7 things you (probably) didn’t know about Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose

The Mary Rose, raised from the seabed in 1982, was the flagship of Henry VIII’s navy and now sits in her permanent home within Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. There are a number of theories as to how the ship sank in the Solent in Portsmouth in July 1545 – though whatever the cause, her demise was swift. Here, we bring you seven facts about the Tudor war vessel, which was the flagship of Henry VIII's navy for 34 years…

Henry VIII's Mary Rose (© 19th era/Alamy)
1

The Mary Rose was Henry VIII’s flagship for 34 years

For 34 years the Mary Rose was Henry VIII’s flagship. Faced with the threat of the French navy and a strong Scottish fleet, Henry started building up his naval firepower as soon as he became king. Built in Portsmouth, the Mary Rose was launched in 1511.

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2

The Mary Rose first saw battle in 1512…

…in a naval operation with the Spanish against the French. The English attacked the French and Breton fleets in the English Channel, while the Spanish attacked them in the Bay of Biscay. The ship also helped escort English troops over to France when, in 1522, the countries went head to head once more.

Henry VIII “regarded his wars as the worthy successors of the great martial victories of England’s past”, says Steven Gunn. (Photo by PHAS/UIG via Getty Images)

3

It could hold as many as 700 crew members

There were 415 crew members listed on board the Mary Rose in 1513, but during wartime operations there would have been more on board – numbers could have reached around 700 in total, says the Mary Rose Museum. Even with the normal crew size of around 400, conditions would have been very crowded. Most people on board were in their late teens or early twenties.

4

Hundreds drowned when the Mary Rose sank in 1545

The Mary Rose sank in July 1545 in the battle of the Solent, as Henry VIII looked on. In July 1545, Henry VIII, his army and his fleet were at Portsmouth and had taken up a defensive position against a formidable French fleet – larger than the Spanish Armada of 1588 – which was at anchor off the Isle of Wight. The Mary Rose was caught in a French attack on another vessel, and began to sink. It was no gentle sinking; the ship – propelled by the weight of her hull, 600 crew, stores, cargo, ballast and guns – hit the seabed with such force that her keel came to rest three metres below the estuarine mud of the Solent floor.

Hundreds of men aboard the ship drowned, and only around 25 survived. There could be a number of reasons why she sank while turning: human error, overloading, a gust of wind that made the ship unstable, or a cannonball fired by the French. The most likely reason for the loss of the ship was human error, says the Mary Rose Museum.

5

The wreckage of the Mary Rose wasn’t discovered until 1971

The wreckage of the Mary Rose, Henry VIII's warship which sank in the Solent in 1545. The huge reclamation project involved pinpointing the ship on the sea bed, its removal from the water and preservation once on land. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
The wreckage of the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s warship which sank in the Solent in 1545. The huge reclamation project involved pinpointing the ship on the sea bed, its removal from the water and preservation once on land. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

The ship was discovered in May 1971, and raised in 1982. As the Mary Rose sank into very fine silt, much of the ship and the items on board – including tools owned by onboard carpenters, ointments and medicine flasks used by the surgeon, and a large number of wooden dishes – are very well preserved. Also found were nit combs complete with nits; 655 items of clothing including a leather jerkin, hats, woolly socks and 500 shoes; games boards and their gaming pieces; a barber-surgeon’s kit full of pots containing residues of their original ointments that still give off an odour; and a carpenter’s kit. The discoveries transformed our understanding of life in Tudor England.

6

The remains of a small dog were found on board

The remains of a small dog named Hatch were found on board the ship. Although he can’t be attributed to a specific breed, most of which originated after 1545, he is classed as a terrier-type, most closely related to the Jack Russell. Hatch’s remains went on display four years ago at the Mary Rose Museum.

7

The excavation of the Mary Rose took more than 30 years

Henry VIII's warship, the Mary Rose, on display in Portsmouth, England, in July 2016, after a £5.4m museum revamp. (Photo by Olivia Harris/Getty Images)
Henry VIII’s warship, the Mary Rose, on display in Portsmouth, England, in July 2016, after a £5.4m museum revamp. (Photo by Olivia Harris/Getty Images)

Approximately 19,000 artefacts have been recovered from the wreck site, which has taken more than 30 years to excavate. Now in the final stages of conservation, she today sits in the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth.

Facts courtesy of the Mary Rose Museum. To find out more about the Mary Rose, click here.

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This article was first published by History Extra in 2014