New analysis offers insight into Tudor England

New analysis offers insight into Tudor England

Bone analysis of skeletons found on the Mary Rose are offering new evidence that Tudor England was more ethnically diverse than originally thought. Studies carried out on the remains of two crew members show that they may have had roots from as far away as North Africa and the Near East.

The Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s famous flag ship, sank during the Battle of the Solent in 1545, after 34 years of service, killing about 500 men.

One of the crew members, a male between 14 - 18 years old who has been dubbed “Henry”, was found in the hold along with three others. It is believed that they were tasked with trying to keep the ship watertight. Analysis of the nuclear DNA in his teeth, though incomplete, shows similarities to Moroccan, Mozabite Berbers of Algeria and near-eastern populations.

“He does cluster quite clearly in amongst individuals from North Africa” said Dr Sam Robson, who worked on the research.

The research team also examined Henry’s mitochondrial DNA, which was more prevalent, and is nearly always inherited from only the mother. Based on mutations in his mitochondria, it was possible to place his mother from either Southern Europe, North Africa or the Near East. While analysis of Henry’s teeth shows that he grew up in Southern England, his mother was not born there and was almost certainly an immigrant.

Analysis was also conducted on the teeth of the so-called “archer royal”, who was found on the top deck of the ship, crushed beneath a bronze cannon. He was named for the leather wrist-guards he was wearing, which are embossed with the arms of Catherine of Aragon and the royal arms of England.

The oxygen isotopes in his teeth were much higher than the English norm, meaning that he was not born in Britain. The evidence shows that he grew up in a hot climate with an inland diet, suggesting that he too could have emigrated from North Africa or Southern Europe.

Dr Miranda Kaufmann, author of ‘Black Tudors: The Untold Story’, said that as the Mary Rose sank before English merchants began trading in Morocco, those with North African heritage most likely travelled through Spain or Portugal before arriving in England.

These exciting findings offer an insight into the diversity and globalisation of Tudor society that is very different from the racial views that emerged centuries afterwards.

In total, 92 skeletons were analysed, the results of which were presented in a Channel 4 documentary. Producer of the documentary Steven Perring said that “these discoveries have the potential to reverse long-held assumptions about diversity in Tudor England”.

“Once again, the Mary Rose is rewriting what we know about the 16th century world”.


Added: 15th March 2019

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