Sir Clowdisley Shovell (1650-1707)

A Bibliography

Michael Dahl's portrait of Sir Clowdisley Shovell Finding information on Sir Clowdisley Shovell is not particularly easy, particularly if one wants to move beyond the superficial representations of him such as that which appears in Dava Sobel's Longitude. However, it is possible, if one is willing to do some searching.

To help other researchers, and to avoid a reduplication of the arduous effort I've put into searching for information on him, I am developing an annotated bibliography of books related to him. As I find other materials dealing with him, I will add them to the list.

The compilation and annotations are copyright 2000 by Leigh Kimmel. It may be freely printed for use as a research tool provided that the copyright and attributions remain intact.


Aubrey, Philip. The Defeat of James Stuart's Armada, 1692 Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1979

This book has a fair amount of information on some of Sir Clowdisley's earlier campaigns under William III

Brown, Lloyd A. The Story of Maps New York: Dover Publications 1944.

Sir Clowdisley's shipwreck is mentioned in the discussion of the development of reliable means to determine longitude. The account of the hanging of the sailor who tried to warn of the danger is called a story that was current for some years after the wreck, which implies that it may have no grounding in fact.

Cooke, James H. The Shipwreck of Sir Cloudesley Shovell in the Scilly Isles in 1707, from original and contemporary documents hitherto unpublished Gloucester: Bellows, 1883.

This slender pamphlet apparently has some more extensive discussion of the story of the hanging of the sailor who tried to warn that the fleet wasn't where the admiral thought it was, but as of yet I have been unable to locate a copy.

Dyer, F. E. The Life of Admiral Sir John Narbrough (1640-1688). London, 1931.

I have not yet located a copy, but it is very likely that this biography will have some useful information. Admiral Narbrough (also spelled Narborough) was Sir Clowdisley's mentor, and the widowed Lady Narbrough later married Sir Clowdisley, who became a second father to her sons by her first marriage. However, the Narbrough line came to an end in the same shipwreck that claimed Sir Clowdisley's life. Both the Narbrough brothers were serving as lieutenants aboard the Association and drowned. They were buried at the church in Hugh Town on St. Mary's in the Isles of Scilly.

Fowles, John. Shipwreck, (photography by the Gibsons of Scilly). London: Cape, 1974.

Although this is primarily a book dedicated to photographs of modern shipwrecks in the Scilly Isles, it includes some discussion of the Association disaster. The author does mention that some Scillonians were using false signals to lure ships onto the rocks and knocking inconvenient survivors over the head (rather like the moon-cussers of Cape Cod on the opposite side of the Atlantic), but suggests that Sir Clowdisley's death may have come from the hands of his own press-ganged men rather than any scrabble-wielding locals.

Gould, Rupert T. The Marine Chronometer, 1923

Sir Clowdisley's shipwreck and death are mentioned in passing, and the author gives very little credence to the story of the sailor being hanged for having tried to warn of the danger the fleet was in.

Harris, Simon. Sir Cloudesley Shovell: Stuart Admiral. Spellmount, 2000

This new biography of the admiral is apparently available only in the UK, and a review will be posted when it becomes available to me in the US.

Markham, Clements R. Life of Robert Fairfax of Steeton. London: Macmillan, 1885.

Sir Clowdisley is mentioned several times in passing, since his career intersects that of Admiral Fairfax. In fact, his death opened the necessary slots on the Navy List for Fairfax to be promoted to flag rank, but intrigue within the Admiralty nearly robbed Fairfax of his command. Fairfax then fought steadfastly for what he regarded as his due, which indicates that the idea of a rigid system of promotion by seniority which was so prominent in Nelson's time was strongly developed, albeit not entirely rigid, by 1707.

The author characterizes Sir Clowdisley as being well-liked because of his kindly nature and open, generous disposition. This is very much at odds with the current perception of him as pompous, arrogant and heavy-handed.

McBride, Peter and Richard Larn. Admiral Shovell's Treasure and Shipwreck in the Isles of Scilly London:Shipwreck and Marine, 1999

Unfortunately, this book is at present available only in the United Kingdom. I will review it as soon as I can obtain a copy.

Read a review of this book by another reviewer (It is near the bottom of the list of reviews, so be patient).

Morris, Roland. Island Treasure: The Search for Sir Cloudseley Shovell's Flagship 'Association'. London: Hutchinson, 1969

Although this book is concerned primarily with the expedition to salvage artifacts from the wreck of the Association at the Gilstone in the Isles of Scilly, there is also some narrative material attempting to reconstruct the fateful navigational conference, the wreck and its aftermath. Unfortunately, there is a lot of slanted language in this which seems to be intended to turn the reader's sympathies against Sir Clowdisley.

Click here for a fuller discussion of the use of slanted language to portray Sir Clowdisley as an incompetent, dissipated admiral in this book

Owen, J. H. War at Sea under Queen Anne, 1706-1708. Cambridge and New York, 1938

I have not yet located a copy of this book, but since it covers the final years of Sir Clowdisley's career, it is very likely to contain useful material.

Powley, Edward B. The Naval Side of King William's War. Hamden, Connecticut: Archon, 1972.

