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Grace Dieu

Location: River Hamble, near Bursledon, Hampshire
Age / period: medieval (1416-1439)
List entry number: 1000061
Reason for designation: archaeological and historical importance

Wreck history and loss

The Grace Dieu was Henry V's greatest war ship, built between 1416 and 1418 for war with France. At 1,400 tons she was the largest ship built in England at that time, and probably one of the largest clinker built ships ever constructed. The ship was never used in battle and apparently only ever made one journey to the Isle of Wight in 1420, during which her crew mutinied.

After this she was put in reserve and moored on the Hamble River. She came to her current location in 1434. In January 1439 she was struck by lightning and burnt to the waterline. Work was immediately begun on dismantling her and salvaging useable materials; what is left of the ship still lies in the Hamble.

Fortunately a wide range of information about her survives in 15th century documents, including a description by a Florentine sea captain who dined on board with the builder William Soper in 1430.

Discovery and investigation

The vessel survives from the keel up to the bilge area; it lies in an intertidal area, the part nearest the shore buried in mud, whilst other frames are exposed and visible at times of low tide. Although the identity of the ship was unlikely to have been known, some timbers were removed from the structure by antiquarians in 1874 and 1899, partly using explosives.

In the 1930s it was genuinely examined and properly identified by R. C. Anderson and a team of investigators. The wreck was purchased by the University of Southampton in 1970 and designated in 1974. It was investigated by the Archaeological Research Centre at the  National Maritime Museum, directed by Sean McGrail, between 1980 and 1985.

This campaign of work was published in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology (IJNA) in 1993.

Further work

In more recent years the Centre for Maritime Archaeology (CMA) at the University of Southampton has been carrying out a variety of projects at the site designed to monitor the conditions of the wreck. This includes a joint project with Dr Mark Jones of the Mary Rose Trust (MRT) and the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology (HWTMA).

In July 2004 fieldwork was carried out by the CMA, partly in association with the production of a Time Team programme, which provided a great deal of information about the structure of the ship and enabled the creation of a 3D model of the remaining ship structure. More fieldwork is being planned by the CMA for the immediate future.

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