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Fantastic beasts of the Mary Rose (and where to find them)

The Mary Rose Museum is home to a host of amazingly preserved artefacts, many of which feature decorations such as Tudor roses, Fleur de Lys and lions, but there are one or two more fantastical beasts lurking in our collection…

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A Merman, or Melusine?

The Main Decks, towards the bow end

While most of our guns feature lions as lifting rings, one of our culverins features a merman, with wings and a split tail, similar to that of the female Melusine of European legend. Of course, the Melusine is probably more famous these days for featuring as the Starbucks logo.

Our merman looks a lot less happy – maybe he’s spilled his coffee?

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Gold Angel, featuring a dragon being slain

The Purser’s case, Men of the Lower Decks

This gold coin is an Angel, worth 8 shillings. After inflation, that equals just under £2,500!  It was found in the purser’s chest, along with many other gold and silver coins.

Although in England dragon slaying is usually associated with St George, this coin actually depicts St Michael, one of the seven archangels, fighting Satan in the form of a dragon during the war in heaven (Rev. 12:7), symbolising the fight between good and evil.

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A griffin on a wristguard

Archery case, Men of the Upper Decks

This cow leather wristguard, belonging to one of the bowmen on the Mary Rose, features several Worshipful company insignia, and also the head of a Griffin wearing a crown.

This symbol appears to be related to Pomerania, a region of the Baltic split between what is now Germany and Poland, although a similar image appears in the arms of the city of Malmö in Sweden, which was later adapted as the coat of arms for the province of Skåne in 1660, which is why is appears in the Saab logo. Then again, griffins are one of the most widely used mythical creatures used in heraldry, so it could have links to neither, and the owner may have been called Griffiths!

Wristguards were worn for two reasons; to protect the bowman’s wrist when shooting (although this only happens when your technique is imperfect), and to keep loose sleeves from affecting the arrow and bowstring. They may also be worn as status symbols, or to show affiliation.

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Two-headed eagle

Personal items, Admiral’s Gallery

This knife sheath features a two-headed eagle, which is probably a Reichsadler, the symbol of the Holy Roman Empire which covered much of Europe, including Germany. There’s also one on a balance case, which contained a pair of tiny scales. The two-headed eagle has a long history, originating in Hittite iconography, and featured in both Christian and Islamic iconography during the Tudor period, and even into today. Many branches of Christianity, European countries, and even the London Borough of Wimbledon, feature this heraldic beast on their flags and arms.

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Gun decoration

Gun case, Men of the Main Decks

There are fantastic beasts on the guns, with many of them supporting the Royal Arms of Henry VIII and the Tudor family. However, these are not the ones we are usually familiar with. While today the Royal family uses a lion and a unicorn, the Tudors hadn’t settled on a design yet, so we get one featuring a dragon and a greyhound while another features Lion and a wyvern. This last one is a bit tricky to see, but if you look down from the top deck of the museum through the vent above it, you can see it.

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Linstocks

Gun case, Men of the Main Decks

The most obvious artefacts to feature fantastic beasts are our linstocks, sticks used to light and fire the cannons, many of which feature a reptilian head. While some might say these are crocodiles, the fact they hold burning cords in their mouths suggests they might be dragons.

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