Research reveals the Mary Rose’s multi-national crew

The Mary Rose – King Henry VIII’s favourite ship – had a crew that was not all British, according to new research.

It is thought that three of the eight crew being examined could have come from southern European coasts, Iberia, and North Africa.

The remaining five were likely to have been raised in western Britain, with further research showing one of them was of African ancestry.

The Tudor warship served the king for 34 years but sank in 1545 during the Battle of the Solent, killing most of the crew.

The research by Cardiff University scientists is looking at the ancestry, origins, and diets of some of the hundreds of crew members who died on the ship.

Also working on the project are the Mary Rose Trust and the British Geological Survey.

First author Jessica Scorrer said: “Our findings point to the important contributions that individuals of diverse backgrounds and origins made to the English 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.”

The research uses multi-isotope analysis on crew members’ teeth to find out where they spent their childhood and what they ate.

The teeth still contain chemical tracers from the food consumed in their early years, which helps scientists consider geographical location.

Dr Richard Madgwick, also from Cardiff University, 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.”

In 1982, the remains of the ship and 19,000 artefacts were recovered. Many are displayed at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

The crew members feature in the research are part of a temporary exhibition at the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth: The Many Faces Of Tudor England.

Dr Alexzandra Hildred, from the Mary Rose Trust, added: “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 – Diversity Aboard A Tudor Warship: Investigating The Origins Of The Mary Rose Crew Using Multi-isotope Analysis – is published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

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