In January 1510, Henry VIII signed a warrant for the construction of two new warships. The largest of the two was to be called the Mary Rose. The name was chosen as it had both personal and religious significance. The Mary refers to both Henry’s sister and to the Virgin Mary, patroness of England, whilst the rose symbolises both the Tudor Rose, the family emblem of the Royal family and the mystic rose a symbol of the Virgin Mary.
Mary Rose was launched on July 1511 and saw active service in three wars with France. It easy when we think about Tudor warships to imagine that they were like those of the later Napoleonic era, floating gun platforms designed to inflict the maximum amount of damage on an enemy ship at range. But Tudor warships were designed to be a platform for transporting soldiers, the main naval tactics of the day being to come alongside an enemy and bought them and overpower them on their own decks. This can be seen as only five of the guns aboard Mary Rose could be classified as ‘big guns’.
At the battle of the Solent in July 1545, the Mary Rose was effecting a term when suddenly she heeled over to one side and began to sink. There are many accounts of this sinking and of the reasons for it. However, it appears only one of these accounts was actually written by somebody who was on the Mary Rose and survived to tell the tale. According to this report, the lowest set of gum ports on the ship were not closed before the turning manoeuvre was undertaken. In itself, this might not have been a problem but as the ship turned the wind caught her sails and caused her to heel over much more than usual. The open gum ports were now below the water level and water flooded into the deck. This then probably caused a series of other events to occur and the ship was not able to right herself and began to sink. Less than 10% of a crew of 400 made it back to the shore.
Mary Rose lay in the silt of the Solent until 1965 when a group of divers began to search for the wreck. In 1970, they found a gun barrel in the silt. This long gun known as a ‘sling’ was a type of long-range gun which dated from before the end of the 16th century. This gave them a clue that they were in the right area and the following year the first timbers of the ship were found.
After many years of planning and excavation, the remains of the wreck were finally lifted from the seabed in October 1982 and, after works had been carried out put on display at a museum in Portsmouth. The original Mary Rose Museum opened in 1983, has now been replaced by a new museum which opened in May 2013 and enables a much better display the ship itself and the artefacts that were excavated from it.