He set himself to study navigation, and, owing to his able seamanship and brave and open-hearted disposition, became a general favourite 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 Hougue, 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 Not long after, when Admiral Russell was superseded, Shovel was put in joint command of the fleet with Admiral Killigrewand Sir Ralph Delaval.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, HMS Association, at 8pm on October 22 (November 2, by the modern calendar), struck on the rocks near the Isles of Scilly along with several other ships, 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. In total, 1,400 sailors were lost from his squadron.
The body of Sir Cloudesley Shovell was cast ashore next day, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. The Council of the Scilly Isles commemorated the three-hundredth anniversary of the disaster in 2007.
It is also said that a common sailor on his ship tried to warn them that they were off course, either because he was a native of the Scilly Isles and knew a distinct smell of the land or he had been keeping his own log (which is a variant appearing in the late 19th century), but Shovell had him hanged at the yardarm for inciting mutiny. While it is not at all unlikely that a sailor might have debated the vessel's location and feared for its fate (such debates were common upon entering the English Channel as noted by Samuel Pepys in 1684), there is no evidence that the man was hanged in contemporary documents. Regardless, assuming this sailor did exist and was not hanged, he was equally dead by drowning with the rest of the crew of the Association a few hours later.
It is not certain that the navigational error leading to the shipwrecks was purely one of longitude as reported in the newspapers at the time. Some have argued that the wreck was caused more by an error in latitude than longitude. William May points out that the position of the Scillies themselves was not known accurately in either longitude or latitude. In addition, his analysis of the 40 extant logbooks from the 21 ships in the fleet do not show the error in longitude to be a significant factor compared to latitude.
Cloudesley married Elizabeth Hill and had two daughters, Elizabeth and Anne. Elizabeth married first the first Baron Romney whilst Ann married John Blackwood.
Paul Showell is one of a few living relatives of Sir Cloudesley. Paul is a professional musician, pianist, flautist and vocal coach, working and living in London (south east).
Our Islands in the Sun Booty from Shipwrecks Once Kept the Isles of Scilly Going, but, Today, Tourism Has Become the Golden Goose, Writes Nerys Lloyd- Pierce
Jun 13, 1999; On a fog-bound night in 1707, a disaster of such enormity struck the British naval fleet that the Government was compelled to...