Mary Rose

Global Anchor Limited

Mary Rose

Mary Rose was a Tudor carrack built for King Henry VIII as part of his plan to build a larger permanent navy. She took part in several wars with Scotland and France over more than thirty years and underwent a major rebuild in 1536. Mary Rose was reputed to be the favorite ship of King Henry VIII, who watched as she sank off Spithead while leading an attack against the French fleet, with Henry Grace a Dieu, during the Battle of the Solent. More than 400 years later, in 1971, the wreck of Mary Rose was rediscovered. Archaeological surveys and excavations followed culminating in the wreck being recovered from the seabed in 1982. Mary Rose proved to be a time capsule with thousands of historical artifacts, such as items owned and used by the crew, weapons, supplies and equipment, surviving within the ship. Mary Rose was moved to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard where she underwent conservation for more than thirty years.

Why was Mary Rose Built?
When Henry VIII became king in 1509, he inherited only a small navy with a few reasonable warships, including the carracks Regent and Sovereign. During times of war it was usual for merchant ships to be armed and used to reinforce the navy, however with constant threats from Scotland and France, Henry VIII sought to have a larger permanent navy. In 1510, he ordered two more ships, the Peter Pomegranate and the slightly larger Mary Rose. This is generally recognized as being the beginning of Britainís Royal Navy.

Why was the Ship Called Mary Rose?
It is widely believed that Mary Rose was named after Henry VIIIís sister Mary Tudor and the family emblem, the rose. However with no evidence to support this belief it is more likely that she was named after the Virgin Mary who, at that time, was also known as the Mystic Rose.

Where was Mary Rose Built?
Mary Rose was laid down in Portsmouth in 1510 and built in the style of a carrack. She was principally constructed from oak and was launched in July 1511. After launching, Mary Rose was towed to London where her decks were built and her masts and rigging were fitted. She was also fitted with her guns which included wrought iron breech loading guns and cast bronze guns. Mary Rose was completed in 1512.

How Big was Mary Rose?
There are no exact dimensions for the size of Mary Rose, however it is known that at the time of her build she was approximately 500 tons. Estimated dimensions, based on the wreck, put her keel at around 105 feet and her beam at around 39 feet. Mary Rose had three decks, a forecastle and a stern castle. Each of the castles would have had up to three additional decks. She had four masts and would have used up to ten sails. After a major refit in 1536, she was believed to have weighed approximately 700 tons.

What Armament did Mary Rose Carry?
At the time of her sinking, Mary Rose is believed to have carried 91 guns of varying size. The heavy guns would have included early wrought iron cannons as well as later cast bronze cannons. The majority of the guns on Mary Rose were smaller, for fighting at close quarters. These would have included hailshot pieces and bases. There would have been a range of shot which would have been used to penetrate hulls, destroy rigging or injure the enemy.

Mary Rose Crew
The crew required aboard Mary Rose would have varied according to her duties. It is estimated that Mary Rose would have carried a crew of more than 400 in wartime, which could have grown to around 700 when she carried soldiers for raids. In peacetime it is likely that her crew would have numbered from 100 to 200. The majority of the crews that served aboard Mary Rose remain unknown as very few records were kept, however analysis of the bones recovered from the wreck showed that all the crew were male with the majority being under the age of 30. The bones of 179 people were recovered in total. The only recorded victim of the sinking of Mary Rose was Vice- Admiral George Carew.

Mary Rose in the First French War
Mary Rose first saw action in 1512 after being chosen as the flagship of the Lord High Admiral Sir Edward Howard. Howard led 18 ships, including Mary Rose, on an expedition against the French which led to the capture of twelve Breton ships and a four day raid on Brittany. After returning to Southampton and being visited by King Henry VIII, Mary Rose and the fleet sailed to Brest where, at the Battle of St. Mathieu, they met with a French-Breton fleet. The French ships were battered by heavy gunfire and the Breton flagship, Cordeliere was boarded by the British before it caught fire and sank. Following more raids, the fleet was forced, by storms, to return to England.

