Number 44   September - October 2005


By Rod Shingu

As a Rose/Shakespeare Gardens Docent, our visitors frequently ask me how roses are given their names. In reply I explain that naming is the prerogative of the hybridizer and that he or she often chooses a name that will appeal most to the buying public. So the names often refer to something or someone trendy and popular. ?Barbra Streisand?, ?Chrysler Imperial? and ?Black Baccara? are three such examples among the over 1,200 cultivar and species roses in our Garden. But, what about the more common names like ?Mary Rose?? Who was she and what event took place in the year of her introduction (1983) to popularize this name?

To find out, first I had to visit ?Mary Rose?. So, off I went to Bed 37. As I approached I could see that she was a medium-sized shrub. As I drew nearer and knelt in front of her, I was captivated by her delicate old rose fragrance with notes of honey and almond. Her full, medium pink blossoms were made up of multiple layers of loosely arranged petals that reminded me of a petticoat worn by a coquette in another era. Although resembling an old fashioned rose, she is thoroughly modern in that ?Mary Rose? is remontant and reblooms almost continuously during the season. After admiring her for a while, I realized why rosarians cherish ?Mary Rose??the daughter of ?The Miller? and ?Wife of Bath?--and consider her to be David Austin?s greatest success. But, the question still remained--Who was Mary Rose?

So now it was time to hit the books to Ask Jeeves and Google to learn the answer. Within nanoseconds my screen lit up with hundreds of references to old English royalty and to a warship named the Mary Rose. An alluring pink rose named after a warship? This incongruous pairing intrigued me even more so I read on.

In 1509, at the age of 18, Henry VIII succeeded his father, Henry VII, to the throne. The two shared few similarities, and the most striking difference was in their temperaments. The senior Henry was cool, cautious and practical, while the son was fiery, energetic and bellicose. Although the father restored peace and brought about stability after the Wars of the Roses, he lost much of England?s continental territory to the French. So the ambitious son became obsessed with returning England to its former glory at any cost. In particular, Henry VIII wanted to regain the Duchy of Brittany, thus removing the threat of a French naval attack on England?s southern shore. England, at that time, had neither the manpower nor the revenue to wage war. But, fortunately for him, the major European powers of France, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, Hungary, and the Papacy had formed the League of Cambrai, which aimed to strip Venice of her rich possessions. While these powers concentrated on Venice, England was temporarily at peace with its neighbors.

For nearly three years, from his rise to power in 1509 to the first battle with France in 1512, Henry added several new warships to his navy, one of which was the Mary Rose. Named in honor of his favorite sister, Mary Rose, she became the flagship of the fleet. Boasting 78 guns mounted near the waterline and a crew of 200 sailors, 185 soldiers, and 30 gunners, she was set for battle. For years Henry schemed about how to capture the Duchy of Brittany from France. He thought, if he sent his navy to harass and to draw the French forces to the north, he could then send ground forces joined by the Spanish and invade from the south. Yet as his plan unfolded, the army disintegrated as food became scarce and the undisciplined soldiers fell ill and mutinied. By autumn, the troops had not taken any territory and returned to England.

Henry then had to count on his navy to fulfill his ambitions. On August 10, 1512, the Mary Rose led a flotilla of fifty ships and ferociously attacked the French at the port city of Brest in Brittany. Encountering the Marie la Cordelire, she pounded the French flagship with a persistent barrage of gunfire and crippled it severely. In the battle, however, the Mary Rose was also damaged and ran aground. As she lay temporarily helpless, other ships hammered the La Cordelire until she exploded, killing over 1,000 French sailors. In this one battle, thirty-two French ships were either destroyed or captured. Despite these losses, the French managed to prevail. Future attempts to annex Brest by a naval blockade also failed.

In the years that followed, the Mary Rose engaged the French at Boulogne, Brittany and Cherbourg and led battles against Scottish invaders. In 1528, and again in 1536, the Mary Rose was rebuilt with thirteen additional guns and an upper deck, renovations that added 200 tons and made her more top-heavy and more liable to roll in heavy seas. On July 18, 1545, the Mary Rose was again summoned to battle as France launched an invasion with over 30,000 soldiers and 200 ships. In response, Henry sent a flotilla of 80 ships and an army of 12,000 soldiers. Somewhere in the Solent Channel between Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, the two historic enemies once again engaged in pitched battle. On that day, neither side incurred damage to its fleet. However, on the following day, in calm winds and seas, and as the French galleons approached, the Mary Rose met disaster. Suddenly, as she began to come about to aim her guns, a breeze began to blow. With little warning, the Mary Rose capsized and sank, taking with her all but thirty-five crewmen. Although the French claimed victory over her, it is generally accepted that the undisciplined crew of the Mary Rose neglected to close the gun ports, leaving her vulnerable to wind-whipped waves that flooded her lower decks and caused her to sink. Despite efforts to raise her or to recover her timbers and guns, the Mary Rose lay undisturbed on the bottom of the English Channel interred in deep silt.

