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James IV lecture 2018 - The Mary Rose

On the 7th October the annual “James IV Memorial Lecture”, supported this year by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, was held at the Coldstream Community Centre. To a full house, Dr. Alex Hildred gave a fascinating illustrated talk explaining how and why the iconic warship ‘The Mary Rose’ played an important part in the Battle of Flodden 1513.

Along with Nelson’s Victory the Mary Rose is one of our most famous warships. Many in the audience had watched the extended TV coverage, including the Blue Peter programme, covering the lifting of her from the seabed in 1982.

Dr. Hildred, now head of research and curator at the Mary Rose Trust, was involved in the excavation from the very beginning. She gave a detailed account of the difficulties encountered and techniques developed to save the wreck and its contents.

It seems that wooden warships were in a continuous state of repair and improvement: new rigging, new sail patterns, new woodwork, and new guns. This meant that the ship which sank in unexplained circumstances in 1545 was very different to the ship which unloaded soldiers and cargo at Newcastle in 1513. But, as Dr Hildred explained later, her cargo played a pivotal role in the English victory.

Hidden in the seabed for nearly 500 years, the wreck and its contents have proved to be a treasure trove of life in Tudor times: clothing, medical instruments, horn lanterns, a carpentry chest full of tools, musical instruments, and the poignant remains of 179 individuals. 19,000 objects carefully retrieved and conserved: many of which are on display at the new state-of-the-art museum at Portsmouth dockyard.

So why was the Mary Rose, a seagoing war vessel, so influential in the outcome of a land battle? Artillery was still in its infancy 500 years ago. Bronze cannon were heavy (more than 3 tons), difficult to move, and slow to reload through the muzzle. The army of James IV was encamped in a strong position on Flodden Hill, heavy guns facing south towards the oncoming English army. The English were indeed advancing from the south. Amongst the cannon taken from the Mary Rose were relatively lightweight (just over 1 ton) breech loading iron cannon called Serpentines and Minions. They were neither powerful nor accurate but breech loading cannon had a faster fire rate and could be more easily moved. These lightweight cannon from the Mary Rose were secretly brought across Twizel Bridge during the night by the English army and when dawn broke on the 9th September the Scottish army found that they had been outflanked. The English therefore, attacked from the north and there was no time to move the superior Scottish guns to new positions. The Scots fought bravely but in vain; the lightweight guns from the Mary Rose tipping the balance of the battle.

During the short time remaining, Dr. Hildred expanded on several points raised by a well-informed and appreciative audience. The vote of thanks was proposed by Lord Joicey.


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