The Mary Rose: Death of the King’s Favourite

Edward Edge

The Mary Rose

On July 19th 1545, King Henry VIII watched in horror from Southsea Castle as his favourite flagship, a carrack-type warship called The Mary Rose, heeled to starboard and began to fill with water from her open gunports. Within a matter of minutes, the Mary Rose, the English Navy’s pride and joy had sunk below the waves, taking almost all of her 500-man crew with her. To add insult to injury, this accident (if it can be considered an accident) practically took place on English soil, with the ship going down in the Solent Straights – the stretch of water north of the Isle of Wight and south of Portsmouth, less than five miles from where the beloved vessel was constructed. It was here that the Mary Rose waited in the water and sand for almost 500 years, guarding its contents like a time capsule, harbouring countless archaeological treasures of incalculable value to science and history. This was until 1971, when the ship was rediscovered, and then later in 1982, when the ship was raised and brought home to Portsmouth, where the wreck remains on display to this day. Since its discovery, this tragic sarcophagus to almost 500 lost souls has helped historians and archaeologists to better understand life on board a Tudor ship, and has provided an interesting mystery for scholars and the public at large to unravel – why exactly did the Mary Rose sink? While this is certainly an interesting dilemma to uncover, and one that scientists are still trying to figure out today, all the twists and turns that people have taken to link up all the evidence are far too numerous to explore in this article. Instead, I want to take a look at a potentially simpler, but deeper question; Why was the Mary Rose so important, and why was her sinking so devastating to England? The Mary Rose wasn’t just a ship, she was one of the world’s first built-for-purpose, sail-rigged warships. She was built with combat and cannon fire in mind, and over thirty-four years she dominated the seas in Henry VIII’s name. She was outfitted with heavy, state-of-the-art cannons, made and engineered with the latest and most powerful technologies available at the time. At some point in the 1530s, Henry, spurred by mounting tensions owing to his split from the Catholic Church, prepared for war by pre-emptively refitting his warships. The Mary Rose was no exception, having extra gunports added to accommodate extra guns, as well as reinforcing her hull to account for the extra weight. She fought three successful campaigns against the French, and achieved great renown, overcame many perilous obstacles, and overall began to represent England under King Henry VIII as a whole.
<strong>The Mary Rose: Death of the King’s Favourite</strong>
The Mary Rose ©Johnny Black Provided by The Mary Rose Museum

The Historians Magazine

One of the fastest growing Independent history magazines in the UK, championing emerging historians.

<strong>The Mary Rose: Death of the King’s Favourite</strong>
Raising of The Mary Rose ©The Mary Rose Trust

Henry's Favourite Ship

So, it must have come as a great shock and somewhat of an embarrassment when such a proud, strong, regal warship ended up sinking in 12 metres of water less than 2 miles from where it had been launched. The tragedy of such a prideful symbol of English superiority sinking may have been made even worse by the fact that almost all hands aboard were lost, thanks in part to the anti-boarding net cast over the ship, made from rope coated with tar and sand to make it harder for enemy soldiers to jump onto the ship during a battle (shows how much the English didn’t want their precious ship to fall under enemy control). Unfortunately, this device designed to protect the ship and its occupants may have sealed their fate, as its design made it just as hard for anyone to escape. The final moments of the crew must have been unbearable. Almost as soon as the Mary Rose hit the seabed and began burying itself in the soft clay where it would eventually come to rest for nearly half a century, efforts were made to raise the ship. One idea had been for divers to swim down and loop ropes around the masts, then have two ships sail away from each other to pull the line taut, dragging the ship up with it. Unfortunately for Tudor England, but possibly very fortunately for modern historical study, the ship was never raised, and Henry VIII never again got to see his country’s flag fly from the mast of his favourite ship as she protected the coasts of England.
Ancestry UK
<strong>The Mary Rose: Death of the King’s Favourite</strong>

Edward Edge

No one of consequence – amateur armchair historian, archer, blacksmith, Robin Hood enthusiast and pirate cosplayer. Aspiring novelist with a book currently in the pipeline, passionate about gaining a functional knowledge of history and civilisation.
Lady Jane Grey
Lady Jane Grey - Forget What You Know!
Anne Boleyn
The Sword and the Axe
Amy Dudley
Life, Love and the Mysterious Death of Lady Amy Dudley