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The Mary Rose Tragedy and Recovery

Through much of the remainder of Henry’s reign Mary Rose remained a potent reminder to any of England’s potential enemies that, in her navy, England had a force that any invader could only ignore at their peril. In 1545 the French mustered a vast fleet, larger than that of the later Spanish Armada, to challenge that assumption and brought it to anchor off the Isle of Wight and in sight of the English fleet at Portsmouth and King Henry, who was in command of the army drawn up on Southsea Common.

In the afternoon of 19th July the English, taking advantage of a fresh breeze, weighed anchor and headed towards the enemy. They were not too far short of their opening fire range when disaster struck. While maneuvering, probably to pass clear of the opposing galleys, against which she may well have fired, Mary Rose heeled over too far thus allowing water to enter through her open gunports. Unable to right herself the ship rapidly filled up, turned over and sank with great loss of life – only 25 men, from a crew of about 500 were saved.

The tragedy, in full view of both the King and Lady Carew, the wife of the Admiral on board the Mary Rose, seems to have shocked both opposing fleets for battle was not joined and, the next day, the French sailed away. And there matters might have ended with the only record of Mary Rose’s existence being a wonderful drawing of this iconic ship, with all flags flying and guns run out, that was made by Anthony Anthony, a clerk in the ordnance office.

For, apart from occasional random, minor and accidental salvage work, Mary Rose, was left to rot on the seabed of The Solent until, eventually, her very location became a mystery. Yet, thanks to the tenacity of one man, Alexander McKee, who spent many years searching for her, and the skill and leadership of one woman, Margaret Rule, who led the recovery operation.

Mary Rose was rediscovered and, in 1982, raised, along with nearly 20,000 artefacts, to be painstakingly restored and displayed in her own museum at Portsmouth.

In 2012 a new, modern and purpose built museum will open that will reunite the ship with the objects that she carried in a way that will allow visitors to be able to see and wonder at the ship whose creation represents the birth of that greatness which was to become the Royal Navy, the warship Mary Rose.

The images of the hull of the Mary Rose and the recovery of the Mary Rose have been provided with thanks to the Mary Rose Trust.

The articles on the history of the Mary Rose has been provided with thanks by David Childs, Author of ‘The Warship Mary Rose’ and former Development director of the Mary Rose Trust. More information is available at