The Mary Rose Emblem – A Tudor figurehead reconstructed

The Mary Rose Emblem on The Anthony Roll

The Mary Rose Emblem (inset) visible on The Anthony Roll
Image Courtesy Pepys Library, Magdelene College, Cambridge

As the 2005 excavation season on the wreck site drew to a close, an eroded timber was found in the bow area of the site.  As we sprayed it on deck the illusive image of a rose appeared – was this the emblem that can be seen above the bowsprit in the only surviving contemporary illustration we have of the Mary Rose afloat?


The artefact’s detail was captured, imaged and analysed by the University of Portsmouth Creative Technologies and Geography departments. Techniques included laser scanning, photogrammetry, oblique light photography, computer modelling and 3D rendering.  These exposed more detail and produced an image of the distinctive Tudor Rose, one of Henry VIII’s badges.

Computer 3-D model, created and rendered with a wooden texture (unpainted) to show how the object might have looked in 1545. Courtesy of the University Of Portsmouth – V. Powell, P. Howell, D. Fontana, M. Schaefer and Linley Hastewell.


The object is made from a single piece of oak, formed into a stalk topped with a disk.  Although eroded, it is clear that both sides of the disk were carved. The stalk is pierced with three holes for iron fixings which secured it to timbers inside the ship.  The emblem was mounted so that the rose carving could be seen from either side of the ship. One side has a cut channel – possibly for a rope.


Our carved timber may be the first example of an emblem on an English warship representing the name of the ship.  It may be the starting point for the tradition of figureheads common on English ships between the 17th and 19th centuries.   When wooden ships were replaced by iron, carved wooden figureheads gave way to the badges we still use today.