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Books for Adults - Nonfiction

Review by Irwin Bryan

Cover Art: 1545
1545: Who Sank the Mary Rose?
By Peter Marsden
Pen & Sword, 2019, ISBN 978-1-5267-4935-2, $49.95 / £30.00

This lavishly produced book has several stories to tell. The first relates the history of the ship itself, from design and build to its tragic end. Next is the story of the wreck and recovery. Then there is an archaeological reconstruction of the decks and various places of the ship, with a complete description of where and what artifacts and bodies were found within the sunken ship.

Having been unfamiliar with the ship’s history prior to the sinking, I was surprised to read the Mary Rose was part of a fleet that attacked Boulogne, France, in 1512. Within a few years the ship was placed in ordinary, meaning she was stripped of masts, sails, and guns until the vessel was needed again.

In 1535 the Mary Rose was modernized. “Her bow and stern ends were completely rebuilt,” (55) and the keel was lengthened to support a vessel of 700-800 tons, an increase of 200-300 tons. Her hull and deck supports were also strengthened before adding more cannons to her armament.

“In 1514, the Mary Rose had five anti-ship guns, seven smaller ones, and many anti-personnel weapons, whereas in 1545 she had twenty-six anti-ship guns, 12 smaller guns, and fifty-three anti-personnel guns.” (63) The addition of twenty-one cannons weighing hundreds of pounds each and positioning them throughout the ship drastically altered the ship’s balance and increased her draft – making the hull sit deeper in the water.

Tensions between England and France flared up again in the 1540s. On July 19, 1545, a French fleet sailed past the Isle of Wight and was surprised to find the English fleet at anchor. The French admiral ordered his galleys to launch an attack. The Battle of the Solent had begun.

One of the anchored ships was the Mary Rose. Her crew hurried to raise sails and prepare for action. Once underway, the gunports were opened and the cannons were loaded and run out.

As the Mary Rose neared the galleys, a gust of wind caused the ship to heel further to starboard. With only sixteen inches between the waterline and the bottom of the gunports, the extra heeling action caused ocean water to pour into the lower deck. The weight of the water continued the unbalanced ship’s tilt and the vessel capsized, sinking in minutes.

Within a year of the sinking, a mostly unsuccessful attempt was made to salvage some of the guns. In 1782 the Royal George sank nearby. In 1836 John Deane used a primitive diving bell to explore that ship. He recorded the positions of the sunken Royal George and the Mary Rose on a chart of the area, which was tucked away along with other records of the Royal Navy. A diving historian found the chart in 1966 and rediscovered the location of the Mary Rose.

The story of the ship’s recovery includes careful planning from the first attempts to locate the wreck through careful underwater examination and documentation. Before they could recover the ship, the British Parliament and royal family had to become involved. The group of historians and archaeologists studying the wreck also had to determine how to tell her story. They founded the Mary Rose Trust to help carry out their plan. In 2013 the Mary Rose Museum opened to the public.

Six chapters of this book are devoted to describing all the different decks and spaces of the Mary Rose, including where every artifact was found and what happened in the space during the ship’s sinking. Along with that information, there is also a description of where the remains of each person were found and what the bones and artifacts present reveal about the people, such as age and any signs of wear and tear from the harsh life of a sailor.

Use of glossy paper enhances the many color illustrations and diagrams found throughout the book. A very readable text is enriched with end notes, a bibliography, and two appendices, one on the ship’s components and another on the locations and conditions of crewmembers who went down with the vessel.

There is a wealth of knowledge in this book from building wooden warships, early sea battles, European history and archaeology to naval administration and anatomy. Together they tell a fascinating story of one special ship and the crew that manned her.


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Review Copyrighted ©2020 Irwin Bryan

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