Samuel Pepys and the Strange Wrecking of the Gloucester: The Shipwreck that Shocked Restoration Britain

Written by Nigel Pickford
Review by Kishore Krishna

James, Duke of York (later, briefly, James II of England before he was exiled to France in 1688) traveled aboard the Gloucester in 1682 to retrieve his pregnant wife from Scotland and bring her back to England. Pickford takes the sinking of this ship as a focus to describe the people and events involved, the consequences of the loss, and the subsequent portrayal by historians over the centuries of what happened.

The principal source is, of course, the extensive diary of Samuel Pepys, but the author has researched far beyond this. For example, the search for a second bride for the widowed James (the sixteen-year-old Mary is about to become a nun when the Pope pleads/requires her to marry the 41-year-old James), the tribulations of a blind widow trying to get the Navy to compensate her for her husband’s death due to the sinking, and the editing out of unfavorable sections of a letter by a 19th-century historian. The progress of science and industrial enterprise in those days is also discussed with just enough detail to maintain the reader’s interest.

The book made me pause frequently to evaluate the differences and similarities between the 1680s and our times. Consequently, the book is best savored a few pages at a time. I’ll be looking for more of Pickford’s books when they are made available in the U.S.