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The Mary Rose Henry VIII's Lost Warship Gets Ready for London 2012

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Henry VIII's Flagship The Mary Rose Signaled British Maritime Ambition
Henry VIII and the Mary Rose

Portrait of Henry VIII beside the flagship of the Royal Navy, The HMS Mary Rose.

Photo by Ferne Arfin from a Mary Rose Appeal exhibit.

Think of Henry VIII and the stories of his doomed marriages and beheaded wives, his break with the Catholic church and the portraits of him in bloated old age all come to mind. But apart from historians, few people realize that Henry VIII's brilliant strategy led to the creation of the Royal Navy and British domination of the seas for hundreds of years.

It was Henry VIII who first realized that a strong navy would ensure Britain's security and economic success. His idea was to establish a permanent fleet - what he called his "army at sea." From that commitment came Britain's 16th century explorations, developments in martime technology, diet and navigation, its 17th and 18th century trading centers and colonies in the New World, India and the Pacific, and eventually to the biggest empire in history. At its height, in the 19th century, the British Empire covered one quarter of the earth's surface and involved a quarter of its population.

And It All Began with the Mary Rose

That's only a slight exaggeration. When Henry came to the throne in 1509, one of the first things he did was commission two ships; the Mary Rose and the Peter Pomegranate. These were the foundation of the modern Royal Navy. The Mary Rose was named for Henry's sister and was apparently his favorite. She was designed with many technological innovations. She was, for example, one of the first ships to be designed with gunports, openings for heavier guns, lower down the ship. Some believe that those very gunports may have led to her sinking, some 34 years later.

Next: The Sinking of the Mary Rose

Plan a visit to the Mary Rose Museum

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