1545 Who Sank The Mary Rose?

The story of the discovery and eventual raising of the Tudor warship Mary Rose has been told a number of times but the story of how she really sank was only possible after the conservation of the hull ashore. The skeletons and artefacts recovered during the conservation have provided a wealth of information not just about the warship, but about her crew and the Royal Navy of the Tudor period – Most Highly Recommended.

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NAME: 1545 Who Sank The Mary Rose?
FILE: R2999
AUTHOR: Peter Marsden
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword, Seaforth Publishing
BINDING: hard back
PRICE: £30.00
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: Naval warfare, technology, Great Castle Ships, maritime artillery, Mary 
Rose, Henry VIII, France, Portsmouth, Royal Navy, metacentric height, ship stability, 
gun decks, cast guns, bar guns, muzzle loading guns, breach loading guns, knock-
down, sinking, raising ships, preservation

ISBN: 978-1-5267-4935-2

IMAGE: B2999.jpg
BUYNOW: tinyurl.com/y63a8k9d
LINKS: 
DESCRIPTION: The story of the discovery and eventual raising of the Tudor 
warship Mary Rose has been told a number of times but the story of how she really 
sank was only possible after the conservation of the hull ashore. The skeletons and 
artefacts recovered during the conservation have provided a wealth of 
information not just about the warship, but about her crew and the Royal Navy 
of the Tudor period – Most Highly Recommended.

The Mary Rose was Henry VIII’s favourite warship. She looked powerful and purposeful, but she was a victim of evolution in naval warfare. The first Royal Navy has been credited to Alfred the Great who ordered the building of longships to defend against Viking attacks and invasions. These open boats were not ideal for sea battles because the warriors were both part of the propulsion system and the weapons. To come alongside the enemy they had to take in their oars and either rely on closing momentum or the large single sail, but they employed the same basic tactics as were to follow through into the late 16th Century, namely coming alongside and boarding the enemy.

During the Middle Ages, the canon began to emerge as a potent weapon for land warfare and it was inevitable that guns should be taken to sea in warships, but the warships of the time were designed as vessels to carry people and cargoes, being pressed into service in time of war. Some may have served as king’s ships, but they were still essentially of similar design. The main difference might have been that they always carried castles fore and aft that were raised platforms with defensive walls. Ordinary sailing ships impressed into war service had the castles added which was a reasonably easy and simple task that could be done quickly. Once fitted, they may have been retained for future use after the current hostilities. However, they were used in a similar manner to mid decks added to longships, providing the warriors with greater height to enable them to throw spears down onto the enemy or to fire arrows. Adding early guns was not particularly difficult because the weapons first used were little different from the first small arms. Even the larger weapons could be added to the castles, or even on a deck.

By the early Tudor period, warships were generally carracks that were still very similar to the largely trading vessels in common use. The arrow and spear were still in use and the objective was still to board the enemy. It was still a matter of carrying soldiers to sea, with seaman taking care of working the ship. More guns were added and, as they grew larger, they presented some challenges in maintaining a stable vessel, as their weight and recoil could make the craft very tender in operation and liable to capsize.

By the mid-Tudor period, the Great Castle Ships were coming into use and continued, particularly in the Spanish fleet, to the end of the 16th Century. The Mary Rose was one of these ships and bristled with guns, making a formidable and inspiring sight. A King, such as Henry VIII, was impressed with the projection of power they offered. However, it came at a cost. The major challenge was in deciding how to arm the ship and how many gun decks to build into the design. The castles came to carry many guns, but smaller than the main armament. They also came in a bewildering array of shapes and sizes and methods of construction. The most potent canon in the time of the Mary Rose were at least as powerful as those carried by Nelson’s line of battle ships at the start of the 19th Century. They were also muzzle loading canon mounted on four wheel trucks to allow them to recoil, be reloaded and then run out again, with hinged covers over the necessary holes in the sides of the hull to keep the ship watertight until the guns were required. These heavy guns were usually cast in bronze.

However, the same gun deck might also have canon on two wheel gun carriages as would be used ashore. In addition to these guns, the bar canon was still in use and normally mounted on a sled which required the gun to be loaded from the breach. Unlike cast cannon, the bar canon used iron bars forged together to form the barrel and relied on the powder and shot to be loaded into an iron container that was placed behind the breach and secured with a wooden wedge. This type of gun had advantages but the disadvantage was that the barrels broke down and flame issued from around the breach and from the cracks in the barrel. The hybrid was a breach loading cast iron gun that was mounted on a post or pintel and usually very much smaller.

As navies tried to outdo each other on the number of guns fitted to a warship, a ship like the Mary Rose could end up with a great number of guns of different types, most of which could not be used at the same time because of the fields of fire and the castles included guns that were primarily intended to be used to fire on boarders and mutineers on the main deck, rather than at other ships. As the Mary Rose was being conserved, it was discovered that she had been fitted with an extra deck, carrying yet more guns. This resulted in a ship that had far too much weight high up in the ship, consequently making her unstable and ponderous. This serious weakness was made worse as ships of this type were modified to carry more sail to prevent speed decaying. That combination almost ensured that the ship was liable to capsize, even in calm conditions. Some thirty years later, some of the Spanish ships foundered as they fled North from the English fleet, partly from battle damage but in many cases from the stability problems of this type of ship.

The author has provided fresh insight, included detail recently uncovered, presenting a convincing case for the cause of the Mary Rose foundering in sight of her King and the enemy. In the process, he demonstrates the importance of archaeology in the marine field. There are many written records produced by Henry VIII’s administrators but the recovery of the Mary Rose has told us very much more than these contemporary records. In the process our perceptions of the Royal Navy, its men and equipment are significantly changed. The very readable text is supported with many images of which full colour illustrations represent a high proportion of the illustration through the body of the book.