On a June morning in 1511, taking advantage of the start of the ebb tide, two large four masted warships unfurled their sails and slipped out through the narrow entrance of Portsmouth Harbour on a maiden voyage that was to take them up the Channel to a mooring off the Tower of London, where their fine lines and modern design would impress both the citizens of the capital and foreign ambassadors, who would report home about this evidence of the ambitions of England’s youthful and bellicose king, Henry VIII. One of those ships, Peter Pomegranate, was to end her long career in obscurity, the other was to become, first Henry’s and then, four and a half centuries later, the nation’s favourite warship. She was the Mary Rose.
Contrary to popular belief, Mary Rose was probably not named after Henry’s younger sister, Mary: rather her name reflected a link between the spiritual and the temporal by proclaiming the glory of the English monarch through combining the name of the Virgin Mary with the ‘rose’, the symbol of the House of Tudor.
These two ships, which had been laid down as Henry came to the throne, were an obvious representation of belligerence to come for Henry was determined to go to war against France as soon as he had an excuse to do so and a navy to protect his embarked army.
So the two great ships proceeded up the Thames in style. Money had been spent to purchase flags, standards and streamers which were flown from every mast as well as being draped over the ships’ sides. More money had been spent to clothe the crew in uniform coats of white and green, the Tudor colours.
Yet, these were not ships built just for show. The reason they were moored off the Tower of London was because that was England’s armoury and, in the next few months, Mary Rose, which Henry was to designate as his flagship, was equipped with a formidable suite of modern bronze cannon as well as some more elderly iron guns and it was in their placing onboard that her revolutionary design as a warship became evident.
The image of the painting by Geoff Hunt has been provided with thanks to the Mary Rose Trust http://www.maryrose.org.