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Naming Names: Who Crewed the Mary Rose?

If you visit our neighbour HMS Victory at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, in the Port arena (the one they share with us) is an information board naming all 821 crew who fought at the battle of Trafalgar. People find it fascinating looking up the names, seeing if they have a relative on board (though if it’s something like Smith or Johnson, probably best not to go announcing it proudly).


Occasionally, we get people claiming that they had an ancestor on the Mary Rose (though it often turns out it was one of the other ships to bear the name), but when they do mean our Mary Rose, unlike HMS Victory we’re sadly unable to assist these people.


The main problem is that we don’t have an entire crew manifest for the Mary Rose, either for when she sank or any time prior; this appears to have either been a later concept, or the records have simple not survived. However, we do have a few names we can attribute to the crew of the Mary Rose.


Southampton Tudor House.jpg

Southampton Tudor House, home of Sir John Dawtrey
via Wikimedia Commons

Before we start on the crew, though, we can look at who built the Mary Rose. Commissioned by the king, Henry VIII, and his Clerk of the Ships, Robert Brigandine, the Mary Rose was built by a company owned by Sir John Dawtrey, a Southampton-based merchant and landowner, as well as the local tax collector. Crew uniforms of white and green were provided by Richard Palshide (Southampton), the reused guns were repaired by Cornelis Johnson (London), flags, banners and streamers were provided by William Botrys and John Browne, both of London.


The first crew names we get are her Masters – John Clerke (September 1511) and Thomas Sperte (October 1511-at least August 1513), and Pursers – David Boner ( October 1511 – January 1512) and John Lawden (November 1511 – January 1512 – clearly they had two at the same time!)


The first captain we have a name for is Thomas Wyndham (April-July 1512), who served under the Chief Captain, and Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Edward Howard (April 1512 – May 1513).


Hans Holbein the Younger - Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk (Royal Collection).JPG

Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk


Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.


After Howard’s death at the Siege of Brest, his brother Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk took command (May 1513-June 1522), which leads us to getting a long list of crew for May-August 1513, including the Captain (Edward Braye), Surgeon (Robert Symson) and his assistant (Henry Yonge), Purser (John Brerely), ‘Gunner’ (Andrew Fysche, who was paid 13s 4d ‘to heal him of his hurts’) and Master (still Thomas Sperte!)


Edward Braye remained as Captain until February 1514, when he was replaced by Sir Henry Sherburn.  In March, Thomas Sperte was replaced as master by John Brown, who remained in the role until at least June 1522. Sperte (sometimes spelled Spert) would later go on to hold the title of Clerk Controller of the King’s Ships, and receive a knighthood!


In 1524 the Mary Rose was out of active service, so the only recorded crew member was the shipkeeer, Fadere Connor.


Hans Holbein the Younger - Sir George Carew RL 12197.jpg

Sir George Carew
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

In 1539, Richard Baker, also known as “Skenthroppe”, Robert Grygges, William Oram and Marmaduke Colman, were recorded as being ‘mariners’ on the Mary Rose, in ordinary in Greenwich, in court documents after they got drunk and attacked a Portuguese merchant vessel (on their own, not with the Mary Rose). What happened to them afterwards, we are unable to tell, but it’s possible they remained on the Mary Rose until she sank.


Our next record of crew isn’t until 1545, the year she sank, with Vice Admiral George Carew as her Admiral and Chief Captain. Carew had been in command less than 24 hours before the loss of the Mary Rose. There are also unconfirmed records of a Roger Grenville being on the Mary Rose when she sank.


Nye Coep?
Image by Oscar Nillson

Any other crew are subject to conjecture, but we believe the cook may have been called Ny Coep, the surgeon may have had the initials ‘WE’, and at least one officers seems to have had the initials ‘GI’.


As you may have noticed, the majority of those names are officers, ordinary crew are only identified through disreputable behaviour leading them into the legal system, or from their own belongings. This shows how little we know about the past outside of the activities of the upper classes, unless you look at the objects belonging to real people, which is one reason why the Mary Rose is such an important archaeological find.


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