Not without cause, impenitent monarchists amongst my countrymen are dismayed at our Monarch Charles having adopted precisely that kingly name – bearing in mind that his sons by Diana Spencer descend directly from the Stuarts. Might this be some ploy to woo Scotland’s many Catholics, or perhaps the throngs of Anglicans veering towards Roman Catholicism, as the Church led by Charles drowns in Wokism?
Whatever the reason for Charles’ move, the Stuarts have brought little but mayhem whether to Scotland or to England herself.
Nonobstant historical fact, continental Europe remains bewitched by the “romance” of it all—Maria Stuart as a lay-Saint in Friedrich Schiller’s otherwise superb play; the Defeat at Culloden (1746) as the Highlanders’ moral victory rather than an act of self-serving Stuart incompetence; a pure-as-beaten-snow Catholic monarch thrust aside in 1688 by the vulgar Hannoverians… and so forth.
At the end of the day though, the Stuarts have ever been a litany of disaster. The first Charles, having danced round the rim of civil war, was executed in 1649 by a Puritan Parliament, whilst his son Charles II (1630-1685), a Protestant libertinewithout heir, was succeeded by a perfect prodigy of vanity, his brother James, Duke of York, who ruled as James II. Wedded to Maria of Modena, a paragon of beauty, James converted to Catholicism despite the glaring risk of yet another civil war.
Trademarks, Then and Now: Branding other Human Beings with One’s Own Personal Initials
Africa, however, is the continent which had the most to suffer – understatement – from the Stuart reign. In 1660, the very year of Restoration, Charles II founded the Royal African Company (RAC) or Company of Royal Adventurers Trading into Africa, setting up his brother James as Governor.
Owing to the RAC’s monopoly over all African trade, great revenue accrued thereby to both princes.
Established to take control of the African gold mines, in 1663 the RAC issued a fresh Charter which refers explicitly to monopoly and to the slave trade. That Charter denies third-party rights over trade in “redwood, elephants’ teeth, negroes, slaves, hides, wax, guinea grains, or other commodities of those countries.” In 1672 a further Charter allowed for proclaiming martial law in West Africa, so as raise any untoward obstacle to such trafficking
For avoidance of strife over “ownership” of the captured human beings, the RAC took to branding slaves with the Duke of York’s initials, i.e., DoY, not to be confused with Do it Youself, or alternatively with the Company’s letters RAC. In all, it is believed that something like 200,000 persons were transported from Africa to the North American colonies. Ill treatment, terrible food, lack of water—at least 40,000 Africans perished on board ship.
(Nomen est Omen: the present Duke of York is Prince Andrew, brother to King Charles and erstwhile frequent visitor to the late Jeffrey Epstein’s abodes, stocked with a selection of female slaves. But that is neither here nor there…)
Where we Return to Find the Gloucester Wrecked
Back to the Gloucester. For her misfortune, James Duke of York, having been made Lord Admiral of the Fleet (the inanity of his portrait as the God of War beggars belief), was persuaded that his navigational science necessarily matched an Admiral’s title.
In May 1682, recalled to London by his brother Charles, the Duke of York embarked on the newly-refitted frigate Gloucester and tacked towards Scotland; he was to bring Maria de Modena back to London. The Gloucester’s escort included four or five warships and four yachts, which were to supply many witnesses to the disaster about to befall.
Notoriously perilous due to shifting sandbanks, Norfolk’s ill-mapped Northern coastline scarcely qualified as a suitable route for the RMS Titanic-style headlong race on which the Duke-Admiral insisted. Intent on reaching London swiftly to quell “anti-Catholic” factions, James threatened the weather-beaten expert navigators who had proposed an alternate course and pulled rank, obliging the Gloucester’s captain to press in hard against the coastline at 6 knots an hour at dead of night—great speed and great risk for that period.
On May 6th 1682 at five-thirty in the morning and as all passengers slept, the Gloucester struck the parallel Leman and Ower sandbanks and sank in the space of an hour, with the loss of over half her crew and passengers, including several Scots noblemen – although there was no ship’s register, it is thought that no less than 250 souls perished.
Whereas protocol forbade his retinue from quitting the ship before the Duke, the latter, intent on recovering a trunk with private papers, would only quit the ship shortly before it went under, thus ensuring that most on board would drown. Thereupon the Duke gracefully stepped into a waiting lifeboat, where sat his page John Churchill (later Duke of Marlborough), waving a naked sword. Churchill’s assigned rôle was, at swordpoint, to thrust back into the sea passengers and crew attempting to clamber to safety.
A Study in Perfecting the Narrative
So ghastly an event, harshly commented upon by so many and prominent eyewitnesses, could scarcely remain hidden; the uproar swelled and looked to shake Stuart rule. Upon which, the Duke had recourse to the Usual Procedure: firstly, charge the seamen with his own fault. Mr. Ayres the Gloucester’s pilot, Mr. Gunman captain of the signal-yacht preceding the Gloucester along with his second officer, were court-martialled (though discreetly freed shortly afterwards…). Cf. this detailed study.
Secondly, in hope of perfecting a narrative for the world’s eye and ear, the Dutch painter Johan Danckerts was commissioned to weave over the events’ warp-and-woof.
Thus, though the Gloucester sank in seas five metres deep, Danckerts shews her quite literally beached rather than capsized, upright and prow forwards, leading one to believe that all souls on board would readily reach the strand and safety. As for the Duke’s lifeboat, depicted thronged with crew and passengers, it was in reality near-empty, courtesy of John Churchill’s sword.
In 1685, this glory of a Duke of York succeeded Charles II, only to be overthrown by the still-more-Glorious, as it were, Revolution of 1688.
A final remark: In 2005, after five years’ relentless search, two expert amateur divers, the brothers Julian and Lincoln Barnwell, seconded by their friend James Little formerly of the Royal Navy, discovered the wreck of the Gloucester. To discourage booty-hunters—the Gloucester was laden with all manner of items of most unusual historical interest – the find was made public only in 2022, nor have the wreck’s precise coordinates ever been disclosed. An exhibition at the Museum of Norwich celebrates the intrepid three, who have richly earned their place in history.
(As an aside, the business does point to which nation’s subjects might display the nerves of steel needed to to ensure “success” to the attack on Nord Stream, on the Crimean Bridge, and so forth…)
Mendelssohn Moses writes from France. (Revised and amended from the original French on Réseau International).
Featured: The Wreck of the ‘Gloucester’ off Yarmouth, 6 May 1682, by Johan Danckerts; painted ca. 1682.