Mary Rose - Design



The Mary Rose was substantially rebuilt in 1536, and much of the discussion in this article relates to her as she appeared when excavated. The 1536 rebuilding turned a ship of 500 tons into one of 700 tons, and added an entire extra tier of broadside guns to the old carrack-style structure. The description herein should thus not be too closely attributed to the ship as originally built in 1509.

The Mary Rose was built according to the carrack-style with high "castles" in the bow and stern with a low waist of open decking in the middle. The shape of the hull has a so-called tumblehome form and reflected the use of ship as a platform for heavy guns. Above the waterline, the hull gradually narrows in order to compensate for the weight of the guns and to make boarding more difficult. Since only part of the hull has survived, it is not possible to determine many of the basic dimensions with any great accuracy. The moulded breadth, the widest point of the ship roughly above the waterline, was about 12 metres (39 ft) and the keel about 32 metres (105 ft), although the ship's overall length is highly uncertain.

The hull had four levels separated by three decks. The terminology for these in the 16th century was still not standardised so the terms used here are those that were applied by the Mary Rose Trust. The hold lay furthest down in the ship, right above the bottom planking below the waterline. This is where the kitchen, or galley, was situated and the food was cooked. Directly aft of the galley was the mast step, a rebate in the centre-most timber of the keelson, right above the keel, which supported the main mast, and next to it the main bilge pump. To increase the stability of the ship, the hold was where the ballast was placed and much of the supplies were kept. Right above the hold was the orlop, the lowest deck. Like the hold it was partitioned and was also used as a storage area for everything from food to spare sails.

Above the orlop lay the main deck which housed the heaviest guns. The side of the hull on the main deck level had seven gunports on each side fitted with heavy lids that would have been watertight when closed. This was also the highest deck that was caulked and waterproof. Along the sides of the main deck there were cabins under the forecastle and sterncastle which have been identified as belonging to the carpenter, barber-surgeon, pilot and possibly also the master gunner and some of the officers. The top deck in the hull structure was the upper deck (or weather deck) which was exposed to the elements in the waist. It was a dedicated fighting deck without any known partitions and a mix of heavy and light guns. Over the open waist the upper deck was entirely covered with a coarse netting as a defence measure against boarding. Though very little of the upper deck has survived, it has been suggested that it housed the main living quarters of the crew underneath the sterncastle. A drainage located in this area has been identified as a possible "piss-dale", a general urinal to complement the regular toilets that would probably have been located in the bow.

The castles of the Mary Rose had additional decks, but since virtually nothing of them survives, their design has had to be reconstructed from historical records. Contemporary ships of equal size were consistently listed as having three decks in both castles. Although speculative, this layout is supported by the illustration in the Anthony Roll and the gun inventories.

During the early stages of excavation of the wreck, it was believed that the ship had originally been built with clinker (or clench) planking, a technique where the hull consisted of overlapping planks that bore the structural strength of the ship. Cutting gunports into a clinker-built hull would have meant weakening the ship's structural integrity, and it was assumed that she was later rebuilt to accommodate a hull with carvel edge-to-edge planking with a skeletal structure to support a hull perforated with gunports. Later examination indicates that the clinker planking is not present throughout the ship; only the outer structure of the sterncastle is built with overlapping planking, though not with a true clinker technique.

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