The Many Faces of Tudor England
Type:Museums & Galleries
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
Tel: 023 9281 2931
Free with standard museum entry.
Were the crew of the Mary Rose white Englishmen or did diversity reign on board Henry VIII’s favourite warship? This question is answered more clearly and confidently than ever before at the brand new exhibition: The Many Faces of Tudor England.
Using the latest scientific and genealogical research, the Mary Rose has been better able than ever before to discover the heritage of the crew members, to shine a new light on our preconceptions of how Tudor England would have looked.
Held from 18 March – 31 December 2019, The Many Faces of Tudor England display follows on from the fascinating Channel 4 documentary - Skeletons of the Mary Rose: The New Evidence, which was aired in March 2019 as part of the award-winning Secret Histories series.
Through interactive screens, documentary footage, print material and a reproduction of an intriguing crew member nicknamed Henry, the exhibition will help to answer questions about how the crew looked, where they were born and their genetic heritage.
Previously, The Mary Rose used each crew member's personal possessions and the place they were found in order to build up an image of their individual history and heritage. It had to be done in this manner as the records dating back to Tudor times have only preserved the names of a select few - primarily those who were high up the hierarchy.
However, emerging technologies being pioneered at universities across the country (including Swansea University, Cardiff University and the University of Portsmouth) can now help identify the crew of the Mary Rose and tell their stories more adeptly and accurately than ever before.
Dr Alexzandra Hildred, Head of Research and Curator of Ordnance and Human Remains at the Mary Rose, says: "The Many Faces of Tudor England delves not just into the crew’s physical appearance and roles on board the Mary Rose but deeper into their lives. Based on new scientific evidence derived from isotope analysis as well as DNA testing of teeth and bones, the exhibition takes you on a journey of discovery, exploring the backgrounds of a number of the crew. It also considers what the finds from the Mary Rose can tell us about diversity and globalisation in Tudor England."
Perhaps the most startling discovery to emerge from this research was that many were born outside of the UK. Eight skeletons were tested, of which several were foreign-born, suggesting also that Tudor culture was significantly more diverse than had been originally thought. The foreign-born crew members were traced to Europe, whilst even some of those born in the UK were thought to have had parents from North Africa.
As Story Producer at Avanti Media, Steven Perring noted: "These discoveries have the potential to reverse long-held assumptions about diversity in Tudor England. Once again, the Mary Rose is rewriting what we know about the 16th century world."
It didn't just require a range of biomolecular methods to shine a light on crew members' heritage, but also integration between them. Dr Richard Madgwick, Lecturer in Archaeological Science at Cardiff University, explained how "It’s exceptionally rare to reconstruct past life histories in such detail, from earliest life to death."
Arguably the most intriguing discoveries concerns ‘Henry’, one of the most complete of the 92 reconstructed crew skeletons. By testing his bones and teeth, researchers were able to better write the story of his life: noting how he was aged between 14 and 18 when he died, had signs of osteoarthritis and degenerative disease, and was of a muscular build (as identified by deep depressions in his left shoulder blade where the ligaments attached).
Further, oxygen isotope analysis of his teeth suggests that he was raised in Britain, in areas of high rainfall. In fact, the sulphur value present goes one step further again, to suggest he was born within 50km of the South coast. This could be cross-referenced with further tests (in this case his strontium isotope ratio), to suggest he was raised North Devon, as this is an area of Palaeozoic geology.
Looking deeper still, Henry's nitrogen value is high, showing that he ate lots of animal protein. Meanwhile his carbon value points to more of a land-based rather than marine-based diet. All the analysis on his teeth was then checked against similar tests on his rib, to show whether there was any major upheaval during adolescence. With the results being largely the same, this suggests he didn't have a marked change in diet during his teenage years, so they were most probably spent in the same (or similar) place to where he was born.
Looking more closely at Henry’s teeth, researchers were able to identify nuclear DNA (information from both parents) that suggests he came from North Africa. Genetically, this makes Henry similar to current day Moroccans, Mozabite Berbers of Algeria or individuals from the Near East.
Elsewhere, researchers looked at the skeleton of the Archer Royal, and made an equally surprising discovery. It has long been presumed the Archer Royal would have been British, thanks in no small part to the famed longbow skills of English forces. However, this skeleton - found trapped under the rear axle of a bronze cannon on the main deck, was wearing a wristguard decorated with the pomegranate symbol of Granada.
Oxygen isotope analysis conducted on the Archer Royal's teeth returned a value significantly higher than what would be the norm for Tudor Britain. In fact, it was one of the highest to ever be recorded - suggesting he was not born in Britain but instead somewhere with a much warmer climate. What's more, his low sulphur value suggests he was not born near the sea, backed up by his nitrogen and carbon values which point to a diet of land-based food and very little from the sea.
Instead, the Archer Royal (who was in his early 20s and stood at 5ft 10in - taller than most of the crew) was more likely to have come from a limestone area - the likes of which are found across southern Europe and North Africa. All this combined to lead researchers to the conclusion that the Archer Royal came from inland Africa - more than 50km from the coast.
Given that the new discoveries point to a much more multicultural crew than previously thought, the question arises: what further insights might a study of the remaining crew provide and what does the Mary Rose crew say about British national identity today?
Map & Directions
|The Many Faces of Tudor England (18 Mar 2019 - 31 Dec 2019)|