Mary Rose Takes Part in a Race
Mary Rose took part in a race against other ships in the fleet at some time in 1513, and was said to have been one of the fastest ships in the fleet. Mary Rose and the fleet then set off for Brest once again. Howard attacked the French fleet, which had been reinforced by ships from the Mediterranean, and after boarding a French galley, Howard was killed. Short of supplies and disheartened by the loss of their Admiral, Mary Rose and the fleet returned to Plymouth.

Mary Rose Transports Soldiers
When the Scots joined France in the war against England in August 1513, Mary Rose was among the ships carrying soldiers to Newcastle. These soldiers made their way to Northumberland and took part in the Battle of Flodden, where the Scots were heavily defeated and their King, James IV, was killed. Mary Rose took part in several more skirmishes with the French before the war ended in the autumn of 1514.

Mary Rose in the Second French War
In 1522 war broke out between England and France once again. Mary Rose carried soldiers across to France in June 1522, before returning to Dartmouth where she berthed for the winter. The war ended in 1525 with no further participation from Mary Rose.

Mary Rose Placed in Ordinary and Refitted
Mary Rose was placed in ordinary (an English naval term for a ship that is removed from service for maintenance, repair or for storage) from 1522 to 1545. She underwent caulking and repairing in 1527, and underwent a major refit on the River Thames in 1536. There are no records of the works carried out, but itís clear that additional bracing was fitted to the interior, which suggests that she would be carrying extra weight. It is also believed that additional gun ports were cut.

Mary Rose and the Third French War
On July 16, 1545, a French feet of 128 ships, under the command of Admiral Claude díAnnebault, entered the Solent, and the British fleet of 80 ships, including Mary Rose, withdrew into Portsmouth Harbor. The first action between the two fleets was a prolonged exchange of cannon fire which caused little damage to either side.

Mary Rose Presented as Flagship
On the evening of July 18, King Henry VIII dined with Admiral Viscount Lisle and George Carew on board Henry Grace a Dieu. While having this meal, King Henry VIII made George Carew Admiral of the Fleet and presented him with Mary Rose as his flagship.

The Sinking of Mary Rose
On July 19, 1545, with King Henry VIII watching from nearby Southsea Castle, Mary Rose and Henry Grace a Dieu led the English Fleet into the Solent to face the French. After firing a broadside, Mary Rose was turning when she leaned over to starboard (the right) and sank with the loss of around 400 men, including the Admiral of the Fleet George Carew.

Why Did Mary Rose Sink?
An eyewitness account of the sinking stated that after firing all the guns on one side, she was turning and was hit by a strong gust of wind. However, various theories about the sinking have been put forward over the years including: a) Not being familiar with the capabilities of Mary Rose, George Carew may have given orders that put Mary Rose in danger, or maybe the orders were misunderstood or ignored by the crew: b) Mary Rose was hit by a sudden breeze as she turned causing her to lean too far over allowing water to pour in through the open gun ports: c) A cannonball from a French gun penetrated her hull below the waterline causing her to become unstable and sink: d) She was overloaded with heavy guns and soldiers. There are many questions about the sinking of Mary Rose that remain unanswered, leaving us with a mystery that may never be solved.

Initial Attempt at Salvaging Mary Rose
Within days of the sinking an attempt was made to salvage Mary Rose. King Henry VIIIís brother in law, Charles Brandon, took charge of the operation which was carried out by Venetian salvage operators. The method was to attach cables to the wreck and to two empty ships. At low tide capstans aboard the empty ships would tighten the cables and when the tide came in, the empty ships would rise, bring the wreck with them. The empty ships would tow the wreck into shallower water and repeat the process until the complete wreck could be raised. All initial attempts failed as Mary Rose was firmly stuck in the clay on the seabed. However some rigging and cannons were salvaged during this attempt.

