Project Details


The Mary Rose was King Henry VIII’s flagship, and is amongst the most significant warships of the Tudor age. Sunk in action while engaging a French invasion fleet in 1545, the wreck was discovered in the Solent in 1971, and the ship’s hull and over 19,000 artefacts were excavated between 1979 and 1982. These included skulls and skeletal remains from the 185 soldiers, 200 mariners, 30 gunners and 1 dog onboard. With each bone holding the potential to unlock their DNA history, the collection represents a unique snapshot of life in Tudor England.

Driven by a Channel 4 documentary, due to be aired in February 2019, and using a Pilgrim Trust small grant (£5,000), we have explored the DNA of one of the most striking individuals from the collection; a young man known as “Henry” with possible African descent. With the appointment of SR, an expert in DNA sequencing, and development of in-house bioinformatics resources, we were able to expand our ancient DNA (aDNA) expertise to explore the complete human genome, allowing a much deeper look at the secrets contained within, including Henry’s likely ancestry.

Following this recent work, we now wish to genotype the Mary Rose Archer, a tall individual whose possessions (including a leather bracer with the Arms of England) suggest he may have been some form of special bodyguard. Facial reconstruction analysis has previously been used, however recent preliminary isotope analysis suggests that he may not have hailed from England. We aim to build on this with evidence from his DNA to develop a full profile of who the Archer really was.

We have developed a robust pipeline for aDNA analysis, however recent work in the field has identified modifications that will significantly improve our throughput. By using the Archer as a template, we believe we can use this funding to perfect our pipeline with the potential to ultimately genotype the entire crew. This will provide a significant step towards answering one of the unanswered questions relating to the ship: who were the crew when the ship sank?

This project represents an incredibly interdisciplinary approach, with clear potential for impact. It will draw on the expertise of staff from multiple faculties, creating new synergies that have previously not been explored. In addition to cutting edge DNA genotyping work (SR and GS), we will be working closely with HSS (KG and MC) to understand our results in the context of the time-period. The cultural significance of the Mary Rose provides us with an excellent opportunity to extend University outreach in the community. We will work closely with the Mary Rose Trust (MRT) to highlight our research within the museum to fully engage the public with the cutting-edge research being conducted at the University. In addition, we will extend our impact to local schools and colleges through a series of events to highlight the ways in which scientific research can interact with and shape understanding of more traditional historical sources.
Effective start/end date1/08/1831/07/19


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