The Mary Rose was one of the best ships in King Henry VIII’s Navy. It sank in 1545, to the dismay of the king, who watched from the shore. The sinking of the Mary Rose is something of a mystery to modern scholars. The ship simply tilted onto its starboard side and sank beneath the water. There are several plausible theories as to how the ship could’ve sunk so rapidly and dramatically. However, it has been more than 400 years since the tragedy, so it is difficult to say what happened.
The Mary Rose was constructed between 1509 and 1511. Measurements from the ship’s wreckage indicate that she was roughly 105 feet long and about 38 feet wide. It is unclear where she was built, but there is evidence that it may have been in Portsmouth or Southampton. She was one of many ships built to increase the size and strength of the English navy; of these ships, she was one of the finest. The Mary Rose was named after the king’s sister Mary and for the symbol of the Tudors, the rose.
England’s navy had been advanced because of the threat from Scotland and France. War did eventually break out with France and there were several skirmishes at sea. Once the Mary Rose was finished, she was put to work. At one point, she served as a flagship for the Earl of Surrey, who was the Admiral of England, at the time. She was in service for more than thirty years and was used often during the wars with France.
During July of 1545, a French Fleet of roughly 200 ships made its way to English waters with the purpose of invading the Isle of Wight. England heard of this and sent 80 ships from Portsmouth to meet them. Once the two fleets were in range of one another, the ships began exchanging cannon fire. Neither side took much of a loss the first day. King Henry VIII himself even had his dinner aboard the Mary Rose that evening.
Now here is where the story gets confusing. There are different accounts of the sinking of the Mary Rose that don’t line up. The account of the French states that on the morning of July 19, 1545, the French were bombarding the ship when it tilted onto its side and sank. Another version of this story puts the event at the evening of July 18. An account from one of the survivors says that the ship tilted the moment that the sails were unfurled.
There are several theories regarding the sinking of the Mary Rose as well. It is thought that a shift in weight from one side of the boat to the other would have leaned it enough that it would have allowed water in through the gun ports, which would have doomed the ship in moments. Another is that the ship was firing upon the French broadside and then a sharp turn was attempted so that they may fire upon them from the other side. The idea is that the abrupt movement tilted the boat enough so that water poured in through the ports.
It is also unclear if the ship was overpopulated with men. Some accounts say that the ship had 700 men on board. However, the ship needed a crew of only 400 or 500. If the ship was too crowded, it could have contributed to the sinking of the Mary Rose. However many men were on that ship, less than 40 survived.
Attempts were made to raise the Mary Rose after she sank. However, all efforts to bring her up from the sea floor failed. She was left as she was for hundreds of years. It seemed that she would be forgotten until a fisherman’s gear became stuck on something on the sea floor in 1836. Diver Jean Deane was investigating the Royal George wreck and agreed to dive down and see if he could remove the man’s gear from whatever it was stuck on. What greeted Jean was a 16th century shipwreck.
Jean dug at the site for roughly three years and then it was abandoned once again. It was rediscovered in 1968, and what was left of it was raised in 1982. The Mary Rose is currently on display at No. 3 dock in Portsmouth.