Analytical science: Secrets of the Mary Rose
Analytical science: Secrets of the Mary Rose

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Analytical science: Secrets of the Mary Rose

3 The sinking of the Mary Rose - a Tudor mystery

Much post-salvage analysis of the Mary Rose has been focused on determining why and how the ship sank. This mystery highlights the interplay between scientific analysis and historical records that is key to analysis in the heritage sector.

The importance of the Mary Rose to the English naval fleet means there are many historical records about it; however, the reason for the sinking was not recorded. Before the Mary Rose was salvaged, historians debated the matter of the sinking at length. Historically, it is known that, in July 1545, the French naval fleet entered the Solent with the intention of invading the Isle of Wight. They brought 200 ships, significantly outnumbering the English fleet. French historical reports suggest that at dawn on 19 July, a battle began and, shortly after, the Mary Rose keeled over and sank. However, the ambassador to the Holy Roman Emperor, van der Delft, recorded that he:

'was told by a Fleming among the survivors that when she heeled over with the wind the water entered by the lowest row of gun ports which had been left open after firing.'

A second eyewitness report came from the brother of Sir George Carew, the Mary Rose's Vice-Admiral. Carew's brother, who was on a neighbouring ship, claimed Sir George Carew had shouted to him shortly before the ship sunk that 'he had the sort of knaves whom he could not rule'.

Naturally, these reports may be tinged with political propaganda, France claiming destruction of the King of England's favourite ship, and the crew intimating a terrible accident. Sir George Carew's obituary stated that his negligence was responsible for the sinking of the ship and contemporary writings indicated that his poor ruling of the ship had led to anarchy and unruliness.

Surprisingly, considering the importance of the Mary Rose to the naval fleet, there are few records about the crewmen, except for high-ranking officers such as Sir George Carew.

Of the 415 men recorded as being on board when the Mary Rose sank, only 35 survived, and human remains were found on board the shipwreck that became the focus for analysis. It was hoped that this analysis would provide clues to the ship's unexpected sinking.

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