The Gloucester Project

The Occasion of the Voyage

NMM, MaritimeJames.jpg

James, Duke of York by Henri Gascar, c. 1672.
©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

James, Duke of York was shipwrecked off the coast of Norfolk enroute to Scotland. He was travelling to complete royal business in Edinburgh as Lord High Commissioner and to bring his pregnant wife, Mary of Modena, and daughter Anne to reside at Charles II’s court. James had first been sent to Scotland in 1679, after the ‘Popish Plot’, an alleged conspiracy to kill Charles and replace him with his brother, and the anti-Catholic hostility it had provoked. As heir to the Protestant throne, James’s Catholicism was a constitutional issue and, as Charles was visibly ageing and had no legitimate offspring, in the late 1670s it had led to the ‘Exclusion Crisis’.

With political tensions easing in 1682, Charles had permitted James to return to England that spring, and in May it was decided that the Gloucester, which had been readied for a naval mission to Ireland and Tangier under Captain John Berry would first be used for James’s journey to Scotland. The Gloucester had been comprehensively refitted in 1678−80 at Portsmouth, having been out of service for several years due to its poor state. With an ongoing building programme for new ships, the navy was perpetually short of money for repairs to its fleet and ships were often out of commission for years at a time.