Meet the Crew of the Mary Rose

The History of the Mary Rose

Some people might tell you that the Mary Rose sank on her first outing – they couldn’t be more wrong! Find out the real story here!

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Henry VIII in 1509 by Unknown
Licensed under Public Domain via WikiMedia Commons

Henry VIII  was only 18 years old when he became King of England in 1509. One of the first things he did as King was to build up his navy. His enemies, the French and the Scots, had powerful navies and England was open to attack from both the north and the south.

In January 1510, Henry spent £700 on two ships; the Mary Rose and the Peter Pomegranate. We think she was built in Portsmouth.  In 1511 she sailed to London to be finished and have her guns put in. A lot of money was spent decorating her with flags and banners. She was the King’s flagship, and had to look the part.


The Mary Rose, from the Anthony Roll, 1546
Image courtesy of the Magdalene College Library, Cambridge

She was a warship, with heavy bronze and iron guns. She was built with watertight gunports, so she could carry more heavy guns low down in her hull. This helped keep her stable. When the Mary Rose was finished she weighed 500 tons and had a crew of 411 men.


In 1512, Henry went to war with France. The Mary Rose, commanded by Sir Edward Howard, was the flagship of the fleet, and took part in a huge naval battle off the French port of Brest. Although the English won the battle, one of their biggest ships, the Regent, caught fire and sank, along with the French ship she was fighting.


In 1513, Henry ordered his ships to set sail and race against each other. The Mary Rose won the race, and Edward Howard described her as;

“Your good ship, the flower, I [believe], of all ships that ever sailed”…

Howard died shortly afterwards when he took part in a attack on some French galleys (oared fighting ships) near Brest.


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Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Thomas Howard, Edward’s brother, took over as Admiral, and  also used the Mary Rose as his flagship. He sailed in the Mary Rose to Newcastle, to fight against the Scots, who had invaded England.  The King of Scotland was killed and his army defeated at the Battle of Flodden.


In 1514, Thomas Howard took the Mary Rose back to France, where they burnt towns and villages near Cherbourg. They did this because the French had attacked Brighton. The war ended in 1514. However, England and France went to war again in 1522 and the Mary Rose was the flagship of Howard’s fleet when they captured the French port of Morles.


Between 1527 and 1536, the Mary Rose lead a quiet life, although she did have major repairs done twice during this time.


In 1543, Henry VIII went to war with France again, and the next year he captured the town of Boulogne. Because of this, in 1545, a huge French fleet set sail for England.   The French had over 200 ships, and the English about 80, waiting in Portsmouth. Henry VIII, although old and ill, came down to oversee the battle himself. Although the English were outnumbered, the French fleet couldn’t get into Portsmouth. It was defended by fortifications, including the Round Tower, Square Tower, and the newly finished castle at Southsea.

The Cowdray Engraving, depicting the Battle of the Solent and the Loss of the Mary Rose.

On 18 July 1545, Henry had dinner with his senior officers, including the Vice-Admiral, Sir George Carew, who was in charge of the Mary Rose. At dawn on the 19 July, the French galleys attacked the English fleet. There was no wind, so the English ships were unable to move. When the wind changed, the English ships set sail. Soon after, to the watching King’s horror, the Mary Rose capsized and sank, drowning nearly all her crew.

The Mary Rose on the sea bed


After failing to capture Portsmouth or the Isle of Wight, the French fleet gave up and went home. Although Henry tried to recover the Mary Rose, she lay on the bottom of the sea until 1982, when she was raised by the Mary Rose Trust.