Excavators and historians are telling the world the discovery of the wreck of a royal warship that sank in 1682 while carrying the future King James Stuart.
HMS Gloucester ran aground on sandbanks off 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.
James survived. He then reigned 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 wreck of the Gloucester was found by brothers Julian and Lincoln Barnwell and others in 2007 after a four-year search. It was clearly identified in 2012 when the ship’s bell was found.
No human remains have been found so far – only animal bones, BBC News reported
The discovery was only made public on Friday due to the lengthy process of confirming the ship’s identity and the need to protect the historic site.
Claire Jowitt, a naval history expert at the University of East Anglia, said the wreck was “one of the most important ‘almost’ moments in English history”. The sinking of the Gloucester nearly caused the death of the Catholic heir to the throne at a time of great political and religious tension in Britain.
“If he had died we would have had a very different British and European history as a result,” she said.
“I think this is a time capsule that offers an opportunity to learn so much about life on a 17th century ship. The regal nature of the ship is absolutely incredible and unique,” she added.
She believes the wreck is the most important maritime discovery since the Mary Rose, King Henry VIII’s Tudor Navy warship. The Mary Rose capsized in 1545 with a crew of about 500 men in the Solent, a strait between the Isle of Wight and the British mainland. It was brought back to the surface in a huge salvage operation in 1982.
“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 heritage of national and international importance… the full story of the Gloucester’s final voyage and the impact of its aftermath needs to be retold.”
There are currently no plans to raise the Gloucester wreck as much of it is buried under sand.
“We’ve only just touched the tip of the iceberg,” said Julian Barnwell.
Artifacts recovered from the wreck include clothing, shoes, navigational equipment, and many wine bottles. One bottle bears a seal with the coat of arms of the Legge family – 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 at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery next spring to show finds from the wreck and share ongoing research.
A new paper entitled “The Last Voyage of the Gloucester (1682): The Politics of a Royal Shipwreck” was published in the English Historical Review magazine on Friday.