Sir Clowdisley is mentioned only incidentally, but there are some interesting tidbits here that don't appear in other accounts, such as how Samuel Pepys dealt with Captain Tyrell's objection to Shovell's use of a distinguishing pennant.

Sobel, Dava. Longitude, New York: Walker, 1995

This is the book upon which the current negative opinion of Sir Clowdisley seems to be based. Sobel presents the story of the hanging of the sailor who tried to warn of the danger as though it were an established fact, and in a way that implies that Sir Clowdisley was motivated by personal spite at being contradicted, rather than concern for discipline. For three pages in this slender book, that is a lot of damage to a man's reputation.

Styles, Showell, Admiral of England, 1973.

This is supposed to be a fictionalized biography of Sir Clowdisley, ending with his shipwreck and death in the Scilly Isles. However, it appears to have been distributed only in the UK and Commonwealth, and I have not yet been able to obtain a copy to review.

Trevelyan, George Macaulay. England Under Queen Anne. London: Longmans, Green and Co. 1930-34.

This extensive history of the reign of Queen Anne does make passing mention of Sir Clowdisley's shipwreck and death.

Wilcox, LA. Mr. Pepys' Navy G Bell and Sons, 1968.

I haven't found a copy of this yet, but it probably contains some material on Sir Clowdisley

Williams, J.E.D. From Sails to Satellites. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Sir Clowdisley and the wreck of the Association are mentioned only briefly, and the author suggests that current evidence doesn't support the conclusion that longitude was an important part of the problem that led to the fleet running aground. In fact, the author argues, it is more likely that bad compasses and poor use of the working ones played a larger role.

Williams, Mark. Deep Sea Treasure. London: Heinemann, 1981.

This book dealing with recovery efforts at a number of wreck sites, offers an entire chapter on the wreck of the Association. The discussion of research into identifying the wreck does offer some tantalizing hints into Sir Clowdisley's life, including his merchant activities that aroused the wrath of Samuel Pepys. It takes a reasonably objective and neutral tone toward the admiral, rather than trying to portray him as a contemptible individual.


May, W.E. (1960) "The Last Voyage of Sir Clowdisley Shovell," Journal of Navigation, 13: 324-32.

I am still in the process of trying to locate a copy of this item. It appears to be a rigorous study of all the surviving logbooks from Sir Clowdisley's fleet, and apparently makes some startling conclusions about just what went wrong that fateful night off the Scilly Isles.

Pattison, S. R. (1864) Journal of the Royal Institute of Cornwall

This article, briefly quoted in Island Treasure apparently also discusses the circumstances of Sir Clowdisley's death, including a story that his body came ashore on a grate (perhaps alluding to the Royal Navy practice of towing certain disgraced officers ashore on a grating while dismissing them from the fleet?) and that his gravesite grows no grass even after his body was removed to Westminster Abbey as a result of an imprecation uttered upon him, and that the native Scillonians reckon him a cruel tyrant rather than a hero.

J.G.Pickwell, (1973) "Improbable Legends surrounding Sir Clowdisley Shovell." The Mariner's Mirror, 221.

The author of this article argues that almost everything we know about the wreck of the Association has little or no basis in fact. The logs of the surviving ships of the fleet have no mention of sending their sailing-masters to any navigation conference aboard the flagship. Furthermore, it is unlikely that the admiral got away from the wreck in his barge, simply because of the difficulties of doing so in the heavy weather that night (although this assertion must be balanced against the physical evidence -- Roland Morris' dive teams found coins in the reef outside Porthellick Bay which match those found in the main wrecksite, and the idea that they were brought there in the admiral's barge is likely the simplest explanation that accounts for the observed facts), and the story that he arrived ashore alive only to be murdered rests on the shaky basis that a clergyman would reveal a deathbed confession.

Pinder, Anne. (1978) "Sir Cloudesley" Kent Life

I haven't located a copy of this article, which is listed in the bibliography of Andrew Green's "Ghosts of Today", but it most likely deals with legends that the ghostly bell of the Association can still be heard during stormy nights in the Isles of Scilly, or that his first grave grows no grass because of his supposed injustice in hanging a sailor as a mutineer for trying to warn him that the fleet was about to run aground.

Powell, J. W. Damer, (1967) "The Wreck of Sir Cloudesley Shovell" The Mariner's Mirror, 53: 333-336.

This article begins with a reprint of a set of notes written by a young man who attempted salvage work on the wreck of the Association in 1709, a mere two years after the disaster. Since this account was written so soon after the events it covers, it is as close to a primary source as one can find, and includes some information not found in other accounts of the shipwreck. The author of the article then discusses the legend that Sir Clowdisley hanged a sailor for trying to warn him that the fleet was in danger. This legend, which he calls libelous (although technically one cannot libel the dead, since Anglo-American jurisprudence does not regard the dead as having an interest in their reputations), seems to have grown from an account that a boy aboard an unnamed ship was rudely silenced for warning that the fleet was not where everyone thought it was. Over the years it gained more details, and became connected with a legend that the Admiral's first gravesite in Porthellick Bay grows no grass because of his supposed barbarity in the hanging.

Last updated January 9, 2014