"the water entered, and sodainly she sanke“ - the End of the "Mary Rose" in 1545

19 July 1545, he carrack “Mary Rose”, one of the first dedicated sailing warships ever build, sank with the loss of life of almost all the 400 people sailing and fighting her during a battle with a French invasion fleet in the Solent, the strait between the Isle of Wight and Portsmouth.

“ … she was laden with much ordinaunce, and the portes left open, which were low, & the great ordinaunce unbreached, so that when the ship should turne, the water entered, and sodainly she sanke“ (Edward Hall, “Hall’s Chronicle”, c1540)

The quasi posthumous depiction of "Mary Rose" from the Anthony Roll, 1546 

Named after King Henry VIII’s favourite sister Mary and the emblem of House Tudor, the rose, the ship was constructed along the lines of a design that was invented by the Portugese in the second half of the 15th century and in use by most of Europe’s seafaring nations when she was launched in 1511. However, “Mary Rose” had a few features that made her the direct ancestor of the battleships-of-the-line that dominated naval warfare from the 17th to the mid-19th century. No longer designed as a mere seagoing fighting platform for hand-to-hand-engagements, as warships were since Antiquity, the “Great Ship” – as war-carracks were called in Henry VIII’s days – had two decks armed with heavy cannon that could be run out and hauled in through gun ports in the ship’s side, primarily to attack an enemy ship, not her crew.

“Mary Rose’s” length of more than 100ft (about half of “Victory’s”, built 250 years later) and armament of 40 great guns made her one of the most formidable ships in mid-16th century and she sailed the Channel and the North Sea to defend Henry VIII’s interests, especially during his continuous quarrels with France, for more than 30 years, even though she saw little action. Besides that, she underwent various overhauls and re-equipping that might have seriously hampered the Great Ship’s seaworthiness.

When, during the Italian War of 1542-46, a French fleet attempted to land troops near Portsmouth with more ships than the Spanish Armada had in 1588, “Mary Rose” met her fate. The French crossed the Channel during fair weather, guarding their troop transports with heavily armed galleys, while the English sailing ships, “Mary Rose” among them, becalmed in the sheltered waters of the Solway, could do nothing but fire at them from long range. In the morning of July 19th, the French Admiral Claude d’Annebault decided to press his advantage and attacked the English ships that were, more or less, sitting ducks.

What happened next is still debated after almost 500 years. Probably “Mary Rose” received a critical hit from a French great gun below the waterline when she tried to engage the galleys after a breeze had sprung up. When she was brought to, perhaps to ground her on a shallow because she was already leaking or because she was lying far too deep in the water because of the weight of her new guns with her gun ports left open on top of it, “Mary Rose” heeled over and sank like a stone. With her boarding nets rigged along her sides, escape from the wreck was virtually impossible. Most of her crew died.

The Cowdray engraving of the Battle of the Solent1545.

After she was located in 1840 and parts of her equipment were recovered, she was finally salvaged in 1982, and can now be studied in her own museum in Portsmouth. The artefacts discovered in the wreck gave us invaluable archaeological insight into the world of the 16th century, the daily routine of her crew as well as life in general.

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