Queering The Mary Rose's Collection | The Mary Rose
Queering The Mary Rose's Collection
Collections | 08 Aug, 2023 | The Collections Team
How can we understand The Mary Rose’s collection of personal objects through a Queer lens?

This blog does not attempt to identify the sexuality or gender identity of crew members, which would be an impossible task. Instead, we will use ‘Queerness as an interpretative tool’ to represent LGBTQ+ stories.

Queering The Mary Rose's Collection by Hannah (Collections & Curatorial Intern)
How can we understand The Mary Rose's collection of personal objects through a Queer lens?

This interpretation of historical objects is inspired by ‘Queering the Collections’, a collective movement that occurs in museums around the world. From the Tate Britain and the Wellcome Collection, to the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, museums are reinterpreting and Queering their objects. 

Octagonal mirror

A circular, reflective surface would have sat within this beech frame. This mirror would have been considered a luxury item on the Mary Rose. Looking at your own reflection in a mirror can bring up lots of emotions for both straight and LGBTQ+ people. For Queer people, we may experience a strong feeling of gender dysphoria when we look into a mirror, a feeling of distress caused by our reflection conflicting with our own gender identities. On the other hand, we may experience gender euphoria when looking in a mirror, when how we feel on the inside matches our reflection.  

Inside a wooden, octagonal frame is a black circle. The wood is light brown, lightly scuffed and worn down.

An octagonal mirror. (81A2013) 

Nit combs

The most common personal objects that we found on the Mary Rose were nit combs. There were 82 in total. These nit combs would have been mainly used by the men to remove nits from their hair, rather than using the comb to style their hair (which would have usually been covered up by a hat). However, for many Queer people today, how we wear our hair is a central pillar of our identity. Today, hairstyles are often heavily gendered, following the gender norm that men have short hair, and women have long hair. By ‘subverting’ and playing with gender norms, Queer people can find hairstyles that they feel comfortable wearing.   

There are six nit combs, all varying in size and shades of brown. On the top half of the comb, the teeth are fine and packed close together, on the bottom half the teeth are thicker and more spaced out.

Nit Combs

Gold ring

This gold ring, which we think may be a simple wedding band, was found on the orlop deck which is the lowest deck of the ship. In England, Wales, and Scotland same-sex marriages became legal in 2014. In Northern Ireland, same-sex marriages only became legal in 2020. However, there is a long history of Queer people marrying or viewing themselves as married. One famous example is when Anne Lister married Ann Walker at a church in York in 1834. They exchanged rings and vows, and in their eyes, they were married. Today, same-sex couples cannot be married by a minister of the Church of England, the church that Henry VIII established.  

A gold ring sits on a white background. The gold is bright apart from some black marks near where the band comes together.

A gold ring (79A0703)


Paternosters were uncovered on every deck of the ship, demonstrating that many members of the crew were practicing Christians. In 1533, Henry VIII broke away from the Roman Catholic church and formed the Church of England so that he could annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. This also meant that a significant church law was transformed into criminal law. Before 1533, men who had sex with men would have been punished by the church. However, in 1533 the Buggery Act was introduced which, in part, punished men who had sex with men with the death sentence. This act played a role in the execution of only one man during the Tudor period, as Walter Hungerford was also accused of treason and witchcraft. Executions because of this act were infrequent until the 1700s and 1800s. Between 1806 and 1835, 56 men were killed.  

A chain of brown, round wooden beads of varying sizes has been fashioned into something you can wear around your neck. Three beads at the end of the chain make a cross.

Paternosters (81A1414/1-52)

As we have seen, many objects can be viewed through a Queer lens and can indirectly tell LGBTQ+ stories. Next time you visit a museum, consider how you interpret the objects on display and which items resonate with you.