The Mary Rose

I know that the Mary Rose was one of Henry VIII’s ship, and so had nothing to do with Elizabeth I, but its wreck gave us around 19,000 Tudor well-preserved Tudor artefacts and so can teach us a huge amount about Tudor times. This is the reason why I have chosen to help the Mary Rose trust complete their building of the Mary Rose museum by pledging to raise £500 for the Mary Rose 500 Appeal. Please help me with this by donating to this worthy cause if you can – simply click “Donate” on the Just Giving logo on the right hand menu bar of this page.

The Mary Rose

The Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s favourite warship, was built in Portsmouth for Henry VIII’s navy between 1509 and 1511. It is thought to be named after Henry’s sister Mary and the Tudor Rose, and was ordered along with the Peter Pomegranate to reinforce Henry’s navy and to protect England from the threats of the French Navy and Scottish fleets.

New Geoff Hunt Painting of the Mary Rose
New Geoff Hunt Painting of the Mary Rose

Both ships were very different to others built during Henry VII’s reign because they were carvel, rather than clinker, built and were equipped with heavy guns mounted near the waterline. The Mary Rose started with 78 guns but these were upgraded to 91 in 1536. Her special carvel hull allowed watertight gun-ports to be constructed. The Mary Rose’s ability to fire broadside made her both the pride of the English Navy and Henry VIII’s favourite ship, but unfortunately, after over 30 years of service in the navy, the Mary Rose sank accidentally in the Solent on 19th July 1545 during an engagement with the French fleet.

Over 400 years later, in 1982, the Mary Rose was raised from her watery grave and 19,000 remarkably preserved artefacts were recovered. How wonderful to have objects from the Tudor age!

The Mary Rose’s Career

If you mention the Mary Rose to the general public they either haven’t got a clue what you’re on about or all they can tell you is that she is a Tudor shipwreck, but there is so much more to the Mary Rose than that – she actually had a very illustrious career before her tragic end in 1545. The Mary Rose’s career included:-

  • Being the flagship of the English Navy in1512 against France – Under the admiralty of Sir Edward Howard, she was used against the French just off Brittany.
  • Under the admiralty of Sir Thomas Howard, she was used in 1513 to transport Howard and his troops to Newcastle to help in the war against Scotland.
  • War with France 1522-1525 – According to her Vice Admiral Fitzwilliam, she outsailed all of the ships in her fleet.
  • A major refit in 1528 – Click here to see a list of materials used to repair and refit the Mary Rose.
  • 1536-1538 – Rebuilding and re-arming.
  • 1544-1545 – English fleet escorting reinforcements to Boulogne and then moving into the Solent to intercept any French ships.

The Sinking of the Mary Rose

The Mary Rose’s 30 years of service was brought to an abrupt halt in 1545 but why did she sink? What happened? Theories include:-

  • A French hit caused her to sink – The French fleet were convinced that they hit and sank the ship after luring English ships into the range of their main fleet.
  • Water entered her gunports – The Imperial ambassador, Van der Delft, reported how she sank, killing just under 500 men, after heeling over with the wind which caused water to enter the “lowest row of gun ports which had been left open after firing.”
  • Human Error – According to Sir Peter Carew, brother of the Vice Admiral of the Mary Rose, Sir George Carew who died when the ship sank, his uncle Sir Gawain Carew had sailed past the Mary Rose as she began to heel and asked Sir George what was wrong. Sir George replied that “he had the sort of knaves whom he could not rule.”

Although Burchet and Sir Walter Raleigh both attributed the loss of the Mary Rose to her gunports being too close to the water line, the height of 16 inches that Burchet gives is definitely wrong as she would never have been able to even leave port if this was the case because her scuppers would have been submerged. The archaeological evidence points to the the gunports having four feet of clearance.

The most likely cause of her sinking, according to the Mary Rose Trust’s website  is handling error caused, as Carew reported, by a lack of discipline and confusion in the heat of battle. When the Mary Rose was excavated, it was revealed that her ballast had shifted to the starboard side, but it is not known whether this happened as a result of the ship sinking or whether this was actually the cause of the accident. The Mary Rose trust say “Once the angle of heel was sufficient for water to enter the gunports the fate of the ship was sealed.”

The Raising of the Mary Rose

Attempts made in the summer of 1545 to raise the Mary Rose were unsuccessful and she lay in her watery grave until she was rediscovered nearly 300 years later on 16th June 1836 when a fisherman snagged his gear on the wreck. A diver, John Deane, was diving on a nearby wreck and agreed to help the fisherman disentangle his gear in return for a half share of whatever the gear was caught up on. Dean found the Mary Rose and between 1836 and 1840 was able to recover a number of items including iron guns, bows and timbers.

Bow to Stern View of the Mary Rose
Bow to Stern View of the Mary Rose

In 1965, Alexander McKee decided to try and find the wreck of the Mary Rose and with the collaboration of Professor Harold E Edgerton and John Mills, and their sonar systems, a sub-seabed anomaly was found in 1967 which was confirmed in 1968 by a sonar survey. Between 1968 and 1971, dives were carried out on the area and timbers and even an iron gun were recovered. On 5th May 1971, Percy Ackland discovere three of the port frames of the Mary Rose. The Mary Rose had been found.

The Mary Rose Trust was formed in 1979 and an archaeological team led by Dr Margaret Rule CBE began to excavate the Mary Rose wreck. This culminated in the raising of the Mary Rose on 11th October 1982 by a team of Royal Engineers. The wreck was placed in a dry dock with a relative humidity of 95% and a temperature of 2-6ºC. A preservation programme then began in earnest.

Artefacts and Findings

During the excavation and raising of the Mary Rose, many items were found, including:-

  • Skeletons – The remains of around half the crew.
  • Medical equipment
  • A Barber surgeon’s hat
  • Navigational Equipment
  • Weapons – guns, longbows and arrows
  • Carpentry tools
  • Utensils used for cooking and eating
  • A musical instrument called a shawm
  • Logs for the oven
  • Playing dice and backgammon boards
  • Lanterns
  • Chests
  • Combs
  • Coins

Take a look at the slideshow to see some of these wonderfully preserved artefacts:-

Reconstructions of the faces of the Mary Rose crew
A facial reconstruction of a crew member

The Mary Rose 500 Appeal

Here at the Elizabeth Files and the Anne Boley Files, we have pledged to raise £500 to help build a new purpose built museum to house the ship and its artefacts. See the Anne Boleyn Files Mary Rose 500 Appeal Page for further details.

Here are some “virtual” photos of what the new museum will look like – I’m proud to be helping with this, doesn’t it look fabulous!:-

The new 2012 Mary Rose Museum
The new 2012 Mary Rose Museum
Inside the Mary Rose Museum
Inside the Mary Rose Museum

Images from Wilkinson Eyre Architects

Make Your Own Mark on the Mary Rose Museum

We know from the artefacts that were found with the Mary Rose wreck that her crew engraved their personal possessions with their own individual marks and the Mary Rose Trust is going to incorporate some of these marks into the wooden panels which form the outer cladding of the new museum. Do you want to make your mark on this wonderful museum? You can by buying a plank:-

  • £1,000 – A major plank etched with your full name
  • £250 – A major plank etched with your initials
  • £100 – A small plank etched with your initials
  • £50 – A small unmarked panel

Plus, every person who buys a plank will be entered into a raffle to win a signed copy of the Limited Edition copy of the new painting of the Mary Rose which you can see at the top of this page. See the special “Make Your Mark” page at the Mary Rose 500 Appeal site for further details.

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