Diggers and historians are telling the world about the discovery of the wreckage of a royal warship that sank in 1682 while carrying the future King James Stuart.
HMS Gloucester ran aground while sailing along the sandbars of the town of Great Yarmouth on the east coast of England. It sank within an hour, killing an estimated 130 to 250 crew and passengers.
Jaime survived. He went on to reign as King James II of England and Ireland, and as James VII of Scotland from 1685 to 1688, when he was deposed by the Glorious Revolution.
The Gloucester wreck was found in 2007 by brothers Julian and Lincoln Barnwell and others after a four-year search. It was firmly identified in 2012 with the discovery of the ship’s bell.
No human remains have been found so far – just animal bones, BBC News reported.
The discovery was only made public on Friday because of the time it took to confirm the ship’s identity and the need to protect the historic site.
Claire Jowitt, a maritime history expert at the University of East Anglia, said the sinking was “one of the important ‘almost’ moments in English history”. The sinking of the Gloucester nearly caused the death of the Catholic heir to the Protestant throne at a time of great political and religious tension in Britain.
“If he had died, we would have a very different British and European history as a result,” she said.
“I think this is a time capsule that gives you the opportunity to discover a lot about life on a 17th century ship. The real nature of the ship is absolutely amazing and unique,” he added.
She believes the wreck is the most important maritime discovery since the Mary Rose, the battleship of King Henry VIII’s Tudor navy. The Mary Rose capsized with a crew of about 500 in 1545 in the Solent, a strait between the Isle of Wight and the British mainland. She was brought back to the surface in 1982 in a massive salvage operation.
“The discovery promises to fundamentally change the understanding of 17th century social, maritime and political history,” Jewitt said, according to the BBC. “It is an outstanding example of underwater cultural heritage of national and international importance… the full story of Gloucester’s last voyage and the impact of its aftermath needs to be retold.”
There are no current plans to lift the Gloucester wreckage because much of it is buried under sand.
“We’ve just touched the tip of an iceberg,” said Julian Barnwell.
Artifacts rescued from the wreck include clothing, shoes, navigational equipment and many bottles of wine. A bottle bears a seal with the Legge family crest – the ancestors of George Washington, the first US president. The coat of arms was a precursor to the Stars and Stripes flag.
An exhibition is planned for next spring at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery to showcase finds from the wreck and share ongoing research.
A new article entitled “The Last Voyage of the Gloucester (1682): The Politics of a Royal Shipwreck” has appeared in the English Historical Review.