< Back to Article List

Sir Cloudesley Shovell*

Alec Samuels

Sir Cloudesley Shovell 1650-1707 is best known for his unfortunate end, though he had a distinguished career as a naval captain. He saw action in the third Dutch war 1672-1674, and was present at the battle of Sole Bay in which Sandwich lost his life. Shovell received his first commission in effect from Pepys 1674 and his first command 1677. Pepys came to form a poor opinion of Shovell, principally because of association with Herbert, the notoriously unsatisfactory commander at Tangier, which Pepys visited in 1683 for the purposes of the evacuation. Pepys thought that Shovell was not quite a gentleman, apparently due to humble birth. Needless to say instructions from Pepys constantly flowed out from London to good effect.
It was after Pepys left office in 1689 that Sir Cloudesley really came to prominence, under William III and Anne. He performed much the role that Nelson was to perform a century later, namely as Commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean to gain control of the Mediterranean and to harass the Spanish and French navies. Gibraltar was put under siege and captured in 1704. The allied army was skilfully supported in the attempt on Toulon, even though the enterprise ultimately failed.
22 October 1707 Sir Cloudesley was bringing the fleet home from the Mediterranean for the winter, as there was no satisfactory harbour in the Mediterranean. He had left it a bit late in the year. The navigation was less than accurate. He continued to sail into the English Channel after dark. At about 7 pm they struck the Scillies Islands rocks. Four vessels were lost and 2,000 men. Sir Cloudesley was drowned. His body was washed ashore, and he was buried with full honours in Westminster Abbey.

*Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Stuart Admiral, Simon Harris, Spellmount Limited, Staplehurst, Kent.
2001, 431 pp, a most scholarly and readable account of naval activity in later Stuart times,