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Saturday, 14 July 2012

Why Mary Rose Ship of War Sank - Henry VIII & England's Tragic Pride



The Mary Rose

England was a land of virtual irrelevance during the 15th century and was no more than a fringe island on the edge of Europe – a small nation that had spent years fighting a civil war of the Roses between House York and House Lancaster. This finally ended with the death of Richard III in battle and the accession of Henry VII of the Tudor dynasty. During this turbulent time, England had neglected her navy and had only constructed six ships for the crown in a period of eighty-seven years. The new king, Henry VII maintained a precarious peace with the dominant powers of Europe and managed to keep the island nation free from trouble allowing England a small time to establish breathing space and rebuild. At least, begin to rebuild.


Midship Section of Mary Rose

When Henry VII died his second son – became King Henry VIII. His first son, Arthur had died before ascending to kingship. Arthur had briefly married the Spanish princess, Catherine of Aragon. In this day and age, Spain was the super power of the world and France challenging for dominance too. Because Henry VIII wanted to join a powerful Spanish alliance against France, he decided to marry his late brother’s wife Catherine of Aragon – he was six years her junior. By doing this, Henry the VIII had made a powerful enemy of France but had many strong allies including the Holy Roman emperor Maximillian alongside the superpower of Spain. Little England was trying to punch above her weight, but for those who dare; sometimes things work out. This did in the long run but in twisted ways that none designed or could have predicted at the time.   

Henry VIII had received the start of a navy from his father Henry VII, but early into his new alliance with Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, his small country decided to start by showing ambitions to the navy. England had two large warships to boast of and they were the Regent and the Sovereign. Henry VIII decided to add two more substantial battleships of the day. One was called the Peter while the other would be the Mary Rose. After this, more ships were started and the beginnings of a Royal Navy ensued.

Inside Part of Mary Rose

The grand warship ‘Mary Rose’ was launched in the summer of 1511. She went to London and received adulation in a grand ceremony as she was towed up the River Thames. The glorious array of flags and streamers must have been a colourful sight to behold as citizens of London flocked to see the modern battleship. For the times, this ship was a real state of the art building and engineering, lovingly crafted from fine English oak and craftsmen who were very proud of the profession and able to work for the grand king and country.

Some people believe the name ‘Mary Rose’ came from Henry VIII sister, Mary Tudor and the Rose of the Tudors. However, eminent historians say that it was the fashion throughout Europe to name ships from everyday common Christian names. England was trying to play alongside the big boys of Europe now and tried to emulate them in all ways.

For twenty-five years the ship patrolled and did her national duties taking part in actions against the national enemies of France and Scotland. She had castle style protection at the stern and bow with a lower mid-ship section. She would have looked resplendent in this day and was brought back into dock for a major rebuilding and enhancement programme in 1536. She was to be upgraded from a 500-ton vessel to 700 tonnes. After this, the Mary Rose continued in her duties against the main enemies until a fateful day in 1545 when the grand ship of war took a lead to attack a French invasion fleet.

Before this battle, the grand ship had performed admirably during the first and second French Wars – this was the third French war when Mary Rose was to meet her fate.
The Mary Rose lay on the Solent bed for many years.

As the Mary Rose went into action, a Flemish eye witness had his version of events written down. He saw the Mary Rose fire all one side of her guns as the battle began – a salvo. Then as the grand ship manoeuvred to present her opposite side of guns, she was caught by a strong breeze which caused the vessel to extravagantly heel to her starboard side, where many of the lower deck gun ports were still open. These were water tight when shut, but during the confusion of the battle they remained open and were, of course, in use. The sudden intake of water caused the ship to heel further over to her broadside as the weight of the water intake caught the mighty ship off balance. All people on board would have been flung about. Heavy guns and other bulk items would have broken from their fastenings and slide starboard too, causing more weight on this starboard side. Men would have been crushed and killed during the horrendous twist of fate. Those that escaped being crushed would have been struggling in a blind panic as their world, inside the ship, turned upside down. It was all over, very quickly, as the Mary Rose capsized and sank in the Solent off of the Isle of Weight and from a crew of four hundred and more; only thirty-five men survived the capsizing of the Mary Rose. The vice Admiral George Carew went down with his ship and crew as well.
Salvaged part of hull in Portsmouth museum

This terrible event rocked the entire nation and the great battleship lay on the seabed for hundreds of years until she was raised by scientists in 1982 after being re-discovered in 1971. Many of her artefacts and much of her hull are on display at the Portsmouth naval museum today.
Scientists working on Hull Preservation



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