Andros was born in London on December 6, 1637, the second of four sons and third of seven children of Amice (or Amias) Andros and Elizabeth Stone Andros. His great-great-grandfather John Andros, “alias Andrews,” migrated from Northamptonshire, England, to Guernsey in the Channel Islands and in 1543 married Judeth de Sausmarez, heiress to the Seigneurie of Sausmarez. John Andros’s descendants inherited the lordship. During the English Civil Wars the Andros family adhered to the Royalists, and following the Restoration in 1660 young Edmund Andros was made gentleman in ordinary to the queen of Bohemia, a sister of King Charles II. Andros was commissioned an ensign in the Regiment of Guards in 1662, a captain in the Barbados Regiment in 1667, and a major in the Barbados Regiment of Dragoons in 1672. At the death of his father in 1674 Andros received the office of bailiff of Guernsey and held it for life. In 1685 he was elevated to captain in the Regiment of Horse of Princess Anne of Denmark, an office that carried with it the equivalent army rank of lieutenant colonel. The unit was one of the first to abandon James II in 1688 and support William of Orange at the beginning of the Glorious Revolution.
Andros’s military career earned him important political appointments. The duke of York appointed him governor of his proprietary province of New York in 1674 and had him knighted in the winter of 1677–1678, but he had to recall Andros in 1680 because of colonial grumbling and disgruntled merchants in London. Andros received an even more important post in 1686, a year after the duke became King James II. He appointed Andros governor of the new Dominion of New England, which stretched from New Jersey to Maine. Three years later, the autocratic and unpopular dominion was overturned, and Andros was imprisoned at Castle Island in Boston Harbor before returning to England.
In spite of Andros’s close association with James II and his unpopular administration of two colonies, William and Mary appointed him governor of Virginia. He received his commission on March 1, 1692. The goals of the monarchs in sending Andros to Virginia included persuading the Virginians to live in cities (a perennial hope); sending men and money from Virginia to aid the colony of New York, which was under attack during King William’s War; raising the salaries of the Anglican clergy; creating a fleet of small boats to patrol the Chesapeake to prevent violations of the Navigation Acts; paying for soldiers to guard the frontier; and levying a tax on the importation of spirits to help pay for it all.
Andros arrived in Virginia on September 13, 1692, and took charge of a colony reeling from the effects of King William’s War on its economy, which was almost entirely dependent on tobacco. The temporary interruption of shipping prevented the sale of Virginia’s crop in England, and the disruption of trade reduced the principal source of revenue for the royal government—an export duty on tobacco. The inability of the planters to sell their tobacco drove down its price and in effect reduced the value of the clergymen’s salaries, which were paid in tobacco. Exacerbating that problem was a general dissatisfaction of the planters with the clergymen in the colony, many of whom were Scots. The discontented clergymen found an able leader in James Blair, commissary in Virginia for the bishop of London, and matters were worsened by the inability of Andros and Blair to work together harmoniously.
Andros had learned his lessons from New York and New England and often deferred to the powerful Virginia planters who dominated the governor’s Council, but he succeeded only partially in implementing his instructions. In 1693 he sent £600 from the royal revenue to New York, but not until 1695 did the House of Burgesses finally agree to send £500 from the colonial treasury. In 1696 the burgesses agreed to raise the salary for a clergyman to 16,000 pounds of tobacco. That was then equivalent to about £64 sterling, an amount considerably below the Crown’s expectation. Andros had to pay for the guard boats from royal quitrent revenue, and he completely failed to convince the Virginians, many of whom had never seen a city and none of whom needed one, to create and live in them.
Andros’s efforts to expand royal power were subtle. Despite formal complaints from the burgesses, he continued the precedent established in 1688—after the death of Robert Beverley—of appointing the clerk of the House of Burgesses, and he extended his appointing power to the burgesses’ messenger. He allowed British laws passed after the last charter to apply to Virginia, binding Virginia more closely than ever to English statutes. Andros was favorably remembered for putting the government’s papers in order after his arrival and again after the fire that destroyed the State House on October 20, 1698.
James Blair was Andros’s biggest problem. In April 1695 they quarreled and the Council expelled Blair from its membership, but he was restored in November. In April 1697 the Council suspended Blair from sitting as a judge since, as a Scot, he was excluded by the Navigation Act of 1696. Blair posed a far greater threat during his visits to England than when he was in Virginia. On December 27, 1697, he seized the opportunity to complain to the highest ecclesiastical authorities in England that Andros did not sufficiently support either the new College of William and Mary or the Anglican Church, even though Andros had donated a large silver paten to the church in Jamestown. Blair blamed Andros for every failure of the Virginians to give the clergymen what they wished. Andros’s chief defender was young William Byrd (1674–1744), but Byrd was badly outnumbered. In addition to influential enemies in the church, Maryland governor Francis Nicholson supported Blair’s effort to have Andros removed. The powerful Board of Trade also displayed hostility to Andros as part of its effort to wrest control of colonial information from the hands of Andros’s ally in London, the wily bureaucrat William Blaythwayt. The board clearly disliked Andros’s terse and lackadaisical correspondence and sent him a stiff reprimand in September 1697. Despite the power of such a combination of antagonists, Andros’s friends in England, including Blaythwayt, were able to keep him in office.
Andros’s most powerful enemy of all was the Virginia climate. In March 1694 he complained of being “Incomoded By the Excessive Heats” and was granted permission to leave the colony for two months every year. In March 1698 Andros asked permission to resign his office because of his poor health. He met with the Council a third less frequently that year than previously. By October 1698 he learned that his request had been granted. His replacement was Francis Nicholson, who took office in December of the same year.
Andros left Virginia early in 1699. He served as lieutenant governor of Guernsey from 1704 to 1706, after which he retired from public life. Andros married three times and was twice a widower. In February 1671 he married Marie Craven, and sometime after 1688 he married Elizabeth Crispe Clapham. She died in August 1703. His third wife was Elizabeth Fitzherbert, whom he married on April 27, 1707. He had no children. Andros died in London and was buried in Saint Anne’s Church in Soho, Westminster, on February 27, 1714.