The Deterioration of Mary Rose
Although the wreck of Mary Rose was reported as still being visible in the late 16th century, by one of Queen Elizabeth Iís Admirals, William Monson, it would already have begun to deteriorate as the sea life began to attack it. A species of saltwater clam, known as teredo navalis or naval shipworm, would have bored into the wood and started to break down itís structure while other bacteria and fungi would also have started to damage Mary Rose. Around 40% of Mary Rose became buried by silt and clay, which protected her while the exposed areas were destroyed.

Rediscovery of Mary Rose in 1836
Mary Rose was rediscovered in 1836 after some fisherman snagged their nets on her timbers. Diver Henry Abinett was contacted to remove the obstruction and became the first person to see Mary Rose in 300 years when he saw her on June 10, 1836. They employed professional divers John Deane, co-inventor of the diving helmet, and William Edwards who identified the wreck as Mary Rose from one of the recovered cannons. Various items were recovered from the wreck including iron cannons, bronze cannons, timbers and longbows. There are many surviving watercolor paintings and pencil sketches of the items recovered, however many of the items have deteriorated as they couldnít be properly conserved.

The Bombing of Mary Rose
The diver John Deane returned to the Mary Rose in 1840 and used bomb shells to blast the wreck in an effort to recover artifacts. The explosions didnít penetrate the hard clay protecting the main part of the wreck, however Deane described Mary Rose as being clinker built, which suggests that he had actually entered the stern castle as this was the only part of the ship that was clinker built.

Rediscovery of Mary Rose in 1971
The search for Mary Rose was restarted in 1965 by journalist, military historian, author and diver Alexander McKee, along with the Southsea branch of the British Sub-Aqua Club. Using the latest sonar equipment to scan the seabed, they found a strange shape which McKee strongly suspected to be Mary Rose. The divers explored the area from 1968 and were rewarded on May 5, 1971, when diver Percy Ackland discovered three port frames of Mary Rose.

Formation of the Mary Rose Trust
With the help of archaeologists, excavations of Mary Rose, between 1971 and 1978, revealed deck beams and planking as well as other artifacts. A trench was dug across Mary Rose which revealed that two decks had survived in place. This led to the decision to excavate the entire ship, which resulted in the formation of the Mary Rose Trust in 1979 to oversee the project, with HRH Prince Charles as itís President.

The Excavation of Mary Rose
With the excavation becoming a professional project, the salvage vessel Sleipner was brought in and moored over the dive site. The project was speeded up by this addition which allowed divers and finds staff to work in shifts. The project also gained full time administrators, finds staff, conservators, archaeologists and fundraisers. The excavation was carried out as in as near a way to archaeological land excavations as possible with grids dividing the site and full surveying and recording of all timbers and artifacts. All items brought up from the wreck were stored in a controlled environment to help conservation.

The Raising of Mary Rose
After considering various methods of raising Mary Rose, the decision was taken to use a purpose built lifting frame which would lift the wreck and place it into a specially prepared cradle. The cradle and frame would then be lifted to the surface. The lifting frame was attached to Mary Rose using wires connected to steel bolts that were passed through her hull. Mary Rose was finally lifted from the waters of the Solent on October 11, 1982.

Mary Rose Conservation
Mary Rose was moved to a dry dock in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard where conservation began. The dry dock was later covered and a hall built around it. Visitors can view Mary Rose from a gallery within the hall. Initially the hull needed to be kept saturated with water. This was later replaced with the constant spraying of polyethylene glycol until 2013, when the sprays were turned off and the process of air drying began. Having taken thirty five years, conservation is now complete, and Mary Rose is enclosed in a climatically controlled box.

Mary Rose Museum
The Mary Rose Museum, located in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, houses not only Mary Rose herself, but also the artifacts that were excavated with her. These artifacts offer a unique insight into Tudor life aboard Mary Rose. More than 19,000 artifacts were recovered in total, ranging from cannons and weapons to clothes and other everyday objects, many of which are on display.

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Published 2018

Global Anchor Limited

Modified 2018

By James Drake

Characteristics - Information - Guide - Mary Rose - Pictures - Images - Facts and Information - Henry VIII - Solent - Portsmouth - Cannons - Mary Rose - Guns - Warship - Wreck