Five things you probably didn’t know about the Mary Rose

The Mary Rose Trust will be launching their public appeal tomorrow (Oct. 12) and have sent out this informational email. I previously mentioned the new appeal briefly here.

Five things you probably didn’t know about the Mary Rose

1. The debate continues as to why the Mary Rose mysteriously sank off the Portsmouth coast in 1545. Four of the suggested possibilities are:

* Too many cooks and not enough skilled seamen on board
* Poor communication and slow responses from an international crew
* A hole made by a French cannonball in battle led to the Mary Rose taking water onboard
* The Mary Rose was too top heavy and keeled over when changing course

2. On 19th July 1545 Henry VIII was watching his fleet set sail to battle the approaching French and saw the Mary Rose sink. So did the wife of Vice Admiral Sir George Carew, who was on board – not surprisingly, she fainted

3. Scientists have used Facial Reconstruction technology to illustrate the facial features of the crew of the Mary Rose from skulls found on board (click image for a larger view):

4. As well as iron bolts The Mary Rose was held together by thousands of wooden pegs – each one made by hand

5. Celebrated Marine Artist Geoff Hunt researched the Mary Rose for 113 hours before he began his new painting of the ship, unveiled earlier this year. His research revealed that King Henry VIII’s flagship had one more fighting castle deck than had previously been thought, fuelling speculation that it was the ship’s top heaviness that may have led to her mysterious sinking (click image for a larger view):

Links for more information:

Archaeologist plans search for remains of Cabot’s New World expedition

From The Times Colonist:

Newfoundland and Labrador’s top archeologist has revealed plans to search for the remains of a 510-year-old church on the western shore of Conception Bay — a project aimed at adding to a string of recent discoveries about explorer John Cabot’s history-making voyages to Canada in the late 15th century.

If the purported church is found near the town of Carbonear — the site targeted by Memorial University’s Peter Pope in what he calls a “longshot” dig proposed for next summer — the discovery of North America’s earliest Christian settlement would join the 1,000-year-old Viking site at Newfoundland’s L’Anse-aux-Meadows, Jacques Cartier’s recently unearthed 1541 fort near Quebec City and Virginia’s Jamestown ruins among the continent’s most important archeological sites.

Full article

And because I’ve been playing around with embedding Google maps for the website, here’s one for Carbonear:

View Larger Map

Tiles unearthed at Woking Palace dig

From the BBC:

Rare Valencian tiles have been uncovered by archaeologists during excavations at the ruins of a Surrey palace, once owned by Henry VIII.

The items, which were made in Valencia, Spain, between 1450 and 1490, were discovered at Woking Palace.

More than 100 members of the public took part in the dig at the palace, which fell into disrepair in 1620 and was later virtually demolished.

A spokeswoman for the authority said: “The teams uncovered walls of the Palace of Henry VII, Henry VIII and Elizabeth, and evidence for earlier medieval buildings.

“The most exciting finds were rare Valencian tiles which were made in Valencia, Spain. They have only been found in a few other locations across the UK, according to the archaeologists working at the dig site.”

Full article

Investigation into the monument of Fulke Greville

From The Telegraph:

Tomb search could end riddle of Shakespeare’s true identity

A sarcophagus in an English parish church could solve the centuries-old literary debate over who really wrote the plays of William Shakespeare.

Parishioners at St Mary’s church in Warwick have sought permission to examine the contents of the 17th monument built by Fulke Greville, a writer and contemporary of Shakespeare who some believe is the true author of several of the Bard’s works.

In an echo of the blockbuster book and film, The Da Vinci Code, the search has been prompted by the discovery by an historian of clues in Greville’s writings which suggest he had several manuscripts buried there, including a copy of Antony and Cleopatra.

A radar scan of the sarcophagus has already indicated the presence inside of three “box like” shapes. The searchers believe these could contain documents and a further examination is now being proposed which they hope will finally prove the link between Greville and Shakespeare.

The initial search, using ground penetrating radar, was approved by the parochial church council and the diocesan council. The team now wants to use an endoscope – a tiny video camera on a long thin tube – to be inserted into the monument to test his claims.

