Class: English carrack
Length: keel 32m, stem to stern 40.9m, total length 45m
Built in Portsmouth, England between 1510 and 1511, Mary Rose was named after the King Henry VIII's favorite sister, Mary, and his family emblem, the Tudor rose. On completion in 1511 she was sent to the River Thames to be fitted out and equipped with weapons as one of the first of a new breed of heavily armed, purpose-built warships.
She first saw action as flagship of the fleet during the first French war of 1512-1514. Under the command of Sir Edward Howard, the English defeated the French fleet in a ferocious battle outside the French port of Brest in 1512. Though the fleet remained on constant guard, the second French war of 1522-1525 saw no big naval battles. The most notable action, from its point of view, was the capture of the French coastal town of Morlaix. By 1524 the Mary Rose was being held in reserve in Portsmouth, and by 1525 she was anchored in Deptford awaiting refit.
Despite the ever-present threat of war, particularly from Scotland (then an independent kingdom) in the North, the following years were ones of relative quiet. It was during this time that the Mary Rose was refitted and uprated from her original 500 to 700 tons. She emerged bristling with guns and ready for action.
In 1545, responding to the capture of Boulogne by English forces, a massive French invasion fleet set sail for the South Coast of England. Under the watchful eye of the King himself, the English fleet, including the Mary Rose under the command of Sir George Carew, assembled at Portsmouth. On the 19th of July 1545, as the two fleets clashed, the Mary Rose sank.
What exactly caused the disaster is unclear. It certainly not gunfire as reported by the French at the time, nor a design fault as others later suggested. But evidence does point to a combination of a handling mistake and a failure to close the gun-ports while maneuvering. Turning to bring her guns to bear, the strong wind caught her sails. As she heeled to one side, the open gun-ports let in water. Amidst chaos and confusion the flooding continued unchecked. She sank rapidly. Few of the 200 mariners, 185 soldiers and 30 gunners recorded as being on board survived. Despite a numeric advantage (of over 3 to 1) the French expedition was a failure.
Her rediscovery and raising were seminal events in the history of nautical archaeology. On 14th May 1966, the first modern dive was made on the wreck site of the Mary Rose. That dive, in conditions of almost zero visibility, was the first of some 28,000 dives that led to the recovery of 19,000 artifacts and ultimately to the ship being raised in 1982.
This represents one of the largest, most complex and successful underwater recovery and preservation projects ever attempted. The work of recovery, preservation and research is ongoing and may be viewed in the museum and ship display at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard where a new £30m Mary Rose museum is planned for 2012.
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