Mary Rose - Historical Context

Historical Context

By the late 15th century, England was a relatively insignificant state on the periphery of Europe. The great victories against France in the Hundred Years' War were in the past; only the small enclave of Calais in northern France remained as a remnant of the vast continental holdings of the English kings. The War of the Roses—the civil war between the houses of York and Lancaster—had ended with Henry VII's establishment of the House of Tudor, the new ruling dynasty of England. The ambitious naval policies of Henry V were not matched by his successors, and from 1422 to 1509 only six ships were built for the crown. The marriage alliance between Anne of Brittany and Charles VIII of France in 1491, and his successor Louis XII in 1499, left England with a worsened strategic position on its southern flank. Despite this, Henry VII managed to maintain a comparatively long period of peace and a small but powerful core of a navy.

At the onset of the early modern period, the great European powers were France, the Holy Roman Empire and Spain. All three became involved in the War of the League of Cambrai in 1508. The conflict was initially aimed at the Republic of Venice but eventually turned against France. Through the Spanish possessions in the Low Countries, England had close economic ties with the Spanish Habsburgs, and it was the young Henry VIII's ambition to repeat the glorious martial endeavours of his predecessors. In 1509, six weeks into his reign, Henry married the Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon and joined the League, intent on certifying his historical claim as king of both England and France. By 1511 Henry was part of an anti-French alliance that also included Ferdinand II of Aragon, Pope Julius II and Holy Roman emperor Maximilian.

The small navy that Henry VIII inherited from his father had only two sizeable ships, the carracks Regent and Sovereign. Just months after his accession, two large ships were ordered: the Mary Rose and the Peter Pomegranate (later known as the Peter after being rebuilt in 1536) of about 500 and 450 tons respectively. Which king ordered the building of the Mary Rose is unclear; although construction began during Henry VIII's reign, the plans for naval expansion could have been in the making earlier. Nevertheless, it was Henry VIII who oversaw the project and he who ordered additional large ships to be built, most notably the Henry Grace a Dieu ("Henry Grace of God"), or Great Harry at more than 1000 tons burthen. By the 1520s the English state had established a de facto permanent "Navy Royal", the organizational ancestor of the modern Royal Navy.

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