LONDON (AP) — Excavators and historians tell 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 navigating sandbanks off the town of Great Yarmouth on the eastern English coast. It sank within an hour, killing an estimated 130 to 250 crew and passengers.
James survived. He continued 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.
The discovery was not made public until Friday due to 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 wreck was “one of the most important ‘almost’ moments in English history.” The sinking of the Gloucester nearly killed the Catholic heir to the Protestant throne at a time of great political and religious tension in Britain.
“Had he 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 the 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 significant maritime discovery since the Mary Rose, the warship 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. It was brought back to the surface in 1982 during a massive salvage operation.
There are currently no plans to lift the Gloucester wreck, as much of it is buried under the sand.
“We’ve only just touched the tip of an iceberg,” said Julian Barnwell.
Artifacts rescued from the wreckage include clothing, shoes, navigation 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 decal was a precursor to the Stars and Stripes flag.
An exhibition is planned for next spring at the Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery to showcase the wreckage’s finds and share ongoing research.