One of history’s largest conservation projects is finally coming to an end after 34 years. The remains of King Henry VIII’s Mary Rose will finally be on display for the public. Visitors will be able to see King Henry VIII’s ship that sank 500 years ago during a battle at the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth, England.
When Henry VIII assumed his royal seat in 1509, his naval power was far from powerful. England was left vulnerable to waterborne attacks from their enemies. Once he became King, Henry immediately ordered the construction of the state-of-the-art warship, the Mary Rose. Built entirely out of wood that was harvested from over 600 oak trees, the Mary Rose was christened in honor of his sister, Mary Tudor. However, some also believe that the ships name was an homage to the Virgin Mary.
The Mary Rose had seen many battles by July 1545. She survived three wars against the French, by the time she’d seen her last battle she was 34 years old. In July 1545, Henry sent the Mary Rose out to fight in the Battle of the Solent. Henry watched as his pride and joy began to roll over to her starboard side. Water began to fill the ship and the Mary Rose began to sink. Over 400 men died on this voyage and only 35 survived the accident. Experts are still unsure on whether the ship’s demise was due to enemy fire or even a poorly timed gust of wind. To this day, the ship’s demise remains a mystery to all.
The Mary Rose sank to the bottom of the seabed and remained there for centuries. It wasn’t until 1971 that she was rediscovered. The warship’s grave was covered in mud, which helped preserve the Mary Rose from severe erosion. Finally in 1982, 60 million people were able to see the Mary Rose being lifted from the seabed on television. At this time it had been 437 years since the ship had seen the surface. One year later, the solid oak ship was taken to Portsmouth, England and put on display.
Once the ship had been moved to Portsmouth, a team of conservators began to preserve what remains of the Mary Rose. This $44 million dollar project wasn’t going to be an easy task. These professionals started by spraying the ships oak beams with mists of cold water. They even used common pond snails in order to get rid of the wood-degrading organisms that would cause more damage to the ship. The head of this massive project, Dr. Eleanor Schofield, stated that their controlled air-drying had removed over 100 tons of water from the ship. Until now visitors were only allowed brief glimpses of the ship during its conservation. They would have to peek through a small viewing window that would give them a small look at the work in progress.
Finally, the ship has reached a point where it has become stable enough for the conservators to finish their work. The Mary Rose Museum will unveil this historic ship exactly 471 years to the day that it left King Henry’s sight. Visitors will enter through an airlock to an elevated platform in order to view this massive ship. The Mary Rose isn’t the only 16th century artifact that will be on display. Visitors will be able to view the 20,000 items that were also salvaged from the wreck.