The Mary Rose: 1511-1545.
One of Henry VIII’s little runabouts and a defence against the (perennially) grumbling Scots and the (perpetually) disgruntled French. The Mary Rose had a thirty-four year long, highly successful career before acquiring a surfeit of negative buoyancy in July of 1545 during the Third (Officially Declared) French War. She sank quickly and with several hundred men aboard, there being only approximately thirty-four survivors.
After the Battle of The Solent had finished, and the correct side had won, Venetian salvage operators were hired to raise the Mary Rose. On the 1st of August 1545 they declared that the vessel would be back afloat by “Monday or Tuesday”…
Foreign contractors being what they are, the Mary Rose sat on the seabed, unmoved, and was next visited nearly three hundred years later, in 1836, when a couple of chancers took a dive and managed to nick a few cannon and some other stuff that wasn’t nailed down.
What larks, eh?
There being little to no rush (in the past, England kept more than one ship serviceable at a time…) all thoughts of the Mary Rose were put aside again for a while, and it wasn’t until 1965 that a chap called “the late Alexander McKee” began to sniff around again with the new “SONAR” nonsense. At about half past 1971, he found the beast and work began on recovery.
The remains of the vessel were extremely carefully preserved, and a museum built especially to display them. Website and details here.
In spite of all of this effort, the Mary Rose project had to wait until April of 2018 for an inspection by Yours Truly (He-Who Must Be Obeyed), and the The Bro.
Happily, to the relief of the museum staff, the Mary Rose museum passed inspection with flying colours, and was awarded the “The Cardinal Wolsey Seal of Approval” (although this isn’t actually a real seal, so there’s no need for a tank to be built or for supplies of fish to be found).
Seriously – Blenheim Palace, you grotty little amateur effort, take note – The Mary Rose Museum shows exactly How Things Such As This Ought To Be Done. The Mary Rose Museum is the bee’s bollocks, the dog’s knees, the Full (Museum-)Monty.
The building itself is a delight, with, importantly, no more than five percent of its volume turned over to peripheral purposes (das café and ye giftie shoppe), the elephant’s proportion being wholly devoted (like a wholly mammoth, I suppose… ba-dum!) to the purpose for which it was founded and funded – the preservation and exhibition of the remains of the Mary Rose.
Excellent, most excellent indeed. Tick, VG, and don’t see me, I’ve already seen you.
The building is, essentially, a large and very fancy warehouse, but with a spiral of viewing galleries at the edge looking over the hull timbers, and with the “finds” displayed on those galleries, roughly at the level they were found and opposite their position in the wreckage.
The museum is designed for adults – halle-ruddy-lujah. There are no play-pens for post-millennial kiddiwinkles, no ticky-tacky “hands-on experiences for three-to-eighteen year old snowflakes”, and no “social educators” facilitating “Tudor non-threatening gender-fluid finger-painting sessions with rainbow sprinkles”. Other such facilities, take note – the Mary Rose museum is not “dumbed down”. The entire exhibit area has the air of a properly-run library, and is, thus and therefore, bloody brilliant.
As you would expect for a shipwreck that is half eleventy-ten hundred years old, it appears to be presented in an air-conditioned, atmosphere-controlled glass box. The great surprise is that when a visitor has worked their way up to the top “floor”, the visitor suddenly finds themselves going through glass airlock doors and then sharing the same atmosphere as the ship. You can look down upon it without any glass in the way. I wonder if this is possible on the highest level of the building because the coughs, sneezes and rectal-halitosis of Her Majesty’s Great Unwashed are sucked up and away from the exhibit through vents in the ceiling? That’s my theory, and, rather like the gusset of my cheesecloth mankini in this warm weather, I am sticking to it.
Unlike the Ship of Theseus, these timbers are actually the ones bought and paid for by Henry the VIII, the actual timbers that went into battle time and again over their thirty-four year naval career, the ones that sank while some one hundred and twenty-eight French upstart vessels (tautology, Timothy, tautology…) got their noses bloodied by, as is usual, just eighty of Henry’s navy.
This isn’t a cold and clinical exhibit either, there is personal history here by the bucketful – right up to and including the skellington (sic) of the ship’s dog, who drowned along with most of the crew, proving, if proof be needed, how faithful is the domesticated hound. In sharp contrast, the ship’s cat is known to have commandeered a lifeboat and to have paddled away without helping survivors.
There are shoes, tools – combs by the hundred – pots, plates, archery paraphernalia and even the parchment copy of Tudor Babe Pictorial that had been hanging in the midshipmen’s bog when the bottom of the ship got disastrously close to the seabed.
At certain times life-sized images (with sound) are projected onto various portions of the timbers, with actors playing out the life and tasks that would have gone on in that part of the ship. It is splendidly done.
The visitor may wander at leisure, the staff are numerous, visible, knowledgeable and friendly (in stark, stark contrast to those at Blenheim). Photography is encouraged, provided one does not use flash. The coffee is good, the cake excellent and of sufficient portion to feed two mid-sized families from the Hell-hole that is Bolton, for a week.
Just in case you haven’t guessed yet, I thoroughly enjoyed the visit and thought the place to be run in a most commendable fashion. I have left instructions that they are to continue in this vein.
Quite why the Mary Rose sank isn’t known. One plausible theory is that she turned too quickly, was hit by a gust of windypops, keeled over and her open gun-ports dipped under the wet stuff. Suddenly aunty Neptune was Bob, your drowning uncle. There is a joke going around – oh how we laughed – about the French navy claiming to have sunk her! Titter ye not monsieur, but do comez-vous back with another le theory whenever you feel like being serious.
Sunk though she was, the Mary Rose did at least have one distinct advantage over England’s modern fleet – she actually went to sea and fought, as designed, while the modern fleet suffers from more chronic & catastrophic breakdowns than a British Leyland era Austin Allegro, and we appear to have paid for a new Aircraft Carrier that can’t, as yet, carry any aircraft.
The modern navy is very good with canoes, apparently, and those pedal-powered things that they have on Corporation Park ponds, the things shaped like plastic swans. England thus continues to terrify the French and the Russians in the English Channel and, provided that the sea is calm, we maintain our dominance of international waters.
Had he been in just slightly better health at the time of his death, Henry VIII would, today, be spinning in his grave. As it is, I am sure that his belly is flopping about as he tries to at least roll over half-way in an expression of horror at the decay of our Establishment and infrastructure. Were he able to visit the Mary Rose in her new home though, I have no doubt, no doubt at all that he would chuckle and probably refrain that day from executing anyone.
Books by Ian Hutson… available on Amazon and all good, bad or ugly book shops.
Cheerio, And Thanks For The Apocalypse – COMING SOON!