Richard Howe, Earl Howe, was born in London, England, on March 19, 1726, the son of Emanuel Scrope Howe (1699-1735) and Mary Sophia Charlotte von Kielmansegg (1703-1782). Around 1735, he joined the crew of the merchant ship Thames , and in July 1739 he joined the 40-gun Royal Navy ship Pearl . Howe then served on several ships in the Caribbean and off the South American coast. After being promoted to lieutenant in 1744 and post captain in 1746, he continued his military service in the Americas, Scotland, and Africa. During the Seven Years' War, he served primarily in the Channel Fleet and assisted in raids along the French coast. Howe held several public offices during and after the war: member of Parliament (1757-1799), member of the Board of Admiralty (1763-1765), and treasurer of the navy (1765-1770).
Howe continued to advance his naval and political careers in the following decade, and he received promotions to rear admiral (October 1770) and vice admiral (December 1775). He served as commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean in the early 1770s, and in February 1776, he received an appointment as commander-in-chief of North America. He sailed for North America soon thereafter, and played a prominent role during the first years of the American Revolution. He arrived in New York in July 1776 and took part in the failed peace conference at Staten Island, New York, which occurred in September of that year. He provided naval support during the New York campaign and was ordered to blockade the American coastline, but complained that he lacked enough ships to prevent French vessels from reaching the northern colonies. In 1777, he assisted in the British occupation of Philadelphia, particularly focusing on the capture of forts in the Delaware River. Deeply offended at the appointment of the Carlisle Peace Commission in 1778, Howe attempted to resign his station, but his resignation was refused until November of that year; in the meantime, he successfully defended Newport, Rhode Island, from comte d'Estaing's large fleet. Postwar, he served as the first lord of the admiralty (1783-1788) and in 1790, he took command of the Channel Fleet during a dispute with Spain. He commanded the same fleet with great success during the French Revolution at the age of nearly 70. In 1797, he was made a Knight of the Garter. He died on August 5, 1799.
In 1758, Howe married Mary Hartopp, with whom he had three daughters: Sophia Charlotte (b. 1762; m. Penn Assheton Curzon, 1787), Mary Juliana (b. 1765; m. Edward Furse, 1800), and Louisa Catherine (b. 1767; m. John Denis Browne, 1787).