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Stories of the Stuarts: Great Storm of 1703

The Great Storm of 1703 occurred during the reign of Queen Anne and was one of the worst natural disasters ever recorded in Southern England. The week long hurricane began on 26th November 1703 and sent the roofs of houses flying and knocking flat thousands of trees including 4000 oaks in the New Forest and 17000 in the county of Kent.

Westminster Abbey sustained considerable damage during the Great Storm.

Westminster Abbey sustained considerable damage during the Great Storm.

Just because she was monarch, Queen Anne couldn’t escape the devastating effects of the Great Storm. The Queen and members of her household escaped to the cellars of St James’s Palace to avoid its collapsing chimneys and roof. It wasn’t just St James’s Palace that took a hit from the storm, Whitehall and Westminster Abbey also sustained considerable damage throughout the week long natural disaster. The Tower of London suffered incredible damage whilst several hundred boats were sunk, damaged or blown ashore in the area around the Pool of London with many people being drowned.

High seas and fierce winds in the English Channel swamped many vessels outright and drove many more on to the Goodwin Sands. The Royal Navy was considerably affected by the Great Storm and its entire Chanel Squadron was wiped out and it is said that one fifth of the Queen’s Navy were drowned in the storm. HMS Vanguard was sunk at Chatham, HMS Newcastle and Vesuvius was lost at Spithead and HMS Restoration was wrecked on Goodwin Sands with all 387 of its crew killed.

The Eddystone Lighthouse off Plymouth was also completely destroyed killing its six occupants.

Famous English journalist and novelist Daniel Defoe called for eyewitness accounts of the storm and in the Summer of 1704 published ‘The Storm’. His conclusion for why the storm happened is far more religious in tone than scientific, “I draw only this conclusion, that the winds are a part of the works of God by nature, in which he has been pleased to communicate less of demonstration to us than in other cases; that the particulars more directly lead us to speculations, and refer us to infinite power more than the other parts of nature does.”

Defoe believed that the storm was also a punishment for poor performance against Catholic armies  during the War of the Spanish Succession.

The Great Storm of 1703 raged for a whole week reaching a ferocious peak on the night of 28/29th November and abating on the 2nd December. Following the disaster, Queen Anne’s Government announced that the storm ‘loudly calls for the deepest and most solemn humiliation of our people’ and they called for a day of fasting on December 16th in recognition of the ‘crying sins of this nation’.

The Great Storm of 1703 was one of the worst natural disasters ever to befall the British Isles and remained a talking point for the British people well in to the nineteenth century.

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