to go in every ship at sea.’ During the seventeenth century Chaplains were rated with ordinary seamen for pay purposes.

In 1629 the wages were raised to nineteen shillings per month. Samuel Pepys as secretary of the Navy had it laid down that the Chaplain should be appointed by warrant from the Admiralty – so that they became officially a ‘Warrant officer’ though they did not receive any increase in pay.

The Order in Council of 1812 abolished the old remuneration for Chaplains and granted them a regular salary of 150 pounds a year. In 1843 Chaplains together with Masters, Paymasters, Surgeons and Instructors were raised from Warrant to Commissioned status.
Unlike all other officers in the service, the Naval Chaplain has not been granted rank, seeing that his parishioners may range from Admiral to Seaman Boy.

The 1900 RN Dress regulations ordered Chaplains to wear clerical collar and stock and ‘shall be dressed in other respects in such a manner as shall clearly indicated his profession.’ The uniform included a blue reefer jacket (no rank stripes) with officer’s gilt buttons and the authorised Naval Chaplains cap and badge. With ordinary clerical dress, chaplains could wear a black clerical felt hat or college cap, or plain braided yachting cap. On 28 February 1918 a Bronze Badge was introduced for Chaplains but was abolished on 28 September 1923. On 4 December 1925 Chaplains in hot climates were authorised to wear a white tunic with black Maltese Cross on each side of the collar.

By April 1931 Chaplains when conducting religious services could wear a black silk scarf with badge consisting of a foul Anchor surmounted by crown. In 1937 the RN Uniform Regulations stated that:

‘A Chaplains dress when dining in the Mess shall be a clerical Court coat, waistcoat, and trousers all of black cloth, but when officers wear full dress or ball dress, or mess dress the waistcoats shall be a black silk cassock waistcoat, and instead of trousers, shall be worn block cloth knee breeches, with black silk stockings and patent leather shoes with silver or plated buckles.’

In November 1948 the RN issued new uniform instructions that all new Chaplains were to wear Naval Uniform. In June 1956 RNVR Chaplains were instructed to wear the same uniform as Regular Chaplains but with RNVR buttons. The Clerical black scarf would have the letters RNVR embroidered below the badge. This was changed again in December 1958 when the RNVR merged with the RNR to form the new RNR. Chaplains were to make appropriate changes to lettering on clerical scarves.