Master-General of the Ordnance

The Master-General of the Ordnance (MGO) was a very senior British military position, usually held by a serving general. The Master-General of the Ordnance was responsible for all British artillery, engineers, fortifications, military supplies, transport, field hospitals and much else, and was not subordinate to the commander-in chief of the British military. Between 1855, and 1904, the post did not exist. In March 2013, the holder was titled as "Director Land Capability and Transformation" but still sat on the Army Board as Master-General of the Ordnance. In September 2013, the post was again eliminated.


The Office of Armoury split away from the Privy Wardrobe of the Tower (of London) in the early 15th century. The Master of the Ordnance came into being in 1415 with the appointment of Nicholas Merbury by Henry V. The Office of Ordnance was created by Henry VIII in 1544 and became the Board of Ordnance in 1597. Its head was the Master-General of the Ordnance; his subordinates included the Lieutenant-General of the Ordnance and the Surveyor-General of the Ordnance.[1] Before the establishment of a standing army or navy, the Ordnance Office was the only permanent military department in England. In 1764 it established the British standard ordnance weights and measurements for the artillery, one of the earliest standards in the world.

The position of Master-General was frequently a cabinet-level one, especially in the late 18th and early 19th centuries when it was normally a political appointment. In 1855 the post was discontinued and certain of the ceremonial aspects of the post were subsequently vested in the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces.[2] In 1904 the post was re-established and until 1938 the Master-General of the Ordnance was the Fourth Military Member of the Army Board.[3]

In 1913 the control of military aviation was separated from the responsibilities of the Master-General of the Ordnance. A new Department of Military Aeronautics was established and Brigadier-General Henderson was appointed the first director.[4]

In March 2013, the holder was titled as "Director Land Capability and Transformation" but still sat on the army board as Master-General of the Ordnance.[5] After September 2013, this post was eliminated.[6]

Masters of the Ordnance 1415–1544

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Masters-General of the Ordnance, 1544–1855

Source: Institute of Historical Research

William Berkeley, 1st Baron Berkeley
Sir John Duncombe
Thomas Chicheley
Sir John Chicheley
Sir William Hickman, Bt.
Sir Christopher Musgrave, Bt


Post vacant from 1855 to 1904
Holders of the post have included:[10]

The post was abolished by Lord Hore-Belisha, the Secretary of State for War, as he perceived it to be a block on production, transferring tank development responsibility to the Director General of Munitions Development. It was not reinstated until 1959

Notes and references

  1. "Board of Ordnance". Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  2. The London Gazette: no. 22509. p. 2003. 10 May 1861. Retrieved 2009-12-13.
  3. The Army in 1906: A Policy and a Vindication By Hugh Oakeley Arnold-Forster, Page 481 Bibliobazaar, 2008, ISBN 978-0-559-66499-1
  4. Joubert de la Ferté, Philip (1955). The Third Service. London: Thames and Hudson. p. 15.
  5. "Head Office and Corporate Services senior, as of March 2013". Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  6. "Head Office and Corporate Services senior, as of September 2013". Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  7. Corps History - Part 2 Website of the Royal Engineers' Museum
  8. 1 2 Skentlebery, Norman (1975). Arrows to atom bombs: a history of the Ordnance Board. London: Ordnance Board.
  9. Goodman, Anthony. The Wars of the Roses: Military Activity and English Society, 1452-97. p. 172.
  10. "Army Commands" (PDF). Retrieved 12 December 2015.
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