"Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real."

Cormac McCarthy

Last updated 4 October  2019  © Julia Edwards

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The Mary Rose was a Tudor warship, built for Henry VIII in 1510, just after he came to the throne. It's famous for sinking in Portsmouth Harbour right in front of Henry, during a battle with the French. 

A lot of people think that the Mary Rose sank on her maiden voyage - her first ever journey. But as Lucy tells Joe in "The Falconer's Quarry", this is wrong.

 

The Mary Rose served in two wars against the French, the first soon after she was built. She was probably the best ship in the fleet at that time, so she was chosen as the flagship, which means she was the ship that carried the admiral in charge.

 

The Mary Rose sailed to war against the French a second time in 1522, and then didn't sail again for a very long time.

 

Some time around 1535, the Mary Rose seems to have had a major re-fit, which Henry paid for with the money he got from the dissolution of the monasteries (you can find out more about this on the Famous Tudors page). He wanted her to have the best weapons available.

The Mary Rose as it appears on the Anthony Roll, a record of all Henry VIII's ships which was aptly named, as they were all painted on to a roll (or three, in fact, if we're going to be accurate) by a man called Anthony Anthony! This Anthony Roll was owned by Samuel Pepys, who appears elsewhere on this website. 

Tensions between England and France were growing. Lucy tells Joe that the King of France has moved his fleet into the Solent (the channel between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight) in June. I did see that in one account, but I suspect rumours were even more rife in Tudor England than they are today. The Mary Rose Museum (who really ought to know about these things!) say that a fleet of 128 French ships entered the Solent on 16 July 1545.

 

Nobody knows for certain exactly what happened when the Mary Rose sank. On the evening of 18 July 1545, Henry VIII went for dinner on his new flagship. According to some accounts, the French attacked while he was at dinner. More likely, they attacked the following morning.  

 

The causes of the sinking of the Mary Rose aren't certain either. The French naturally claimed they had done it, whilst other theories blamed the crew for making a mistake, or the wind for gusting suddenly and making the ship heel over. When marine archaeologists used a model to explore the possibilities, they concluded that it was probably an especially unlucky combination of factors.

 

In any case, the Mary Rose heeled over and sank when it was barely out of the harbour. There were more than 400 men on board, but only about 25 survived.

 

The shipwreck was lifted out of the water in 1982 (like Joe's dad, I actually remember that, which makes me feel old!) and you can visit it in Portsmouth, and find out all sorts of things about the men who were on board.