The Mary Rose - Henry VIII's Lost Flagship Revealed at Last

The Mary Rose Imagined

Geoff Hunt / Mary Rose Trust

The Mary Rose, the oldest naval ship in existence, is ready for her close-up at last.

After 437 years buried under the silt of the Solent (the channel between Portsmouth on the south coast of England and the Isle of Wight), followed by 34 years of excavation and preservation, the pride of Henry VIII's Royal Navy was revealed to the public on July 19, 2016 - 471 years from the day she sank.

Raising the Mary Rose, in 1982, cost millions of pounds and captured the imaginations of people around the world. More than 60 million watched the event live, as it happened.

Then the Mary Rose disappeared from view while scientists and archaeologists worked to preserve her hull and to study the more than 19,000 objects that were retrieved with her.

The £35 million museum built to house the ship and to tell her story, through the formemost collection of Tudor artifacts in the world, opened in 2013. But the ship's hull itself remained hidden from view in the temperature controlled box in which it was drying.  Before that it had been sprayed 24/7 - for 30 years - with a preservative mixture.

The Big Reveal

Then, in July 2016, before an audience of press and invited guests, to a fanfare of trumpets, an introduction by distinguished British actors and historians, and the pealing of the ships own bell, the Mary Rose was at last revealed.

Watch a video of the big reveal of the Mary Rose.
Find out more about The Mary Rose Museum
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The Mary Rose Museum

The Mary Rose Museum
© Gareth Gardner courtesy of the Mary Rose Trust

The Mary Rose Museum, sits beside Admiral Nelson's ship, HMS Victory in the Portsmouth Historic Dockyards. It occupies the spot where, more than 500 years earlier, she was actually built and within sight of where she went down - as King Henry VIII watched from the shore.

The museum's design reflects the shape of the ship within. Visitors walk along galleries beside each deck of the preserved starboard side of the hull. Galleries opposite each deck are shadow images of that deck's port side. Thousands of objects, retrieved during 27,831 dives and 22,710 hours of marine archaeology and seabed excavation are arranged within the shadow galleries where they would have been used. In all, there are nine galleries and the Mary Rose hull is visible from all of them. From the top deck, where the glass barrier is just a few feet high, visitors can, for the first time since she sank, breathe the same air as the Mary Rose.

A Moment in Time

When the Mary Rose heeled over and sank in the Solent, only about 35 of the 500 men aboard survived. The rest went to the bottom in minutes, taking all their tools and possessions with them. It was only because of a freak of the tides that silt covered and preserved so much. Now, the Mary Rose is like a time capsule, revealing objects that don't exist anywhere else - that have only been seen in paintings or written about in contemporary accounts and inventories.

One item, for example, is a musical instrument known as a still shawm. It was believed to have been invented 50 years after the Mary Rose sank in 1545. The instrument, a precursor of the oboe, went down and was recovered waterlogged but intact, in its box.

Other objects found and now on display include leather shoes, carpenter's tools, the ship's surgeons equipment, hundreds of unstrung long bows, bronze cannons, and partially made stone cannon balls along with wooden gauges used to size them. There are coins, personal sundials, tiny playing dice in a deerskin pouch, dishes, spoons, mugs of leather and wood, ropes and rigging still redolent of tar, the skeleton of the ships dog, even nit combs with nits still in them.

The techniques used to preserve and retrieve her artifacts advanced the sciences of underwater archaeology and material conservation. The historical discoveries changed much of our understanding of Tudor England. And the Mary Rose holds a surprisingly vital place in British naval history.

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The Bones of Henry VIII's Royal Navy

The Mary Rose in 2016
© Stephen Foote, courtesy of the Mary Rose Trust

Think of Henry VIII and the stories of his doomed marriages and beheaded wives, his break with the Catholic church and the portraits of him in bloated old age all come to mind. But apart from historians, few people realize that Henry VIII's brilliant strategy led to the creation of the Royal Navy and British domination of the seas for hundreds of years.

