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All the vessel transitions up to this proint represent the evolution of vessel forms using Northern and Mediterranean ship designs. Here is a 15th century representation of a carrack. Note the cross-lines on the shrouds - these are called ratlines and formed ladders that made it easy to ascend up into the rigging. Ratlines first appear in northern European ship representations in around 1400 AD - they were a Northern invention. The predominance of the hulk in Northern European waters was very short-lived. Midway through the 15th century, hulks were being replaced by a new ship type being introduced from the Mediterranean: the Carrack.

Carracks are three-masted ships. Of course, to be difficult, we can't just call them the front, middle, and back. The largest, primary mast, located in the middle of the ship is called the main-mast. Forward of this is the foremast, and aft of the mainmast is the mizzen mast. So from front to back, you have the fore-, main-, and mizzen-masts.

About midway through the 15th century we start seeing four-masted carracks. This fourth mast is much smaller and spaced aft of the mizzen and is called a bonaventure mast. This painting, from ~1500 shows a carrack with fore and main square sails and mizzen and bonaventure lateen (triangular) sails.


At some point around 1500, there was a shift in technology and design needs, and we start to see a real combination of northern-European lapstrake construction with edge-to-edge carvel construction of the Mediterranean. It has been propose that Mary Rose was initially built as a lapstrake vessel, but during her 1536 refitting was converted to edge-to-edge carvel planking.

Shipboard Cannon

Canon were first used on sailing ships early in the 14th century, both in northern Europe and in the Mediterranean. At first they were just small arms, swivel-mounted on the rails in the stern and fore castles and on the bulwarks along the sides of the ship between the castles. These were mainly antipersonnel weapons and were not effective against the enemy's hull.

By 1500, larger-sized cannon were becoming available in quantity for the first time. Carracks were built with a skeletal structure and edge-to-edge (carvel) planking, leading to vessels like Mary Rose.

In 1501, a Frenchman named Descharges who got the idea of cutting gun ports into the sides of ships' hulls below the level of the main deck. This was feasible in the new, stronger skeletal-built hulls of the period. A smooth-surface hull, rather than a lapstrake hull was another precondition for this innovation.

With Descharges' innovation, heavier guns could be carried by sailing ships, since these guns could now be set relatively low down within the hull, for better stability.

Mary Rose

Mary Rose was one of the first English warships to carry medium-sized siege cannons on a purpose-built gun deck located beneath her main deck. She was built in 1509 by Henry VIII and was a four-masted Carrack of 600 tons.

The recovery of the remains of Mary Rose and her contents is an excellent study of new technologies and good archaeology.

This is a painting of Mary Rose following her 1536 rebuilding. At this time she carried some 30 heavy cannon on her gun deck. On her main deck and on the lowest deck of the stern- and forecastles there were some 50 lighter pieces, for a total of 91 guns: 15 of bronze, the rest of iron.

Mary Rose met her end during a naval battle against a French invasion fleet at Portsmouth, England in 1545. Her normal complement of men was 200 sailors, 185 soldiers and 30 gunners. However, at Portsmouth she went into battle top-heavy, packed with 700 sailors and soldiers, including many in the fighting tops, platforms high in the masts.

She suddenly sank in 40 ft of water at the very beginning of the engagement, taking down with her all but some 30 of her men. The French claimed to have sunk her with cannon fire. It would appear from the English accounts, on the other hand, that her gun ports had been open ath that upon tacking across the wind, she heeled over too far, enough to take on water through her gun ports, thus sinking. Archaeological investigation reveal that at least some of her gun ports were in fact open at the time of her sinking.

One of the main reasons there was such a high mortality rate was a series of nets strung above the decks of the ship. Ship to ship fighting was rather limited at this time, and the use of heavy guns was just beginning to be adopted. Prior to this, ship to ship fighting consisted of men jumping from one ship to the other and fighting on deck. The nets were a remnant of teh older style of fighting, meant to keep the enemy from boarding you. Unfortunately, the netting also kept teh men from getting out of teh ship and trapped them as the ship sank.


Efforts were mae to lift Mary Rose immediately after her sinking with cables attached to her masts and to two other ships anchored above her. The only thing they managed to accomplish was to tear out her mainmast. She was then abandoned and gradually forgotten.

In 1836 interest in Mary Rose revived. Charles and John Deane, two English brothers who invented the first really practical, modern hardhat diving rig relocated her and in 1836 and again in 1840 salvaged some artifacts. They recovered several items in very good condition including guns, personal items and other pieces.

After this, salvaged efforst were stopped and the location of Mary Rose was again lost. The first major breakthrough in modern times occured when an 1841 chart marked with teh spot where the Deanes had discovered the wreck was found in the Department of the Royal Navy. The area was surveyed with a side-scan sonar, relocating the wreck site. In 1969 and 1970 divers used water jets to cut a trench into the seabed, eventually finding an iron canon. Finally, on 1 May 1971, Mary Rose was finally discovered by a diver who got lost while trying to find the trench, approximately 120 ft from where they were working on the trench.

The extant site was roughly 130 ft by 65 ft, with the remains buried under clay, mud and silt to a depth of 13 ft. Mary Rose had heeled over onto her starboard side, 60 degrees from vertical.

