Life on board | The Mary Rose
Life on board

What would life have been like on board a great ship like the Mary Rose?

Bringing the Mary Rose to LifeThe Crew of the Mary Rose
Bringing the Mary Rose back to life

From the objects recovered and historical documents, we can piece together what kind of life the sailors may have had.

The Mary Rose offers us a unique glimpse into life in Tudor times, and if often described as ‘England’s Pompeii’.

Many archaeological sites from the past have been filtered by the society that made them. For instance, graves or ritual sites only contain a small fraction of day-to-day objects. However, the Mary Rose enables us to see day-to-day life in all its wonderful detail.

The first recorded crew list for the Mary Rose dates back to 1513 and consists of mariners, soldiers and gunners, although their names were not given. Servants also appear on some of the later pay rolls. The artefacts found on board give us a unique insight into what their life was like.

There were 415 crew members listed in 1513, but during wartime operations there would have been more soldiers on board, with numbers perhaps swelling to around 700 men in total. Even with the normal crew size of around 400, conditions would have been very crowded.

The Mary Rose was the crew’s home and their workspace. As the ship was rapidly buried in very fine silt, a lot of their possessions are very well preserved, including wood, leather, human and animal bones.

We were able to recover a number of chests from the site, so we could study collections of objects and ascertain which crew members might own which possessions. There were a number of professional objects, such as the tools owned by onboard carpenters, or the ointments and medicine flasks used by the surgeon.

One other unique aspect of the objects found on board is the huge numbers of identical objects, such as 6,600 arrow fragments, or the large number of wooden dishes. Having so many similar artefacts enables historians to study the standards of production and the quality of goods manufactured at a specific time.

Food & drink

500 men served on the Mary Rose, and we found lots of evidence of what, and how, they ate.

Fine pewter dishes, plates, tankards and spoons were found on the wreck, which were probably used by the officers. However, the site also contained lots of wooden bowls, dishes, plates and tankards. These are extremely important finds as these kinds of everyday domestic objects were normally just thrown away rather than kept for posterity.

In the galley, down in the hold just in front of the step for the main mast, were two massive brick ovens. The crew’s food was cooked here in two large cauldrons supported on iron bars over a fire box. Smaller bronze, iron and ceramic cooking pots were also found nearby.

The excavation also found casks containing meat bones, both cattle and pig. It looks as if the animals were butchered to meet certain standards – for instance, there were no marrow bones as presumably they would have gone off more quickly than other bones.

The food remains were analysed early on in the excavation and give historians an invaluable insight into how much food was needed to run a ship like the Mary Rose.

The findings have enabled ‘experimental archaeology’, where experts recreate the cooking facilities and the type and variety of meals that might have been on the Mary Rose.


The Mary Rose gives us a unique insight into the day-to-day clothes of ordinary people.

Very little is known about the clothing worn by everyday people in Tudor times. Paintings depict people in court dress or special occasions. The Mary Rose gives us a unique insight into the day-to-day clothes of ordinary people.

Deeply buried in the silt, wool, silk and leather survived well but sadly garments of linen have almost entirely disappeared. So the Mary Rose gives us an excellent collection of leather shoes, jerkins and knitted garments, but no undergarments as they would have been made of linen.

One particularly important find is the collection of over 250 shoes. This allows historians to understand more about the particular style of shoe being worn at a specific time.


The objects found in the wreck show that in their spare time the men relaxed with books, music and games.

Divers found a fine wooden backgammon set which still had some of its counters, and a nine men’s morris board scratched into the end of a barrel. Eleven dice made of bone were discovered in chests, which is to be expected as gaming was popular in the Tudor period.

Musical instruments were also among the artefacts found on the Mary Rose. Three tabor pipes and a tabor, or drum, were found among personal chests on the orlop deck. A musician would have played a melody on the pipe while beating the rhythm on the drum with his other hand. Fragments of two fiddles were also found on board.

The most exciting musical discovery was a still shawm, or douçaine, an early form of oboe. This is the earliest one of its kind and is unique in having an extra hole for the thumb, giving it a wider musical range than later shawms. Perhaps there was a band of musicians on board the Mary Rose, employed to provide entertainment.

Leather book covers have survived, although the paper pages have long since disappeared. Quill pens and ink pots were also found. But not everyone could read and write, which is why some objects are marked with their owner’s graffiti, a personal mark to show they own something.

The crew of the Mary Rose

Not much is known of specific individuals who drowned on the Mary Rose; only the name of Vice Admiral Sir George Carew is known.

A study of the crew’s belongings and their bones suggests they were young, strong and dressed with some comfort and elegance.

The Carpenter

Keeping the Mary Rose ship-shape

One cabin contained a range of tools for carpentry, including a mallet, brace, planes, rulers and a mortise gauge. The carpenter also kept his prized pewter safely locked away in a chest, along with silver coins and jewellery, a book, an embroidered leather pouch and a sundial in an embossed leather case.

This suggests that the carpenter was wealthy. Only someone with wealth and status would have owned such items, and have been able to justify having a personal chest which would have taken up precious room on the crowded ship.

Isotope analysis of the carpenter shows he came to England from Spain, a possibility hitherto only suggested by the large number of Spanish-styled tools and coins found in his cabin.

Meet the Carpenter
The Master Gunner

Leading the gun crews for the guns of the Mary Rose

A group of six skeletons were found in a group near a 2-tonne bronze gun on the main deck. Five of the skeletons were strong men with big muscles. The vertebrae in the spines show signs of ossification, or the growth of new bone. This shows that they were involved in heavy work.

