Famous for sinking and then being raised from her watery grave centuries later,. King Henry VIII's Tudor warship has been the subject of fascination since her ...
The Mary Rose Famous for sinking and then being raised from her watery grave centuries later, King Henry VIII’s Tudor warship has been the subject of fascination since her launch in 1511 When Henry VIII became king in 1509 he was acutely aware his claim to the throne was open to challenge. He needed a standing navy and quickly ordered two carracks – ships equipped to fight at close range – the Peter Pomegranate and the Mary Rose. They were to be both weapons and symbols: in the 16th century warships and their cannon were the ultimate displays of wealth and power. As the larger of the two, the Mary Rose won the king’s favour. At 500 tonnes and with around 80 guns, she needed a huge crew. A crew list from 1513 recorded 415 mariners, soldiers and gunners and, during wartime, soldiers could swell the number to over 700. The Mary Rose served 34 years. She saw action during the First French War and the Second French War before seemingly falling from favour (such large ships were expensive to operate) and kept in reserve from 1522 to 1535. But it may have been Henry VIII’s decision to break with Rome so he could marry Anne Boleyn that gave her a second lease of life. She was refitted on the Thames around 1535-36, money for which may have been found from the extra revenue generated by the Dissolution of the Monasteries. She saw her last action during the Third French War. On 19 July 1545 she sank just 2km outside Portsmouth Harbour. It is a famous moment in British history yet accounts of what happened vary. Some said the French fleet attacked while Henry was dining aboard, while an eyewitness account claimed the ship was caught in a strong gust
of wind while turning. What is certain is that hundreds drowned. But it is because the Mary Rose sank – rather than being blown apart – that she still occupies prime position in the national consciousness. When her well-preserved wreck was rediscovered in 1971 (she was first found in 1836 but, when salvage attempts failed, was lost again), a Tudor time capsule of immeasurable value was opened. Thousands of artefacts, from weapons, sailing equipment and naval supplies to the crew’s personal possessions, pulled the age into sharp and detailed historical focus. And the dramatic raising of her hull from the seabed that followed in 1982 captured the world’s imagination. Today, passion for the ship is undiminished. The only 16th-century warship on display anywhere in the world, the remains of her hull at the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard are visited by hundreds of thousands of people each year. And, although she is currently off display, this summer the warship will complete the latest leg of her remarkable journey across the centuries to take her place at the heart of a transformed Mary Rose Museum experience. Here, visitors will be able to share the same space as the ship – via an airlock – for the first time, meaning that, more than 500 years after her launch, the Mary Rose is closer to us than ever before.
For more information on the Mary Rose, the new museum experience and its opening dates, visit www.maryrose.org www.britain-magazine.com
ILLUSTRATION: © PAUL COX
WORDS SALLY HALES