Naval History

Mary Rose Had Multinational Crew, New Research Shows

Research has revealed the Mary Rose, which sank in 1545, had a more diverse crew than previously thought.

The Mary Rose – King Henry VIII's favourite ship – had a multinational crew, new research has found.

It suggests as many as three of the eight crew members examined may have originated from southern European coasts, Iberia and North Africa.

Researchers say the remaining five crew members were likely to have been brought up in western Britain, with further analysis suggesting one of these men was of African ancestry.

The Tudor warship served Henry VIII for 34 years but sank during the Battle of the Solent in 1545, resulting in the deaths of the vast majority of her crew.

Scientists at Cardiff University, alongside the Mary Rose Trust and the British Geological Survey, have been working to reveal the ancestry, childhood origins and diets of some of the crew members who died on the ship.

Jessica Scorrer, one of the authors of the study into the crew's background, said: "Our findings point to the important contributions that individuals of diverse backgrounds and origins made to the England Navy during this period.

"This adds to the ever-growing body of evidence for diversity in geographic origins, ancestry and lived experiences in Tudor England."

In 1982, 437 years after she sank, the remains of the Mary Rose and 19,000 artefacts were recovered, and many are conserved and displayed in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

Alexzandra Hildred, Head of Research at the Mary Rose Trust, skull recovered from battleship sank 1545, Portsmouth, Britain 15032019 CREDITS REUTERS ALAMY
Mary Rose Trust's head of research Alexzandra Hildred examines a skull recovered from the Mary Rose (Picture: Reuters/Alamy).

Researchers used a technique called multi-isotope analysis on teeth to investigate where the crew members spent their early years.

Chemical tracers from the food and water they consumed in childhood, provided evidence for geographical location, remained within the teeth, allowing researchers to discover their diets.

Research co-author Dr Richard Madgwick said: "We have been able to reconstruct the biographies of eight people from the Tudor period in much more detail than is usually possible.

"This has shown their diverse origins and provided the first direct evidence for mariners of African ancestry in the navy of Henry VIII."

The eight crew members featured in the research have also formed the basis of a temporary exhibition – The Many Faces Of Tudor England – at the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth.

Dr Alexzandra Hildred, from the Mary Rose Trust, said: "The variety and number of personal artefacts recovered which were clearly not of English manufacture made us wonder whether some of the crew were foreign by birth.

"However, we never expected this diversity to be so rich. This study transforms our perceived ideas regarding the composition of the nascent English navy."

The study, called Diversity aboard a Tudor warship: investigating the origins of the Mary Rose crew using multi-isotope analysis, is published in the Royal Society Open Science journal.

Cover Image: An illustration of the Mary Rose from roughly 1546 (Picture: Alamy).