With a sense of drama befitting the most advanced fighting machine of its age, a spectacle was revealed yesterday that had not been seen for nearly 500 years.As a Tudor curtain fell, the Mary Rose — an object of fascination even when people could not see it properly — was displayed in all its glory for the first time since it sank in 1545.
Until now the ship had either been shown shrouded in mist or swathed in tubes to preserve it.
At last, by stabilising the wood, conservationists have been able to give the public an unimpeded view of the ship after it was raised from the silt off Portsmouth in 1982.
The Prince of Wales said in a letter to the team: “This is the culmination of over 50 years of work and I congratulate all of you in reaching this remarkable milestone.”
Christopher Dobbs, a marine archeologist and head of interpretation at the Mary Rose Museum, said: “When we were excavating the ship underwater the visibility was so bad you could only see one or two metres at a time. You never saw the ship like this. You got a glimpse of it amongst all the ironmongery on the day it was raised.
“Previously the ship has either been shrouded in a spray system, first chilled water and then water-soluble wax, or it has been hidden behind drying ducts or in its conservation laboratory. But today is the first day we’ve had really clear views of the hull, without sprays in the way, without it being in this laboratory. To get these clear views of the hull at last is stunning. For the first time we’ve revealed the ship in all its glory.”
For some, such as Mr Dobbs, the Mary Rose project has been a lifetime’s work. He first worked on the project in 1979, when he was 21, and remembers an object he pulled out of the sea bed in 1981.
“The object that touched me most is a wooden shovel,” he said. “I remember excavating it from the silt and holding it under water. That’s the one object that I thought: ‘The last person who touched this was a Tudor sailor.’ It is beautifully carved out of one piece of cleft oak, so it is very strong. The blade and the shaft and the handle are all carved out of this one piece of wood. It is very functional but beautifully made.”
Historian David Starkey says that the Mary Rose is of global significance. “This is almost like the opening of the tomb of King Tutankhamun,” he said. “The Mary Rose is at that level of importance. There are more Tudor objects here than there are in the rest of the world put together.”
No one is really sure why, as the ship took on the French in the Battle of the Solent, the Mary Rose sank with the loss of more than 500 lives.
Dr Starkey is convinced it was its technological superiority that was its downfall — and possibly the sobriety or otherwise of the bosun. Describing the attempted French invasion as “the first battle of Brexit”, with the Catholic Church standing in for the EU, he said the Mary Rose was “the 16th-century Trident”, referring to Britain’s nuclear deterrent program.
“Henry VIII seems to be the person who invents the battleship capable of a broadside,” Dr Starkey said. “Before that you have relatively light guns mounted very high in the castles of the ship.
“It is Henry VIII who seems to put them down into the belly of the ship and invent the gunport. This is precisely why the Mary Rose sinks, because the gunport is a very new technology.”
The French used galleys, which were less well armed but more manoeuvrable. The Mary Rose tried to tack to use its broadside, took on water because the gunports had not been closed — and the rest was history.
But Dr Starkey said it may not have been the only factor. “We know there had been much dining. One’s suspicions must be that the bosun had been a little pissed.”
By Valentine Low
With many thanks to The Australian
Picture credit: Norvic Philatelics.
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