SHOVELL, Sir Clowdesley (1650-1707), of Soho Square, London and May Place, Crayford, Kent

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1695 - Nov. 1701
1705 - 22 Oct. 1707

Family and Education

bap. 25 Nov. 1650, 3rd s. of John Shovell of Cockthorpe, Norf. by Anne, da. of Henry Jenkinson of Cley-next-the-Sea, Norf.  m. 10 Mar. 1691, Elizabeth, da. of John Hill of Knowlton, Kent and Shadwell, London, commr. navy 1692–1702, wid. of Adm. Sir John Narborough of Knowlton, 2da.  suc. bro. ?1664; kntd. 16 May 1689.1

Offices Held

Ent. RN 1664, lt. 1673–7, capt. 1677–90, r.-adm. 1690–Jan. 1693; jt. adm. of the fleet Jan.–Nov. 1693, May 1705–d., v.-adm. Apr. 1694–Jan. 1695, adm. Jan. 1695–Dec. 1704, r.-adm. of Eng. Dec. 1704–d.; maj. 1st marine regt. Feb.–Sept. 1691, lt.-col. 2nd marine regt. Sept. 1691–Mar. 1697, col. Mar. 1697–?July 1698; extra commr. Navy Board Apr. 1693–Mar. 1699; comptroller of victualling accts. Mar. 1699–Dec. 1704; one of council of ld. high adm. Dec. 1704–d.2

Freeman, Liverpool 1690, Rochester 1695, Portsmouth 1697; commr. Greenwich Hosp. 1694–1704; er. bro. Trinity House 1705–d.3


Shovell was a notably successful ‘tarpaulin’ naval officer, who entered the Restoration navy as a captain’s servant and then progressed through the ranks ‘to almost the highest station in the navy of Great Britain’. His first patrons were the Norfolk admirals Sir Christopher Myngs and Sir John Narborough, but he skilfully transferred his attentions as appropriate, becoming a favourite of Henry Fitzroy, 1st Duke of Grafton, when the latter was merely a volunteer and serving under Arthur Herbert† in the Mediterranean. Shovell was also one of Herbert’s protégés, playing a key role in ensuring that the English fleet remained passive during William of Orange’s invasion. Shovell was knighted after the battle of Bantry Bay, the Queen informing William in July 1690 that ‘they tell me Shovell is the best officer of his age’, while the Marquess of Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) suggested him at that time as a possible member of a commission to command the fleet. The honour of joint command of the fleet eventually fell to Shovell in January 1693, in company with Sir Ralph Delaval* and Henry Killigrew*. Shovell survived the repercussions of the disaster which befell the Smyrna convoy, partly owing to his reputation as a staunch Williamite loyalist, unlike his two Tory colleagues. Later evidence, including information from Sir John Fenwick†, confirmed that Shovell was unresponsive to approaches on behalf of James II.4

On the domestic front, Shovell’s fortunes were also on the rise, due in part to the profit accruing to him from prizes captured in the Mediterranean before 1688 (and no doubt to the profits from convoys and private trading). Further, in March 1691, he married Narborough’s widow, thereby establishing himself in Kentish society by virtue of Narborough’s purchase of Knowlton. Shovell added Crayford to his estate in 1694, thus allowing Sir Stafford Fairborne*, for one, to portray him as a country gentleman, a claim substantiated as early as July 1694 by his appointment to the county bench. All this was no doubt an advantage in enabling Shovell to secure election at Rochester in 1695, as was his agreement to contribute to the rebuilding of the town hall there. But the crucial factor in his favour was the navy’s control of one of the seats, through the proximity of Chatham dockyard. Thus, it could be stated as fact in a newsletter of 19 Sept., over a month before polling day, that ‘the town of Rochester have agreed to elect Sir Clowdesley Shovell . . . in case the Parliament be dissolved’.5

When Parliament met, Shovell was forecast as likely to support the Court in the division of 31 Jan. 1696 on the proposed council of trade. However, as a serving naval officer he was always likely to be at sea for at least part of each session. Thus, he was noted on 16 Mar. 1696 as having signed the Association at sea, and for that reason was excused further attendance on the House. This order of the Commons makes it a little odd that his name should also appear on a list from late March of those voting in favour of fixing the price of guineas at 22s. Other evidence suggests that Shovell was indeed at sea throughout that month, albeit in home waters. On 2 Mar. he had written from on board ship to his brother-in-law Thomas Shorter that although a projected French invasion had been thwarted he hoped that ‘the gentlemen about you will not handle the Jacobites tenderly since they take part with him who was bringing in a foreign army of papists to lay our country in blood and ashes’. In the following session, Shovell’s attendance was repeatedly sought by the House in connexion with the inquiry into the escape of the Toulon fleet. He finally appeared on 28 Nov. 1696, incidentally missing the vote of the 25th on Fenwick’s attainder. Further orders, on 2 and 8 Dec., for him to attend were not acted upon, and by the 19th James Vernon I* reported that Shovell was ‘got out to St. Helen’s’. When on 26 Dec. Vernon noted that the wind blew briskly, he added jocularly that ‘Sir Clowdesley says there is no storm so bad as one from the House of Commons’. The naval estimates were obviously close to Shovell’s heart and because of his expert knowledge commentators took notice of his views, especially if they went against the official line. On 17 Dec. 1697, when the House was in committee on the size of the fleet necessary to mount a winter and a summer guard, Robert Harley* proposed that 10,000 men were sufficient and was duly seconded by Hon. Goodwin Wharton*, an Admiralty commissioner. Shovell then seconded (Sir) William St. Quintin’s* proposal for 12,000 men, but was defeated. Both Bonet and L’Hermitage took notice of this debate, but neither attempted to explain Shovell’s motive in pressing for a higher figure. Possibly, his concern was for his own marine regiment, which was broken the following year when the marines were consolidated into one regiment under a new colonel. Shovell seems to have remained in London for the rest of the session, but for a short leave of absence. He presented accounts from the navy commissioners on 27 May, and on 29 June presented a bill to allow a ship which had been a prize to import her cargo as if she had been English-built.6

Shovell was returned for Rochester at the 1698 election, being classed as a placeman on two lists of June and September of that year, and as a Court supporter on a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments. The fact that he was not blacklisted as voting against the disbanding bill suggests that he was absent from the House during January 1699. Jottings made by Harley relating to the fleet in 1699 may indicate that Shovell contributed to the debate on 4 or 18 Feb. concerning the number of seamen to be allowed for that year’s fleet. He was certainly back in the House by that date, for on the 2nd he had presented information from the navy commissioners. He received leave of absence on 12 Apr. 1699 and by the end of the month was in the Downs ‘to keep the Channel’. When the prospect of promotion to the Admiralty Board beckoned in May 1699, Shovell fought hard to remain at the Navy Board, having recently been appointed comptroller of the victualling accounts. He was present in the Commons during the 1699–1700 session, being named to several committees dealing with naval affairs. On a list compiled early in 1700 he was described as a placeman. Returned for Rochester at the election of January 1701, Shovell’s name appeared in February on a list of those who would support the Court over the ‘Great Mortgage’. However, he does not seem to have been active during the session, and by 12 Apr. he was reported to be in the Downs. He did not stand for re-election the following December.7

At the beginning of 1702, when L’Hermitage recorded his comments on various English admirals, he noted that ‘Shovell . . . est Wig, fort aimé dans son party, et est fort zélé pour le gouvernement’. Given the Tory bias of Queen Anne’s first ministry, his position in the naval hierarchy was perhaps at risk. Edmund Dummer* presumably thought so, in August 1702, when he asked Harley to remember him to Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) ‘in case Sir Clowdesley Shovell quits’. However, Shovell remained at the Navy Board and was soon on active service in the Mediterranean (1703–4). His acceptability to the Whigs no doubt eased his promotion in December 1704 to Prince George’s Admiralty council, along with his appointment to the prestigious post of vice-admiral of England, revived in his favour. Shovell clearly felt the time propitious for a return to Westminster, and secured his election at Rochester in 1705. The Earl of Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) counted his return as a gain for the Whigs. More problematical was the description of him on another list as a ‘High Church courtier’. The only possible justification for the label ‘High Church’ would have been the very specific local evidence that he paid for the repair of Crayford church.8

Shovell was again absent, at sea, for the division of 25 Oct. 1705 on the Speakership, probably not arriving back in England until November from his service in Spanish waters, which included the capture of Barcelona for the allies. He was one of five Members given leave on 9 Jan. 1706 to attend the Lords’ committee considering methods of manning the fleet, and Bishop Nicolson records Shovell appearing before the committee on the 14th. In mid-January, Luttrell reported the death of ‘Captain’ Hill, ‘father-in-law to Sir Clowdesley Shovell, to whom it’s said he left near £100,000’. Bereavement did not prevent Shovell from being named on 23 Jan. to prepare a bill for increasing the number of seamen, which he presented to the House on 7 Feb. Although he did not take the chair of the committee of the whole on the bill on 16 Feb., he was probably still at Westminster two days later because he was listed as having voted for the Court on the proceedings over the place clauses in the regency bill. On 7 Mar. Luttrell reported that ‘Shovell’s bill for better manning the fleet is deferred till next session’, a premature report given that the House was discussing, in a separate committee of the whole, better means of recruiting seamen. It was probably at this committee on 13 Mar. that Shovell detailed the serious shortfall in the number of seamen required for the coming year. When, on the following day, the full House agreed to the resolutions made in this committee, Shovell’s more general bill was revived and rapidly completed.9

