The Mary Rose

Tuesday 27th November
Cooch Memorial Lecture: “The Mary Rose”
Mr Trevor Sapey and Mrs Cheryl Price, Mary Rose Trust
Trevor and Cheryl conducted the talk dressed in reproduction Tudor working class clothing of the period – more on which will follow. TS started by looking back at the events leading up to the stand-off between the French Fleet off the Isle of Wight and the English Fleet positioned off Portsmouth.
Background events: In 1544 Henry V111 undertook a campaign in France which culminated in the capture of Boulogne. In the spring of 1545 the French King Francis 1 began to assemble a Fleet for the invasion of England (along with a land army campaign to simultaneously retake Boulogne). The plan was to attack Portsmouth, the premier Naval Base on the south coast, and cut off essential supply lines to Boulogne. The French Fleet, 225 ships, fully equipped and loaded with 30,000 men, dropped anchor in St Helens Roads in the north east corner of the Isle of Wight on Saturday 18th July. Henry had good intelligence reports of the planned invasion and by 15th July he was in Portsmouth as Commander-in-Chief of his defending army and navy.
The Mary Rose: TS then looked at the history of the Mary Rose – a firm favourite of King Henry VIII who prior to her sinking had a long and successful career, serving for 33 years in several wars against France, Scotland, and Brittany.
The Mary Rose was a carrack-type warship with high “castles” in the bow and stern with a low waist of open decking in the middle. She was built between 1509 and 1511 in Portsmouth and was then towed to London where she was fitted with rigging and decking, and supplied with armaments. She was substantially rebuilt in 1536, turning a ship of 500 tons into one of 700 tons including adding an entire extra tier of broadside guns to the old carrack-style structure.
She was one of the largest ships in the English navy and was one of the earliest examples of a purpose-built sailing warship. She was armed with new types of heavy guns that could fire through the recently invented gun-ports. She was also one of the earliest ships that could fire a broadside, although the line of battle tactics that employed it had not yet been developed.
Constructing a warship of the size of the Mary Rose required large quantities of high quality material. In the case of building a state-of-the-art warship, these materials were primarily oak. An estimate for the number of trees needed is around 600 mostly large oaks, representing about 16 hectares (40 acres) of woodland. These timbers were brought in from all over southern England.
The sinking: After a few skirmishes, on the 19th July 1545, on a calm and still day, the Mary Rose whilst getting underway to lead the attack on the French galleys suddenly heeled (leaned) while going about. Her gunports were open and her guns run forward ready for action. As soon as this happened water began to pour through the gunports and the loss of stability with the additional weight of the insurging water causing her to capsize. The Mary Rose sank rapidly and embedded herself deeply into the soft upper sediments of the seabed until her keel rested on intractable geological clay 2 to 4 metres below. Of the 700 souls on- board only around 40 were saved.
What turned the sinking into a major tragedy in terms of lives lost was the anti-boarding netting that covered the upper decks in the waist (the midsection of the ship) and the sterncastle. With the exception of the men who were stationed in the tops in the masts, most of those who managed to get up from below deck were trapped under the netting and were dragged down with the ship.
Although this was a great loss to Henry, the sea battle was inconclusive. The French then withdrew to the Isle of Wight where they entered Brading, Sandown and Bonchurch. There was great loss of life but the defending militia were able to defend efficiently, and what might have been an invasion became a skirmish. The French Fleet then withdrew from the Isle of Wight without affecting a fully manned landing, attacked Seaford, and finally sailed back across the Channel.
Several theories have sought to explain the demise of the Mary Rose, based on historical records,
knowledge of 16th-century shipbuilding and modern experiments. However, the precise cause of her sinking is still unclear, because of conflicting testimonies and a lack of conclusive physical evidence.
Discovering the wreck: TS then described the discovery and raising of the Mary Rose – seminal events in the history of nautical archaeology. Already here had been several attempts to recover the sunken ship, the initial one only 12 days after the disaster! Gradually over the next 150 years the structure above the seabed collapsed and the site was forgotten. In 1836 after reports of fishing nets being snagged, the Deane brothers, using pioneering diving gear, recovered some guns. Again, the site was mostly forgotten until ‘Project Solent Ships’ started in 1965 with the aim of discovering and surveying several known and well documented wrecks which lay beneath the Solent.
The Mary Rose wrecksite was rediscovered in 1965 by Alexander McKee, a historian and amateur diver. The site was surveyed with side scan sonar in 1967-68, and the first loose timber was located in 1970. The buried wreck of the Mary Rose was finally located on 5 May 1971. Throughout the 1970s volunteer divers and archaeologists surveyed the ship and conducted some limited excavations. In January 1979 the Mary Rose Trust was formally inaugurated and the recovery of the wreck took on a more formal approach, with the archeologist Margaret Rule directed the underwater excavation. On 11 October 1982 the Mary Rose was successfully salvaged.
