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A Story That Should Never Have Happened

The Mary Rose has inspired many works of fiction, this one was written for us by one of our former volunteers.

A Story That Should Never Have Happened

by Heidi Street.


This is the story of something that should never have happened.


It was a Thursday afternoon, when I was in Portsmouth, under the employment of Lady Carew. It wasn’t a bad life, going on long walks with her, sitting in the Hall embroidering her fine dresses. I even got her hand-me-downs once they were either too worn, or damaged to the point that she couldn’t be seen in them anymore. I liked my mistress, and she was pleasant to me.


So, there we were in Portsmouth for a couple of weeks, partially for the sea air, which my mistress found agreed with her very well, and because her husband, Sir George, was sailing out as Vice-Admiral on the Mary Rose, and she had always wanted to see a battle. I asked her why she would want to watch something so brutal, but she wouldn’t reply. I’d heard some ghastly stories from Joseph about the guns blasting across the sea, shattering ships’ hulls into a thousand pieces. He’d had a father in the navy, and he’d been insistent on joining himself. His mother had been unwilling, for his father had been killed in a battle at sea, but Master Smith had been called to the Mary Rose, as the usual barber surgeon had fallen ill with the falling sickness, and as Joseph was his apprentice, he was obliged to go, much to the mother’s despair. I had wondered whether Joseph was alright, but knew I wouldn’t be able to go looking for him, it simply would not be proper.


I remember walking through the camp, where all the soldiers were wandering about, polishing weapons and discussing the fair weather, perfect for a battle. There was something in the air that I had never felt before, a sense of anticipation, a tenseness that I had never experienced in all my life. As wife to the Vice-Admiral himself, the King had invited my mistress to Southsea Castle to watch the Mary Rose sail into battle against the French. The stench of the stables reached my nostrils, and I wrinkled my nose with disgust as I lifted my mistress’ train over a muddy patch of grass. We walked past a group of rugged-looking sailors, crowded around a barrel, huddling over so we couldn’t catch a glimpse of what they were doing, whispering furiously about money and dice. Rolling my eyes, I thought of my older brother, Matthew, who had often gotten into trouble with our mother and father for sneaking into the local inn to gamble away his wages from working on the quarry. Some sweat dribbled from my brow, as I hitched up my skirts to step over a pile of horse dung


“They have invaded the Isle of Wight,” my mistress said, as we finally stood in front of the grey castle, “and they are coming towards Portsmouth. So the King decided that George should be Vice-Admiral, and lead the English Fleet into battle against the French rabble.” A guard in the King’s livery met us at the door. “A fine day for it, is it not, my lady?” he said, as we walked up the steep stairs to the keep. She nodded curtly, as he opened the door, and we stepped out into the bright sunlight.


“Presenting Lady Carew, Your Majesty,” the guard said, as we curtsied to the King. An odd scent, much like rotting flesh, was carried in the wind to my nose, and I swallowed down bile. To react to the King’s leg ulcer would anger him, and goodness knows what would happen to me if it did.


“You may rise, my Lady,” the King said. Relieved, we rose, and I looked up at the three men that we were in the company of. The first man was tall, and rather thin, with a short brown beard. The other was broader, and slightly shorter, with a long white beard. “And may I present Sir Anthony, my Master of Horse, and Sir Charles, 1st Duke of Suffolk,” the two men bowed low to us, and I had to try and stifle a giggle, for I wasn’t used to great men bowing to me. The King stood in between them both, and he smiled to my mistress. “Come, stand with me, my Lady, you should have the best position,” he looked at me, and his smile broadened, “and your maid, too. Come, do not be afraid of me,” he said, offering his hand to me. Nervously, I took it, and allowed him to lead me to the wall.


There was a light breeze in the air as I looked out to sea. In the distance, I could see smoke billowing from the island, smell gunpowder. I wondered whether I’d get a glimpse of the Mary Rose in the midst of all the other ships or not. Before Joseph had left, he’d told me all about the ship, that it was the King’s favourite one in his whole fleet, even with his newer ships, “It was built when the King was but a young man, back in the days of Aragon,” he’d said, “She’s just been refitted with new guns too, big ones, made from the finest monastery bronze in the land, she is supposed to be so beautiful, as well as a fine fighter.” 

