LONDON, Aug 1 (Reuters Life!) - The Mary Rose, pride of Henry VIII’s fleet, may have sunk because of poor communication between its English officers and foreign crew members, researchers said on Friday.
The sinking of the 16th century warship is one of the biggest puzzles of British naval history, with many theories put forward to explain its sudden loss during a battle with French invaders in July 1545.
One leading theory says it sank after it dipped its side low in the water during a tight turn, allowing water to flood in through unsecured gun ports.
Now researchers have come up with a new explanation for the failure to close the covers: there was a crucial delay between the order being given by English-speaking officers and it being understood by foreign crew members.
New forensic tests on the teeth of 18 crewmen suggest up to 60 percent of the crew may not have been British. They were more likely to have come from warmer parts of southern Europe.
The research also uncovered an account in Henry’s state papers of how 600 captured Spanish soldiers had sought refuge in England after their boats were caught in a storm six months before the Mary Rose sank.
The men were pressed into military service for Britain, possibly in the navy, while sailors from mainland Europe were also recruited to help ease a shortage of crew.
Researchers will argue in a television documentary on Britain’s Channel Five network (www.five.tv) that some of these men could have ended up on the Mary Rose.
“It looks like the Mary Rose was a ship lost in translation,” a Five spokesman said. “In the heat of battle, at a moment when the ship was attempting to make a quick maneuver, the order to close the gun port lids may not have been understood.”
The Tudor warship, said to have been Henry’s favorite, was one of the first capable of firing a broadside and had holes cut along the side for its heavy guns.
Many historians believe that a sudden rush of water through these holes fatally destabilized the ship, sending it to the bottom of the Solent off the south coast of England.
It lay on the seabed for more than 400 years before it was raised in a delicate salvage operation in 1982. Now housed in a museum in Portsmouth, it is the only 16th century warship on display anywhere in the world (www.maryrose.org).
Editing by Steve Addison and Paul Casciato
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