The ‘Mary Rose’ sails no more

Sunday 19th July 1545 was the day that the Mary Rose, flagship of King Henry VIII’s fleet, sank off Portsmouth 34 years after coming into service.   In 1971 the wreck was located, raised and is now a museum that attracts visitors from across the world.

The actual reason why she sank remains a matter for deep discussion. The only confirmed eyewitness account of the sinking says that she had fired all of her guns on one side and was turning when she was caught in a strong gust of wind. Other accounts agree that she was turning, but offer various reasons why she sank during the manoeuvre.

Although there is no archaeological evidence from the wreck to confirm this, a French cavalry officer present at the battle stated that the Mary Rose had been sunk by French guns. A cannonball low in the hull would have let water to flood in, making the ship unstable and leading to her sinking. Perhaps this was why the ship turned north so suddenly. Was she aiming to reach the ‘Spitbank’ shallows which were only a few hundred metres away?

A fourth suggestion is that she was overloaded with heavy guns and/or with extra soldiers. If this was the case, a strong gust of wind could have heeled her over into the sea. However, the guns had been put aboard in London so she had managed to get round the Kent coast, and along the English Channel, without mishap so why did she topple in the Solent?  All we know is that we probably never will know why it happened – but that’s the perennial challenge presented by so much of our history!

There are many questions – and as many may-be answers – that go with this story.  For instance – why was the ship named as it was?   The second part of the flagship’s name is believed to refer to the Tudor rose, the emblem of Henry VIII’s house – but what about ‘Mary’?  That name could refer to the Virgin Mary, but it is more commonly seen as a reference to Henry VIII’s sister Mary who was the wife of King Louis XII of France.  We’ll never know!

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