Shardlake and the Mary Rose | The Mary Rose
Shardlake and the Mary Rose
In the Museum | 07 Jan, 2020 | Museum Blogger
If you’re a fan of Matthew Shardlake, you will have most likely have noticed that the Mary Rose makes an appearance in Heartstone, the fifth book in the series.

C J Sansom, the creator of Shardlake, consulted with our team when he was writing Heartstone, ensuring that the story contains accurate information about artefacts, events and, of course, the Mary Rose. As we are only concerned with a small part of the book, we will of course be ignoring large parts of the story which surround the Hobbey family and jumping straight to the activity in Portsmouth. So if you haven’t read that far, be aware there are spoilers ahead!

Heartstone book cover

Let’s start at the beginning, and by that we mean with the cover of the book. If you’ve ever looked at the cover (which you must have done to open the book!) you will see a gun crest. This actually belongs to one of guns from Main Deck so make sure you take a photo when you visit to say you’ve seen the star of the front cover!

While in Portsmouth, Shardlake witnesses an argument between Spanish sailors and the locals. The Spanish were serving on Henry VIII’s ships and this isn’t far from the truth - recent isotope analysis revealed that one of our carpenters had grown up in Spain!

In the book the Spanish sailors are being forced to serve after being shipwrecked but we don’t know if this was the case for our carpenter. Whatever his motivation for joining the Mary Rose crew, he was clearly a well-paid individual as he owed some of the most expensive and beautiful possessions.

You can find out more about the carpenter in our blog


‘Sir George Carew shouted back, “Don’t talk to me like that knave! God’s death, they best behave, all of them.”’

This heated exchange between Carew and the Purser is reminiscence of what Carew was reported to cried out during the battle when asked why his ship wasn’t maneuvering as it should. It is claimed that the admiral responded that ‘he had a sorte of knaves whom he could not rule.’ An unruly crew, or at least a crew that couldn’t understand orders, has in the past been blamed for causing the sinking because they didn't close the gunports as the ship turned.

Although, this reply was ‘reported’ by a Carew family member so there may be an element of saving the family honour and disguising Carew’s incompetence during his first naval command. There are many theories as to why the Mary Rose sank though...

The Mary Rose lost on the Cowdray Engraving

The Cowdray Engraving depicts events which occurred during the Battle of the Solent, some of which were included in Heartstone. Readers may remember that the French are reported to have landed on the Isle of Wight. A small landing party did make it to the island and took over a fort for a few days before being forced to retreat. The Cowdray Engraving not only shows the French occupying the fort but also includes the soldiers’ act of burning the village of Bembridge as they retreated back to their fleet. 

‘”Is the King there?” “I heard he went to South Sea Castle to watch the battle…”

The Cowdray Engraving also shows King Henry VIII on Southsea common in front of Southsea Castle, which is where we know he watched the battle, and the loss of the Mary Rose.  

Shardlake is, unfortunately, on board the Mary Rose when she sinks. He manages to struggle out from underneath the anti-boarding netting, making him one of the lucky ones. The anti-boarding netting was intended to prevent boarders from capturing the ship, but it ended up trapping most of the crew below the decks. They were unable to remove the netting in time, as the sinking happened so quickly, and the rope was also covered in tar and sand to prevent blades from cutting through. We did recover some of the netting and you can see it on display as a poignant reminder of a security measure which inadvertently turned against the crew.

Anti Boarding Netting Ar
Mathew Shardlake's name on the outside of the Mary Rose.

Eagle-eyed visitors to the Mary Rose may have noticed that Shardlake has made his presence felt in our museum! 

Well, on it anyway. C J Sansom supported the building of our museum and his and Shardlake’s names are immortalised on the outside of our museum balcony. In addition, C J Sansom has also sponsored the Men of The Upper Deck gallery.

If you haven’t read Heartstone yet, you can easily rectify it by purchasing a copy from our very own shop, which will help to support our work and continue to help preserve the Mary Rose.

And don’t forget, you can continue the Shardlake series with the recently released Tombland, now out in paperback.