Raising the wreck: Once the marine archaeology had been completed, a tubular steel frame was set on the seabed over the hull then the hull was attached to the frame using steel cables. A prefabricated steel cradle designed to conform to the lines of the hull was then placed next to the site. The hull of the Mary Rose suspended from the steel wires was then lifted from the seabed using hydraulic jacks in the legs of the tubular steel frame. The tubular steel frame, complete with the hull, was lifted by a crane barge on to the steel cradle. The space between the hull and the cradle was filled with a series of water filled bags to support the structure. The cradle was then lifted from the sea bed and the hull transported to Portsmouth Dockyard where she was put in storage. During this time the wooden remains of the hull were continually sprayed with filtered, recycled water that was kept at a temperature of 2 to 5 °C (35 to 41 °F) to keep it from drying out.
Preservation: The preservation of the Mary Rose and her contents was an essential part of the project with archaeologists and conservators working in tandem from the start. After almost ten years of small-scale trials on timbers, an active three-phase conservation programme of the hull of the Mary Rose began in 1994. During the first phase, which lasted from 1994 to 2003 the wood was sprayed with low-molecular- weight polyethylene glycol (PEG) to replace the water in the cellular structure of the wood. From 2003 to 2010 a higher-molecular-weight PEG was used to strengthen the mechanical properties of the outer surface layers. The third phase will consist of a controlled air drying that will last three to five years,
After recovery, all artifacts were placed in passive storage, which prevented any immediate deterioration before active conservation, which would allow them to be stored in an open-air environment, could commence. Passive storage depended on the type of material that the object was made of, and could vary considerably. Smaller objects from the most common material, wood, were sealed in polyethylene bags to preserve moisture. Timbers and other objects that were too large to be wrapped were stored in unsealed water tanks. Growth of fungi and microbes that could degrade wood, were controlled by various techniques, including low-temperature storage, chemicals, and in the case of large objects, common pond snails that consumed wood-degrading organisms but not the wood itself.
Other organic materials such as leather, skin and textiles were treated similarly, by keeping them moist, in tanks or sealed plastic containers. Bone and ivory was desalinated to prevent damage from salt crystallisation, as was glass, ceramic and stone. Iron, copper and copper alloy objects were kept moist in a sodium sesquicarbonate solution to prevent oxidisation and reaction with the chlorides that had penetrated the surface. Alloys of lead and pewter are inherently stable in the atmosphere and generally require no special treatment. Silver and gold were the only materials that required no special passive storage.
The artefacts: Along with remains of about half the crew members, over 26,000 artefacts and pieces of timber were salvaged, many objects that belonged to individual crew members. This included clothing, games, various items for spiritual or recreation use, or objects related to mundane everyday tasks such as personal hygiene, fishing and sewing.
Many of the cannons and other weapons from the Mary Rose have provided invaluable physical evidence about 16th century weapon technology. The surviving gunshields are almost all from the Mary Rose and the four small cast iron hailshot pieces are the only known examples of this type of weapon. TS had a selection of reproduction artifacts that he handed round, Including: Yew Longbow and arrows, Plane, Stave-built drinking vessel Medical equipment including an amputation saw and a copper syringe for wound irrigation. Personal items including lice combs, shaving brush, open shaving razor, – and a multitude more.
Tudor Clothing: Cheryl described the clothes of the time and we even managed to get our president to don Henry V111’s hat and coat!! Tudor clothes and fashion varied according to whether the person was a member of Royalty, the Nobility, Upper Class or one of the poor, working class. Colours, styles and materials were dictated by class and rank. The higher the rank the more choice of materials, styles and colours could be worn. Buttons were usually for decoration with clothes often held together with laces or pins. Upper-classes had ties at the back (they could afford servants!!); lower classes had ties at the front.
Wool and Linen were the main materials used by the lower classes with linen being used for shirts and underwear. However only the rich could afford cotton and silk clothes, often elaborately embroidered with silk, gold or silver thread. Women who could afford it would hang a container, called a pomander, of sweet smelling spices on their belt to disguise the horrid smells on the street.
The basic garment worn by all men, women and children was the smock or chemise, a long T-shaped linen garment worn next to the skin. Wool stockings, known as ‘hose’ were worn by all but the very poor. Working men also wore short trouser-like garments called breeches and tight fitting jackets called doublets. Another jacket called a jerkin was worn over the doublet. However, instead of a doublet many working men wore a loose tunic – it was easier to work in. Some working men wore a leather jerkin called a buff- jerkin. Daggers and purses were hung on leather thongs from the belt.
Lower class women also wore a thick woollen ‘kirtl’, a square-necked ankle-length dress with a fitted laced bodice and full skirts made of linen or wool. Sleeves were tied or pinned onto the bodice, showing the smock underneath and probably an apron over the top to keep the dress as clean as possible. Women kept their heads covered at all times, often with a tight-fitting linen ‘coif’, which could be worn under a bonnet.
R Keir
(Information courtesy of – The Mary Rose: The Excavation and Raising of Henry V111’s Flagship by Margaret Rule and