Meet the Soldiers and Gunners | The Mary Rose
Meet the Soldiers and Gunners

“We're a very important part of a ship like the Mary Rose, without us she'd not be able to fight!

Discover more men of the Mary Rose!
Soldiers & Gunners

The Mary Rose was one of the first English ships designed just as a warship. She carried a battery of heavy guns that could damage enemy ships, and lots of small guns for shooting at their crews.   The bigger guns had a gunner in charge of the gun crew. There were 30 gunners on the Mary Rose in 1545.   185 soldiers were also on board. They could defend the Mary Rose, board enemy ships or fight ashore. They used guns and longbows to shoot at the enemy. When it came to hand-to-hand fighting, the soldiers were armed with swords, daggers and long spears called pikes and bills.

Bladed Weapons

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

Soldiers Dagger

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 bi-knives.

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

Soldiers Sword

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.

Pike haft with reconstructed head

To keep the enemy at more than arm’s length, they used very long spears called pikes.

Bill haft with reconstructed head

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


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!


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.

Soldiers Longbows

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.

Soldiers Arrows


A list of the guns on board the Mary Rose in 1545 says there should have been 50 handguns on board.


Only one complete gun was found by the divers. Parts of four others were found on the wreck.

These guns were muskets, and the complete one was probably made in Italy.

Soldiers Handgun
Soldiers Gunashieldandboss

Gunshields were a strange weapon, a wooden shield with a gun fixed in the middle.

Henry VIII’s guards were issued with them, but the gunshield was a very clumsy weapon and soon vanished from history!

Soldiers Hailshotpiece

The Hailshot piece is a rectangular hand gun. The gun would have been rested against the side of the ship making the gun stable to use. It would fire small iron squares, called ‘dice shot’.

The hailshot piece was not in use for long, as the rectangular barrel was weak, so the gun would start to split and eventually explode!

Large Guns

The guns of the Mary Rose were ready to fire deadly stone and iron shot at an enemy ship. The Mary Rose carried two sorts of big guns.

Bronze Guns

Weighing up to 2.5 tons, these were loaded from the front. They are called muzzle-loaders. These guns could fire an iron cannon ball over a mile, but were only accurate at much closer range.

All the bronze guns were decorated and some had the maker’s name on them. They also had lifting rings in the shape of lion’s heads, dolphins and mermen on them. These guns were very expensive to make and were decorated to show they belonged to King Henry VIII

One of our guns was chosen by the British Museum for their History in 100 Objects project!

Iron Guns

Iron guns were made in the same way as a barrel, with metal staves held together by iron rings. They were not as strong as bronze guns, and could not shoot as far.

The iron guns were loaded in a different way from the bronze guns. They had a breech chamber at the back that was taken out, using the lifting rings, to be filled with gunpowder. Every iron gun had two of these chambers, so the gun could be loaded and fired quickly.