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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: September 2013

3 - The Men of the Mary Rose


The Mary Rose, which sank on the evening of Sunday 19 July 1545, was one of King Henry VIII's Great Ships. By the time she sank, she was an old ship of 700 tons. Her keel was laid in 1509 and the ship was completed in 1512, in time for the first French war of 1512–1514. According to the Anthony Roll (an inven-tory of the fleet), at the time of her sinking she had on board a crew of 415 men, including the Vice-Admiral for that engagement and her commander, Sir George Carew. Carew perished on the ship, along with most of the other men, many trapped by the anti-boarding netting which was stretched over all the exposed decks. Only about three dozen of the ship's company survived.

In 1545 Henry VIII was an ageing king, determined to regain France. To this end, he was engaged in a war which he started in 1544, and which involved both land and sea campaigns. In July, the English fleet was anchored in Portsmouth harbour while the French were anchored off the Isle of Wight (figure 1). Late in the day, the French advanced into the Solent led by their war galleys. The English fleet emerged from the harbour, with the Mary Rose and the Henri Gràce a Dieu (Henry's biggest warship at 1000 tons) in the lead, and lay off Spithead. The Mary Rose turned to starboard, probably to present her broadside to the French, heeled over and sank rapidly (figure 1).