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The Archer Royal

Although guns had started to become used more in warfare, Henry VIII’s armies still favoured the longbow.

Who was he?

A man was found on the main deck in the middle of the ship, his broken longbow was beside him, and a leather wristguard with Henry VIII’s and Katherine of Aragon’s badges lay over his lower arm. We think he may have been a Royal Archer.

In his early 20s at 1.79m (5ft 10in), he was taller than most. He was well built, with particularly strong legs. The centre of his spine was twisted, a feature commonly found in archers. Grooves on his right finger bones may be the result of repeatedly drawing a longbow.

Analysis of his teeth indicates he was raised in a hot climate, warmer than those in England, some distance from the sea. We think he may have grown up in North Africa.

He carried a sword in a decorated scabbard. Extensive silk edging found with him may have decorated a uniform.


The English were famous for their use of the longbow. Most other countries were changing to guns, but the longbow was quicker to reload!

Boys started training to use the bow at seven years old – it takes a lot of training to build up the muscles and skills of an archer!


Longbows from the Mary Rose

137 whole bows were found on the Mary Rose. The bowmen would have to quite tall to use one of these bows, which had an average length of 1.98 metres.

The bows were made from yew. This wood mostly came from Italy and Spain. Many of the bows were found in special long chests.


Drawings of arrows from the Mary Rose

We found more than 3,500 arrows on the Mary Rose! Like the bows, most of the arrows were found in chests. When the chests were opened, the arrows looked like those at the top of the picture. The arrow heads had rusted away and the feathers had vanished.

The bottom picture shows how they would have looked originally. They had flights made from the feathers of geese or swans. The iron heads would have had nasty barbs, making them hard to remove after being shot.

The archers would have shot their arrows from the upper decks of the ship. They were protected by wooden blinds, which could be taken away to allow them to shoot at the enemy.

Bladed weapons

When it came to hand-to-hand combat, the soldiers were well armed.


A ballock dagger, a fighting knife recovered from the Mary Rose

Many of the men were armed with a type of dagger called a ballock knife. This was a personal weapon and came in a variety of styles. It was housed in a leather sheath, and sometimes came with two smaller knives called by-knives.

We found 65 ballock knives on the Mary Rose, the most that have ever been found in one place in Britain.


A Tudor Sword, recovered from the Mary Rose

The officers on the Mary Rose would have carried swords,  and in 1982 a nearly complete iron sword was dug up from beneath the sterncastle of the Mary Rose. It had fallen through one of the gunports on the main deck and was preserved beneath the ship.

The sword is 105cm long and is nearly complete. It is a basket-hilt sword, so called because of the shape of the hilt, formed of a network of iron bars.

Staff weapons

The crew of the Mary Rose were equipped with bills and short pikes, called “boarding pikes”. These could be used to fight on ship, or by the soldiers when they fought on land.


A Tudor Pike, a staff weapon, recovered from the Mary Rose

To keep the enemy at more than arm’s length, they used very long spear-like weapons called pikes.


A Tudor bill, a staff weapon, recovered from the Mary Rose

They also used a vicious weapon called a bill, a spear with an axe blade on the side.

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