In the corner of my eye, I spotted her. She glided across the water, her sails flapping softly in the wind. In my heart, I hoped that Joseph would be alright, that my master would be alright. I saw a larger ship sail past the Mary Rose, almost as if the two ships were old friends waving at each other from across the street. “That larger ship,” the King said to me, “Is my newest ship, Henry Grace ‘a Dieu, my pride and joy. And that other ship, that is the Mary Rose, she is my favourite, small, but great,” he saw the worried look on my face, and frowned slightly. “Is everything alright, mistress?”


“Yes, thank you, Your Majesty,” I replied, quickly getting a smile on my face, for I realised that I had been frowning worriedly, “I was just thinking on what a lovely afternoon this is.”


“It is rather nice, is it not?” he said, “I was going to bring my daughter with me, but she wished to practice her archery,” he looked at me, “Do you practice your archery, mistress?”


“I do not, Your Majesty, I am oft too busy with my mistress’ sewing,” I paused, and then said, “but I do ride with my mistress during the hunting season.”


“Ah,” he said, “There is nothing like the rush of the hunt to get the heart pacing!”


But, before he could say any more, there was a gasp of horror from my mistress. A gush of wind rushed past my head, blowing my headdress clean off, my hair blowing all over the place. I ran over to my mistress, who was about to swoon into Sir Charles’ arms, whilst Sir Anthony stood, mouth wide open, his face white. I looked out to sea.


I felt the blood drain from my face.


The Mary Rose, was tilting at an angle, so close to the sea. She must have been attempting to turn around, but her starboard side was practically submerged. The ship fell, further and further into the sea. Men from the crow’s nests were jumping out, landing in the sea with an almighty splash.  You could hear, in the distance, the cries of the men, desperate screams of those who knew that they were not going to leave the ship alive. I felt a chill in my heart, something that I had never felt before in all my life. All I could think about was Joseph. Joseph, son of a captain. Joseph, the boy with the red hair and sparkling green eyes. Joseph, who wanted to help people, heal people. Joseph… the man I wanted to marry someday. He had even asked me to marry him, before he went away. We were going to ask consent from my mistress after he returned. But, he’d never return, not now.


My mistress was on the ground at this point, and I hitched my skirts up as I ran to find her pomander, so she could smell the sweet spices and be brought back to her senses. I knew how she was feeling, though. When I was beside her, she opened her eyes, and looked at me, sadness in her eyes.She took my hand in hers.


“Just you and I, eh?”


My eyes welled up, and I struggled to blink them back. I never thought that we would ever be in this state, clinging onto each other for dear life. I listened to the screams in the wind, and sobbed with them, sobbed for the pitiful waste of life, the futures that were now lost to us forever.


I looked up, and saw the King, staring out to sea. There was sadness in his eyes, a sick constitution on his face, almost as if he was a haunted man. Sir Anthony stepped forward, and put a hand on his shoulder. I expected him to get angry, shrug his hand off, shout furiously at him. But he remained still, still staring, almost as if something had turned him into stone. A tear dribbled down his cheek, which he either didn’t notice, or bother to wipe from his eye. I could just hear, over the wind and the shouting, that the King was saying something. “Poor gentlemen,” he whispered, “drowned like ratten,” he glanced over at me, briefly, before turning back to the dreadful scene below. I helped my mistress to her feet, taking care not to reveal my tears to the King, or my mistress.


“I am afraid that we must take our leave, Your Majesty, my mistress is quite upset.”


“Of course,” he replied, still staring out to sea. We curtsied, and allowed a guard to show us out.


This is a story about something that should never have happened. Something that never should of happened to me, my mistress, Joseph. I cried for a month, after that, I was sent to the court of Lady Elizabeth, in order to act as a lady in waiting. I married a young merchant in the end, and have four children, three boys and a girl. So, why am I thinking about the events of that Thursday afternoon?


My eldest, Joseph, wishes to go to sea, and I do not want him to go. When I close my eyes, I can still hear the screams of the men in the air, smell the gunpowder in the breeze. I know that he will go, but I wish he wouldn’t. I’ve lost someone I love to the roaring sea already. I do not wish to lose another.



Many thanks to Heidi for sharing this story with us, you can read her blog at https://hjstreet.wordpress.com/

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