The Mary Rose Trust was established to finance the work, broken into four phases:

  1. Removal of overburden within and around the hull.
  2. Removal of all contents within the hull and of loose hull remains inside and outside the hull.
  3. Re-enforcement of the hull, replacign lots iron fastenings if necessary, and preparing the hull for recovery, and.
  4. The raising of the hull and taking it ashore for conservation and museum display in Portsmouth, where she was built in the 16th century.

By October of 1982, when Mary Rose was raised, over 500 individuals had become directly involved in the work of excavating and conserving the ship. Even Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, served as a diver, and was president of the trust.

In 1979 the salvage vessel Sleipner was moored above the wreck site, the sameship that was used to recover the Swedish warship Vasa. A huge grid of steel pipes was laid over teh entire site, subdividing it into 3-ft wide trench areas. This grid was not used for mapping, but for orientation, permitting divers to reach their assigned place on the site as quickly and safely as possible in the murkey waters with visibility of three feet or less.

The television camera proved an invaluable tool for the excavation, since TV cameras can see much better than the human eye in low light levels. In addition, four transponders, instruments capable of sending and receiving acoustic signals underwater were placed at regular intervals along one side of the site. Their positions relative to one another were then fixed by a range meter place some distance away.


The task of raising and recording artifacts from Mary Rose was enormous. By the end of the project, more than 17,000 individual objects were recovered, including ~3,000 loose timbers, plus 2,300 samples for microscopic and chemical analysis.

By June 1982, the stripped hull shell lay empty and free of the seabed. Steel bolts were then pased through the hull at 170 selected places. Wire cables were attached to these bolts and were in turn attached to a large rectangular lifting frame lowered onto the site. The hull was then liftend slightly off the seabed and lowered into a form-fitting cradle lined with water-bag cushions. The hull and cradle were then lifted out of the water by a large floating crane. One free of the water, the water bag cushions were transformed into airbag cushions. The gradle and hull were lowered onto a barge that was towed to Mary Rose's new home in Portsmouth.

Once in dry dock in Portsmouth, she was sprayed continuously with water until the wood was cleaned, then with polyethylene glycol (PEG). She is still being sprayed with PEG to this day.

Four of Mary Rose's decks have survived today.

  1. The first deck above the hold is the orlop deck.
    this is the deck that orlops, or overruns the hold.
  2. Next comes the gun deck;
  3. Then, the main deck, or weather deck.
    It is called this since that part of the deck is in the waist, that is,between the sterncastle and the forecastle, exposed to the elements.
  4. Finally, a small portion of the lowest deck of the sterncastle has survived in place.

More than 600 men and boys died on this ship, and several sets of remains were recovered, including that of the ship's dog.

Orlop Deck

In the orlop deck they found a hearth with a large iron grate, four large cauldrons, kindling wood for cooking, wooden plates, wooden bowls and wooden tankards. Clearly this was a galley area, for the regular crew. The officers ate on fine pewter ware, many of which had the initials G.C. on them, George Carew, the Vice Admiral of the Navy.

In the bow of the orlop deck there was a storage locker for cannons, including gun carriages, wheels and axles, as well as riggin parts like deadeyes. After the mainmast on the orlop deck were the storage lockers for the crew.

There were four cabins aft of the waist on the orlop deck. The two forward cabins were for the barber-surgeon and dispensary. the other cabins wer sleeping quarters for the surgeon and assistant. In the stern of this deck were two cabins for the lower rankign officers, one of whome was teh ship's carpenter. More cabins were located under the forecastle.

In the surgery room there was:


The bronze guns were cast, whereas the iron guns were wrought. Gun-founding technology was such that only bronze guns could be made safely by casting. Cast-iron guns were not common or trusted because there was no way to drill the bore safely, making the chance of a cannonball becoming lodge in the barrel very, which could cause the barrel to burst.

This is a bronze gun. It was much more accurate than the iron guns, but it had one major drawback. They were very long and had to be drawn inboard after being fired, which can be difficult to do.

The wrought iron guns were made with hoops and staves, much like a wooden barrel. The staves were soldered together and then the hoops were shrunk on, holding the staves together.

On the main deck there was only one gun still in place. The rest had either been removed or had been jarred oose. There was also one gun on the sterncastle deck. Under the sterncastle were two gunports, but only one gun was found.

Wrought iron guns were not completely reliable as the seams were fairly weak. The seal with the breach would sometimes not be tight enough and the exploding powder would shoot out, burning and killing the gunners. These guns were notorious for simply exploded when fired for seemingly no reason.


This was nicknamed the murderer - it is a rail gun. It was filled like a shotgun with small shot, either metallic or stone, and hooked to the rail of the ship, to prevent recoil, and fired to clear the enemy's deck.


Here are some navigation tools discovered aboard, including two pairs of dividers, a slate protractor and a pocket sundial.


Guns were not the only weaponds found aboard. Mary Rose carried a compliment of archers, and here are several famed English longbows. Archeres stood in the tops (crows nests)and castles and rained arrows down on the enemy ships.


Other artifacts included shoes, boots, cockroaches, fishing lines, book covers, a backgammon board, bone dice, a domino piece, wooden whistles, fiddles, pipes, drum sticks, etc