The work would be supervised by Professor Warwick Rodwell, consultant archaeologist to Westminster Abbey, who is keen for the project to go ahead.

The parochial council also wants the sarcophagus to be opened because it believes that any new evidence will bring extra visitors and save the church, the foundations of which date back 900 years, from bankruptcy.

“St Mary’s is a beautiful church but is in desperate financial straits,” a spokesman said. “Any manuscripts that are found would safeguard its future.”

However, the diocesan advisory committee and the Church Buildings Council are resisting the new search, on “ethical grounds” and a final decision could now be taken by the diocese’s consistory court.

Full article

This is the same church I mentioned in Picture of the Week #21. And here is a link to their official website.

News round-up

Because several articles have stacked up and I don’t want to make these in to separate posts, here’s a quick round up:

** Henry VIII talks from the Historic Royal Palaces (podcasts)

** Mary Rose 500 – a final fundraising appeal from the Mary Rose Trust and info on how you can “join the crew” by helping to raise money for the new museum

** From The Surrey Comet:
Elmbridge Museum holds exhibition on Oatlands Palace

Elmbridge Museum is holding an exhibition starting next month on the now destroyed Oatlands Palace in Weybridge.

The museum, which is based in Church Street, Weybridge, is holding the exhibition called Oatlands Underfoot: Stones and Stories from a Forgotten Palace, which will attempt to bring to life one of Henry VIII’s lesser-known palaces.

** From The Yorkshire Post:
Henry saw resort as northern stronghold, historic map reveals

SCARBOROUGH played a key part in Henry VIII’s defence against invasion, a recently unearthed map reveals.

A town plan, drawn around 1539, has been found among thousands of documents in British Library archives

** From The Daily Mail:
Saved for the nation: The oak trees that shaded Henry VIII and his bride-to-be Jane

Their towering trunks and gnarled boughs once bore silent witness to the courtship of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour.

Little wonder, then, that the oaks and beeches have been identified as some of Britain’s most historic trees, so that they can be protected for future generations.

In the biggest project of its kind, experts have painstakingly identified and mapped 4,500 of the oldest trees in the royal hunting forest of Savernake.

Great project – I love gnarly old trees!

Hanging the Mary Rose out to dry

In the literal sense, of course:

From the Oxford Mail:

FOR more than 400 years she has been soaking wet, but Oxfordshire scientists are looking for a hi-tech way to allow the Mary Rose to dry out and remain intact.

Initially, the ship was sprayed with chilled, fresh water to rinse out harmful salts and acids and, since 1994, has been continually sprayed with polyethylene glycol, a water-soluble wax.

That stabilises the wood structure and prevents shrinkage during drying.

Researchers are now working on developing a treatment for the wood to extract compounds within it where it was in contact with iron, such as bolts or artefacts like cannons. If they can do that then it will mean the ship will not have to be continually sprayed.

Full article

Additional funding secured for new Mary Rose museum

Great news!

From the BBC:

Final conservation work on Henry VIII’s warship, the Mary Rose, is to go ahead, along with a new museum for the vessel, after a £21m grant was approved.

The Heritage Lottery Fund agreed to award the cash to the Mary Rose Trust, which has also raised nearly £10m itself towards total costs of £35m.
The grant means the construction of the new museum, in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, will now start.

The trust aims to complete the work by 2012, in time for the Olympics.

Full article

And an article from The News in Portsmouth.

And here’s a link to the Mary Rose Trust for more information on the ship and the plans for the new museum.

Catch-up post

These are mostly updates to previous topics, so I’m just going to lump them all together:

* Henry, Mind of a Tyrant by David Starkey will be running on Channel 4 in the UK on Mondays in April. You can listen to a stream of the soundtrack by Philip Sheppard on the composer’s website

* A new painting of the Mary Rose that was reconstructed with new information of examination of the wreck and artifacts.

* Rediscovering Henry VIII – An article by David Starkey from the Times Online about the upcoming British Library exhibition Henry VIII: Man and Monarch that he is the guest curator of.

* Two articles about information that may have been lost during the restoration of the Cobbe portrait (that may or may not be of Shakespeare): Forsooth, restorers botched up bald bard William Shakespeare from The Guardian and Restorers ‘wiped away’ precious details from rare William Shakespeare portraits from The Telegraph

Reconstruction of a face from The Mary Rose

And it is possibly the face of someone responsible (in part) for the sinking.

From The Daily Mail:

The face of the man who may have sunk the Mary Rose has been recreated more than 400 years after Henry VIII’s flagship went to the bottom of the Solent.

For centuries, historians have been unable to explain the loss of the Mary Rose in July 1545, which sank very close to land during a battle with the French.

Evidence from the wreck of the ship suggests it turned with its gunports open, was hit by a squall and swamped by a wave that poured in so fast the ship sank without trace within seconds.

Only a handful of the more than 400 crew and soldiers aboard the Mary Rose survived. Although the remains of more than 170 individuals were recovered, few could be identified as specific members of the crew.

The head of the man has been remodelled by internationally renowned forensic artist Richard Neave from a skull recovered from the wreck.

He was found with a bosun’s call, a whistle, which signified seniority and could prove he was at least partly responsible for the disaster.

It would have been the bosun’s job to ensure gun ports were closed.

Full article (with pictures)

More on Shakespeare’s ‘First Theater’

This is an update to a story that I blogged about last summer:

From the BBC:

A team from the Museum of London found the remains of what they believe is also Britain’s first purpose built theatre in Shoreditch last summer.

Built in 1576, it is thought the Bard acted there and that it also hosted the premiere of Romeo and Juliet.

The site is now owned by the Tower Theatre Company and a new playhouse is due to open there in 2012.

Taryn Nixon, from the Museum of London, said her team had found part of the original curved wall of the playhouse, which was believed to be polygonal in shape.

A metre and a half below street level, it has also uncovered the gravel surface, gently sloping down towards the stage, where the bulk of the audience would have stood.

But the archaeologists fear the stage itself may be buried underneath a housing development.

Full article (with a short video that has a nice overview of the site)

Two possible new views of The Bard

First up, from The Times Online:

Is this the real Shakespeare at last?

A PORTRAIT owned for nearly 300 years by a family will tomorrow be claimed as the only known picture of William Shakespeare painted during his lifetime.

No other image, executed at first hand, is thought to exist of Britain’s greatest writer.

The claim will be supported by the world’s foremost expert on Shakespeare, Stanley Wells, emeritus professor of Shakespeare studies at Birmingham University and general editor of the Oxford Shakespeare series for 30 years.

The portrait, which was painted in 1610, six years before the playwright’s death, has been in the possession of the Cobbe family since the early 18th century. It was initially kept at a property in Hampshire but more recently in Hatchlands, the family house in Surrey, which is run by the National Trust.

Full article (with picture)

Update: Here’s an article from Time magazine with a full view of the portrait

And from The Guardian, a related object:

Mystery relic found during London excavation is linked to Shakespeare

The bearded Tudor face, framed by long hair and a ruff, certainly looks familiar. As the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust prepares today to unveil what it says is a portrait of the Bard painted during his lifetime, archaeologists may have beaten them to it.

A team working on the site where Shakespeare learned his trade has discovered a piece of 16th-century pottery that features a face resembling that of the great man.

It was found during excavation work in Shoreditch, east London, at the site of what used to be The Theatre, lost for more than 400 years and where Shakespeare performed as an actor, as well as staging his earliest plays.

Archaeologists unearthed the Tudor structure last summer while working at the site – which, by coincidence, is to be turned into a new theatre.

There is no proof that the face on the fragment of Beauvais pottery is that of the Bard’s, but insiders are excited by the discovery.

Full article (unfortunately without a picture)

Testing an Elizabethan Cannon

A replica Elizabethan cannon, based on the one raised from the wreck off Alderney that I have blogged about before, has been test fired.

From The BBC:

The English navy at around the time of the Armada was evolving revolutionary new tactics, according to new research.

Tests on cannon recovered from an Elizabethan warship suggest it carried powerful cast iron guns, of uniform size, firing standard ammunition.

“This marked the beginning of a kind of mechanisation of war,” says naval historian Professor Eric Grove of Salford University.

“The ship is now a gun platform in a way that it wasn’t before.”

