Cloudesley Shovel

From Academic Kids

Sir Cloudesley Shovel (or Clowdisley Shovell as he seems to have spelt the name himself; c. November, 16501707), English admiral, was baptised at Cockthorpe in Norfolk, and went to sea under the care of his kinsman Sir Christopher Mynns.

He set himself to study navigation, and, owing to his able seamanship and brave and open-hearted disposition, became a general favorite and obtained quick promotion. In 1674 he served as lieutenant under Sir John Narborough in the Mediterranean, where he burned four men-of-war under the castles and walls of Tripoli, belonging to the pirates of that place. He was present as captain of HMS Edgar (70 guns) at the first fight at Bantry Bay, and shortly afterwards was knighted.

In 1690 he convoyed William III across St George's Channel to Ireland; the same year he was made rear-admiral of the blue, and was present at the Battle of Beachy Head on July 10. In 1692 he was appointed Rear Admiral of the Red, and joined Admiral Russell, under whom he greatly distinguished himself at La Hogue, by being the first to break through the enemy's line. Not long after, when Admiral Russell was superseded, Shovel was put in joint command of the fleet with Admiral Killigrew and Sir Ralph Delaval. In 1702 he brought home the spoils of the French and Spanish fleets from Vigo, after their capture by Sir George Rooke, and in 1704 he served under Sir George Rooke in the Mediterranean and cooperated in the taking of Gibraltar.

In January 1704 he was named Rear Admiral of England, and shortly afterwards commander-in-chief of the British fleets. He co-operated with the earl of Peterborough in the capture of Barcelona in 1705, and commanded the naval part of the unsuccessful attempt on Toulon in October 1707. When returning with the fleet to England his ship, the "Association," at eight o'clock at night on October 22, struck on the rocks near Scilly, and was seen by those on board HMS St George to go down in three or four minutes' time, not a soul being saved of 800 men that were on board. The body of Sir Cloudesley Shovel was cast ashore next day, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. It is said that he was alive when he reached the shore at Porthellick Cove, but was murdered by a woman for the sake of his rings.


The disaster of the fleet wrecking itself in home waters brought great consternation to the nation. Clearly, something better than "dead reckoning" was needed to navigate in dangerous waters. The disaster led to the Longitude Act which posted a very large prize for anyone who could find of determining longitude accurately at sea.

By this act, Cloudesley inadvertently dramatically reversed the history of British navigation. The Shovell family survived and there remain five direct descendants in the male line, one of whom is the present author.


  • Life and Glorious Actions of Sir Cloudesley Shovl (1707); Burnet's Own Times; various discussions in Notes and Queries, 5th series, vols. x. and xi.; and TH Cooke, Shipwreck of Sir Cloudesley Shovel (1883).

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