The Mary Rose was the pride of the line. Built in 1511, the battleship was part of the “Army by Sea”, Henry VIII set about building once he came to the throne in 1509. The earliest reference to the ship is a payment on January 25, 1510 to have her brought from Portsmouth to the River Thames.
There is some debate as to who the Mary Rose was named for. Some people have suggested that it was for Henry VIII’s mistress, Mary Boleyn Carey. However, Henry and this particular Mary did not meet until 1520, so that possibility is out the window. Another suggestion is that the ship was named for his younger sister, Princess Mary Tudor. Mary was his favorite sister, but at this time ships were rarely named for people. If Henry did break with this tradition, it is unlikely he would favor his sister over his wife, Katherine of Aragon, for this honor. The leading theory is the ship was named for the Virgin Mary. One of the names for the Virgin Mary in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a prayer in the Catholic Church, was “the Mystic Rose”. Tradition at that time was to name ships after religious figures or heraldic symbols. This also fits with the name of the Mary Rose’s sister ship, Peter Pomegranate. Pomegranate was a symbol of the risen Christ.
The Mary Rose saw action right away in the first French War as the flagship of Admiral Sir Edward Howard. After several skirmishes and a daring surprise attack on the French fleet near Brest, the fighting was over. During that fighting, the Admiral lost his life. A treaty was signed with Princess Mary Tudor traveling to France to become Queen. War broke out again in 1525, and the Mary Rose was in the thick of it. She escorted troops to Morlaix, and the Breton port was captured by July 1. This time the French King was captured by England’s allies, the Holy Roman Empire, at the battle of Pavia.
She was kept in reserve for more than 10 years and refitted with additional guns. Extra bracing was added to bear the additional weight. There are no definitive records of the modifications made, but historians theorize extra gun ports were cut, and has even been speculated that extra gun decks were added to the fore and stern castles. The Mary Rose was called upon again for service in 1545 when the French fleet gathered in the Seine estuary. The English navy mustered at Portsmouth, and the two navies met at the Battle of the Solent. There are conflicting accounts of what happened during the battle. According to the French, they tried to lure out the English ships to be in gun range of their main fleet. After heavy fighting, the Mary Rose foundered. As the ship leaned, guns and ammunition came loose and injured or trapped the crew. Out of a crew of 400, only 35 were able to escape. Lord Admiral Lisle, the commander of the fleet on his flagship the Henry Grace à Dieu, was able to use the tides and currents to prevent the French from getting their larger ships into position. This and the fact the land invasion on the Isle of Wight was going poorly saved the English from invasion.
Many attempts were made to salvage the ship. The king even brought in Venetian salvage operators, but they were unable to shift the ship into shallower water or lift the sunken ship. The Mary Rose was gone. Some time in the 17th or 18th century, a layer of hard clay covered the ship. In 1848, John and Charles Deane rediscovered the site of the wreck and recovered a bronze cannon. However, that was all they were able to salvage. The wreck was rediscovered again in 1978 and was finally raised in 1982. The ship was a treasure trove of Tudor artifacts that had been saved in the sea, and the Mary Rose museum is a popular and interesting tourist destination.
Sources available on request