|Builder:||Deptford Dockyard, London|
|Fate:||Sank, 23 September 1641|
|Tons burthen:||700 tons bm|
|Length:||157 ft (48 m)|
|Sail plan:||Full-rigged ship|
|Armament:||32 × bronze cannon|
Merchant Royal also known as Royal Merchant, was a 17th-century English merchant ship lost at sea off Land's End, in Cornwall County, in rough weather on 23 September 1641. On board were at least 10,000 pounds of gold (over US$1.5 billion in today's money), 400 bars of Mexican silver (another 1 million) and nearly 500,000 pieces of eight and other coins, making it one of the most valuable wrecks of all times.
The Merchant Royal spent three years trading with Spanish colonies in the West Indies from 1637 to 1640. England was at peace with Spain at this time. The Merchant Royal and her sister-ship, the Dover Merchant, called into Cadiz on their way home to London. By all accounts she was leaking badly after her long voyage.
When a Spanish ship in Cadiz at the same time caught fire just before she was due to carry treasure to convert into pay for Spain's 30,000 soldiers in Flanders, the Merchant Royal's Captain Limbrey saw his chance to make a little more cash for his owners. He volunteered to carry the treasure to Antwerp on his way home.
The Merchant Royal went on leaking after she and her sister-ship left Cadiz and, when the pumps broke down, she sank off Land's End in rough weather on 23 September 1641.
Eighteen men drowned in the sinking. Captain Limbrey and 40 of his crew got away in boats and were picked up by Dover Merchant. It is not likely that the treasure was taken aboard the Dover Merchant.
Sept. 30, Lond[on].
I suppose you have understood of the loss of the Royal Merchant coming into our road, which is the greatest that was ever sustained in one ship, being worth 400,000l. at least. The merchants of Antwerp will be the greatest losers, for she had in her belonging to them 300,000l. in bullion; if so be the Infante Cardinal lose not upon it Flanders for want of money to pay the soldiers. – 'Charles I – volume 484: September 1641', Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 1641–3 (1887), pp. 114–129
Search for the wreck
The Odyssey Marine Exploration company has tried for several years to locate the wreck but has been unsuccessful thus far.
In 2007 the team announced the Black Swan Project, the name given by Odyssey Marine Exploration for its discovery and recovery of an estimated US$500 million (£363 million) worth of silver and gold coins, from a shipwreck, was originally rumored in the press to be from the Merchant Royal. The Odyssey team is still uncertain as to the identity of the wreck, but now believe it may be the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, a Spanish vessel sunk in 1804.
- "Merchant Royal Galleon 1627–1641". wrecksite.eu. 2012. Retrieved 8 October 2012.
- Leonard, Tom (19 May 2007). "Hoard of treasure 'found on wreck off Cornwall'". The Daily Telegraph. London: TMG. ISSN 0307-1235. OCLC 49632006. Retrieved 8 October 2012.
- "WHM: The sinking of the Merchant Royal". WBEZ. 23 September 2014. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
- Kramer, Jeffrey (2012). "Treasure Ships Around The World". treasurelore.com. Retrieved 8 October 2012.
- "Record wreck 'found off Cornwall'". BBC News. London: BBC. 19 May 2007. Retrieved 8 October 2012.
- "Black Swan - Project Overview". shipwreck.net. 2012. Retrieved 8 October 2012.
- Information from Divernet
- Website of salvage company Odyssey with updated information
- UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.