Were the five men a complete gun crew, all of whom may have drowned at their battle station? Perhaps the smaller skeleton was a ‘powder monkey’, a young boy who carried gunpowder to the gun crews.

Historians were able to identify the skeleton of the master gunner by the two jerkins he was wearing, which had been stained by the lid of the gunpowder dispenser he was carrying. He was in charge of all guns, shot and gunpowder. He had to prepare and secure the guns, and also trained the gun crews. He used a whistle to give commands, including when to fire the guns.

Meet the Master Gunner
The Surgeon

Keeping the crew fighting fit

Surgeons were extremely important people in the crew as any infection in the crowded community could seriously affect the running of the ship. They were often highly skilled, and would have had to be able to perform surgery such as amputating a wounded limb or cauterising a wound to help it heal.

The excavations found the remains of the surgeon’s cabin on the starboard side of the main deck. In his cramped cabin he would have acted as a doctor, dentist and pharmacist. The cabin had a large wooden chest which contained canisters filled with ointments, as well as peppercorns which were used as a medicine. He also had two metal syringes, some surgical tools and a bowl to collect a patient’s blood.

His equipment included razors, a whetstone and a shaving bowl.

Meet the Surgeon
The Cook

Feeding the 500 men of the Mary Rose

The cook was paid the same as the master carpenter and the master gunner, and was responsible for feeding over 400 men and preparing more elaborate meals for the officers. He worked in the galley, which was at the lowest area of the ship. Nearby were hundreds of plates, bowls and cooking tools.

The cook had two ovens. Built into the top of each was a very large brass cauldron, the content of just one, was enough to feed everyone on board. Some graffiti found on a bowl and a tankard suggests that the cook was named Ny Cop or Ny Coep.

Meet the Cook
The Archers

The artillery of Tudor England

Over 130 longbows and several thousand arrows were found on the Mary Rose, so she must have been carrying a number of longbow archers.

Examination of the skeletal remains shows that many men had a condition called os acromiale, which affected their shoulder blades. Modern professional archers today have a similar condition. It’s caused by stress on the arm and shoulder muscles when shooting an arrow. The condition gives us a good idea of which of the men were archers.

Isotope analysis of one of the archers, presumed to be an Archer Royal due to his elaborate wrist guard, has shown that he was born, or at least grew up, in North Africa

Meet the Archers
The Purser

Managing the money and supplies for the Mary Rose

In a small store on the orlop deck, divers found the remains of a man now believed to be the purser. He was trapped here when the ship sank, along with his chest which contained a large number of gold and silver coins.

The purser was responsible for paying and mustering the crew, keeping accounts of stores, buying supplies and issuing food and drink according to the rations list. The purser may also have been a money changer, as a small box was found on the upper deck with a set of scales for specific gold coins.

The 'Gentleman'

Want to get ahead in Henry VIII's navy? Be from a rich family

Of the 50 chests recovered from the Mary Rose, 28 had personal possessions inside. Chests were the traditional storage containers for possessions belonging to the wealthier members of a ship’s crew – the officers and gentlemen.

One chest contained an Italian carving and a lead token similar to ones used on the Continent. Was he a gentleman from Italy or Spain perhaps? Isotope analysis of his teeth suggest that he came from the Mediterranean region, so it's more likely he was Italian.

The Officer

Commanding the men of the Mary Rose

One chest contained objects including two swords and a mould for making shot for swivel guns. Perhaps the chest’s owner was responsible for organising the ship’s fighting crew. He could have been a quartermaster, in charge of a quarter of the fighting men on board.

In the Tudor period a fifth ‘quarter’ was recommended with a captain of the hold, responsible for all the mariners stationed below decks during a battle to fix any damage. This fifth quarter may explain why so many men were found below decks.


One of the younger members of the Mary Rose's crew

We’ll probably never know what Henry’s role was on the Mary Rose, although his life of heavy lifting, not to mention a dislocated hip, suggests that he was pretty active.

We’re certain, though, that he wasn’t a slave. Slavery was illegal in England in 1545, and although other nationalities would bring their slaves over when they relocated to England, Henry’s English-born status suggests that when he came on board, he did so for pay, just like everybody else.

Find out more
The ship's dog

Keeping the Mary Rose rat-free

Outside of the carpenters' cabin of the Mary Rose, divers found the remains of a small dog. Originally thought to be an officer's lapdog, we now believe that he was the ship's ratter, hunting rats in the hold.

While some rat bones were found on the Mary Rose, they're few enough for us to believe that Hatch did a good job!

Meet Hatch
Human remains

We only have remains of around 45% of the crew, but the collection still tells us much about life in Tudor times.

The fact that the crew all died at once makes the human remains found at the wreck of the Mary Rose extremely important for research. This really is a cross section of a community at one moment in time, so we can study an entire population at once, looking at the age range, the health and their professions.

The bones of a total of 179 individuals were found during the excavations of the Mary Rose, including 92 fairly complete skeletons. Analysis has shown that all were male, and most of them were young adults. Some were in fact no more than 13 years old, and up to 80% were under 30.

The skeletons point to the crew being of English origin, most likely from the West Country. A few skeletons indicate that some of the crew hailed from continental Europe, and at least one may have come from North Africa.

Researchers are continuing to analyse the skeletons, looking at blood groupings, DNA and isotopes. Chemical analysis of the bones can show if someone had an illness, as the bone would have been affected, and broken or damaged. Bones also give an indication as to someone’s profession, or an injury they sustained. For instance, the fusing of vertebrae can indicate that someone was involved in heavy manual work, which has helped experts suggest that a group of skeletons was actually an entire gun crew. This research is regarded as invaluable to the understanding of many diseases and for the development of medicine.