The Mary Rose, flagship of Henry VIII’s navy, was launched in Portsmouth in 1511. As one of the first warships in history able to fire a broadside, she became a firm favourite of the Tudor monarch. On 19 July 1545, after 34 years in service, she was sunk while leading an attack on a French invasion fleet during the Battle of the Solent. Legend says that Henry VIII was stood on the battlements of Southsea Castle as he watched it go to the bottom of the Solent, taking around 500 men and boys with it.
It wasn’t until 1970 that pieces of timber and a gun from the Mary Rose were discovered by divers on the seabed. When Prince Charles dived on the wreck in 1975 the project to raise it was given worldwide publicity. On 11 October 1982, 60 million TV viewers across the world saw the historic moment when the Mary Rose finally saw the light of day again after 437 years beneath the waves.
Work to preserve the hull at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard began immediately by continuously spraying it with water. In 1994 conservationists switched to a water-based protective wax called Polyethylene glycol. Now, 19 years and millions of litres later, the high-pressure spray jets have been switched off. The hull will spend the next 5 years inside a large perspex case, known as the ‘hotbox’, being air-dried with giant fans to remove 100 tons of water and to set the transparent wax coating which will preserve the ancient shipwreck intact for the next 70,000 years.
The wreck of the Mary Rose has spent the past 3 years away from public view as a new £35m ($54m) museum has been painstakingly built around the ‘hotbox’. The museum, which opens on Friday 31 May 2013, will allow visitors to view the ship “as she has never been seen before.” They will be able to walk down a central gangway and see the original wreck on one side, with a reconstruction on the other to show how ship looked on the day she sank.
Among the thousands of Tudor artefacts on display will be the crew’s personal belongings, such as wooden bowls, leather shoes, musical instruments and nit combs (complete with 500 year-old lice!), as well as the ship’s weaponry such as longbows and two tonne guns. Forensic analysis of skeletal remains found on the wreck has also allowed the crew members to be ‘brought to life’ and visitors will get the chance “to come face to face with the carpenter, cook, archer and even the ship’s dog, ‘Hatch'”
Rear-Admiral John Lippiett, chief executive of the Mary Rose Trust, said: “This is the most important museum to open this century. It’s going to have an international impact. We’ll have people from all over the world visiting us to see the ship. Mary Rose is a time capsule and it will be the first time we are able to show artefacts which give people an insight into the world 500 years ago. It’s the artefacts in particular that will astound the world.”