19 July 1545: Henry VIII’s warship sinks in the Solent

The Mary Rose capsizes


The sinking of the Mary Rose remains one of history’s great nautical mysteries. Why did a royal warship, which had been perfectly seaworthy for a quarter of a century, suddenly sink to the bottom of the English Channel, apparently untouched by enemy fire?

What made it worse was the context. Henry VIII was at war with France, and an enemy fleet, almost twice the size of the later Spanish Armada, had sailed into the river Solent. But the king was confident of victory. On the night of 18 July 1545, he dined aboard his flagship, the Great Harry, and confirmed that the experienced Sir George Carew would be in charge of the Mary Rose the next day.

On the morning of 19 July, Henry and his courtiers stepped onto the battlements of Southsea Castle, looking forward to a glorious martial spectacle. Unfortunately, a lack of wind meant that the English ships could not venture out until the afternoon. When the moment finally came they were a magnificent sight, their pennants fluttering in the breeze. And then disaster struck.

What happened next remains unclear. The Mary Rose had fired its starboard guns and was coming about to fire from the port side. Then a gust of wind ruffled the waters – and suddenly something went terribly wrong. The ship was leaning too far to its starboard side. It seemed unsteady, tipped, and began to sink.

More like this

In the chaos, much of the Mary Rose’s equipment had come loose, including its colossal oven, copper cauldron and heavy guns. Men were scrambling and screaming in terror, but the companionways had become bottlenecks, crowded with contorted bodies. For many, capsizing meant almost certain death, because they could not swim. But what made matters far worse was that the ship was covered with anti-boarding netting, which kept the men trapped aboard, unable to leap off.

At least 450 men died that afternoon. It was one of the greatest naval tragedies in English history – and Henry had watched it all. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

19 July 1553

Lady Jane Grey’s nine day reign as monarch came to an end as Mary Tudor, who enjoyed massive popular support, was proclaimed queen of England. Mary initially spared Jane’s life but agreed to her execution after Wyatt’s rebellion in 1554.

19 July 1821

Caroline of Brunswick, the estranged wife of George IV, was barred from the coronation of her husband at Westminster Abbey. She died three weeks later.

19 July 1848: The world’s first women’s rights convention demands equality

Amid jeers and ridicule, the international feminist movement is born in New York

The tiny village of Seneca Falls, New York has an extraordinary claim to fame. It was here that the world’s first convention on women’s rights opened on 19 July 1848 – a two-day meeting that became one of the foundational events of the international feminist movement. It traced its origins to the American anti-slavery movement, which had inspired countless women to speak, write and protest for the first time. Now they had a convention of their own.

The event got under way amid faintly comic scenes: the organisers had forgotten to open the doors of the Methodist Wesleyan Chapel, so delegates found themselves locked outside. The opening session was supposed to be for women only, but many mothers brought young children and several dozen men also turned up. These were allowed in, but asked to remain silent. Delegates discussed issues such as women’s property rights and winning the vote. At the heart of their deliberations was a Declaration of Sentiments. “The history of mankind,” it declared, “is a history of repeated injuries and usurpation on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her.”

Alas, to many local newspapers the convention was a joke. “If our ladies will insist on voting and legislating, where, gentlemen, will be our dinners and our elbows?” demanded the Oneida Whig. But reformer Horace Greeley saw the justice of the cause. Their call for political equality, he wrote, was “but the assertion of a natural right, and such must be conceded”. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

19 July 1860

Lizzie Borden was born in Fall River, Massachusetts. In 1893 she was accused of hacking her father and stepmother to death with an axe and, after a sensational trial, was acquitted.


19 July 1932

King George V formally opened Lambeth Bridge, which had been designed by architects Reginald Blomfield and G Topham Forrest, and constructed by Dorman Long, the builders of Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Browse more On this day in history