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Mary Rose

Location: off Spithead, Portsmouth, Solent
Age / period: post medieval (1509-1545)
List entry number: 1000075
Reason for designation: national historical and archaeological importance

Wreck history and loss

The 'Mary Rose' was built in 1509, probably in Portsmouth, and served as Henry VIII's flagship during his war against France. During her lifetime the vessel was largely rebuilt to keep up with contemporary construction techniques. She is a significant figure in the technological history of shipbuilding, particularly in the evolution of warships.

On 19 July 1545, whilst the king watched from the shore, 'Mary Rose' sank off Southsea Castle, during a battle to defend Portsmouth from a massive French fleet (estimated to be between 150 and 200 ships). It seems that the ship was not sunk by the French and various theories have been forwarded as to why she failed.

In particular it has been suggested that 'Mary Rose' was overburdened with artillery or that her lower gun ports flooded during a turning manoeuvre. Immediate attempts to salvage the vessel were unsuccessful and only resulted in damaging the ship further.

Tudor Figure Head Mary Rose
Tudor Figure Head recovered from the Mary Rose designated wreck site © Mary Rose Trust

Discovery and investigation

The 'Mary Rose' was rediscovered in 1836 when a fisherman snagged his line; the site was dived by the Deane brothers, who in the following four years retrieved a number of guns and other finds. However, the wreck was forgotten once more until 1965 when Alexander McKee resumed the search as part of 'Project Solent Ships.'

In 1967 sonar investigations located a large anomaly beneath the seabed and the Mary Rose 1967 Committee was formed. In 1971 the site was identified as the 'Mary Rose' and in 1974 it was designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act.

A campaign of excavation began and in 1979 the Mary Rose Trust was formed. Their aim was to completely excavate and raise the hull and put all on display in Portsmouth. The excavation culminated in 1982 when an estimated 60 million people worldwide watched as a large portion of the hull was brought to the surface and 'returned' to a dry dock at Portsmouth Naval base.

Stoneware Jug
Stoneware jug recovered from the Mary Rose site © Mary Rose Trust

Artefacts

The raised section of the hull now lies in a purpose-built ship hall based around the dry dock at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Today the ship can be viewed by the public from a gallery, whilst conservation of the structure continues. Around 19,000 artefacts were raised during the excavation, ranging from large iron cannon to delicate leather shoes and even a velvet hat.

Some of these finds are also on display to the public in a museum also located at the Historic Dockyard. It is hoped that a permanent museum housing both the ship and its artefacts will be constructed in the future.

Further work

Fragments of the wreck, including the bow section, still remain on the seabed and the site has been monitored for many years by the Mary Rose Trust, in particular to study the movement of sediments. In recent years a proposal for the enhancement of Portsmouth Harbour has led to a new campaign of survey and excavation. Ultimately a five-volume publication will be produced, documenting all aspects of the history, excavation, recovery and conservation of the Mary Rose and her contents.

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