04 August 2008

Did language barriers sink the Mary Rose?

There was a fascinating story in last Friday’s Independent regarding the loss of the Mary Rose in 1545. The Mary Rose was pride of the English battle fleet when it sank in the Solent on 19 July 1545, in sight of the French fleet. Over 400 men perished. The delighted French claimed a direct hit, while the English blamed an undisciplined crew.


A medical researcher from University College London believes that he has cracked the mystery, by studying the skulls of the men who drowned. The problem, he believes, is not indiscipline but a simple inability to understand each other. Professor Hugh Montgomery and forensic experts were given permission by the Mary Rose Trust to examine the crew's remains. Scientists can determine roughly where a person grew up by analysing their teeth, which retain the type of water molecule they consumed in childhood... Lynne Bell, a forensic anthropologist, examined 18 crew members' remains, and was surprised to find that 11 of them must have come from near the Mediterranean.


"The analysis of the teeth suggests the men grew up in a warm climate, probably somewhere in southern Europe, Professor Montgomery said. It's also known that at this time Henry VIII was short of skilled soldiers and sailors and was trying to recruit mercenaries from the Continent."


Henry VIII's state papers reveal that six months before the Mary Rose sank, nine ships were caught in a storm and took refuge in Falmouth harbour. On board were 600 Spanish soldiers who had no money or food, and so had no choice but to join the English navy. Contemporary accounts show that it was suspected that some problem with the crew had led to the sinking of the Mary Rose. The ship's last commander, Vice Admiral Sir George Carew, who drowned with his men, complained not long before the disaster that the crew included, "the sort of knaves whom he could not rule".


Professor Montgomery's theory is that the ship's officer spotted the French and ordered the ship to make a rapid turn; as it turned, it keeled, and an officer shouted at the Spanish crew to close the gun ports. Before they had understood the order, water rushed in...


It’s certainly an interesting idea. The Mary Rose was a top heavy vessel that would roll heavily. It also had a set of gun ports that were too close to the water line it was perhaps no surprise that it sunk. Professor Montgomery’s idea is certainly attractive. But then again I am no expert on the Tudor navy or ship design...

7 comments:

Dragonstar said...

It's an interesting theory, and one that could well hold water (!)

jams o donnell said...

Argh that's terrible Dragonstar!!!!

CherryPie said...

It is an interesting theory!

Ahhh! to Dragonstar's pun!!!

jams o donnell said...

An interesting theory and a great pun in one post... It doesn't get better than that eh?

jmb said...

Another interesting post Jams and an interesting theory. So what are you an expert on Jams? Or just a simple Renaissance man?

The Right Blue said...

It is indeed an interesting theory. I love nautical history and maritime archaeology topics, and I have been fascinated by the Mary Rose since I first heard about the discovery of the ship's remains. This explanation of how she came to her fate would make as much sense as any.

jams o donnell said...

That's what struck me right blue!

what am I an expert in jmb? 24 years ago I was an authority of the noradrenergic innervation of rhe rat colon.... Government finance I suppose. Other things are interests.. My particular love i history (Irish, naval, and WWII are my my favourite periods)