Yet our story does not end here, because we must touch on the life of Princess Mary Rose Tudor, for whom the ship was named. Although today she is a little-known royal, she was every bit as colorful, complex and headstrong as her brother, Henry VIII. Born in 1496 to Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, she spent her youth traveling between royal palaces and soon became known around Europe for her charm and her good looks. As one might imagine, as the King?s most adored little sister and the favorite child of the Tudor family, Mary led a charmed life and was granted her every wish. Or was she?

Mary Rose Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk

In those days, alliances between nations were often strengthened through marriage. For example, the first peace treaty between England and Scotland in nearly 200 years, the Treaty of Ayton (1502), was sealed by the marriage of Henry VII?s daughter, Margaret, to James IV. And Henry VIII tended to ally himself with the Hapsburgs of Spain because of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, the widow of his brother. And so it was that Mary was given to Louis XII of France for marriage in the hope of bringing a semblance of peace between the two monarchies. Much to her horror, the headstrong eighteen-year-old girl at first staunchly rejected the prospect of marrying a much older and sickly man in his fifties! But, realizing the bellicose nature of her brother and the precarious health of Louis (who would soon die) Mary shrewdly consented with the one condition that later on she would be permitted to marry the man of her choice. Predictably, the reluctant young Queen of France was widowed by her twenty-first birthday. Soon thereafter, in France she quietly married her true love, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Fearing her brother?s objections, the couple wed without his knowledge and later announced the marriage to Henry as a fait accompli. To avoid the certain execution of Charles and to be permitted back to England, the couple bribed Henry with the vast jewel collection given to her by Louis. The couple spent their remaining years as aristocrats and?much to the liking of the truculent Henry--heavily indebted to the Crown. On June 25, 1533, at the age of thirty-seven, Princess Mary Rose Tudor-- Queen of France, Duchess of Suffolk and the favorite sister of Henry--fell ill and died. She was buried in the Abbey of St. Edmund and two centuries later moved to St. Mary?s Church, Bury St. Edmund. Her descendants include Prince Charles and the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

Now you might well ask, ?How does this twisted maze of history relate to our ?Mary Rose? in Bed 37?? so further explanation is required. Given that roses are often named for popular people or events, we must revisit the sinking of the Mary Rose, for (291 years later) in 1836, she was discovered by a fisherman whose net had become entangled on some wreckage. For the next four years, divers brought up guns, timbers, longbows and other implements of war. Soon thereafter the recovery efforts ended and the Mary Rose was forgotten until 1965, when a new search for sunken warships in the Solent Channel was begun using the latest technology. Suddenly, from the frigid depths of the Channel, the haunting echoes of the sonar equipment revealed the shadowy image of the skeletal remains of a wooden ship. Repeated dives by salvage experts, however, revealed nothing. Only after the removal of the four centuries of silt that had both hidden and preserved her wooden structure, as well as much further research, was it certain that this wreck was the Mary Rose. Following years of planning and engineering, the hull of the Mary Rose was raised from her watery interment and on December 8, 1982 she was transported to a dry dock in the Portsmouth naval yard. The Portsmouth Historic Dockyard was built around her and bit by bit the Mary Rose has been reborn.

During those same years when men and machines dredged the sea bottom for sunken treasures, in that part of England known as Albrighton, in Shropshire, David Austin was working diligently on treasures of his own. He was experimenting with various cultivars to create a ?modern? English rose, one that would have the attributes of an old garden rose combined with the remontancy and health of modern roses. Painstakingly, he repeated the hybridization process until one day he hit upon the combination of ?The Miller? (?Baroness Rothschild? x ?Chaucer?) and ?Wife of Bath? (?Ma Perkins? x ?Constance Spry?), which produced a vigorous, disease resistant, bushy shrub of medium height. Its large medium pink blossoms were abundant and nearly continuously in bloom during the season, rewarding her admirers with not only the first blooms among the English roses but also the last ones! Her old rose fragrance was delicate and alluring, with notes of honey and almond. Gratified with his achievement, Austin introduced his new creation in 1983. He named her ?Mary Rose?, to commemorate the remarkable raising of the Tudor warship. With this one creation, David Austin created what has been described by our own Clair Martin, in his 100 English Roses for the American Garden, as the ?quintessential old-fashioned Damask rose on a modern repeat flowering bush.?

So, what?s in a name? In the case of ?Mary Rose?, there are centuries of tradition, pomp, love, war, and tragedy. From now on, I shall never walk past that special rose in Bed 37 without pausing to smile and think and wonder if there could be other secrets hidden beneath her pink petticoat-like blossoms.

Rod Shingu, Rose/Shakespeare Docent, Class of 2005

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