It was Henry VIII who first realized that a strong navy would ensure Britain's security and economic success. His idea was to establish a permanent fleet - what he called his "army at sea." From that commitment came Britain's 16th century explorations, developments in martime technology, diet and navigation, its 17th and 18th century trading centers and colonies in the New World, India and the Pacific, and eventually to the biggest empire in history. At its height, in the 19th century, the British Empire covered one quarter of the earth's surface and ruled a quarter of its population.

And It All Began with the Mary Rose

That's only a slight exaggeration. When Henry came to the throne in 1509, one of the first things he did was commission two ships; the Mary Rose and the Peter Pomegranate. These were the foundation of the modern Royal Navy. The Mary Rose was apparently his favorite. Amond her technological innovations were her gunports. She was one of the first ships to be designed with gunports for heavier guns, lower down the ship. Some believe that those very gunports, left open by a careless seaman as the ship came about, may have led to her sinking, some 34 years later.

Plan a visit to the Mary Rose
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Plan Your Visit to the Mary Rose

Mary Rose Projections
Courtesy of the Mary Rose Trust

 The Mary Rose Museum is one of several attractions in the Portsmouth Historic Dockyards (original home of the British Royal Navy). 

  • Where: Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, HM Naval Base, Portsmouth PO1 3LJ
  • Telephone: Museum - +44(0)23 9281 2931, Ticket questions - +44 (0)23 9283 9766
  • Hours: From 10am. to 5:30pm in summer (last admission 4:45pm) and to 5pm in winter (last entry 4:15pm. Open every day except Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
  • Time for Visit: It takes between 90 and 120 minutes to see the museum but once inside you can stay as long as you like.
  • Admission: Tickets for adult admission to the Mary Rose Museum, in 2016, cost £18 and are good for one year's unlimited entry. Tickets are also available for children under 16, seniors, students, the disabled and family groups. When disabled visitors are accompanied by a carer, the carer is admitted free of charge. Tickets do not have to be booked in advance. Tickets can be purchased online or at the visitor's center near the entrance to the dockyard.
  • Getting There:
    • By train Trains leave regularly from London Waterloo and London Victoria for the hour and a half trip to Portsmouth Harbour. Check National Rail Enquiries for times and prices.
    • By coach: National Express Coaches run regular services from Victoria Coach Station in London to the Hard Interchange in Portsmouth which is right next to the entrance to the Historic Dockyards.
    • By car: Portsmouth is  72 miles south of London via the A3 and the M27. The Mary Rose Museum is beyond Nelson's ship, HMS Victory, in the Historic Dockyards on the corner of Queen Street and The Hard. Parking in nearby parking lots is signposted.
  • Visit their website

Other Attractions at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

For enthusiasts of naval history, the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard has enough attractions to justify a a short break or repeat visits.

Each of the following attractions can be priced separately or visited with an All Attraction ticket good for one year. 

  • Queen Victoria's ironclad ship, HMS Warrior, the Royal Navy's first iron-hulled, armored warship, built in 1860.
  • HMS Victory - the Royal Navy's most famous warship and the oldest commissioned ship in the world. Admiral Lord Nelson was fatally wounded on HMS Victory during the Battle of Trafalgar.
  • HMS M.33 -the Royal Navy's only surviving vessel from the 1915 Gallipoli campaign. One of only three British warships from WWI still in existence.
  • Harbour tours, weather permitting
  • National Museum of the Royal Navy Portsmouth - 350 years of naval history and treasures
  • Boathouse 4 - a free family attraction with hands-on children's activities and an indoor mast-climbing experience. 
  • Action Stations - an activity attraction with physical challenges, simulators, Laserquest, technology and the tallest indoor climbing tower in the UK.

If you do decide to stay, read guest reviews and find the best deal for Portsmouth hotels in TripAdvisor


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