The Mary Rose

More than 30 years after it was raised from the seabed – and almost 500 years since it sank – the secrets of Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose, are being revealed to the public in a brand new £35 mill museum.

It took 600 oak trees and a year to build the Mary Rose in Portsmouth in 1510 – 11. In 1512 the ship was called “The noblest ship of sail”. However, in 1545 the ship sank inside of hours claiming the lives of a large part of its crew. It was reported that no more than 35 survived. Afterwards expert Venetian divers managed to salve the sails, parts of the masts and a few canons.

Basically, though the wreck lay undisturbed for more than three hundred years. Rediscovered in 1836, its location was forgotten until 1971. Between 1979 and 1982 the contents of the ship were carefully excavated and more than 19000 artefacts were salvaged. 1982 the wreck was raised. Since then a huge conservation effort has taken place, ending up in a brand new breath-taking exhibition where the preserved wreck stands behind glass opposite some of the artefacts recovered from the seafloor.

Facing the crew

an archer from Mary Rose © University of Portsmouth
an archer from Mary Rose © University of Portsmouth

Part of the brand new exhibition seeks to personalize the experience by presenting some faces of the crew. Seven of the men, who died at sea have been recreated by forensic scientists used to working with murder victims. The new Mary Rose Museum has been dedicated to them, and it is through them the story of the ship is now being told. Since curators had no list of crew names apart from that of the Vice Admiral and the Master, we don’t know what they were called. But through the excavation of several ship chests we are able to get a fully rounded picture of their lives on board as well as a sense of their physical and nutritional condition. According to detailed studies the men and the boys – whose ages range from 12 to 40 – lived remarkably healthy lives discounting the odd fracture and some evidence of vitamin deficiencies they had experienced as children.

A fascinating story, but…

It is a fascinating story and a grand exhibition. However, part of the venue is also a brand new website, which unfortunately is sparse in information. Behind seems to be a wish to primarily cater for young children and the presumed illiterates of the 21st century. The guiding buzz-word is obviously “reaching out”. Unfortunately this makes the website a shallow experience.

Backgammon found in the hull of the Mary Rose © The Mary Rose Foundation
Backgammon found in the hull of the Mary Rose © The Mary Rose Foundation
Footwear found in the Mary Rose © Mary Rose Foundation
Footwear found in the Mary Rose © Mary Rose Foundation
Cannon balls and canons from the Mary Rose © The Mary Rose Foundation
Cannon balls and canons from the Mary Rose © The Mary Rose Foundation

READ:

The Mary Rose – website

Re-constructing the crew of the Mary Rose. By The University of Portsmouth 2017

Medieval Life. Archaeology and the Life Course
Roberta Gilchrist
Boydell Press 2012
ISBN: 9781843837220

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