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The twelve days of Mary Rose

Feel free to sing along with our image gallery…

Christmas was a time of feasting, merriment, family and community in Henry VIII’s reign – much like today.  Yet in Tudor times, a full twelve days was celebrated, with work suspended (other than caring for livestock) so that everyone could attend worship and enjoy the festivities.

The Twelve Days of Christmas began on Christmas Day, with religious services and commencement of fun and feasting. Some of the food traditions from then are recognisable today, such as mince pies (although Tudor versions contained actual meat) and Christmas turkey.

On Twelfth Night, the grand finale of the celebrations, a special fruitcake was created that contained a coin or a bean – whoever found this hidden ‘treasure’ became King or Queen for the night!

Taking inspiration from a Christmas card produced by the Mary Rose Trust in 2018 and the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, enjoy reading about some of the treasures that the Mary Rose has given us from 1545 in our gallery below!

The one-man pipe and tabor band was the standard accompaniment to dance in Tudor times and would have been familiar across Europe from the thirteenth century as well as to those onboard the Mary Rose. With the pipe being played on one hand, the tabor drum hanging from the arm or shoulder would have been struck with a beater in the other hand. This example from the Mary Rose is the earliest known tabor to survive from so early a date.
There is evidence of at least ten musical instruments onboard the Mary Rose at the time of sinking, including tabor pipes. These wind instruments traditionally have three holes for middle and index fingers plus thumb, to be played on one hand along with a tabor drum. Music for off-duty entertainment would likely have been welcome relief to those onboard. It may also have provided a practical rhythm for tasks when on duty, such as hoisting the rigging to keep everyone in time. The figure (courtesy Wikimedia Commons) is there to demonstrate how the tabor was played.
All the pewter platters found in the galley of the Mary Rose are stamped with marks that likely indicate ownership. Some of these platters are stamped with the coat of arms of John Dudley, Lord Lisle, who was Lord High Admiral of the Fleet. He was not on the Mary Rose on the day it sank, but some of his dinner service had somehow ended up on board beforehand!
A wooden knife handle found in a chest on the Main Deck has decorative carving of a lady on one side and, likewise, a wooden panel discovered in the stern’s castle decks depicts the portrait of a lady. Unfortunately, a large part of this panel was destroyed by marine life on the seabed. It may have formed part of a furniture or decorative room panelling. Could these portraits of carved ladies have been based on real women related to some of the crew?
Made of oak and ash, this large container was excavated from the Orlop deck and was initially identified as a churn based on its shape. There are churns of similar style in the Museum of Rural Life in Reading. But without access to a milk supply at sea, how would the churning of butter have been practical onboard?
Swan makers’ marks were struck on the rim of some pewter saucers discovered in the Barber-Surgeon’s cabin, possibly used as bleeding bowls or to hold medicinal liquids.
The fletching of an arrow stabilises it when shot and bird feathers were commonly used as they were a naturally aerodynamic resource. Feathers have a high keratin content so unfortunately decompose easily in marine archaeological environments. Scientific analysis of a feather sample was tentatively identified as coming from ‘a large species of waterfowl’, so possibly goose or swan…
All the finger rings found on the Mary Rose were made of silver or silver gilt except for one, a simple gold band found on the Orlop deck of the ship. Some rings were quite decorative and may have had glass or stone settings.
Silver whistles for signalling orders were recovered from the wreck and these would also have been a badge of office. The boatswains, also known as bosuns, would have been responsible for the operation of the ship, ensuring the captain’s orders were carried out and kit was maintained.
The use of the fleur-de-lis, a symbol associated with French royalty, on Mary Rose objects such as guns and pewter spoons emphasised England’s historic claim to the French throne. This claim dated from the fourteenth century, with Edward III of England being the grandson of Philip IV of France, and Henry VIII used this symbol to stake his own claim (and wind-up Francis I of France in the process).
Some of the chests recovered from the Mary Rose were constructed using dovetail joints, a type of interlocking joint that resembles a dovetail and doesn’t require pins or fastenings. In sixteenth-century England, these types of joints weren’t commonly used until to build chests as it was typically a continental technique.
Buttons discovered on the Mary Rose were made from a range of materials, including leather, silk, wool and wood. This ‘pear-shaped’ button has a leather core with a woven red silk covering. While most buttons were purely functional, the set that this button came from were associated with red silk threads from a garment and could have been attached for decoration or to denote status. Sumptuary laws at the time, that defined what different ranks of society could wear, meant that only a knight or son of a lord could wear a garment made of red silk.
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