Until now, it was thought Queen Elizabeth was using the same cannon technology as her father, Henry VIII. His flagship, the Mary Rose, was ultra-modern for its day.

It is known that during Elizabeth’s reign, English sailors and gunners became greatly feared. For example, at the beginning of Henry VIII’s reign, the English fleet was forced to retreat from heavily armed French galleys.

By the time of Elizabeth, even Phillip of Spain was warning of the deadly English artillery. But no-one has ever been able to clearly show why this was.

The new research follows the discovery of the first wreck of an Elizabethan fighting ship off Alderney in the Channel Islands, thought to date from around 1592, just four years after the Spanish Armada

Full article – with video
(and I’m totally amused by the fact that the volume on the video player goes to 11)

If you’re in the UK and missed the initial airing of the Timewatch episode, you can watch it at the Timewatch website.

And here is an interesting related article from The Times Online:
Mystery of Francis Walsingham and the sunken canon

Design for the new Mary Rose Museum

From The Portsmouth News:

Mary Rose Trust members are celebrating after plans to re-house Henry VIII’s warship were given the green light.

Staff were told on Tuesday night that Portsmouth City Council had given permission for the £35m project to go ahead.

The plans were submitted before Christmas to create a giant wooden-clad oval museum around the shape of the 16th century treasure.

The dockyard skyline will now be transformed, though much of the museum will be nestled deep in the ground to avoid detracting from HMS Victory.

Full article

More information:
The Mary Rose Trust’s page for the new museum (with slide show of the design plans)

The Face of Copernicus

I love it when astronomy, archaeology, forensics and history come together!

From The BBC:

Researchers in Poland say they have solved a centuries-old mystery and identified the remains of astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus.

A comparison of DNA from a skeleton in Poland and strands of the astronomer’s hair found in a book in Sweden almost certainly confirm it is his skeleton.

Archaeologists found the skeleton in north-eastern Poland three years ago in a cathedral where Copernicus lived.

Three years ago, archaeologists dug up a skull and partial remains of a man aged about 70, Copernicus’ age when he died, near an altar at the cathedral.

Jerzy Gassowski, the leader of the archaeologists’ team, said forensic facial reconstruction of the skull found that it bore a striking resemblance to existing portraits of the father of modern astronomy.

Scientists then matched the DNA from one of the skull’s teeth and a femur bone with two strands of Copernicus’ hair.

Full article

Article from The Guardian

Post from 2005 about the initial discovery

Possible coffin of Richard III?

From This Is Leicestershire:

Mystery surrounding one of the county’s medieval legends has been reignited after an ancient stone coffin linked to Richard III was unearthed on a building site.

The solid stone sarcophagus was discovered in the grounds of a property in Earl Shilton, by the home’s former gardener Reg Colver, where it had formed part of a water garden built in the early 1900s.

Archaeologists believe it dates from the time Richard died and could have been buried in the same church, Greyfriars, which once existed near Leicester Cathedral.

Richard Knox, of the county council’s archaeological services, said: “It is an important medieval artefact in its own right, it also shows the strength of the Bosworth myth which makes all local medieval finds somehow relevant to Richard and the Battle of Bosworth.”

Archaeologists have said they are confident the coffin unearthed yesterday is not that of Richard, but would never be able to rule out the possibility.

Mr Knox said: “It is also quite possible that Richard’s coffin is still buried at the church at Greyfriars and was never dug up at all.”

Full article (with photo)

Seems like a tenuous link to me, but it is an interesting discovery regardless.

Previous post on the search for Richard’s bones (the news link in the post is no longer active)

Update: November 25, 2008 – Coffin to be donated to Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Center


Ernie White, Leicestershire County Council’s Cabinet member for Community Services, said: “It’s fantastic that such an important piece of history will be displayed at Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre for members of the public to enjoy.”

Philip Lacey, Sales Director for David Wilson, says, “This has been a very exciting project for us and we are delighted to have been able to share it with The Battle of Bosworth Heritage Centre, preserving this piece of history for generations to come.”

The dramatic events of the Battle of Bosworth,1485, can be experienced in a new, interactive exhibition at the Battlefield Heritage Centre, which recently won the bronze award for Small Visitor Attraction at the East Midlands Tourism Enjoy England Awards.

