Isle of Wight Shipwrecks
Ancient and Roman | Medieval | The Hundred Years War | Mary Rose | The Spanish Armada | Treasure, and Hazardous | Sir Robert Holmes | The Frigate Assurance and HMS Invincible | Royal George | HMS Pomone and Carn Brae Castle | Clarendon | HMS Eurydice | Sirenia and Irex | SS Eider and Alcester | HMS Gladiator and the Submarine A1 | The First World War | Between the Wars | The Second World War | SS Virginia and HMS Alliance | Pacific Glory | Höegh Osaka
Probably the most famous shipwreck in the waters around the Isle of Wight is that of Mary Rose.
Her Early Career
Work on building Mary Rose began in 1509, and she was launched in 1511. Named after Henry VIII's sister, she was a large ship, over 100ft long and 36ft wide. In 1513 the Lord High Admiral, Sir Edward Howard, called her 'the flower of all ships that ever sailed'.
Mary Rose first saw action in the French War of 1512-1514. France was planning to conquer Italy, so England and Spain allied themselves against France to prevent this. In August 1512, Mary Rose was part of a fleet of 25 English warships that engaged a combined French-Breton fleet near Brest, engaging the French flagship Le Grand Louis. The English Fleet under Admiral Howard gained control of the English Channel. Mary Rose also fought in the French War of 1522 - 1525.
Mary Rose Before 1545
Her design meant that she was initially a very seaworthy vessel and extremely manoeuvrable; Henri Grace a Dieu, commonly known as Great Harry, was based on her design. Revolutionary developments in naval design were incorporated; Mary Rose was the first ship known to have been designed to carry cannon on a gun deck above the orlop deck (the lowest deck in a ship with three or more decks).
Gun ports had been developed between 1505 and 1509, and Mary Rose had been designed to have gun ports from the beginning of her construction. They were cut into her side, allowing cannon to be placed on the main deck. This meant that the guns could now inflict damage on enemy ships; previously guns had at best been used against those on board vessels, or to damage rigging.
In 1522 she carried a complement of 424 men: 244 mariners, 125 soldiers and archers, 30 gunners, and 25 trumpeters and servants. In 1536 Mary Rose was rebuilt in Portsmouth, being increased in size from 600 to 700 tons. She now carried 15 bronze cannon, 57 iron cannon, and 70 anti-personnel guns, with her lower gun ports only 16 inches above the water-line.
Although she was one of the first vessels able to fight with the new tactics of using cannon to sink a ship, she retained her medieval castle. The tactics remained as before: to run her prow over an enemy vessel, then kill all on board the enemy ship with arrows and early guns, before boarding.
The Political Situation
When Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church, the Pope ordered France and Spain to invade England. In 1539 England was threatened with invasion by French, Spanish and Scottish forces.
Henry VIII quickly built a string of castles around the country to defend Britain from attack. He also married Anne of Cleves (a marriage dissolved after only six months) in an attempt to gain allies in Germany. France and Spain, however, were old enemies, and were at war with each other in 1542. Also in 1542 the Scots invaded England, but were defeated at Solway Moss. In 1543 Scotland was attacked in turn: raids in 1544 led by Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, by the Navy Royal1, resulted in the capture of two of Scotland's galleasses (a large type of galley).
Also in 1544 Henry VIII, allied with Emperor Charles V of Spain, declared war on France. His 40,000 men quickly captured Boulogne, yet Charles V had negotiated a truce with King Francis I of France, leaving England fighting against France on her own.
On 3 January, 1545, King Francis I announced his intention to invade England, 'to liberate the English from the Protestant tyranny that Henry VIII had imposed on them'.
The French Armada Invasion Fleet
Francis I gathered a large fleet of 150 battleships, 60 decked pinnaces, and 25 galleys - 235 ships in total - under the command of Admiral Claude d'Annebault. In June, Henry VIII attempted to attack the French fleet before it set sail, and sent his navy to Le Havre, where the English fleet was chased out of the mouth of the Seine without inflicting any damage on the French fleet.
The English fleet gathered in Portsmouth, with 40 large warships, and about 100 requisitioned merchantmen.
On 15 July, Henry and his Privy Council moved to Portsmouth to await the invading army. Henry had only some small part-time local militias (the Isle of Wight militia, for example, contained barely 2,000 men) and a few mercenaries to fight France's 30,000 men, including over 10,000 professional soldiers.
The French fleet, however, had also had its share of problems. On 6 July d'Annebault held a state dinner aboard his flagship, the 800-ton Carraquon. During the meal, the cook accidentally set fire to the vessel. The fire quickly caught the stores of gunpowder aboard, which promptly exploded. D'Annebault was one of the few survivors. He transferred his flag to another ship, La Maitresse - which ran aground when leaving Le Havre. Despite this, d'Annebault continued in the damaged ship, which later sank outside Bembridge.
The Battle Of Spithead
The French Armada dropped anchor off St Helens on 18 July; on the 19th, with Henry VIII watching from Southsea Castle, they began their attack. The 25 galleys, each with a single massive cannon in the bow (which was aimed by turning the ship to face the enemy), moved in on the English fleet, which was secure in Portsmouth Harbour. In reply, Great Harry and Mary Rose led the fleet to attack the galleys, whose main target was Great Harry. The French did little harm, and were soon chased off by English rowbarges.
The English lack of experience with cannon was apparent when the English fleet moved to attack the French. Sir Dudley, the Lord Admiral, had drawn the fleet up in line abreast, the traditional, medieval, approach to sea battle. In line abreast, only a few cannon were pointing at the enemy, most pointing at other English ships. If the fleet had been drawn in line astern, the ships would have been able to bring about their full broadsides to destroy the enemy.
Mary Rose, which had over 700 men on board, fired a broadside, and began to 'come about', to bring her other broadside to bear. During this manoeuvre the gun ports nearest the water-line were, by an overwhelming oversight, kept open. A gust of wind at the wrong moment tilted Mary Rose too far, and water started coming in. The ship soon sank in front of the King, who cried, 'Oh my gentlemen! My gallant men! Drowned like rattens, drowned like rattens!' Only 40 of the 700 men on board survived.
D'Annebault had failed to lure the English fleet out of the protected waters of Portsmouth, and later landed troops on the Island at Bonchurch, Seaview and Sandown, with many of his men - against his orders - also attacking Whitecliff Bay. The invasion failed. Even the sight of much of the Island ablaze did not enrage Henry enough to attack the superior French force, and the French fleet withdrew on 28 July. The French fleet was later defeated off Shoreham, and in 1546 peace was made with France.
Mary Rose was raised in 1982, and is on display at Portsmouth Dockyard, alongside HMS Victory and HMS Warrior.
Following the loss of Mary Rose, ships continued to advance in design, and trade boomed. With important ports like Southampton and Portsmouth nearby, the waters of the Island continued to receive a large number of wrecks.