July 19: The loss of the Mary Rose

July 1, 1542, Portsmouth, England.

The flagship of Vice Admiral George Carew, the 91 gun carrack, Mary Rose heels over suddenly to port, as the crew scramble to safety water rushes through the open gun ports accelerating the sinking, the upper decks are in chaos as sailors try desperately to survive over the noise of cannons crashing across the decks, the giant brick oven collapsing and the moans and cries of the men crushed under them.

The Mary Rose as shown in the Anthony Roll

Those who made it to the open decks were doomed, heavy anti boarding nets covered the decks, the men trapped under it unable to break free were dragged under with the ship. as the hulk of the ship slipped between the waves, of 400 men, only 35 survived.

Years of modifications to the ship meant she was riding too low in the water, and as she attempted a tight turn the ship caught the breeze and leaned over to the point the water rushed in to the dangerously close to the waterline gun ports.
Edward Hall’s Chronicle gave the reason for the sinking as being caused by

“to[o] much foly … for she was laden with much ordinaunce, and the portes left open, which were low, & the great ordinaunce unbreached, so that when the ship should turne, the water entered, and sodainly she sanke.” 

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about the ship, for example the belief that it is named after the sister of Henry VIII. There is no evidence to support this, however during this period it was uncommon to find a ship named for someone. Most ship names held religious connotations, such as Grace Dieu and a similar ship to the Mary Rose, Peter Pomegranate was named after St Peter and the family badge of Catherine of Aragon.

Another myth that won’t go away is that this was the first engagement the Mary Rose fought in. By the time of the sinking the ship was already a veteran, having fought her first action in 1512, 33 years before the sinking. Although it was practically rebuilt in the 1530’s.

Although efforts were made to raise the ship almost immediately after her sinking, the angle at which she settled ruled out any reasonable attempt at salvage. The wreck remained in the Solent, time and tide resulted in the exposed parts of the ship deteriorating and the shifting sand buried what was left. Because of the changing sands the wreck was rediscovered in 1836 before being lost under the sands once more until 1971.

Following fundraising efforts Mary Rose once again rose above the waves and the long process of conservation began.

The Mary Rose was an archaeological goldmine, artifacts gave an intimate insight into the life of an ordinary Tudor sailor. Her remains and the artifacts can be seen at the new Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth


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