The Men of the Mary Rose
Not much is known of specific individuals who drowned on the Mary Rose. Only the names of the Vice Admiral, Sir George Carew and the Captain, Roger Grenville are known, but a study of the crew’s belongings and their bones suggests they were young and strong, and dressed with some comfort and elegance.
One cabin contained a range of tools for carpentry, including a mallet, brace, planes, rulers and a mortise gauge. The carpenter also kept his prized pewter safely locked away in a chest, along with silver coins and jewellery, a book, an embroidered leather pouch and a sundial in an embossed leather case.
This suggests that the carpenter was wealthy. Only someone with wealth and status would have owned such items, and have been able to justify having a personal chest which would have taken up precious room on the crowded ship.
A group of six skeletons were found in a group near a 2-tonne bronze gun on the main deck. Five of the skeletons were strong men with big muscles. The vertebrae in the spines show signs of ossification, or the growth of new bone. This shows that they were involved in heavy work.
Were the five men a complete gun crew, all of whom may have drowned at their battle station? Perhaps the smaller skeleton was a ‘powder monkey’, a young boy who carried gunpowder to the gun crews.
Historians were able to identify the skeleton of the Master Gunner by the two jerkins he was wearing, which had been stained by the lid of the gunpowder dispenser he was carrying. He was in charge of all guns, shot and gunpowder. He had to prepare and secure the guns, and also trained the gun crews. He used a whistle to give commands, including when to fire the guns.
Over 130 longbows and several thousand arrows were found on the Mary Rose, so she must have been carrying a number of longbow archers. Examination of the skeletal remains shows that many men had a condition called os acromiale, which affected their shoulder blades. Modern professional archers today have a similar condition. It’s caused by stress on the arm and shoulder muscles when shooting an arrow. The condition gives us a good idea of which of the men were archers.
Surgeons were extremely important people in the crew as any infection in the crowded community could seriously affect the running of the ship. They were often highly skilled, and would have had to be able to perform surgery such as amputating a wounded limb or cauterising a wound to help it heal.
The excavations found the remains of the surgeon’s cabin on the starboard side of the main deck. In his cramped cabin he would have acted as a doctor, dentist and pharmacist. The cabin had a large wooden chest which contained canisters filled with ointments, as well as peppercorns which were used as a medicine. He also had two metal syringes, some surgical tools and a bowl to collect a patient’s blood.
His equipment included razors, a whetstone and a shaving bowl.
The cook was paid the same as the Master Carpenter and the Master Gunner, and was responsible for feeding over 400 men and preparing more elaborate meals for the officers. He worked in the galley, which was at the lowest area of the ship. Nearby were hundreds of plates, bowls and cooking tools.
The Cook had two ovens. Built into the top of each was a very large brass cauldron, the content of just one, was enough to feed everyone on board. Some graffiti found on a bowl and a tankard suggests that the cook was named Ny Cop or Ny Coep.
In a small store on the orlop deck, divers found the remains of a man now believed to be the purser. He was trapped here when the ship sank, along with his chest which contained a large number of gold and silver coins.
The purser was responsible for paying and mustering the crew, keeping accounts of stores, buying supplies and issuing food and drink according to the rations list. The purser may also have been a money changer, as a small box was found on the upper deck with a set of scales for specific gold coins.
Of the 50 chests recovered from the Mary Rose, 28 had personal possessions inside. Chests were the traditional storage containers for possessions belonging to the wealthier members of a ship’s crew – the officers and gentlemen. One chest contained an Italian carving and a lead token similar to ones used on the Continent. Was he a gentleman from Italy or Spain perhaps?
One chest contained objects including two swords and a mould for making shot for swivel guns. Perhaps the chest’s owner was responsible for organising the ship’s fighting crew. He could have been a quartermaster, in charge of a quarter of the fighting men on board.
In the Tudor period a fifth ‘quarter’ was recommended with a captain of the hold, responsible for all the mariners stationed below decks during a battle to fix any damage. This fifth quarter may explain why so many men were found below decks.