What do I think? Well, to me, the Mary Rose doesn’t rank No. 1, that’s for sure, but that’s just me. Do you agree with the list? Do you have any suggestions that have been omitted? Would you simply rearrange the 10 in order of importance? Over to you, ladies and gentlemen….!
Last night I watched (on PBS America) a BBC2 Timewatch episode entitled The Mysteries of the Medieval Ship. It concerned the discovery, in June 2002, of a foundered/scuttled medieval vessel of some size, buried in the oozing mud of the Severn Sea – well, the oozing mud of the River Usk, at Newport, to be precise. But Severn Sea mud is the same, whichever estuary, and it takes prisoners, with the result that this particular ship has survived almost intact, and is that only such large 15th-century vessel to have done so in the United Kingdom.
Dendrochronology dates the timbers to around late 40s of the 15th century, and the oak identified as from northern Spain or Gascony, the latter possibility being just within English tenure, before France took it back.
It is believed that the ship had been berthed for repairs, but sank when supports gave way. And the fact of these repairs leads to a strong link to Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who turned upon King Edward IV at the Battle of Edgecote Moor on 26th July, 1469. Warwick won the battle, and among those he executed afterward was his predecessor as Lord of Newport, William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke.
There is a letter, signed by Warwick, concerning the repairs to just such a vessel as has now been discovered, at the time berthed in Newport. Here is the modernised text, taken from here :-
Richard Earl of Warwick and Salisbury great chamberlain of England and captain of Calais to Thomas Throckmorton our receiver of our lordship of Glamorgan and Morgannwg greeting.
We will and charge you that of the revenues of your office to your hands coming you content and pay …… Trahagren ap Merick £10 the which he paid unto John Colt for the making of the ship at Newport to Richard Port purser of the same 53s 4d, to William Toker mariner for carriage of iron from Cardiff unto Newport for the said ship 6s 8d to Matthew Jubber in money, iron, salt and other stuff belonging to the said ship £15 2s 6d. ……
Given under our signet at our castle of Warwick the 22 day of November the ninth year of the reign of our sovereign lord king Edward the fourth. (1469)
It may not be the same ship, of course, but the retrieved vessel had been armed (stone cannon balls found among the timbers) and there seems a strong possibility that far from being a peaceful merchantman, she may have been one of his pirate vessels. Warwick was known to dabble in piracy.
This mysterious ship is something to be cared for and treasured. She may not be the Mary Rose, but she is of more interest to those of us who prefer the 15th century. Especially when a figure like Warwick seems to be part of her history.
There is much to be found online about this extraordinary medieval discovery, and the following links are but a few:-
Last year, ancient DNA was in the headlines when it was determined the ‘Beaker People’ who arrived in Britain c 4500 years ago, genetically replaced 90% of the previous population. At that time, studies were saying that the ‘Steppe Ancestry’ found in these people was not found in the Beaker population of Spain, long thought to be the earliest area of the ‘Beaker package’ and probably the dispersal area into the British Isles. So this changed what seemed to be an emerging picture of a more western origin, as well as the possible source of the highly dominant Y-DNA R1b in these areas.
However, a newer more region specific study has shown that the same Steppe ancestry is indeed found in the Spanish Beaker population, and also that they became genetically dominant in that region in a relatively short time, exactly as happened in Britain. (In other areas, such as central Europe, they became more blended into the earlier populations.)
In fact, the new story is eerily familiar and leads back to what was suspected–that the west Atlantic coast was a corridor for much trade and migration, and perhaps the dispersal of early Proto-Celtic languages. The main difference is that the Beaker culture is now looking to have arisen in central Europe with the blending of Steppe migrants and other local groups, and then spread out in several directions, including Spain, with arrival in Britain coming from BOTH from the Low Countries and Germany and from the western Atlantic seaboard.
The study of DNA in both ancient and medieval examples is certain throwing up many surprises; new work on the remains from the Tudor ‘Mary Rose’ shipwreck also showed that amongst the sailors were several North Africans and a Spaniard.
The stories coded within our genes from time immemorial will eventually be told.
Rob Bell seems to be on television a lot at the moment. Although he is an engineer and not quite a historian, many of his programmes go back in time as structures were built. Walking Britain’s Lost Railways, for instance, goes back under two centuries because of the subject matter, but Great British Ships (both Channel Five) has already covered HMS Victory and the Mary Rose, which was built in 1510 and sank in 1545. At the same time, possibly literally, Bell is appearing on BBC1 and BBC4’s (repeated) Engineering Giants, projects which he narrates actively with enthusiasm and technical knowledge, together with an interest in the local culture. For example, he tells viewers of Brunel’s great feats, tries to explain why the Mary Rose sank and walks most of the Dartmoor route from Plymouth to Exeter, although a small stage of this track has re-opened in recent years.
The last episode featured Ruabon to Barmouth via Llangollen, where the Irish Ladies lived.