Myths and mystery surround Henry VIII’s favourite ship, the Mary Rose. Now, a new museum, dedicated solely to this ancient vessel, will reveal her history and dispel the rumours.
According to Tudor historian David Starkey: ‘The Mary Rose is the English Pompeii, preserved by water not fire. All Tudor life is there; it is like stepping inside a Holbein painting’. He has subsequently described the Mary Rose as ‘a snapshot in time, a frozen and dateable moment’, that ‘tells us more about Henry VIII and his time than any official document’.
What this means, explains Christopher Dobbs of the Mary Rose Trust, is that the finds from the Mary Rose are not a structured assemblage; their survival is accidental, and we can use the archaeology of the Mary Rose as a reality check against state propaganda. Her loss, at a precise moment in time, gives a chronological reference point for the multitude of artefact types contained within.
As an example, he quotes the Catholic rosary, used for counting off the prayers in a long chain of repeated ‘Ave Maria’, or ‘Hail Mary’ prayers. Praying by rote was banned, along with image worship, in 1538, seven years before the sinking of the Mary Rose, and all recitations of the rosary were banned in 1547. Yet here is evidence that people clung to Catholic practice and old methods of prayer, despite the injunctions of the Anglican church.
For more amazing revelations and the full feature story, see Current Archaeology 218
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