A true story of royal intrigue—with famed diarist Samuel Pepys as the main protagonist—as a fatal shipwreck on the shores of Restoration Britain sparks a mystery that now may finally be solved.

In 1682, Charles II invited his scandalous younger brother, James, Duke of York, to return from exile and take his rightful place as heir to the throne.

To celebrate, the future king set sail in a fleet of eight ships destined for Edinburgh, where he would reunite with his young pregnant wife. Yet disaster struck en route, somewhere off the Norfolk coast. The royal frigate carrying James and his entourage sank, causing some two hundred sailors and courtiers to perish.

The diarist Samuel Pepys had been asked to sail with James but refused the invitation, preferring to travel in one of the other ships. Why? What did he know that others did not?

Religious and political tensions were rife in the years leading up to the wreck of the Gloucester. James was a Catholic, as was his wife, and there was a large constituency who wished them dead. Plots and conspiracies abounded. The Royal Navy was itself in disarray, badly equipped and poorly organised. Could someone on board be to blame for the sinking, either from malice or incompetence?

Nigel Pickford’s compelling account of the catastrophe draws on a richness of historical material including letters, diaries and ships’ logs, revealing for the first time the full drama and tragic consequences of a shipwreck that shook Restoration Britain.

About the author(s)

Nigel Pickford is a maritime historian and works with companies to locate shipwrecks and recover lost cargo and treasure. His previous books include Lady Bette and the Murder of Mr. Thynn, but this is his first book to be published in America. Nigel lives in England.


"[An] engrossing forensic account of the wreck. His text hums with absorbing detail, from the miles of cordage and yards of canvas needed for a ship, to the 'graving and paying' of the hull to rid it of barnacles and weeds, to the exact mix of rosin, oil, and sulphur for the protective 'white stuff' that covered exposed timbers."

New York Review of Books

"Author Nigel Pickford, a salvage expert, recounts the sinking in vivid detail and offers possible causes, an obvious one being that the ship wasn’t in, well, ship-shape. The book’s strongest suit is arguably the kaleidoscopic, detailed picture it paints of late-17th-century English society, from palace intrigue to plagiarizing cartographers and slop sellers nestled in London’s crooked streets."

The Globe and Mail

"Pickford’s comprehensive knowledge and enthusiasm for shipwrecks turn the book into both an enjoyable and valuable read."

World History Encyclopedia

"Pickford's investigation will entrance buffs of maritime and Restoration history."


More Europe

More History