We may never know what exactly went wrong that day in 16” as the French Navy sailed into the Solent off Portsmouth, England. King Henry’s Royal Navy stood at the ready to engage and rebuff these saucy French who dare invade the waters of Britain. The King’s best ships assembled in formation with the pride and joy of the fleet, the Mary Rose named after Henry’s sister Mary and Captained by Roger Grenville, taking her rightful place at the head of the 80 ship strong Royal Navy.
King Henry stood on the shore as the first cannon shot were fired, The Mary Rose answered the French by shooting every gun on her one side. Captain Grenville ordered her about to loose the cannon on the other side. Suddenly she began to fill with water as the great hull heeled over to turn because the lower cannon ports were still open. Perhaps the gunners weren’t fast enough in closing them, maybe the order had not reached them before the sheets were pulled to bring her about but drastic consequences ensued. Henry must have watched in horror as his beloved ship incredibly tipped over and began to immediately sink. Legend says he could hear the cries of the sailors, Marines and longbow-men. There were hundreds of souls aboard that day and only 25 survived. Those below decks were trapped beneath the hemp webbing that was over the hatches to prevent any enemy who might board from getting below decks. Even though the English were successful in chasing the French back to the mainland, the loss of the Mary Rose was a great sadness.
In 1971 the hull of the ship was rediscovered by divers who had been hired to find out what their fishing lines were catching on. Marine archeological excavation did not start until 1979 on that team, which included for a time HRH Prince Charles. Ms Alex Hildred is now the Curator of Ordinance at the Mary Rose museum. The museum itself is an architectural wonder having to be created to house the hull of the once great ship. The hull was raised in 1982 and Ms. Hildred was there. I remember watching her mighty beams rise out of the waters of Solent on National Geographic, now as then tears came to my eyes at this site. Once the hull was free of her silty grave she was moved to a special housing unit where she would be continuously soaked in saline solution to stop her drying out and turning to dust. Now that the museum is built (it just celebrated its one year anniversary), the oak hull beams are undergoing a special spray that contains a secret wax-like compound.
By now you may be asking what all of this has to do with archery. Onboard were dozens of longbowmen, over a hundred longbows and thousands of arrows. It was a true treasure trove of information on archery in the English Renaissance.