Henry VIII took pride in his enthusiasm for shipbuilding. During his reign, the Navy fleet increased from 5 ships to 58, his favourite being the Mary Rose. The Mary Rose was a warship for Henry VIII for 34 years – coinciding with his reign.
Previously, merchant vessels were requisitioned whenever required, but they were not built for the purpose of war and took too much time and effort to identify and mobilize. Henry VIII knew there were too many threats to rely on this method and so as soon as he became King, he started to build up his Navy.
The Mary Rose had a sister ship named the Peter Pomegranate, and both vessels were ordered to be built in Portsmouth in 1510. Mary Rose was the larger of the two ships and was also built to carry heavier armoury. This is where the design of gun ports originated.
War was declared with between England and France in 1512. Mary Rose was chosen by Admiral Edward Howard as his flagship. During Summer 1512, Admiral Howard led several successful raids along the coast if Brittany, including the Battle of St Mathieu. He was even visited by the King in Portsmouth in late July. Following the summer’s battles the Mary Rose was moored in the Thames through the Winter of 1512/1513 and returned to France for more action in April 1513. During battle, Admiral Howard was killed and following this, the fleet returned to England.
After the death of his younger brother Edward Howard, Lord Thomas Howard was appointed as Admiral of the fleet and he also chose Mary Rose to be his flagship. Mary Rose played a big part in the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513, during which King Hames IV of Scotland lost his life after attempting an invasion of England while King Henry VIII was in France. In this battle, Mary Rose acted as a troop transport ship.
In July 1914, following the signed peace between England and France, the Mary Rose was decommissioned along with most other navy ships in Deptford. The Mary Rose returned to service in 1520 to escort Henry VIII to France to meet King Francis I of France for the Field of the Cloth of Gold. The meeting was to discuss solutions to prevent future wars, and so was a display on both sides of the wealth and power of both countries. The Mary Rose being a state-of-the-art vessel was included in this.
Two years after the Field of the Cloth of Gold, in 1522 England and France went to war again. The Mary Rose was chosen again to be the flagship and was used in battle until 1525 when the war ended.
During the 1530s, Mary Rose underwent a refit to add extra gun ports and to strengthen the sides of the ship due to increased threat from Europe. The alterations affected the sailing of Mary Rose, and it was reported that the fleet was ‘unweatherly’. Mary Rose was anchored at Deptford, ready to defend the Thames in case of invasion from France and Spain.
In 1544 a fleet, likely including Mary Rose, took Henry VIII to Calais, and in September that year the French town of Boulogne was captured. The French retaliation was to prove fatal to Mary Rose.
In July 1545 during the Battle of the Solent, the Mary Rose was sunk during action. Of the nearly 500 men onboard, there were no more than 35 survivors. There were several attempts to raise the Mary Rose shortly after the battle, but they were unsuccessful.
The Mary Rose was discovered again in 1836 by divers John and Charles Dean. They were able to recover several large guns. Around this time is was common practice to detonate shipwrecks as they were causing problems for modern ships. It was believed that this was the fate of the Mary Rose, and interest in the vessel was forgotten.
In 1965, Alexander McKee initiated ‘Project Solent Ships’ to investigate the shipwrecks of the Solent. Using sonar scans, a large shape was discovered under the seabed. Volunteer divers explored the area, and using water jets, dredgers and airlifts, they began to excavate. On 5th May 1971, three of the port frames of the Mary Rose were found by diver Percy Ackland.
Between 1971 and 1978, a series of excavations were carried out to find out how much of the Mary Rose had survived. In 1978, it was discovered that two decks survived. The Mary Rose Trust was formed in 1979 with H.R.H. Prince Charles as President. In 1982, the Mary Rose was lifted from the seabed.
437 years after sinking, the Mary Rose was raised to the surface again, and the remains are on display at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard for the public to explore.