Norfolk Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovel came to grief at sea. Born in Cockthorpe, near Holt, in 1650, he was one of the Royal Navy’s foremost sailors.
By 1707 he was a veteran of several wars against the French, and had distinguished himself in the Mediterranean theatre of operations. On October 22 he was returning to England aboard his flagship, HMS Association, when it ran into a terrible storm off the Scilly Isles.
The Association hit rocks off Gilstone Reef, and sank quickly with all hands. Two other ships, The Eagle and The Romney, also sank. Shovel’s two stepsons were among the estimated 2,000 casualties of the disaster.
The Admiral’s body was found washed ashore on St Mary’s island, and buried with due pomp at Westminster Abbey.
According to a macabre legend, many years later a local woman made a deathbed confession. A well-known ‘wrecker’ of ships that got into difficulties, she apparently came upon the Admiral while he was still alive. Seeing he had many rings on his fingers, she claimed she had hacked them off, then finished him off.
Many historians doubt this story, but it has only grown with the telling.