The Mary Rose

I KNOW, quite a lot has been written about the Mary Rose, but I haven’t written it and you may not have read it. However, I feel bound to say something of this great ship because I’m one of her Flag Officers (sounds grand but it just means I’ve donated some money to her conservation) and I think she is a fab project …. and I give talks on her every so often (or when anyone wants to listen).

The only image we have of the Mary Rose from the Anthony Roll of 1546

As for her history, she was built on the order of Henry VIII when he came to the throne in 1509 and completed in 1511 and named after his favourite sister (Mary not Rose). Then she was of 500 tons and one of the first war ships to have on board  heavy canons. Before such usage of heavy guns, naval warfare was simply sailing up to your opponent, boarding and battling it out hand to hand (‘fighting-by-the-sea’, I expect you could get postcards). Anyway, two French Wars came and went and then, in 1536, the Mary Rose was refurbished and uprated to 700 tons. The third French War arrived in 1544 and a year later, at the Battle of the Solent (although not much of a battle), the Mary Rose went to the bottom of the sea.

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The Cowdray engraving of the sinking of The Mary Rose – you can just see the top of her mast circled in red (see pic below)

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Cowdray engraving: mast of the Mary Rose (centre) with a survivor raising his arms

Why did she sink?  Good question. There are a couple of theories. The first is that she was hit by a French canon ball from one of the French barges firing on the British fleet. We reject this out of hand as in no way will we accept that the French can take any credit for the ship’s demise.  The second, and more feasible, is that she turned abruptly, was caught by the wind and veered over so far that her open gunports filled with water causing her to sink. That her gun ports were still open during this manoeuvre must have been a human error. Either she turned too quick for the orders to be given to close them or orders were given but ignored (wouldn’t a captain wait until such orders were fulfilled before turning?). Her admiral, Sir George Carew, was reported as saying to his uncle, Gawen, “I have the sort of knaves I cannot rule”. This would imply that his crew were far from organised – and isotope analysis (science stuff) of human bones recovered suggests that some were from around Spain and so may not have understood orders in English (a minor difficulty one might imagine!). Regardless, some 450 crew drowned, including Carew and his captain, Roger Grenville (the anti-boarding netting over the open deck area prevented most of the crew from abandoning ship). There were only around 30-40 survivors.

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Sir George Carew

Tudor attempts to raise her failed and she succumbed to a watery grave, being covered, over the years, by silt. She was briefly discovered in 1836 by John Deane who had invented diving equipment and was investigating fishing nets being caught under the sea – they were being caught on the Mary Rose. Over four years Deane recovered some guns and other artifacts but the location of the wreck was soon forgotten.

John Deane’s diving gear

In 1965, Alexander McGee went in search of the wreck. He had found her rough location in 1966 on an Admiralty chart and by using a newly invented sub-profiling apparatus (science stuff again) he eventually discovered the wreck’s exact whereabouts in 1971. The site of the wreck was subsequently protected from ‘treasure seekers’ by the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. It was surveyed between 1971 and 1979 whereafter the Mary Rose Trust was set up to consider bringing her to the surface. This happened on the 11th October 1982 and watched on television by some 60 million people.

Portrait of Alex McKee OBE (1918-1992)

a A  a B    a C

Raising of the Mary Rose: A. attaching it to the lifting gear; B. lifting it towards the frame, C. lowering it into frame which was then raised to the surface

In the region of 3000 timbers were recovered from the Mary Rose. Once out in the fresh air the wood of the ship had to be preserved. Under the water the centre cells of wood are eaten away and so the wood is hollow. Left too long in the air the wood will just collapse. So these hollows had to be filled. From 1982 t0 1995, the hull was sprayed with chilled water; from 1995 to 2004, it was sprayed with low grade polyethylene glycol (PEG) to penetrate inner layers; from 2004 to 2012, it was sprayed with high grade PEG to penetrate outer layers; in the the final phase, from 2012 to 2016, it is undergoing air drying.

Mary Rose undergoing wood preservation treatment

The Mary Rose has produced some phenomenal artifacts – a real taste of the Tudors which we knew nothing about until the discovery of the wreck. Over 130 Tudor longbows (no Tudor longbow had ever been seen before) and something like 3500 arrows were part of some 19,000 finds – a real ‘treasure chest’ of Tudor life. You can see many of them on the internet.

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Sarah and I were lucky enough to be able to ‘go behind the scenes’ at the original museum and handle some of the rare finds including a Tudor longbow

The new Mary Rose Museum which opened on 31st May 2013  – well worth a visit

Prince Charles officially opening the new Mary Rose Museum on 26th February 2014 – I put this photo in because I was invited to this opening and was standing right in front of him ……

Find out how to support the Mary Rose – or go and see her – by clicking here

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Next week: Stonehenge and the Druids


Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

I watched with astonishment as a farmer of my acquaintance, Gerald G. Giles, was feeding his pigs. He held a pig in his arms and lifted it to an apple tree whilst it ate sufficient apples to satisfy its appetite. When the pig’s appetite was satisfied Gerald put it down and held another to the tree to eat. I said to him, “Gerald, old boy, why don’t you just shake the tree, let the apples fall and allow the pigs to eat them at their leisure. What you are doing is a terrible waste of time.” He turned to me with frowned expression and replied, “What’s time to a pig?”

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