October 2017 marks the 35th anniversary of the raising of Henry VIII’s flagship The Mary Rose, which sank off Portsmouth in 1545. Here we feature a fascinating selection of the Mary Rose Museum’s collection of 19,000 well-preserved artefacts from the wreck; many of them revealing the global reach of the Tudor world
A silver pendant in the shape of a ‘Maltese’ cross set with a garnet and suspension loop which still retains a circular link. While buried in the sea bed the cross has fused itself to two silver rings – did they all belong to the same man lost with the ship in 1545?
The Knights of Malta (also known as the Knights Hospitallers of St. John) ruled the Maltese islands between 1530 and 1798 and during the Tudor period several noblemen from England were members of its order. Tudor politics and belief in the time of Henry VIII was however at best turbulent, and many of the the Knights fell out of favour during Henry’s English Reformation. Several noblemen were executed for refusing to recognise the supremacy of the King. Crosses were however worn throughout the period, usually on a chain around the neck.
This wicker covered wine flask contained wine that was probably imported from the Beauvais region of France. Most wine came from France but strong, sweet wine from the Mediterranean was also very popular, although only the officers on board drank it – as well as beer, a gallon of which was issued to regular crewmen every day. Beer was deemed safer to drink than water as the brewing process killed most of the germs and also contained calories and vitamin B. It is said beer kept the Tudor navy “happy and healthy” and several breweries in Portsmouth were kept busy supplying the fleet.
It is rare to find wine bottles of this age and type with their wicker basket in place; the bottles had conical bottoms so the wicker work may have served the practical purpose keeping the bottle upright on deck.
This small bone carving, recovered from a chest on the main deck of the Mary Rose, is carved with two ‘angels’ carrying tall decorated candles in front of a building with a shuttered window.
The angels are dressed in the style of 15th century Italy, specifically that of a female saint or an angel, which suggests this may have been an old family heirloom, dating back as far as 1420, and may even have been part of a casket or triptych, showing a religious procession through an Italian town. Angels’ dresses were popular in the 15th century in Renaissance Italy (i.e. The Coronation of the Virgin by Filippo Lippi dated to the 1460s). This dress is called gamurra and probably dates c.1420, and possibly originally formed part of a triptych.
Panels of similar shape were produced by north Italian workshops in the late 14th and 15th century and you can see examples of them in the British Museum.
Eighty two nit combs were found on the Mary Rose, making them the most commonly found personal objects recovered. With the exception of one made from ivory, they were all fashioned from wood, mainly boxwood, with a single alder example.
Thousands of these combs were imported from the continent during Tudor times, and although most of them were made in wood occasionally an elephant ivory examples survives. As well as being used to remove nits and fleas they were also used to style the hair of the Tudor sailors, although several in the collection still have nits in them.
Syringes were used as urethral syringes, for treating diseases such as syphilis. However the use of mercury for such treatment and the fact that mercury corrodes pewter rather rapidly suggests that this pewter syringe was more likely used to administer a non-corrosive fluid such as rosewater, or acidic ones such as wine or vinegar, which were used for flushing out wounds. They could also have been used for draining fluids from the bladder.
Mercury would be administered with a syringe made of bone or horn. While small traces of mercury were found in the Barber Surgeon’s chest, there was no sign of bone or horn syringes, nor of the sorts of diseases that require mercury on the bones of the crew.
Pomander & cord
This boxwood example of a ponder was recovered from the Main Deck, and is the only one found on the Mary Rose. It was attached via a plaited silk cord to a leather scabbard, and is believed to have been owned by one of the archers.
The carrying of pomanders was a common practice in medieval and Tudor times to combat noxious smells. It would have been filled with dried herbs, flowers or spices to produce a sweet scent which could be inhaled when the pomander was raised close to the nose. While it may have been simply to cover the smell of the ship (which, considering that recently there had been an outbreak of dysentery, would have been pretty bad), it could also have been an attempt to protect the owner from disease, which was thought to be spread by bad smells.
This ornately carved ivory earscoop, used to remove earwax from the ears of the owner, was found in a bone manicure set located, not in an officer’s chest as might be expected, but in the carpenter’s cabin. Ear scoops – many of which were made of silver, were a popular implement in the Tudor period and the find suggests that at least one of the carpenters took care of his appearance as there was also a comb, razor, shaving brush and a little mirror associated with it.
This bowl, found on the Orlop Deck of the Mary Rose, is inscribed with the words “Ny Coup Cook”. A tankard from the main deck is also marked “Ny Cop”, giving a name to the man who fed the 400 crew plus officers. The cook was paid the same as the Master Carpenter and the Master Gunner and he worked in the galley, which was at the lowest area of the ship. The skeleton found nearby was found to be that of a man in his 30s, with heavy strong bones that showed evidence of a working life spent bent over.
Also Nearby were hundreds of plates, bowls and cooking tools. Evidence of food stuff recovered from the wreck includes nine barrels containing bones from cattle, their carcasses halved and cut into joints, pig bones, huge North Sea cod, plum or prune stones, pea pods and peppercorns.
Iron port gun
The most common large guns on the Mary Rose were iron, breech-loading port pieces firing hand-carved stone shot through gun ports in the side of the ship. The firing of large carriage guns capable of holing enemy ships, was a relatively new innovation by the time of Mary Rose. The guns had a removable chamber, held in place with a large wooden block. Several of them could be prepared with gunpowder and projectiles making reloading easier.
However, the method of manufacture, involving metal rings holding iron staves in place, made the guns prone to structural failure so they didn’t have the strength or range of the solid bronze guns that were also on board, but they could be loaded and fired very quickly.
Low cost and giving a rough indication of time, the sun dials found on the Mary Rose were probably made in Germany for a latitude of between 49 and 50 north. A latitude of 49.5 crosses central Europe and indicates the area of Nuremberg, which was an important production centre of high quality sundials, particularly later in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Arabic numerals on this example are typical of the period up to about 1550 with a ‘2’ which written as ‘Z’.
This pocket sundial also features a collapsible brass gnomon (the part that casts the shadow), allowing a lid with a mirror inside to be placed on the top. It would have had a sunken compass built in and a magnetised needle balanced on a brass pin and covered with a brass-lined panel of either mica or glass to allow the owner to align it with the sun. It’s been claimed that the Mary Rose sundials could probably give a reading accurate to within 5 minutes.
This ash peppermill was found inside an oak chest on the Orlop deck. It comes in three parts; the Handle/Pestle (the conical part on the left), the central mortar and the collecting cup (both on the right.) The central mortar would have contained metal grinding plates, against which the peppercorns would have been ground, falling through into the collecting cup which was held in place by a locking flange. Pepper was an expensive commodity at the time, so this item would almost certainly have belonged to an officer or been used to flavour the food served to the officers on board.
Find out more about the Mary Rose, her crew and the thousands of artefacts that have been recovered from the wreck site since the 1970s at www.maryrose.org/discover-our-collection/
For more on the events marking 35 years since the raising of the Mary Rose see www.maryrose.org
Mary Rose Museum at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
The Mary Rose was one of the earliest ships to carry heavy guns. She was a favourite of King Henry VIII and sank off Portsmouth in 1545 during an engagement with a French invasion fleet, in full view of the King, the screams of the men onboard, ringing in his…