Figurehead of the Mary Rose

Basic Information

Figurehead type
Figurehead of the Mary Rose
Vessel name
Mary Rose
Type (Naval/Merchant)
Copyright owner
© Mary Rose Museum, NMRN
Copyright notes
Current location
Mary Rose Museum
Location date

Physical Information

A Tudor rose.
Date made
Place made
Object history
The first English warship with a figurehead and the oldest in existence. Discovered during the 2005 diving season.
Vessel history
The earliest reference to the 'Mary Rose' by name appears in a record of a payment made by Henry VIII for bringing the ship to the River Thames. She may have been named after Henry’s favourite sister, Mary, and the emblem of the Tudors, the rose. The Mary Rose first saw battle in 1512, in a naval operation with the Spanish against the French. The English attacked the French and Breton fleets in the English Channel, while the Spanish attacked them in the Bay of Biscay. In 1513 the 'Mary Rose' took part in a race against other ships in the English fleet, and was then chosen again by Howard as his flagship for another mission against the French fleet near Brest. The 'Mary Rose' was involved in skirmishes against the French throughout the summer, but both sides were by now exhausted. The war was over by the autumn, thanks to a new treaty and the marriage of Henry’s sister Mary to the French King Louis XII. n 1522, England went to war against France once more. The 'Mary Rose' helped escort troops over to France, and by 1 July the Breton port of Morlaix was captured. The Mary Rose then sailed home to Dartmouth. The Mary Rose was kept in reserve from 1522 to 1535 . Despite the ever-present threat of war, particularly from Scotland, the years were quiet ones for the 'Mary Rose'. In 1527 she was caulked and repaired in a new dock at Portsmouth.

Although there is little surviving documentary evidence, it seems that the 'Mary Rose' was reinforced and refitted at around 1535-36. This was at the same period that Henry VIII was dissolving the monasteries, which brought him much-needed revenue that may have funded this work.

No one knows exactly what changes were made to the 'Mary Rose', but experts speculate that her construction may have been altered from clinker planking to carvel planking. Following the break with the Pope, Henry VIII was particularly isolated in Europe. In 1544 he agreed with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to attack France. However, Charles V made his own peace with France, leaving England even more isolated.

In May 1545, the French navy gathered in the Seine estuary, intending to land troops on English soil. The English fleet mustered at Portsmouth under Viscount Lisle. In early July the French fleet set sail and entered the Solent with 128 ships on 16 July. The English had 80 ships in place to oppose them, including the 'Mary Rose', but retreated into Portsmouth harbour as the fighting vessels were most effective in sheltered water.

The first day of the Battle of the Solent consisted of a long range cannonade between the French galleys and the English fleet in which neither side suffered any real loss. On the night of the 18 July 1545, Henry VIII dined on the flagship, the 'Henry Grace a Dieu', along with his admiral Viscount Lisle.

There are conflicting accounts as to what happened in the battle. According to the French, early in the morning of the 19 July, the French galleys took up the battle, trying to lure the English within range of their main fleet. The calm allowed the French to pound the English ships all too easily. Suddenly, much to the delight of the French, the 'Mary Rose' heeled over and sank.

Other accounts say that the French fleet attacked when Henry VIII was at dinner, and the 'Mary Rose' sank towards the evening. What is certain is that hundreds of men aboard the 'Mary Rose' drowned as she went down, with only around 25 survivors. After the Battle of the Solent, a number of attempts were made to salvage the ship. Expert Tudor divers were hired to undertake the work, and on the 1st August it was reported that “By Monday or Tuesday the Mary Rose shall be weighed up and saved.”

However, this confidence was premature. They failed in lifting the ship, and weren’t able to shift her into shallow ground either. Despite all the strenuous efforts, the Mary Rose remained stuck fast on the seabed, and by December 1545, all attempts at salvage had been abandoned. After sinking, the Mary Rose embedded herself deeply in the soft upper sediments of the seabed, resting on the hard clay below. For centuries she lay on her starboard side at an angle of around 60 degrees, and acted as a silt trap for the Solent currents.

The surviving portion of the ship had filled up rapidly, leaving her port side exposed to the currents and marine organisms. Sometime during the 17th and 18th centuries the entire site was covered with a layer of hard grey clay, which sealed it off from further erosion.

In 1836, pioneer divers John and Charles Deane discovered the site of the wreck and recovered a bronze demi cannon gun probably made at a foundry at Salisbury Place, London.
Mary Rose Museum website

Ownership Information

Owner type
Public Institution
Owner name
The Mary Rose Trust
Contact details
National Museum of the Royal Navy, HM Naval Base (PP66), Portsmouth PO1 3NH
Ownership can be cited online
Accessible to public
Data verified by owner
Date verified

Connect with us

Our social media space