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The animals of the Mary Rose

The Mary Rose carried a crew of around 500 men, but they weren’t the only ones who called the ship their home!

As well as the human inhabitants, the Mary Rose was home to a number of animals, some welcome, others not so welcome. Let’s start with one who was;

The ship’s dog

Hatch, the ship's dog

The Mary Rose didn’t have what we now consider the more traditional ‘ship’s cat’, it instead had a dog, which we’ve written about before, so I won’t go on about him here.

Go and read that once you’ve read the rest of this!


the bones of a rat on display

The remains of at least three rats were recovered from the Mary Rose; The shoulder blade, tibia and pelvis of a large muscular rat, most likely Rattus rattus, the black house rat, or ship rat, was found on the upper deck of the Mary Rose, while an immature tibia was found on the upper deck and another in the hold.

Obviously, these rats were not welcome on board the Mary Rose, due to their destruction of food and damage to property, not to mention the spread of disease. That’s why the dog was on board.


A flea recovered from the Mary Rose

Among the insect remains recovered from the Mary Rose include a flea (Pulex irritans, the human flea, which probably arrived on board via a member of the crew, rather than the dog or rats), various fly larvae, which are known to fed on decaying meat, vegetable matter and sewage, and surprisingly few weevils, which in this case seemed to prefer the hay to ship’s biscuits!

There are also several beetles, including a dung beetle, which also arrived in the hay. We also found a wood-boring beetle, Lyctus linearis, which may have given the carpenter a few worries!

A bird of prey?

A hawking bell

We can’t say for certain that there WAS a bird on board the Mary Rose, but there is evidence that at least one of the crew of the Mary Rose owned a bird of prey as a pet. Falconry was a popular pastime in the 16th century, and so it is unsurprising that we should find some of the paraphernalia that goes with it. What was for years believed to be a pair of left-handed mittens is now thought to be the inner and outer lining of a single padded glove, which was used as a falconry gauntlet.  The divers on the Mary Rose wreck site in the mid-2000s also uncovered a small bell, similar to those usually attached to the legs of birds of prey to make them easier to find in the field.

As we say, there’s no evidence that the bird was brought on board the Mary Rose; there’s little to no space for a falcon to fly about within the ship (even the top deck had a roof of anti-boarding netting), so it would probably get very bored. There’s no evidence of falconry taking place on ships (an image of a peregrine falcon on a ship from the Vatican archives appears to depict a wild individual, rather than a member of the ‘crew’), but if the gentleman in question was only expecting to be on the Mary Rose for a few days (maybe even just for the duration of the Battle of the Solent), who’s to say he didn’t bring his bird aboard? Sadly, unless we find the remains of a bird of prey during a future dive we shall probably never know.

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