Tudor sailors and the Mary Rose | The Nosey Genealogist's: Help Me With My Family Tree
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Tudor sailors and the Mary Rose

by Nick Thorne, The Nosey Genealogist on August 7th, 2016


The hull of the Mary Rose

The hull of the Mary Rose


I am just back from a visit to the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

I was there last summer and went around the Mary Rose museum when the wreckage of this Tudor ship was still completely encased in a hot box chamber and slightly obscured by the ducts being used to dry her out after preservation.

As someone with a deep love of history, and a great respect for artefacts that can make a connection for us back to our ancestors, to get this close to a 506 year old ship that served in King Henry VIII’s navy and which was sunk 470 years ago, was a very special experience.

I have no idea if any of my ancestors had any connection to her. I know that many of my paternal line were sailors, some from Devon and others from Hampshire (on both sides of the inlet that makes up Portsmouth Harbour).

It is just possible, therefore, that my ancestors may have served on her. If not then they would surely have been aware of her terrible loss in July 1545 as she sank just off their shore in the Battle of the Solent.

Hundreds of men aboard the Mary Rose drowned as she went down, with only around 34 survivors. Little is known of who served on this ship, apart from the only positively identified person who went down with the ship, Vice-Admiral George Carew.

From the personal effects that have been recovered, however, the museum reveals so much information about the crew that is fascinating in the details.

Take the Master Carpenter, for example…

One cabin in the ship contained a range of tools for carpentry, including a mallet, brace, planes, rulers and a mortise gauge. It seems that the ship’s carpenter also had his prized pewter safely stored away in his sea-chest, along with some valuables such as silver coins, jewellery and an embroidered leather pouch.

Pointing to him being an educated man was the fact he had a book and a sundial in an embossed leather case.

All of this suggests that the carpenter was wealthy. The Mary Rose website states that “Only someone with wealth and status would have owned such items, and have been able to justify having a personal chest which would have taken up precious room on the crowded ship.”

Mary Rose Master Carpenter Master Carpenter's Chest

The Mary Rose website also tells us more about the ship:

“When Henry VIII became king in 1509 he only had a handful of warships at his disposal – usually, in times of war, merchant vessels would be loaded with guns and used. However, with threats both from the Scots to the north and the French to the south, Henry knew he needed a standing navy, available at a moment’s notice. Thus, he got to work building his ‘Army by Sea’, starting with two carracks, the Peter Pomegranate and her larger sister ship, the Mary Rose.


and this about the crew:


The first recorded crew list for the Mary Rose dates back to 1513 and consists of mariners, soldiers and gunners, although their names were not given. Servants also appear on some of the later pay rolls. The artefacts found on board give us a unique insight into what their life was like.

There were 415 crew members listed in 1513, but during wartime operations there would have been more soldiers on board, with numbers perhaps swelling to around 700 men in total. Even with the normal crew size of around 400, conditions would have been very crowded.


The Mary Rose was the crew’s home and their workspace. As the ship was rapidly buried in very fine silt, a lot of their possessions are very well preserved, including wood, leather, human and animal bones.

We were able to recover a number of chests from the site, so we could study collections of objects and ascertain which crew members might own which possessions. There were a number of professional objects, such as the tools owned by onboard carpenters, or the ointments and medicine flasks used by the surgeon.

One other unique aspect of the objects found on board is the huge numbers of identical objects, such as 6,600 arrow bits, or the large number of wooden dishes. Having so many similar artefacts enables historians to study the standards of production and the quality of goods manufactured at a specific time.

Find out more about the Men of the Mary Rose here”



I thoroughly enjoyed my second visit to the Mary Rose, coming away much more enthused than before. I was impressed by the special effects of the crew carrying out their daily tasks being projected onto the timbers of the hull before the lights came up to reveal the wreck in all her glory. I was mesmerised by the artefacts recovered from the sea floor that gave huge insight into the lives of these men. And to be able to look down on her from the top floor of the galleries, without any obstruction was amazing.

10 out of 10 from me…

I would highly recommend a visit.





The Mary Rose in 2016

The Mary Rose in 2016

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