King Henry VIII’s warship, the Mary Rose, sank in the Solent on the south coast of England during an engagement with the French Fleet in July 1545. The disaster was witnessed by many, including the King. It was 450 years before she was seen again – after the world’s largest underwater archaeological excavation brought her to the surface in October 1982 in the presence of HRH the Prince of Wales.
The Mary Rose was constructed in 1510 with the personal funds of King Henry himself. He named the ship after his favoured younger sister and the Tudor Rose. When built, she had only a few big guns, since the primary tactic of warships was to get alongside the enemy and board their ship.
The Mary Rose saw active service in the First French War (1512 to 1514) and then the second French War (1522 to 1525) – which resulted following the short-lived truce of the ‘Field of the Cloth of Gold’ summit in 1520. After the war, the Mary Rose was laid up for ten years before being overhauled and extensively re-built between 1536 and 1539. During the re-build, the sails were enlarged and bigger guns were added low in the ship, with new gun-holes and lids. She was the first English ship to adopt this innovation.
It’s likely the Mary Rose sank due to water entering open gun holes on the lower deck, whilst she was turning – and heeling to one side due to the larger sails and her additional weight.
After raising, the ship was sprayed with a special liquid for thirty five years, to prevent the wood from drying out and rotting. In 2013, the drying process commenced and Mary Rose was installed in a new permanent museum. In 2016, additional funds provided for a three-level viewing gallery, nine historical galleries (for the 19,000 artefacts discovered during the excavation) and an air-lock entry system on the top gallery, removing the need for a glass partition.
The Mary Rose is based at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, where many historic other vessels from the Royal Navy are based – not least Lord Admiral Nelson’s flagship; HMS Victory. Your visit could be an entire day if followed by dinner at the nearby Gunwharf Quays.