A royal warship which sank while carrying a future king of England following a daft spat more than 300 years ago has been discovered off the coast of Norfolk.
The HMS Gloucester was found stacked with various artefacts, including wine, clothes, shoes, navigational and other professional naval equipment, personal possessions, and more.
The find – considered one of the most important in recent maritime history – can only be confirmed now, despite happening 15 years ago.
The ship carrying James Stuart ran aground roughly 28 miles off Great Yarmouth, killing 130 to 250 people – many of whom had stayed on board because protocol dictated they could not leave the ship before royalty.
The future King James II, then the Duke of York, had been arguing with the ship’s captain James Ayres about navigating the treacherous sandbanks shortly before the collision.
It sank within an hour of the strike, at 5.30am, on May 6, 1682.
James delayed abandoning ship until the last minute – needlessly costing the lives of many crew and passengers.
But the future King accepted no responsibility and instead blamed Mr Ayres, who he wanted to be immediately hanged.
He was instead court-martialled and imprisoned.
James went on to reign from 1685 until 1688, when he was deposed by the Glorious Revolution.
The wreck was found by brothers Julian and Lincoln Barnwell and others, following a four-year search over 5,000 nautical miles.
They found the site in 2007 but due to the time taken to confirm the ship’s identity and the need to protect the ‘at risk’ site – which lies in international waters – it is only now that its discovery can be made public.
One of the wine bottles on board bears a glass seal with the crest of the Legge family – ancestors of George Washington, the first US President.
There were even some unopened bottles, with wine still inside.
It has been described by a historian as the most important maritime discovery since the Mary Rose, the warship from the Tudor navy of King Henry VIII.
The ship sank in battle in 1545, and was raised in 1982, before being put on display in Portsmouth.
Lincoln Barnwell said: ‘It was our fourth dive season looking for Gloucester.
‘We were starting to believe that we were not going to find her, we’d dived so much and just found sand.
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‘On my descent to the seabed, the first thing I spotted were large cannon laying on white sand, it was awe-inspiring and really beautiful.
‘It instantly felt like a privilege to be there, it was so exciting.’
He continued: ‘We were the only people in the world at that moment in time who knew where the wreck lay. That was special and I’ll never forget it.
‘Our next job was to identify the site as the Gloucester.’
The University of East Anglia’s maritime history expert Professor Claire Jowitt added: ‘Because of the circumstances of its sinking, this can be claimed as the single most significant historic maritime discovery since the raising of the Mary Rose.
‘The discovery promises to fundamentally change understanding of 17th-century social, maritime and political history.
‘It is an outstanding example of underwater cultural heritage of national and international importance.’
She continued: ‘A tragedy of considerable proportions in terms of loss of life, both privileged and ordinary, the full story of the Gloucester’s last voyage and the impact of its aftermath needs re-telling, including its cultural and political importance, and legacy.
‘We will also try to establish who else died and tell their stories, as the identities of a fraction of the victims are currently known.’
The incident could have killed the Catholic heir to the Protestant throne at a time of great political and religious tension.
The ship built at Limehouse in London, and launched in 1654, was carrying James to Edinburgh to collect his heavily pregnant wife.
The aim was to bring them back to King Charles II’s court in time for the birth of a legitimate male heir.
The ship set sail from Portsmouth, with James joining off Margate, Kent.
Diarist Samuel Pepys, known for his account of the Great Fire London, witnessed events from another ship in the fleet.
He described the harrowing experience for victims and survivors, with some picked up ‘half dead’ from the water.
The Barnwell brothers found the wreck with their late father Michael and two friends.
The ship was split down the keel and the remains of the hull were submerged in the sand.
The ship’s bell, manufactured in 1681, was later recovered, and in 2012 it was used by the Receiver of Wreck and Ministry of Defence to decisively identify the vessel.
An exhibition is planned for Spring 2023 at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery to display finds from the wreck and share ongoing historical, scientific and archaeological research.
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https://metro.co.uk/2022/06/10/hms-gloucester-wreck-of-royal-warship-carrying-james-ii-found-16796915/ HMS Gloucester: wreck of royal warship carrying James II found