Review: Many faces of Tudor England

The Many Faces of Tudor England at the Mary Rose museum, Portsmouth opened today. The preview was 8am this morning and followed the Channel 4 documentary Skeletons of the Mary Rose: New Evidence part of the award-winning Secret Histories series, which aired last evening. 10 months in the making, it reveals new information, the result of unique, cutting-edge scientific DNA and genealogical investigation. It turns out the crew of Henry VIII’s favourite warship, Mary Rose, was multi-cultural which the programme makers claim ‘redefines what we thought we knew about Tudor England’.

Mary Rose crew member. Photo courtesy Mary Rose.

It is a fascinating insight into DNA research and genealogy (carried out by Swansea, Cardiff and Portsmouth Universities) and is nothing less than we would expect from a world-class museum team. Scientistics have been able to discover where the crew members orginated – from all over the world – and much about their ancestry and habits. All very voyeuristic and highly enjoyable. Although, if you’re a lover of historic texts from Suetonius to Philippa Gregory, you’ll realise that our ancestors travelled extensively and that England was populated by many nationalities. The crew of the Mary Rose, it has been revealed, included Europeans and one or two crew of North African origin or heritage.

The exhibition features lots of interactive screens, artefacts and documentary footage. There are very few records of those who worked on the flagship and it’s not possible to identify the crew. The bones and teeth of an archer of around 14 to 18 years old, tell his own particular story. His left shoulder blade showed deep impressions where the ligaments are attached and he had well developed muscles, due no doubt to his profession. His spine showed signs of osteoarthritis and degenerative disease, and at such a young age. Further resedarch shows where he was born and raised and his diet. DNA testing suggests he came from North Africa, making Henry genetically similar to current day Morrocans, Mozabite or Algeria Berbers or, individuals from the Near East. It is hard not be be moved by these stories and even more so by a reconstruction of how Henry might have looked. A young man, starting out in life and part of one of the greatest tragedies in history. There may have been 700 board the Mary Rose when the ship went down, with fewer than 40 survivors.

The Mary Rose, Historic Dockyard, Portsmouth

The Many Faces of Tudor England runs from 18 March to 31 December 2019. The Mary Rose Museum, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Online price £11.90 adult

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