The third-rate frigate HMS Gloucester, a third-rate ship, ran aground off the coast of Norfolk (UK) on May 6, 1682 at 5.30 a.m. It was carrying James Stuart, the Duke, the future King of England. Since then, it has been lost for more than 340 years. After a four year search, it was half-buried under a seabed and remained untouched by humans until its brothers, Julian and Lincoln Barnwell, along with James Little, discovered it. The English Historical Review published the discovery.

The Gloucester was built in London at Limehouse and launched in 1654. The Gloucester was the last vessel to transport the Duke of York and his pregnant wife to Edinburgh. They did this so they could visit King Charles II, his brother, in London. Their goal was to have a male legitimate heir. He had some illegitimate children.

The Duke was a former Lord high admiral. It was seen that he had an argument with the pilot over control of the ship while navigation over treacherous Norfolk Sandbanks. Because maritime protocol required that passengers were not allowed to abandon the ship in front of any royal, hundreds of lives were lost. Witnesses claim that the Duke saved his dog and Catholic priests rather than the crew or courtiers. He stayed on board the ship for the final minute, which meant that the Duke barely survived.

Now, let’s go back to the 2000s when the Barnwell brothers dreamed of a shipwreck. Lincoln Barnwell, a historian, stated that as a child, he was inspired to find a wreck by Henry VIII’s favourite ship, the Mary Rose.

In 2007, the Barnwell brothers and their father Michael found the wreck site. This was their fourth season of diving. The keel was broken down and the remains were submerged in the sand.

We were beginning to believe we wouldn’t find her. After all, we had dived so many times and only found sand. Lincoln said that the first thing he spotted was large cannons on the seabed. It was beautiful and awe inspiring. It felt like a privilege to have been there. It was thrilling. At that time, we were the only ones in the world to know where the wreck was. It was a special moment that I will never forget. The next task was to identify the location as the Gloucester.

“When we set out to find the Gloucester, we didn’t know how important she was in historical history. Although we had heard that the Duke of York was aboard, that was all. Julian said that although we were certain it was the Gloucester, there are other wrecks with cannons so it still needed confirmation.

The wreck has a lot of information that can be gleaned, which will benefit Norfolk as well as the nation. We hope that this discovery and the stories it reveals will inspire and inform future generations.

This discovery has been called the “most important maritime discovery since Mary Rose.” The ship was discovered today because it allowed them to verify its identity. It also needed to be protected since it was considered a “at-risk” location. The bell of the ship was found in 2012 by the UK’s Receiver of Worck and Ministry of Defence to help identify the vessel.

The wreck currently belongs to the Ministry of Defence. However, if the items are identified as personal property, ownership will then be transferred to the Crown.

Numerous artifacts were recovered including shoes, clothing, and navigational and professional nautical equipment… as well as many wine bottles.

A major exhibition will be held at the Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery in spring 2023. It will be part of a partnership between The Barnwell Brothers, Academic Partner University of East Anglia, and The Norfolk Museums Service.

Claire Jowitt, co-curator, says that “Because the circumstances surrounding its sinking it, this can be claimed to be the single most important historic maritime discovery since 1982’s raising of the Mary Rose.” “The discovery promises fundamentally to change our understanding of 17th century social, maritime, political history.”

She said, “It’s an outstanding example of underwater cultural heritage of national or international importance.” “A tragedy of significant proportions in terms loss of life, both privileged, and ordinary, the complete story of the Gloucester’s last journey and the impact of its aftermath requires re-telling. This includes its cultural, political, and legacy. As only a small number of victims are known, we will try to identify others who died and tell their stories.