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.


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)


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.

George Carew-painting by Holbein.jpg

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.


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


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?”


Wolf Hall, Anne Boleyn and all that

QUITE A FEW people have been following BBC’s Wolf Hall and it has received great reviews. I’ve read both books and found them most intriguing, but I was not sure how easy they would convert to TV – especially into just six episodes!  When I saw the first instalment  I think ‘rather slow’ came to my mind.  Also, Mark Rylance, I believe, is an undisputed great on the stage (and I’ve seen him there), but he appeared a little uncomfortable in front of the camera (or maybe that is how he thought Cromwell would be).  Saying that, he sort of reminds me of Michael Kitchen’s Foyle of Foyle’s War (and that’s a compliment – although it’s not exactly how I envisaged Cromwell). Then there’s Damian Lewis – yes, another fine actor and, although English himself, far too type-cast as an American to justify an impersonation of a king of England (in my opinion).  Despite that, and despite the fact that Henry the Large, Anne B, and Uncle Tom Cromwell and all have been somewhat flogged to death on the screen over the years, Wolf Hall still grabbed my attention.

Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell

Anyway, if I haven’t already alienated you with my opinion of the TV Prog/actors, and if you haven’t seen it yet and don’t want the plot ruined (well, not so much Wolf Hall plot, but the general Anne B intrigue), STOP READING NOW and return into hibernation.


Damian Lewis as Henry USA style (okay, Eton then ….)

So who was to blame for Anne’s downfall in 1536?  Henry?  Cromwell? Or Anne herself?  The scriptwriters, in general, will have it down to Cromwell with much help from Anne.  A villain is always needed and Cromwell is convenient. Violence is also a need but that was already there – heads rolling around … but not with laughter.  All the film/TV makers now needed was the sex.  Enter adultery and incest . Yummy – money in the bank.  But did Anne really commit all those naughty acts? Who was really to blame for her demise?

First, let’s blame Anne. She came from an ambitious family, notorious for scheming and so it was in her blood. She was clever – perhaps too clever – and ruthless, but not, I think, so much so to cross that line into incest with her brother, George.  The Countess of Worcester was accused of ‘hanky panky’ with courtiers and claimed she was no worse that the Queen (or words to that effect).  Then there was the overheard damning conversation with Sir Henry Norris in Queen Anne’s chamber. She had asked Norris why he hadn’t married and he replied he would wait awhile. Anne responded with, “You look for dead men’s shoes for if ought came to the king but good, you would look to have me.”  Treasonous words!!  But who reported hearing them?  Anne’s lady-in-waiting, Madge Shelton? Well, Norris was supposed to be courting her, so a woman scorned perhaps? Or maybe it was  the gossipy Lady Worcester diverting her own infidelities.  If Anne had been messing about with others she must have realised she was playing with fire – it just doesn’t add up.


Anne Boleyn (1499-1536) complete with head 

So, let’s blame Henry.  Anne couldn’t give him the male heir he was so desperate for and he was nearly 45 years old and …. well, not that old, but was getting worried.  He had wasted some 24 years waiting in vain for Catherine of Aragon to do the noble ‘thing’. ‘Been there, done that’, he may have been thinking. He also had taken a fancy to one Jane Seymour (she of Wolf Hall in case you were wondering where the name came from) but that was nothing new and she would have been fine as a mistress one may think. So, how to rid himself of Anne?

One suggestion was that he accused her of witchcraft.  It was a Medieval theory that miscarriages only happened to evil women – women who committed adultery, incest or even witchcraft.  This was Anne’s second miscarriage (well, stillborn … and male) and Henry may have caught on to this Medieval bunkum and preferring the witchcraft route (adultery suggested he wasn’t ‘up to it’), he spread rumours that Anne had cast a spell on him to marry her so it was without his consent.  Yeah, right.  He was obviously hoping his Ecclesiastical court would wave a magic wand to relieve the spell with the magic words, “I divorce thee”. (Actually Canon Law in England at the time did not recognise divorce – both Henry’s ‘divorces’ were, in fact, annulments).