Full article

Website for the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Center

New suggestion for what sank the Mary Rose

From The Telegraph:

For almost 500 years, the sinking of the Mary Rose has been blamed on poor seamanship and the fateful intervention of a freak gust of wind which combined to topple her over.

Now, academics believe the vessel, the pride of Henry VIII’s fleet, was actually sunk by a French warship – a fact covered up by the Tudors to save face.

Traditionally, historians have blamed the sinking, not on the intervention of the French, but on a recklessly sharp turn and the failure to close gun ports, allowing water to flood in.
To exacerbate the situation, the craft, already overladen with soldiers on the top decks, was also struck by a strong gust of wind.

But new research, carried out by academics at the University of Portsmouth, suggests the ship was fatally holed by a cannonball fired from a much smaller French galley.

They have analysed a remarkably detailed engraving of the battle, created shortly after the event, and used modern mapping techniques to create a virtual 3D account of the battle.

To support the new theory, the academics also point to possible shot damage discovered on the muzzle of one of the Mary Rose’s big guns as well as finds of a large cannonball made of French granite found within the ship and fragments of lead shot found outside the vessel.

When the wreck was raised, skeletal remains were found in the hold, along with carpentry tools, indicating they may have been trying to carry out repairs to damage in the hull moments before the ship sank.

Dr Fontana believes the fatal hole was blasted in the port side, probably near towards the stern – a part of the vessel that has eroded away.”

Full article

The article is quite long and detailed, so it you’re interested in the full story of this new theory, I suggest reading the whole thing. It’s quite interesting!

Here’s a link to a previous post on another theory for the cause of the sinking:

I’ve posted about the ship many times over the years, so you can find more articles by going through the search box on the right. I can’t guarantee that all of the links to various news sources will still work though.

Update on Kenilworth Gardens

As most of you probably know by now, I’m a big fan of the project to recreate the Elizabethan gardens at Kenilworth Castle, based on archaeology and the accounts from Elizabeth’s famous visit in 1575.

Here’s an article from Building Design online about the architecture firm doing the gardens and the project in general, including some neat pictures (small version of one of them above).

In 1575, Elizabeth I’s summer progress arrived at Kenilworth Castle where she spent 19 days as the guest of Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester. She was greeted by a display of opulence unrivalled at the time, including pageants, music, dancing, fireworks, hunting and feasting. Dudley, still hoping to persuade the queen to marry him, had added a suite of luxurious apartments to the medieval castle and created a pleasure garden, a sensual paradise with a 5.5m-high marble fountain at its centre, abundant scented flowers and fruits, shady arbours and a bejewelled aviary. But Dudley’s first wife had died in suspicious circumstances and he was unpopular at court, so despite his considerable efforts, the queen refused him.

No drawing of the garden survives and following the civil war, part of the castle’s keep was pulled down, covering the garden and destroying the original layout.

A Tudor garden was laid out in the 1970s, but archaeological excavations showed it to be an inaccurate representation of the original. After five years of work by historians, archaeologists, designers and gardeners, in May 2009 a £2 million recreation of the garden will be complete. Richard Griffiths Architects has co-ordinated the design, continuing its work at the castle, which has included restoration of the 16th century stables and a new green oak-framed admissions building.

Read the full article here

Archaeologists find medieval foundations at Hampton Court

From Mail Online:

Archaeologists working at Hampton Court Palace have uncovered the earliest foundations ever found at King Henry VIII’s famous royal residence.

The significant 13th century building remains predate any other finds made at the palace by nearly 200 years.

The unexpected discoveries were made during excavations as part of a project to recreate Henry VIII’s Tudor 16th century courtyards.

Stone foundations and walls of a substantial medieval structure measuring 10metres by 25metres were found in Base Court, the largest interior courtyard of the Tudor palace.


The project to represent Base Court for the 500th anniversary of King Henry VIII’s accession to the throne will be complete by March 2009.

This will then herald the beginning of a series of exhibitions, events and activities to mark the historic anniversary.

Full article (with some neat overhead pictures of the excavations)