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In Search of Sir Francis Drake
by Kathryn Gillett, Elizabethan England on Britannia
Portsmouth and the Mary Rose
27 Miles South-East of Southampton
The Historic Dockyard of
Portsmouth hosts a family of famous naval ships that are lovingly cared
for in their various stages of refurbishment. Lord Nelson's handsome
flagship, The HMS Victory, is so perfectly polished, it seems to be
awaiting the great admiral's inspection. I imagined his apparition
appearing on the upper deck, raising with his one good arm a spyglass to
his one good eye - looking far out to the horizon, still searching for
the sails of his foes, who too have long since gone.
On the other end of the
refurbishment spectrum, King Henry VIII's favorite flagship, the
once-magnificent Mary Rose, is now but a wooden skeleton that was
relatively recently brought up from her watery grave. This fabulous
archeological find was enduring a continuous shower of emulsions meant to
preserve her for further restoration. Although it seemed an uncomfortable,
cold and undignified treatment, it was performed with the best of
intentions by her caretakers who affectionately call her Rosie.
The Mary Rose sank in
1545, just 32 years before Drake began his circumnavigation of the globe.
Therefore, my purpose in visiting the Mary Rose was to find a rich
library of information about the daily routine, navigational instruments,
and weaponry aboard the wooden vessels of the Tudor age. And, as I watched
the Mary Rose receive her continuous medicinal dousing, my thoughts
went back in time to imagine what the Mary Rose would have looked
like - a state-of-the-art Tudor war ship, heading out of Portsmouth to
meet the French in battle. Brilliantly painted, flags and standards
flying, decks choked with hundreds of soldiers, mariners and gunners. To
this day, no one knows exactly why, but as King Henry looked on, his
favorite ship, named after his much-loved sister, began to heel. In just
moments it had sunk, taking all those aboard with her.
What was an inestimable tragedy
in its day has become a priceless wealth of archeological information.
Lying in its seawater grave, covered in a protective casket of sediment
for hundreds of years, the ship and its artifacts were located in the late
1970s, and a series of excavations began. Since then, thousands of
artifacts have been recovered, amazingly well preserved after all these
navigational tools, ceramic containers, canons, ship's rigging, musical
instruments - even a backgammon table - are all on display, looking
much as they did over 450 years ago. As I wandered back in time through
the museum, I was amazed at the range of artifacts, and the excellence of
their condition. And so thankful that there are people today who are
dedicated enough to toil on very limited budgets to make such magnificent
stores of history available to us all.
Next Stop: Canterbury
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