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Henry VIII & Mary Rose

You are in: Hampshire > History > Local History > Henry VIII & Mary Rose > Henry's legacy

Henry VIII

Henry VIII became king in 1509.

Henry's legacy

He founded the first permanent Royal Navy, established Portsmouth as its home port and scattered the South Coast with fortifications, but Henry VIII was also a controversial figure. Historian David Childs explains more.

What role did Henry play in creating the Royal Navy?

Henry played a major part in the foundation of a permanent Royal Navy which operated out of Portsmouth.  However he liked to see ships being built - so after the Mary Rose (which was built in Portsmouth), ships were built on the Thames but they operated out of Portsmouth and were provisioned from Southampton.

Many of the soldiery that joined during Henry's and his father's reign, were from Portsmouth. Portsmouth emerged as the premier naval port in Henry's day and has kept that status ever since.

What can be seen of Tudor Portsmouth Today?

Portsmouth's Tudor heritage is well-hidden, but the streets of Old Portsmouth are all old Tudor streets.

Old Portsmouths' Square Tower

Old Portsmouths' Square Tower

Where Portsmouth Grammar School now stands, is the site where Henry VIII established four breweries to supply ale for his fleet.

The fortifications from the Round to the Square Tower were extended and improved to enclose the Camber Dock, which was the main harbour for the fleet at that time.

...and his favourite ship was the Mary Rose which had a long and successful career before disaster struck?

Yes. Tudor Portsmouth was where many of the shipwrights and tradesmen lived and where many of the crews came from. When one looks at a disaster like the loss of Mary Rose, undoubtedly it meant a lot of Portsmouth men went down with her.

The Mary Rose

The Mary Rose now on display in Portsmouth

In July 1545 Henry came down with the whole of Privy Council to talk battle tactics off Spithead. The French fleet was sighted off St Helens and Henry had himself rowed ashore.

When the English fleet moved out to engage the French fleet the next day he was watching from Southsea Common as she made a fateful turn and capsized. The Mary Rose had been built in 1509 so she was around for a major part of his reign.

Was he shocked by the loss of life when the Mary Rose went down?

Probably not. Tudor sovereigns had very little interest in people other than their own court.

The only reason we know the name of a few people who went down with with the ship was because they were courtiers like George Carew and Roger Grenville.

In another engagement 300 to 500 English sailors were slaughtered by the French but we only know about a courtier who was wounded by a bullet in the shoulder. Tudor sovereigns regarded ordinary men and women as cannon fodder.

It was a social system that stank. Henry had no interest in his sailors. He loved ships and pageantry - but had little interest in the welfare of his men.

And he is also famous for the split with the Roman catholic Church - what is the legacy of that?

Henry turned the 13th Century Garrison Church at Old Portsmouth into a gunpower store. It was a 'Domus Dei' - a house of God, a church hospital and rest place for pilgrims. In 1540 they would have been turned out onto the street.

Netley Abbey

Netley Abbey

He was responsible for the dissolution of beautiful monasteries like Netley Abbey near Southampton and Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight.  Henry VIII was a great destroyer of our English architectural heritage. 

When you compare the beauty of those monasteries with the 45 palaces he built, there is no comparison. The split with Rome also meant that we became the enemy of most of Europe.

Henry was forced to cover the coast with forts, beautiful in themselves, wonderful structures like Southsea Castle, but in comparison to what was destroyed, they are poor indeed.

Discover more about Henry VIII during BBC Radio Solent's 'Henry Day' on Wednesday 24 June 2009.

last updated: 19/06/2009 at 13:20
created: 18/06/2009

You are in: Hampshire > History > Local History > Henry VIII & Mary Rose > Henry's legacy

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