The Last Moments of the Mary Rose at the Battle of the Solent

The Last Moments of the Mary Rose at the Battle of the Solent
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Mary Rose Heritage Print

Image reproduced from one of the 16th Century “Cowdray Pictures”

  • LARGE: 1500 x 470mm
  • ANTIQUE: 1750 x 575mm

ORIGINAL TITLE: The Encampment of the English Forces Near Portsmouth, Together With a View of the English and French Fleets at the Commencement of the Action Between Them on the XIXth of July MDXLV (19th of July, 1545).


This historic picture, originally painted in 1545 or just after, shows the last man standing on the crow's nest of the great Tudor warship Mary Rose as she sinks below the waves, her English flag still flying, just above Southsea Castle in the centre of the picture.

On the morning of July 19, 1545, the biggest invasion fleet ever to reach British shores sailed around the eastern side of the Isle of Wight and into the Solent with the intention of capturing the town and naval base of Portsmouth. The mighty French fleet, augmented by gun galleys on loan from the Vatican, had been sent to teach King Henry VIII's newly Protestant England a lesson and quash Henry's claim to the throne of France once and for all.

The invasion fleet was twice as big as the much more famous Spanish Armada defeated by Francis Drake in later Elizabethan times. As the English fleet sailed out to engage the French off Southsea Castle, led by flagships The Great Harry and Mary Rose, The Battle of the Solent had begun.

Today, the Battle of the Solent is largely forgotten as an inconclusive stand-off except for two things: the famous sinking of Henry's warship Mary Rose in a freak accident before the battle, and this fabulous panorama ("the Cowdray [or Cowdry] Picture") painted to faithfully record the sea battle, and the English army defending Southsea and the approaches to Portsmouth.

The original picture (artist unknown) of c.1545 is a brilliant piece of art. The characters are all full of life and style (the bigger you see them, the better they get), everybody important who attended the event is said to be in the picture, the colours of items such as the Tudor pennants are believed to be historically accurate as well as pleasing to the eye, and it is geographically accurate (satellite mapping today of the Solent and coast of the Isle of Wight matches the shipping lanes and coast painted here).

The picture was commissioned by the Master of the King’s horse, Sir Antony Browne, seen on the white horse in the dead centre of the picture, right behind the King, in a piece of wonderful 16th-Century spin-doctoring and image self-promotion.

The picture hung at Browne's home, Cowdray in Sussex, which became the seat of the Viscounts Montague but is now the ruin at Cowdray Park after a fire destroyed it - and the original picture - in 1803. The ruins are today maintained for the public by the Cowdray Heritage Trust with the help of the current Lord Cowdray.

Luckily the Society of Antiquaries had preserved the picture in the late 18th Century - the Society had it hand-copied by the Sherwin Brothers in masterly fashion around 1775, and the result brilliantly engraved by James Basire, so that prints could be published for the enlightenment of historians and military scholars around 1788.

The picture was so large that to reproduce it a new size of paper [named the Antiquarian size, after the Society] had to be invented, bigger than any produced before. The print was printed in two halves, the two Antiquarian sheets being joined vertically at the middle of the image.

The print we sell is a modern reproduction of one of the 1788 prints, using hand-colouring beautifully applied to the old black and white print by an unknown artist some time over the ensuing centuries. Our print is made on canvas using archival inks, or on archival artist's paper, using seven-colour giclee printing with UV-resistant pigment inks. The poster is litho printed to a high standard on good cartridge paper.

We have also created a dozen greetings cards of scenes extracted from this huge picture, all with a life and charm of their own and all available online from www.artistsharbour.com

Preserving "Britain's Pompeii"

This historic picture is the massive centrepiece as visitors enter the magnificent "walk-through-the-ship" Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. As visitors arrive to walk through the timbers of the only 16th Century warship on display in the world, the first room they enter is dominated by a massive projection of this picture, 8.4m wide by 2.2m high, dominating an entire wall, simply because this picture tells the whole story of when she sank. Immediately after the new museum opened, it was declared Britain's Museum of the Year.

The Mary Rose is a true piece of world heritage, though not, for some reason, yet officially designated so. The historian Dr. David Starkey has called her "Britain's Pompeii", her rescue from the sea-bottom and her historic legacy as impressive as the excavation of the ancient Roman city from the volcanic earth of Mt. Vesuvius.

Mary Rose was the world’s first successful purpose-built true warship, and probably the first to go into battle using gunports to fire cannon from her sides. Two slightly earlier warships with the same design ideas - one French, one Scottish - were such big and expensive status symbols that their kings were frightened to send them into battle where they might be sunk.

Not so the Mary Rose, the first fighting mainstay of the emerging Tudor Navy for 34 years, seeing continuous action against the French, the Scots and King Henry VIII's other enemies until her death in the Solent, in the act of preventing invasion by a mighty foreign fleet.

Henry had ordered her to be built as one of his first acts on becoming King in 1509, earning him the nickname “the Father of the Royal Navy”.

Mary Rose was launched just two years later in 1511 and was followed by numerous other Tudor warships including the Great Harry, seen in the right centre of the picture in action at the head of the rest of the English fleet.

The sinking of the Mary Rose helped establish a tradition of sacrifice as well as service and which the Royal Navy has carried on for nearly five centuries, successively repelling invasion attempts including those by the Spanish Armada, Napoleon and Hitler, ending the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the 19th Century, and spreading free trade, scientific exploration and the English language across the world.

After Mary Rose sank in the Battle of the Solent, she lay on the sea bed off Southsea Castle for 437 years until she became an international icon again when, defying time and tide, a worldwide live TV audience of tens of millions watched her resurrection in 1982. This feat was and remains one of the pinnacles of the science of marine archaeology.

Since then Mary Rose has become the world’s only accessible 16th Century warship, even while she was intensively sprayed with chemical treatments for 25 years to restore her timbers from the destructive effects of soaking in sea water for four centuries.

19,000 of her crew's weapons, tools and everyday Tudor items were also recovered from the sea bed and restored, from cannon and long bows to coins and such ordinary items of personal care as nit combs for the crew's hair.

Click here for a print, poster or free download of a historic Tudor Football picture by the same unknown artist around 1545.

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