The Mary Rose

Story: Kate Shuttleworth
Photography: Johnny Black
Monday, July 1, 2019

The Mary Rose houses the unique remains of Henry VIII’s warship the Mary Rose and over 2,000 of her 19,000 artefacts.

The Mary Rose was one of two ships commissioned by Henry VIII when he came to the throne in 1509 and her career spanned 34 years before she sank in battle on 19th July 1545. If you’re not sure where those dates fit into the historical timeline, we also say Henry VIII was on his first wife when the Mary Rose was built and on his last wife when she sank.

Amazingly, half the ship was preserved in the silt for 500 years and, after a 10 year archaeological excavation, the Mary Rose was raised from the seabed on 11th October 1982 (which was watched by an estimated worldwide audience of some 60 million!).

After a 30+ years long conservation process where she was sprayed with polyethylene glycol (PEG), to replace the water in the cellular structure of the wood, a purpose built museum was constructed around her.

The museum is dedicated to the 450+ men who were lost when the ship sank in 1545. Members of the crew are represented with their own display cases, showing both their personal and professional belongings, from beer tankards and plates to nit combs and tiny dice, and telling the stories of their lives on board. We also have artefacts displayed in their original positions on a mirror image of the ship, which faces the Mary Rose herself. Everything on display is 100% Tudor, and any missing parts have been recreated with frosted acrylic to show how much of an artefact has survived. Even if it looks too good to be real, it IS real!

Due to the fragility of the ship, visitors are unable to walk on the Mary Rose. However, the museum has been designed to make you feel like you are walking through the ship; the mirror image galleries create an immersive experience of being on board with sounds of the crew working and the ship creaking. Plus, figures of the crew working and at war are projected onto the hull itself regularly throughout the day, so visitors will feel as close to history as it is possible to be. While most of the ship is viewable through floor-to-ceiling glass, the Upper Deck is particularly spectacular as it allows you to breathe the same air as the Mary Rose!

Just looking at the objects isn’t enough though, we have handling areas where visitors can handle and (in the case of our rope) smell Tudor artefacts. Where else can you experience a genuine aroma that’s older than Shakespeare?

While the artefacts tell the story of the Mary Rose, our large team of enthusiastic and highly knowledgeable volunteers complement these stories, so don’t be afraid of asking them questions.

Photography is permitted without flash. While the museum is darker than you might be used to it is possible to take good photos. You just need to be patient and you may need to play around with your camera settings. We also have a handy blog with some hints and tips:

Our aim has always been to make the Mary Rose and her history available to as many people as possible. The museum is designed to be fully accessible, with lifts to enable access to all floors. There are also tactile displays and large print available. We encourage children to visit and touch screen interactives for games and information are found in several of our galleries for those curious minds.

We recently announced the exciting results of isotopic analysis on eight of the crew. We had previously been under the assumption that our crew were all English and of white, Northern European heritage. How wrong we were! The isotope results for two members showed they were born in the Mediterranean and another was from North Africa. In addition, DNA results for a separate crew member showed that although he had been born in England (possibly from Devon or Cornwall) he had African heritage!

From now until December 2019, our temporary exhibition, The Many Faces of Tudor England, presents this latest scientific and genealogical research and shines a new light on our preconceptions of how Tudor England would have looked. You’ll never look at Tudor England the same way again so make sure you visit soon to avoid missing out!

Nowhere else in the world will you see as complete a cross section of life in Tudor England, so come to Portsmouth and discover that 500 years is just a heartbeat away at The Mary Rose.

Tickets: All tickets are valid for 12 months and there is a 20% discount when tickets are bought online: 
Adults- £18, children - £8.50, family ticket (2 adults and up to 3 children) - £38.50.
Please note that The Mary Rose is not included in any of the tickets offered by Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
Best time to go: Anytime as it’s an indoor attraction. Summer is busier (because it’s the school holidays) but we have larger interpretation events because we can host them outside.
Opening times: The museum is open daily (apart from 24th-26th December). Opening times between November – March is 10am-5pm and between April – October is 10am-5:30pm.
Transportation: There are two carparks nearby and a Park & Ride service which terminates at the Portsmouth Hard bus station, just a few metres from the entrance to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Portsmouth Harbour train station is also situated here so day-trippers from London can hop on a train from London Waterloo and arrive in 90 minutes.

Mainly Museums is a crowdsourced blog

we need YOU

Check out our open opportunities: