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Wreck of historic royal ship discovered off the English coast

Wreck of historic royal ship discovered off English coast

The ship’s bell. Credit: University of East Anglia

The wreck of one of the most famous ships of the 17th century – which sank 340 years ago while the future King of England James Stuart was aboard – has been discovered off the coast of Norfolk in the UK, it can be revealed today.

Since it ran aground on a sandbar on May 6, 1682, the wreck of the warship the Gloucester has lain half-buried on the seabed, its exact whereabouts unknown until brothers Julian and Lincoln Barnwell, with their friend James Little, found it after a four-year search.

Due to the age and prestige of the ship, the condition of the wreck, the finds already rescued and the political context of the accident, the discovery is described by Prof. as the most important maritime discovery since the Mary Rose.

The Gloucester represents a significant “near” moment in British political history: a royal shipwreck that caused the near-death of the Catholic heir to the Protestant throne at a time of great political and religious tension.

Now a major exhibition is scheduled for spring 2023, the result of a collaboration between the Barnwell brothers, Norfolk Museums Service and academic partner UEA. Running from February to July at the Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, the exhibition showcases finds from the wreck – including the bell that confirmed the ship’s identity – and shares ongoing historical, scientific and archaeological research.

Prof. dr. Jowitt, a leading authority on maritime cultural history, is co-curating the exhibition. “Due to the conditions of the sinking, this can be claimed as the most significant historic maritime discovery since the Mary Rose lifted off in 1982,” she said. “The discovery promises to fundamentally change the understanding of 17th-century social, maritime and political history.

“It is an outstanding example of underwater cultural heritage of national and international importance. A tragedy of significant proportions in terms of loss of life, both privileged and ordinary, the full story of the Gloucester’s final voyage and the impact of its aftermath must be revisited.” will be told, including the cultural and political importance and legacy. We will also try to identify who else died and tell their stories, as the identities of a fraction of the victims are currently known.”

Wreck of historic royal ship discovered off English coast

The Barnwell brothers with the ship’s bell. Credit: Historic Shipwrecks in Norfolk

The Barnwell brothers are Norfolk printers, licensed divers and Honorary Fellows in the School of History at UEA. Lincoln said he was partially inspired to search for the wreckage after watching the Mary Rose hoist on television as a child.

“It was our fourth diving season looking for Gloucester,” he said. “We started to believe that we would not find her, we had dived so much and just found sand. When I descended to the sea floor, I was the first to see big guns lying on white sand, it was awe-inspiring and really beautiful.

“It immediately felt like a privilege to be there, it was so exciting. We were the only people in the world at that time who knew where the wreck was. That was special and I will never forget it. Our next job was to site as the Gloucester.”

Julian added: “When we decided to look for the Gloucester we had no idea how important she was in history. We had read that the Duke of York was on board but that was it. We were convinced it was the Gloucester was, but there are other wreck sites there with guns, so it was yet to be confirmed.

“There is still a tremendous amount of knowledge to be gained from the wreckage, which will benefit Norfolk and the nation. We hope this discovery and the stories uncovered will inform and inspire future generations.”

Lord Dannatt, Norfolk Deputy Lieutenant and long-time resident of the county, lends his skills and support to the historic rescue project. As a former head of the British Army, he works with charities and organizations associated with the armed forces.

“This will be the Mary Rose from Norfolk,” Lord Dannatt said. “Julian and Lincoln touched history, history that could have changed the course of this country. It’s such a great story to tell. Our goal is to bring that story to life and share it with as many people as possible. “

The Gloucester was commissioned in 1652, built at Limehouse in London and launched in 1654. In 1682 he was selected to transport James Stuart, Duke of York, to Edinburgh to collect his heavily pregnant wife and their households. The aim was to return them to King Charles II’s court in London in time, it was hoped, for the birth of a legitimate male heir.

The ship had set out from Portsmouth, while the Duke and his entourage had joined Margate, having traveled on a yacht from London. At 5:30 a.m. on 6 May, the Gloucester ran aground approximately 28 miles off Great Yarmouth after a dispute over navigating the treacherous sandbanks of Norfolk. The Duke, a former Lord High Admiral, argued with the pilot over control of the ship’s course.

Within an hour the ship sank with the loss of hundreds of crew and passengers. The duke barely survived, having postponed leaving the ship until the last moment.

In addition to the Duke of York, the Gloucester carried a number of prominent English and Scottish courtiers, including John Churchill, later the 1st Duke of Marlborough.

Journalist and naval administrator Samuel Pepys, who witnessed events from another ship in the fleet, wrote his own account — describing the harrowing experience for victims and survivors, with some being picked up “half-dead” from the water.

Together with their late father Michael, and two friends, including James Little, a former Royal Navy submarine and diver, the Barnwell brothers found the site of the wreckage in 2007, with the Gloucester breaking off the keel and revealing the remains of the hull. submerged in sand.

The ship’s bell, manufactured in 1681, was later recovered and in 2012 it was used by the wreckage recipient and the Department of Defense to definitively identify the ship.

Due to the time it took to confirm the ship’s identity and the need to protect an “at risk” site that lies in international waters, its discovery can only now be made public. As well as the recipient of the wreck and the Ministry of Defence, the wreck has been declared Historic England.

After the discovery, the brothers took an underwater archeology course at the Nautical Archeology Society.

Artifacts that have been rescued and preserved include clothing and shoes, navigational and other professional naval equipment, personal effects, and many wine bottles.

  • Wreck of historic royal ship discovered off English coast

    (L-R) Lincoln Barnwell, Prof Claire Jowitt, Dr. Ben Redding and Julian Barnwell with some of the finds. Credit: University of East Anglia

  • Wreck of historic royal ship discovered off English coast

    Found a pair of glasses in their original case. Credit: University of East Anglia

  • Wreck of historic royal ship discovered off English coast

    The Barnwell brothers measure one of the ship’s guns. Credit: Historic Shipwrecks in Norfolk

One of the bottles bears a glass seal with the coat of arms of the Legge family – the ancestors of George Washington, the first US president. The crest was a precursor to the Stars and Stripes flag. Uniquely, there were also some unopened bottles, with wine still in them, providing exciting opportunities for future research.

The accompanying landmark research project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust and led by Prof. Jowitt, will examine not only the failures of naval command before the Gloucester sank, but also conspiracy theories about the causes of the tragedy and its political consequences.

It is also hoped that UEA’s scientific expertise and facilities will be used to analyze some of the wreckage’s finds.

The position of the Department of Defense is that all artifacts remain the property of the Department of Defense; however, if items are positively identified as personal property then ownership is transferred to the Crown by default.

Partners already involved in the historic project, in addition to the Barnwells, UEA and Norfolk Museums Service, include the Ministry of Defence, the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth, York Archaeology, the Leverhulme Trust and Maritime Archeology Trust. The project is also generously supported by Alan Boswell Group and Birketts LLP.

A new article entitled “The Last Voyage of the Gloucester (1682): The Politics of a Royal Shipwreck” by Prof. Claire Jowitt offers a comprehensive academic analysis of the disaster and its political implications and legacies. It has been published in the magazine English historical overview on Friday 10 June.

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More information:
The Last Voyage of the Gloucester (1682): The Politics of a Royal Shipwreck, English historical overview (2022). DOI: 10.1093/ehr/ceac127

Provided by the University of East Anglia

Quote: Wreck of historic royal ship discovered off the English coast (2022, June 9,), recovered June 9, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-historic-royal-ship-english-coast.html

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