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Naming names – who crewed the Mary Rose?

Who were the crew of the Mary Rose?

Most of you reading this should be aware that the Mary Rose was built for Henry VIII, and that’s why he featured so heavily in our posters at railway stations across the UK a few years back, but what about the crew? Who were they, and why aren’t their names more prominent in the museum?

Sadly we don’t have a crew manifest for the Mary Rose; this appears to have either been a later concept, or the records have simple not survived. However, we do have a few names we can attribute to the crew of the Mary Rose.

The early days

The Mary Rose was built between 1510-1511 by a company owned by John Dawtrey, a Southampton-based merchant and landowner, as well as the local tax collector. Crew outfits of white and green were provided by Richard Palshide of Southampton, the reused guns were repaired by Cornelis Johnson of London, flags, banners and streamers were provided by William Botrys and John Browne, both of London.

The earliest crew names we get are those of her masters John Clerke (September 1511) and Thomas Sperte (October 1511-at least August 1513), and pursers David Boner (October 1511 – January 1512) and John Lawden (November 1511 – January 1512)

The first captain we have a name for is Thomas Wyndham (April-July 1512), who served under the Chief Captain, and Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Edward Howard (April 1512 – May 1513).

After Howard’s death at the Siege of Brest, his brother Thomas Howard took command (May 1513-June 1522), which leads us to getting a long list of crew for May-August 1513, including the captain Edward Braye, Surgeon Robert Symson and his assistant Henry Yonge, Purser John Brerely, ‘gunner’ Andrew Fysche, and her Master, still Thomas Sperte.

Edward Braye remained as Captain until February 1514, when he was replaced by Sir Henry Sherburn.  In March, Thomas Sperte was replaced as master by John Brown, who remained in the role until at least June 1522. Sperte (sometimes spelled Spert) would later go on to hold the title of Clerk Controller of the King’s Ships and receive a knighthood!

In ordinary

In 1524 the Mary Rose was out of active service, so the only recorded crew member was the shipkeeper, Fadere Connor.

In 1539, Richard Baker, also known as “Skenthroppe”, Robert Grygges, William Oram and Marmaduke Colman, were recorded as being ‘mariners’ on the Mary Rose, in ordinary in Greenwich, in court documents after they got drunk and attacked a Portuguese merchant vessel (on their own, not with the Mary Rose). What happened to them afterwards, we are unable to tell, but it’s possible they remained on the Mary Rose until she sank.

Her final crew

Our next record of crew isn’t until 1545, the year she sank, when she was commanded by Vice Admiral George Carew as her Admiral and Chief Captain. Carew had been in command less than 24 hours before the loss of the Mary Rose. There are also records claiming that a Roger Grenville died on the Mary Rose, although his position is unknown.

Any other crew are subject to conjecture, but we believe the cook may have been called Ny Coep, the surgeon had the initials ‘WE’, and at least one of the officers seems to have had the initials ‘GI’, which may have been an Italian name.

We call the dog ‘Hatch’, but that’s a modern invention; we have no idea what he was originally called. The same goes for ‘Henry’, the Dorset/Cornwall-born crewmember with African heritage, whose name was given to him by the divers who discovered his remains.

As you may have noticed, most of those names are officers, ordinary crew are only identified through disreputable behaviour leading them into the legal system, or from their own belongings. This shows how hard it is to learn about the past outside of the activities of the upper classes, unless you look at the objects belonging to real people, which is one reason why the Mary Rose is such an important archaeological find.

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