The wreck of a royal warship that sank in 1682 while carrying the future King James Stuart has been discovered off Norfolk.
HMS Gloucester ran aground about 28 miles off Great Yarmouth following a dispute between Stuart, then Duke of York, and the ship’s pilot James Ayres over navigation on the sandbanks of Norfolk.
It sank less than an hour after the strike, at 5:30 a.m. on May 6, killing an estimated 130–250 crew and passengers.
James Stuart continued to reign as King James II of England and Ireland and James VII of Scotland from 1685 to 1688, when he was deposed in the Glorious Revolution.
The wreckage of the ship was found by brothers Julian and Lincoln Barnwell, who were working with their late father Michael and two friends, including James Little, a former Royal Navy submariner and diver.
The brothers discovered the site in 2007, but due to the time needed to confirm the ship’s identity and the need to protect an “at risk” site, which is in international waters, it is only now that its discovery may be made public.
The ship’s keel was split open and the remains of the hull were submerged in sand.
Lincoln Barnwell said that during the team’s fourth season of diving in search of change, they doubted they would find HMS Gloucester, but things quickly changed.
He said: “During my descent to the seabed the first thing I spotted were big guns laying on white sand, it was impressive and really beautiful.
“It was immediately a privilege to be there, it was so exciting.
“We were the only people in the world at that time who knew where the wreckage was. It was special and I will never forget it.”
It has been described by one historian as the most significant maritime discovery since the Mary Rose, King Henry VIII’s Tudor Navy warship, which sank in 1545 and was refloated in 1982.
Maritime history expert Professor Claire Jowitt, from the University of East Anglia (UEA), said: “The discovery promises to fundamentally change the understanding of 17th-century social, maritime and political history.”
She added that teams will also try to establish who else died when the ship sank.
James Stuart barely survived after delaying the abandon ship, which cost the lives of many who, due to protocol, were unable to abandon ship before royalty.