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Putting a Price on the Mary Rose

We get asked a lot of questions, both in the museum and online, ranging from the basic (‘how long was the Mary Rose?’ – The hull on display is 32 m long, the whole ship, from bowstem to sterncastle is estimated to have been around 42 metres when she sank.) to the absurdly technical (‘What is the diameter of the stanchions on the orlop deck’ – 80mm, and yes, I have been asked that by a visitor!)


Sometimes, though, you get a question that should be fairly simple to answer, but isn’t, such as ‘how much the Mary Rose cost to build?’


This should be easy; most of the documentation survived, the Mary Rose is mentioned by name in them and even the names of the people who were paid are mentioned, just add up the figures and off we go! Whenever a new ship-building project is announced today, a figure for its cost is always added, they must have done something similar in Tudor England?


Privy Seal Warrant, in which a payment for £700 is made for two ships, one of which will become the Mary Rose.
Image via Public Records Office.

Sadly, it’s not that simple. Firstly, the Mary Rose wasn’t built on her own, she had a sister ship, the Peter Pomegranate, which was constructed in Portsmouth at the same time on the same order. All payment references to the Mary Rose include the Peter Pomegranate, so the £700 paid to Robert Brigandine, the Clerk of the King’s ships in 1510, covers both.


‘Ah,’ you’re thinking, ‘just divide the sum by two!’ If only it was that simple. The Peter Pomegranate was smaller than the Mary Rose, 300 tons to her 400 tons (and before you do the maths, much as we’d love to think that ships cost £1 a ton, it’s probably more complicated than that!) so the Mary Rose should have cost more than the Peter Pomegranate did, but we can’t say by how much.


Anyway, £700 (about £4,172,000 in project labour costs today, according to http://www.measuringworth.com/ppoweruk/) just covers the basics. A receipt from June 1511 states that £1016 13s 4d (about £6,059,000) was spent on making two new ships of the same size. So, are these separate payments, or was the original estimate wrong?


Gold coins recovered from Mary Rose

That’s not the only payment. Do we count the £170 cost of transporting the ships from Portsmouth to London? What about the £10 5s paid for green and white coats for the soldiers and crew transporting the ships, or the £12 paid to them?


Things then get even more complicated. There’s a payment of £21 12s to Cornelis Johnson, gunmaker, for the restocking and repair of guns for four ships, one of which was the Mary Rose. Does that split four ways?  Also, it’s for the repair of the guns, not provision, and we’re unable to find how much was spent to supply ordnance to the ship.


So, if we ignore the ordnance, do we also ignore ones we do know, like the £50 19s 2d paid to William Botrys for the material to make the streamers and banners, or the £143 4s 6d paid to John Browne for painting them? What about the £66 13s 4d paid to the Master and Purser for the marvellously phrased “all manner of stuff” required to rig and deck the Mary Rose?


If you add all these up, dividing them accordingly, you get a figure of roughly £1,104 in Tudor money, or £6,580,000 in modern project labour costs today. However, as we’ve said that leaves out some probably extreme expenditure, such as the guns, as well as possibly taking or missing expenditure from the Peter Pomegranate. Then, you have the issue of the Mary Rose being rebuilt/refitted between 1536-1539, adding further expenditure.


So, you COULD say the Mary Rose cost £6,580,000 to build, but it probably didn’t.



This article was written by Simon Clabby for the Mary Rose website. All opinions are his own, and may not represent those of the Mary Rose Trust.


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