The Other Norfolk Admirals

Myngs, Narbrough and Shovell

Simon Harris

The fascinating tale of three Norfolk admirals: Myngs, a buccaneering sailor; John Narbrough, the consummate explorer and navigator, and Cloudesley Shovell, Queen Anne's finest seaman.
Date Published :
January 2018
Publisher :
Helion and Company
Series :
Century of the Soldier
Illustration :
c 50 ills, 24 maps
No associated books available.


The careers of the three Norfolk admirals were intimately related. Narbrough and Shovell came from the small North Norfolk hamlet of Cockthorpe and Myngs from nearby Salthouse. In the 1660s, Myngs was the captain, Narbrough the lieutenant and Shovell the lowly cabin boy in the same ship. It is also possible that they were all related at least by marriage. In the majority of the naval wars of the second half of the seventeenth and the early eighteenth centuries one or other of them was invariably present.

Cloudesley Shovell was born to a yeoman farmer; he entered the Navy whilst still a boy and, in 1676, came to national prominence by burning the four ships of the Dey of Tripoli right under his castle walls. This led to conflict with Samuel Pepys over a gold medal that the generous Charles II had awarded Shovell. Later there was a spectacular falling out with James II over the new king’s Catholicism. Following Narbrough’s premature death, Shovell married his widow: effectively the cabin boy marrying the admiral’s widow which is unique in British naval history. Brave to a fault, in the reigns of William and Mary, and Anne, Shovell became the leading fighting admiral of the age. In 1707, at the very height of his considerable powers, Shovell and nearly 2,000 men drowned after his ships were wrecked on the rocks of Scilly. According to his grandson, Shovell arrived on the shore alive and was then brutally murdered for the sake of an emerald ring on his finger. Faulty navigation was at the heart of Shovell’s demise; did he keep his appointment with the celebrated scientist, Sir Isaac Newton, to discuss longitude? New theories concerning the causes of the disaster are examined and also the fate of his gold dinner service.

Explorer, navigator, consummate sailor and naval administrator, John Narbrough was all this and more. No biography of Narbrough has been produced for 85 years and much new material has come to light in this time. For example the rediscovery of the ship, the Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion from which Narbrough was trying to salvage sunken Spanish silver when he died from a mysterious illness. In addition, the British Library recently raised a large sum of money to buy Narbrough’s journals of his voyage [1669-71] into the Pacific Ocean and up to, what is now, modern day Chile. He illustrated his journals with paintings of the flora and fauna plus accurate depictions of the harbors that he visited. On his return journey, Narbrough became the first Englishman to sail through the Strait of Magellan from west to east.

Both Narbrough and Shovell owed so much to Christopher Myngs and yet no comprehensive biography of him has yet been written. In the 1650s, out in the West Indies, he played very much the part of an Elizabethan buccaneer with repeated attacks on the Spanish Main. After helping himself to treasure that more properly belonged to the state, he was shipped home to England in semi-disgrace. However, in the run-up to the Restoration of the monarchy, the authorities did not think it appropriate to discipline the most popular man in the Navy. Later, at the Four Days’ Battle of 1666, Myngs leading the English van, would attempt to fight on despite having his face shattered by a musket ball. Six days later, he died at his home in London and was buried in an East London churchyard which has now become a seedy park. He deserved better.

About The Author

Simon Harris is a retired consultant anaesthetist and is married with two children. His great-great-grandfather fought under Nelson's direction at Boulogne in 1801 and later rose to the rank of vice-admiral. His grandfather commanded the Firedrake at Heligoland Bight in 1914 and was in the Canada (under Jellicoe, at Jutland) in 1916; an uncle was in the Warspite (under Cunningham, at Matapan) in 1941. The strong family connection with the sea triggered his lasting interest in the history of the Royal Navy and, in the early 1970s, the sale of a pewter chamber pot salvaged from Cloudesley Shovell’s sunken flagship - the Association - brought this formidable mariner to the author’s attention. During the ensuing 45 years, he has been firmly following in the wake of the unfortunate Shovell and his two principal naval patrons: Christopher Myngs and John Narbrough. Sixteen years ago, his Sir Cloudesley Shovell: Stuart Admiral was published by Spellmount, and his other publications are RBK: A Very Parfit Gentil Knight and The History of the 52nd Light Infantry in the Great War 1914-18. Simon Harris has lectured extensively on the wounds of Horatio Nelson, the 52nd Light Infantry in the Great War, Christopher Myngs, John Narbrough and (naturally) Cloudesley Shovell.


“Besides an account of the lives of three loyal, skilled and brave servants of our country we have a useful primer on the Royal Navy's activities from Cromwell to Queen Anne. I commend this book to anyone with an interest in the period or in the ascent of our power in the world.”

- Army Rumour Service

“This well-produced series will be of great benefit to modelers, historians and any others interested in the ships concerned.”

- Ships in Scale

“This weighty tome is the 18th in Helion's excellent 'Century of the Soldier' series, and is quite probably the best so far.”

- Military History Monthly

“The research involved is thorough and comprehensive, useful maps and charts are included, and colour portraits and seascapes add to the overall tone of a well-produced work…an all-round quality product which can be highly recommended.”

- Battlefield Magazine

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