24 January, 2008

Cardinal Wolsey and the Tudor Navy

You may have spotted via my Shelfari widget that I have been reading David Childs' excellent ship biography The Warship Mary Rose. The Mary Rose was Henry VIII's flagship until she sank in home waters in 1545, having taken part in three wars against France and one against Scotland.

The Mary Rose was famously salvaged in 1982 and her remains are now displayed at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. A major project is under way by the Mary Rose Trust to build a fab new permanent exhibition to display the hull and exhibits, inevitably dependent on a large injection of dosh from Lottery funding. The decision on this is due TOMORROW Jan 25th, so fingers crossed!

Amongst the primary sources quoted by Childs are letters between Cardinal Wolsey and captains of the Mary Rose concerning the ships provisions (or lack of) and other matters. As the King's Master Almoner, Wolsey "...was able to demonstrate that the idea of a standing navy was a sustainable one." (Childs, ibid, p.89).

Childs also quotes Wolsey's biographer Francis Hacket:
"[Wolsey] personally signed contracts for everything from twenty-five thousand fat oxen for salting to the hire of fourteen mares to haul a culverin (cannon)" (ibid, p.90).

One of the problems that Wolsey seems to have encountered is that empty barrels were not returned by the navy to shore for re-filling with provisions - many were simply thrown overboard. Hence this extract from a letter to (Admiral) Thomas Howard in 1513:
"My lord, I assure you it is not possible to furnish your revictualling if Foists (barrels) be not

more plenteously brought from the navy to Hampton than they be....for ye cannot be provided elsewhere of any foists for money" (ibid, p.96).

Wolsey's rather statistical reaction to the loss of the warship Regent, blown up off Brittany in 1513 along with the French ship Cordeliere, is revealed in this extract from a letter to the Bishop of Worcester:
"And after innumerable shootings of guns and long chasing one another, at the last the Regent most valiantly boarded the [Cordeliere], wherein were 4 lords, 300 gentlemen, 800 soldiers and mariners, 400 crossbowmen, 100 gunners, 200 tunnes of wine, 100 pipes of beef, 60 barrles of gunpowder and 15 great brass cortains with so marvelous number of shot and guns of every sort" (ibid, p108).

After this bloody action in which up to 2000 men on both sides were killed, Henry decided to construct the Woolwich Dockyard to build more ships.

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