Museum Unveils Henry VIII’s Flagship

The Mary Rose sank almost 500 years ago, but following more than 30 years of restoration, the remains of the warship are open to the public

Mary Rose
Mary Rose Trust

King Henry VIII may not have had much affection for his wives, his children, the Pope or many people in general. But he did love one thing: the Mary Rose, the warship he commissioned in 1510 soon after his coronation. After several decades of service, on July 18, 1545, the ship met its fate during war with France when it was downed in the battle of Solent, taking most of its 400-person crew with it to the bottom of the sea. Though Henry hired crews to salvage the boat, the attempts failed, and the Mary Rose was left underwater.

But after 500 years, the Mary Rose is back. Following a 34-year, $50 million odyssey, the ship has resurfaced on display at The Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth, U.K., Steven Morris reports for The Guardian. 

According to Claire Corkery at CNN, the ship was first discovered near Solent in 1971. In 1982, the ancient hull was raised out of 50 feet of water, with Prince Charles even donning a wetsuit to take a dive and watch the action.

The ship was then brought to a naval base in Portsmouth Harbor, where a hall was built around the ship and supports were added to shore up the remains, writes the Mary Rose Museum. Over the next 10 years, crews kept the ship wet, removing and documenting all the deck timbers and artifacts and cleaning out all the accumulated silt. Conservators then began applying polyethylene glycol, a wax that pushes the moisture out the timbers and prevents them from shrinking as the ship dries.

During the final step in the ship's conservation, large drying ducts were constructed around the ship, removing 100 tons of water from the hull.

Visitors were allowed to view the ship in its climate controlled chamber through small windows in 2013, though much of the hull was obscured by the dryers. Now, those units have been removed, and visitors to the museum can see the entire ship.

“So many of us we saw the wreck come up so we have had an emotional connection with the ship for very many years,” Helen Bonser-Wilton, chief executive of the Mary Rose Trust tells Morris. “But to see her like this uninhibited for the first time is huge. I don’t think people realize how big she is. We’ve been spraying her with water, with chemicals, drying her. Nobody has ever really seen Mary Rose since Henry VIII in the way you’re seeing her now.”

Visitors can enter the chamber holding the ship through an airlock, which ensures temperature and humidity stays consistent. There are also gauges and sensors around the ship that will alert conservators should any problems arise.

With the unveiling of the Mary Rose, the museum also has debuted new films showing what life would have been like for the crew aboard the Tudor warship to go along displays of some of the 19,000 artifacts recovered from the wreck site. These include barrels, arrows, plates, cannons and the skeleton of a dedicated mutt the research team named Hatch.

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