13th he got under way; but, refusing to engage and neglecting to maintain his position between the English fleet and the Rock, he allowed Howe to get to the westward of him, so that when, on the 16th, the wind came round to the east, the convoy was able to slip in at pleasure, while the ships of war, lying to the east of the bay, guarded against any interruption. By the 19th the stores and troops had been landed; when Cordova appeared at the eastern entrance of the Straits, Howe was at liberty to take searoom to the westward, and, by hugging the African shore, let the empty transports get clear away. On the next morning, 20 Oct., the wind was northerly, both fleets in line of battle, the allies some five leagues to windward: they had the advantage of both numbers and position; and with the African shore at no great distance to leeward, the English could not have avoided action if it had been resolutely offered. But though by sunset Cordova's fleet approached the English, he would not attempt a sustained attack. A distant fire was continued in a desultory manner for about four hours, when the combatants separated, and the next day the allies passed out of sight on their way to Cadiz, leaving Howe free to pursue his homeward voyage. He anchored at St. Helens on 14 Nov. This relief of Gibraltar, in presence of a fleet enormously superior in numbers, called forth general commendation. The king of Prussia wrote in his own hand expressing his admiration, and Frenchmen and Spaniards acknowledged that they had been outwitted. Few were aware of the real weakness of the Spanish fleet, which had forced on Cordova a timid policy; and, though the French officers complained bitterly of the inefficiency of their allies, their reports were not made public (cf. Chevalier, i. 184); but Chevalier, though well acquainted with them, still considers the operation as one of the finest in the whole war, and as worthy of praise as a victory (ib. p. 358). It was, beyond question, a very brilliant achievement; but we now understand the Spanish share in it. Against a French fleet of equal numbers, commanded by a Suffren or a Guichen, Howe's task would have been incomparably more difficult. As it was, Lord Hervey,the captain of the Raisonnable, being, it is said, in a bad humour at having been sent out of England just at that time, published a letter reflecting on Howe's conduct on 20 Oct. If we had been led,' he wrote, 'with the same spirit with which we should have followed, it would have been a glorious day for England.' On this, Howe sent him a challenge; but the duel did not take place, for, though the parties met, Hervey made a full retractation on the ground (Barrow, p. 421).
In January 1783 Howe was appointed first lord of the admiralty, and, though in April he gave place to Koppel, he was reinstated in the office in December, and held it till July 1788, when he was succeeded by the Earl of Chatham. The period of his administration was not a time of organising fleets, but of reducing establishments. The navy was on a war footing, and the reduction could not be accomplished without injury to private interests or disappointment to personal expectations. Howe was bitterly attacked in parliament and in print. In one pamphlet, more than usually spiteful, he was described as 'a man universally acknowledged to be unfeeling in his nature, ungracious in his manner, and who, upon all occasions, discovers a wonderful attachment to the dictates of his own perverse, impenetrable disposition' (An Address to the Right Honourable the First Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty upon the visible decreasing Spirit, Splendour, and Discipline of the Navy, by an Officer, 1787). The reforms in dockyard administration and the technical improvements which Howe introduced (cf. Derrick, Memoirs of the Royal Navy, pp. 178-87) brought new enemies into the field (cf. An Address to the Right Honourable the First Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty upon the pernicious Mode of Coppering the Bottoms of King's Ships in time of Peace, 1786). Howe felt that he was not fairly supported by Pitt, and obtained permission to resign (Barrow, pp. 191-2). As an acknowledgment of his services, he was created Earl Howe and Baron Howe of Langar, with a remainder of the barony to his eldest daughter (19 Aug. 1788).
In May 1790, on the occasion of the dispute with Spain relative to Nootka Sound, Howe was appointed to the command of the fleet in the Channel. He was at this time the senior admiral of the white, and on joining the Queen Charlotte was ordered to hoist the union-flag at the main, with the temporary rank of admiral of the fleet, in compliment, it would seem, not only to himself but also to the six exceptionally distinguished flag-officers placed under his orders. In August it was reported that the Spanish fleet was at sea, and for a month Howe cruised between Ushant and Scilly, with thirty-five sail of the line, which he exercised continually, both in naval evolutions and in the new code of signals, which he had been elaborating for several years. On 14 Sept. the fleet returned to Spithead, and on the accommodation of the differences with Spain, most of the ships