340-Year-Old Shipwreck May Change What We Know About 17th-Century Maritime History

A British vessel that lost off the coast of eastern England in 1682 while transporting a future king has been discovered, in what has been dubbed the "most significant historic maritime discovery since the raising of the Mary Rose in 1982."

Due to the necessity to safeguard the wreck, the announcement comes after 15 years of secret verification effort.

The Gloucester had remained half-buried on the seabed for four years until being discovered in 2007 by brothers Julian and Lincoln Barnwell and friend James Little following a four-year search of the Norfolk coast.

On May 6, 1682, the Royal Navy ship carrying the future King of England, James Stuart – then the Duke of York – went aground on a sandbank.

It sunk after a battle for control of the ship's course as it crossed the perilous Norfolk sandbanks between the future King James II of England, a former Lord High Admiral, and the pilot.

The antiquity and reputation of the ship, the state of the wreck, the artifacts previously retrieved, and the accident's political backdrop all added to the significance of the find, according to Claire Jowitt of the University of East Anglia.

"The discovery promises to fundamentally change understanding of 17th-century social, maritime and political history."

Hundreds of the ship's crew and passengers died, but Stuart narrowly made it, having waited until the last minute to evacuate ship.

"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 in 1982," Jowitt remarked.

In 1982, the Mary Rose, one of Henry VIII's vessels that sank in 1545, was recovered in a feat of marine archaeology that revealed a wealth of information about Tudor life.

It was ultimately lifted 40 years ago in a stunning operation viewed live by millions on television after years of laborious labour.

The exposed elements of the wooden vessel, which was nearly totally submerged beneath the sea bed, had worn away, leaving about a third of the warship intact.

A pair of glasses still in their original case

Among the things recovered aboard the Mary Rose were wooden cannon carriages, cooking pots, scalpels, leather book covers, syringes, fiddles, whistles, weaponry, navigation systems, and furniture, giving historians the biggest collection of genuine Tudor antiques ever.

"The Gloucester represents an important 'almost' moment in British political history: a royal shipwreck causing the very near-death of the Catholic heir to the Protestant throne at a time of great political and religious tension," the university continued.

An exhibition featuring artefacts discovered in the wreck, including the bell that helped identify the ship, is scheduled for 2023 at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery.