Rose Was World’s First Active Gunship
it was the second ship of the English Navy to carry cannon that could be fired on enemy ships at sea, the 126-foot –long
Tudor carrack warship Mary Rose was the first to openly engage in battle and was designed to fire a full broadside of cannon.
was originally equipped with 78 guns and later was refitted to carry 91 cannon. She was King Henry VIII’s pride of the
English naval fleet and served as flagship under Admiral Sir Edward Howard. During her 35-year career the Mary Rose was actively
engaged in the Italian Wars and later battles against the French at the Battle of St. Mathieu and a lengthy blockade of the
French ships at Brest.
King Francis I of France launched an invasion of England with 30,000 soldiers in 225 ships. During one of the sea battles
that occurred, known as the Battle of the Solent, The Mary Rose unexpectedly foundered and sank with an estimated loss of
about 380 sailors, soldiers and gunners. Only 35 members of the crew survived the sinking.
There were many theories as to why the Mary Rose sank in the way it did. The ship,
under command of Vice Admiral Sir George Carew, had gone through a major refitting and now carried 91 guns and some say an
extra gun deck had been added thus making the ship top heavy and unmanageable.
Extensive research conducted in recent years, including the raising and restoration
of the wreck for a British museum and a television documentary that involved testing an exact scale model of the ship revealed
that the ship was turning under a wind that forced the lower gun ports below the water line. If the ports were open, this
flooded the ship.
It was found that the gun ports were cut too low in the ship’s side. Warships
that came later were equipped with a freeboard and ship’s load line to assure that the cannon and the open gun ports
would not put the ship in jeopardy.
The Mary Rose and a larger contemporary, the Henry Grace a Dieu, popularly known
as the Great Harry, were thought to have been the very first warships designed to carry cannon that could be used in battle
at sea. Thus they were, in a sense, experimental craft in their day. The Great Harry was a much larger ship and it may have
rarely seen battle. The vessel was considered a showpiece of the English Naval fleet. It often appeared with golden sails
The invention of waterproof gun ports allowed for the construction of these two
unique warships. Gun ports were or doors that could be dropped on the side of a wooden ship’s hull so cannons could
fire through the hull at nearby enemy ships. The heavy iron canons of that time were so heavy they had to be mounted on the
lower decks, near the ship’s water line, for fear of making the vessel top heavy.
The carrack’s of that period were built with many decks extending high out
of the water. When in battle the high decks made it possible for men with long rifles and bow and arrows to fire down at enemy
ships during an engagement. Before they could fire cannon and cause extensive damage to the other ships, warfare at sea involved
shooting at one another and then physical combat between soldiers once the two vessels joined.
Even though she carried enough cannon to fore a deadly broadside against any marauder,
the Mary Rose also was built with the standard high decks and equipped to carry a battery of soldiers for the standard style
of warfare at sea.
Thus the Mary Rose was a transitional ship between the mediaeval floating castles
and the mighty galleons launched for the English Navy under Queen Elizabeth I. The ship also is the only one of its kind to
have been salvaged and restored for public viewing. Visitors to the historic Portsmouth Dockyard can visit the museum where
this ancient relic now rests.