Mary Rose raised
The Tudor warship the Mary Rose was built in Portsmouth in 1509 – 1510, originally displacing 500 tons, and armed with 78 cannon. She was one of the first warships designed to engage the enemy with broadsides, a capability enhanced in later refits, that of 1536 meaning her displacement had risen to 700 tons, and firepower to 91 guns.
That refit may have been the Mary Rose’s downfall, in very literal terms. Francis I of France had prepared a huge fleet to invade Henry VIII ’s England, with more than 200 ships, both sailing vessels and galleys. The English fleet, with the Mary Rose as flagship, numbered only 80 vessels.
On the 19th July the English fleet sailed from Portsmouth to meet the French. There were long range exchanges of fire, but the fleets did not truly clash until the next day. Lack of wind prevented much action until late on the 20th, when the breeze strengthened. Untouched by fire, the normal method of destruction in naval battles of the era, the Mary Rose suddenly sank with the loss of all but 35 crew. The French claimed a cannon shot did the damage, but it is more likely that she toppled while effecting a sharp turn to present the cannon ready on one side after the other had just discharged, her stability reduced by the addition of a deck in the 1536 refit, the mounting of heavy cannon high up the ship, and the presence of perhaps 180 soldiers on the top decks.
The wreck was discovered by a fishing boat in 1836, and entrepreneurial diver John Deane recovered artefacts over the next four years, after which it was forgotten again.
Diver and historian Alexander McKee found it again in 1966, its location confirmed by a sonar scan in 1967.Unusual tidal conditions in 1971 left some timbers visible for a brief period. The wreck was shielded in 1974 by the Protection of Wrecks Act, which still applies to the site to this day. In 1979 the Mary Rose Trust was formed, raising from private sources the £4m required to raise the ship.
Preparation for the raising took a considerable time, but on 11th October 1982 some 20 million British viewers, and perhaps 40 million more worldwide, watched the first ever live underwater broadcast as the wreck was slowly lifted from the sea bed, the twin dangers of the weight of water and matter in it, and the suction of the silt beneath it threatened to destroy what had been preserved for 437 years.
With one moment of drama, when part of the lifting frame crashed into the hull, the gradual raising was accomplished, the wreck dropping onto the barge due to transport it by 3pm after eight delicate hours. Henry VIII had seen his navy’s pride sink, and Prince Charles four centuries later watched it re-emerge.
The ship, housed in Portsmouth , is still undergoing preservation treatment, but can be seen along with items from the multitude of fascinating finds she has yielded: cannon, a nit comb, backgammon set, a lost musical instrument the shawm, dice, longbows, medical equipment and many more clues to life on board ship in Tudor times.
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