I strongly believe that history is not only the story of one-off big events, larger-than-life characters, and impossible-to-memorize dates. It is the story of everyday people and their daily hopes, dreams, struggles, and passions – set against the backdrop of different times, places, and beliefs than our own. Unfortunately the study of history does not often present opportunities to experience their stories, until the rare occasion they suddenly appear in front of us.
In 1545 the flagship of Henry VIII’s navy, the Mary Rose, sank with almost all hands. A tragedy for the volatile monarch and for the souls lost. But in 1982, her discovery and raising provided a complete snapshot of the life of a Tudor sailor. Certainly there are weapons to delight the military historian, but also thousands of more personal items (shoes, bags, tankards) that provide us a glimpse into the daily life of a Tudor sailor. A not always pleasant life, to be sure, as evidenced by the tools to inject warm mercury into sailor urethras – treatment against the syphilis rampant among sailors at the time.
With luck, the new Mary Rose Museum will open in 2012, and I for one hope to be among the visitors.