Shovell missed all of the 1706–7 session, being then on active service in the Mediterranean. On the return voyage he was shipwrecked off the Scilly Isles on 22 Oct. 1707 and drowned. William Mace informed Edward (later Lord) Harley* that ‘this calamity has made a visible impression upon the whole town’, not least on the exchange, where bank stock experienced a slight fall. According to William Gregg’s confession, Shovell had only gone on the expedition because otherwise ‘the world might think he abandoned the government after he had got an estate by it’. The extent of Shovell’s wealth is difficult to gauge from the will he made in April 1701, but both his daughters married well. Indeed, in August 1708, when Lady Shovell was reported to be one of the matrimonial targets of the Earl of Pembroke (Thomas Herbert†), she was able to scotch the rumours by pointing out that her financial situation made her unattractive to potential suitors, her daughter’s recent marriage to Sir Robert Marsham, 5th Bt.*, having cost £15,000 plus a further £20,000 at her own death. Shovell’s second daughter was reportedly worth £100,000 in December 1717, a few months before her marriage to Hon. Robert Mansel†. The last political list on which Shovell’s name appears was one of early 1708 which marked him as a Whig. Not surprisingly, therefore, partisanship governed contemporary assessments of his career. Boyer printed the most laudatory valediction, declaring him to be

one of the greatest sea-commanders of our age, or indeed, as ever this island produced. Of undaunted courage and resolution, of wonderful presence of mind in the hottest engagements, and of consummate skill and experience . . . he was a just, frank, generous, honest, good man.

John Molesworth concurred: ‘he is universally regretted for his courage, capacity and honesty, which it will be very hard to parallel in another commander’. On the other side, the Jacobite Earl of Ailesbury (Thomas Bruce†) snobbishly declared that being ‘raised from a cabin boy’ had condemned Shovell to a ‘low spirit’. Ailesbury dismissed his bravery as ‘stupid courage’, which led him to ‘go to the mouth of a cannon without knowing for what reason’. His exploits were sufficiently revered for the Queen to pay for his funeral and the erection of a monument in Westminster Abbey, though even this proved controversial, Joseph Addison* taking offence because ‘instead of the brave, rough, English admiral, which was the distinguishing character of that plain, gallant man, he is represented on his tomb by the figure of a beau’.10

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Stuart Handley


  • 1. DNB; N. and Q. ser. 8, vii. 41–43; ser. 6, x. 519; Mar. Lic. Vicar-Gen. (Harl. Soc. xxxi), 175.
  • 2. DNB; J. Ehrman, Navy in War of Wm. III, 647; CSP Dom. 1698, p. 359.
  • 3. J. Picton, Liverpool Mun. Recs. i. 272; info. from Medway Area Archs.; R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 372; Add. 10120, ff. 232–6; W. R. Chaplin, Trinity House, 62.
  • 4. J. D. Davies, Gents. and Tarpaulins, 24, 185–6, 211, 213; Boyer, Anne Annals, vi. 242–3; Mariner’s Mirror, lxx. 92; lxxiii. 187–9; By Force or by Default? ed. Cruickshanks, 87; Dalrymple, Mems. iii(2), 91; A. Browning, Danby, ii. 176; Burnet, iv. 186; CSP Dom. 1696, p. 495.
  • 5. G. Holmes, Augustan Eng. 284; Davies, 179; Hasted, Kent, x. 91–94; ii. 272–3; HMC Ormonde, n.s. viii. 147; info. from Prof. N. Landau; HMC Bath, ii. 176; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 19 Sept. 1695.
  • 6. Fraser’s Mag. n.s. xxiv. 334–5; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 56, 135, 146, 287–8, 291; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 46/166, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 17 Dec. 1697; Add. 17677 SS, f. 89; 30000 A, f. 406.
  • 7. Add. 70306, Harley’s notes; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 510; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/4, James* to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I*, 12 Apr. 1701.
  • 8. Add. 17677 XX, f. 197; HMC Portland, viii. 108; Hasted, ii. 574.
  • 9. Add. 61308, f. 206; Bull. IHR, xxxvii. 23; Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 352; Luttrell, vi. 7, 23, 25.
  • 10. HMC Portland, iv. 462; v. 549; W. R. Scott, Jt.-Stock Cos. iii. 225; CJ, xvi. 105; PCC 21 Barrett; HMC Dartmouth, iii. 147; Boyer, Anne Annals, vi. 242; HMC Var. viii. 240; Ailesbury Mems. 312; N. and Q. ser. 6, x. 250.