What is rather strange is that it has been reported that Henry and Anne appeared to be contented with each other a couple of weeks before her arrest. This may have meant Henry was faking it (contentment that is) or possibly implying some third party intervention……….


Henry the Ate (a lot)

Okay, let’s blame Cromwell.  But why?  Well he has the villain’s black hat for a starters. But what had he to gain from the downfall of Anne?  In fact, if he was the instigator and he had failed, his head would have been on the block, as they say, literally (I know it was later but that was …… later).  He already had as much power as he needed and I don’t believe Anne was a threat to that.  Alternatively, was he simply told to compound evidence against Anne by Henry?  Cromwell took sick-leave for a couple of days (21-22 April) just after Anne’s miscarriage, and shortly after his return he had Mark Smeaton, the king’s musician, arrested for adultery with Anne. She was arrested just after that on the 2nd May.


Thomas Cromwell (1485-1540) …. in villainous black hat

What is the conclusion then? We can never be sure, of course, but I’ll put my money on Henry commissioning Cromwell to find the evidence of adultery.  Henry needed to move on to seek his male heir elsewhere and quickly.  Jane Seymour was in the ‘right place at the right time’ (unless you were Jane Seymour – see footnote below).  I don’t think Cromwell wanted the job of bringing Anne down or to be in such an unenviable position, but he had to follow the king’s bidding. There is a letter he wrote to Eustace Chapuys, the ambassador of Charles V, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, saying that he (Cromwell) had been commissioned by the king to conspire and think up the affair of Anne’s adultery. Cromwell duly obtained a confession of carnal cavorting with Anne from Smeaton (how, we don’t know – torture maybe ….. threat of several weeks of listening to the king sing perhaps?).


Eustace Chapuys (1490-1556)

Spoiler alert – if you don’t  want to know what happened TURN AWAY NOW:               Anne got the chop (yes, I knew you knew that).  Despite denials, two others were found guilty of ‘dallying’ with the Queen, Sir Francis Weston and Sir William Brereton, who, along with Norris and Anne’s brother, George, also went to the executioner. Everyone else lived happily ever after ….. well, not quite – in fact, nothing like.



The day Anne was executed, Henry was out riding with Jane Seymour. You can imagine the conversation:

Seymour: “How has your morning been my Lord?”

Henry:  “Such turmoil. First I lost my cod-piece; then I lost my wallet; oh, and my wife lost her head.”

Two weeks after Anne’s departure, Henry married wife number three, Seymour … and then they all live happily ever after. Well, no. Mind you, what was Jane Seymour thinking?  Henry’s first marriage with Cathy of Aragon had been annulled against all odds and she died in January 1836. Henry’s second wife, Anne, died four months later.  Was this a ‘Jonah marriage’ or what?  Indeed, Jane died in October the following year (having dutifully produced the required male heir, Edward [VI to be, albeit briefly]).  But still there were game young fillies out there prepared to marry Henry the Unlucky (three of them anyway). It all reminds me of Nat King Cole’s  song, ‘Let’s Face the Music and Dance’ which would have been more appropriate for Henry to have composed, particularly with its very first line, ‘There may trouble ahead’.


Next week: The Parthenon at Athens – now and then

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 heard of an arrangement my good friend, Rev. Arbuthnot Smythe-Harcourt, had had with his son. The boy had just passed his driving test and inquired of his father as to when they could discuss his use of the family car.
His father said he’d make a deal: “You bring your grades up from a C to a B average, study your Bible a little, and get your hair cut. Then we’ll talk about the car.”
The boy thought about that for a moment, decided he’d settle for the offer, and they agreed upon it.
After about six weeks his father said, “Son, you’ve brought your grades up and I have observed that you have been studying your Bible, but I’m disappointed you have not had your hair cut.”
The boy said, “You know, Dad, I’ve been thinking about that, and I’ve noticed in my studies of the Bible that Samson had long hair, John the Baptist had long hair, Moses had long hair… and there is even strong evidence that Jesus had long hair.”
His father thought for a minute and then replied:
“Did you also notice that they all walked everywhere they went?”