The Mary Rose is home to a host of amazingly preserved artefacts, many of which feature decorations such as Tudor Roses, Fleur de Lys and lions, but there are one or two more fantastical beasts lurking in our collections…
The most obvious artefacts to feature fantastic beasts are our linstocks, sticks used to light and fire the cannons, many of which feature a reptilian head. While some might say these are crocodiles, the fact they hold burning cords in their mouths suggests they might be dragons.
There are fantastic beasts on the guns too, with them supporting the Royal Arms of Henry VIII and the Tudor family. However, these are not the ones we are usually familiar with. While today the Royal family uses a Lion and a Unicorn, the Tudors hadn’t settled on a design yet, so we get one featuring a Dragon and a Greyhound while another features Lion and a Wyvern. This last one is a bit tricky to see, but if you look down from the top deck of the museum through the vent above it, you can see it.
While most of our guns feature lions as lifting rings, one of our culverins features a merman, with wings and a split tail similar to that of the female Merlusine of European legend, which is probably more famous these days for featuring as the Starbucks logo. Our merman looks a lot less happy – maybe he’s spilled his coffee?
Moving away from guns, we have a wrist guard, belonging to one of the bowmen on the Mary Rose, which features several Worshipful company insignia, which include a Griffin wearing a crown. You can learn a bit more about this here.
Finally, we have a knife sheath featuring a two-headed eagle, which is probably a Reichsadler, the symbol of the Holy Roman Empire which covered much of Europe, including Germany. There’s also one on a balance case, which contained a pair of tiny scales. The two-headed eagle has a long history, originating in Hittite iconography, and featured in both Christian and Islamic iconography during the Tudor period, and even into today. Many branches of Christianity, European countries, and even the London Borough of Wimbledon, feature this heraldic beast on their flags and arms.
See more of our collection in our artefact gallery!