Why did the Mary Rose sink? | The Mary Rose
Why did the Mary Rose sink?

The only confirmed eyewitness account of the Mary Rose’s sinking says that she had fired all of her guns on one side and was turning when she was caught in a strong gust of wind. 

Other accounts agree that she was turning, but there could be a number of reasons why she sank during this manoeuvre.

Theory 1: Human error
This was Sir George Carew's first naval command, so maybe he was not familiar with his new vessel's capabilities, and he gave an order that endangered the ship? Or perhaps the crew ignored orders, or were even unable to understand them, leading to disaster?

It is claimed that the admiral called out that he had “the sort of men” that he “could not rule”, but this claim comes from his cousin, possibly trying to protect the family name?

While it has also been suggested that many of the crew were from overseas, they may actually be from areas of the west country or Wales. Also, would one of the largest ships of the kings fleet be given an unruly crew?


Theory 2: The weather
Did a gust of wind hit the sails at a crucial moment, making the ship unstable? Eye-witness accounts described a sudden breeze as the Mary Rose made a turn, causing her to capsize.

With the gunports opened for battle, the ship could have flooded and quickly foundered. So why had she never foundered before? Perhaps she had simply become too heavy after a recent refit, which had added extra guns to her firepower.

Theory 3: The French
A French cavalry officer present at the battle stated that the Mary Rose had been sunk by French guns. A cannonball low in the hull would enable water to flood in, making the ship unstable and leading to her sinking.

Perhaps that was why the ship turned so suddenly. Was she aiming to reach the shallows at Spitbank only a few hundred metres away?

A cannonball made of granite, similar to a type found in France, was found in the hold of the Mary Rose. However, it was found in a shot locker, and the stone is also found in areas of the English west country. Were the French trying to justify their failed invasion attempt by claiming to sink one of Henry VIII's flagships?

Theory 4: Overloading
Was she overloaded with heavy guns or with extra soldiers? If so, a strong gust of wind could have heeled her over into the sea.

The guns had been put aboard in London, so she’d managed to traverse the English Channel without mishap, so why did she topple in the Solent? 

She'd also carried large numbers of soldier before; in 1513 she had been able to transport nearly 1,000 soldiers to Flodden Field in Northumberland, so why would 500 , or even 700 as one source claims make her more unstable?

The Mary Rose at sea
The sinking of the Mary Rose is only part of her story...

Contrary to popular belief, the story of the Mary Rose didn't begin with her loss.

Discover more about her long naval career, the battles she fought in, and the journeys she made, in service to the king between 1511-1545!

The History of the Mary Rose