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The vessel served in the Tudor Navy for more than three decades in several wars against France, Scotland, and Brittany. But after being substantially rebuilt in 1536, the ship was sunk in the Solent just nine years later after leading an attack on the galleys of a French invasion fleet. The wreck of the Mary Rose – dubbed “Britain’s Pompeii” – was discovered in 1971 and raised just over a decade later, with a huge part being recovered along with thousands of artefacts and the remains of hundreds of the crew.
But Director of the Centre for Human Health and Performance at University College London Professor, Hugh Montgomery, revealed how some of the remains later caught his eye during Timeline’s ‘The Ghost Ship Of Henry VIII’ series.
He said: “From the thousands of bones, it turned out we had the remains of 197 individuals, but only 92 were complete enough to be reconstructed.
“From these 92, I’ve selected three skeletons for further investigation – each has unique pathology that provides vital clues about who they were.
“And one of them, the shortest of the three, may have contributed to the demise of the ship.
Henry VIII’s ship was sunk in 1545
The skeleton of a man was probed
“Our first two skeletons were found in the hold, but our last skeleton was discovered in a location that places him at the centre of the action.
“The main deck of the Mary Rose contained the guns and the gun crews – 17 skeletons were found here.”
But the expert added that one skeleton could be imperative to solving the mystery of how the ship sunk.
He added: “One of the most complete was the body of this man – he was shorter than average, but makes him special was he was found next to a bosun’s call – a whistle used for issuing commands.
“It implies he was an officer, which means he may have played a critical part in the last moments of the ship.
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The bones suggested the man was a supervisor
“He may well have been the officer responsible for deploying cannons and opening and shutting the gun ports.
“Water pouring in through these gun ports sank the ship – why the crew failed to close them is at the heart of this mystery.
“Could the failure of command rest on his shoulders?”
Osteologist Dr Rose Drew explained what the bones told her about the man.
She added: “This individual is older than the other bones seen, in his late 30s or 40s.
“He’s got bad teeth, which can happen at any age, but they are also very worn down.
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The Mary Rose was raised in 1982
“You can see dentin here where the enamel has been worn away and exposes the dentin.
“Here is his collarbone, look at that one – in comparison he has had a more sedimentary life recently.
“If he wasn’t a doctor or something like that, you would have to say he was in a supervisory position.”
And Prof Montgomery detailed why this may suggest he played a role in the ship’s sinking.
He continued in 2017: “The bones are consistent with a man who worked his way up through the ranks, to the position of officer.
Analysis showed how the sailor may have sustained his injuries
“He was not a senior officer, but was almost certainly the ship’s bosun, or master gunner.
“Our man was found on the main deck, where the guns were close to the water, which made the ship extremely vulnerable.
“Maybe something under his control went wrong here and caused the ship to sink.”
Several theories have sought to explain the demise of the Mary Rose, based on historical records, knowledge of 16th-century shipbuilding, and modern experiments.
The precise cause of her sinking is still unclear because of conflicting testimonies and a lack of conclusive physical evidence.