LONDON (Reuters Life!) - King Henry VIII’s flagship the Mary Rose, a Tudor time capsule likened to a British Pompeii, has won crucial funding for a hi-tech museum to house the fabled warship and its previously unseen treasures.
One of the first vessels capable of firing a broadside, it went down in the Solent in 1545 during an engagement with the French fleet, with the loss of more than 400 crew.
The sinking is thought to have been an accident, but exactly what happened has vexed British naval historians for years.
Did the ship capsize during a sharp turn when water entered the open gun ports? Was there a fatal lack of understanding between the English officers and the largely foreign crew?
The vessel was spectacularly raised from its watery grave in front of a global audience of some 60 million people in 1982.
What remains of the hull has been on public view behind glass ever since, along with a selection of perfectly preserved artifacts at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard on England’s southern coast.
It is the only 16th century warship on display anywhere in the world, according to the Mary Rose Trust.
Now the Trust has secured 21 million pounds ($35 million) from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the body which distributes a share of the income from Britain’s national lottery to heritage projects.
The money will go toward conservation and to the 35 million-pound planned museum which will display all the 19,000 finds raised with the ship.
“When better to celebrate than during the month which marks the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII’s accession? We think he would have been delighted,” said Trust chief executive John Lippiett.
The new museum will resemble a finely crafted, wooden jewelry box, clad in timber planks invoking the structure of the original ship, its designers say.
Some of the money will also be used to continue spraying the hull with a special water-based wax preservative — polyethylene glycol — until 2011 before it is carefully dried for full open-air display in 2016.
Funding for the museum, which should open in time for the 2012 Olympic Games, was coincidentally announced 500 years to the day since Henry was crowned in 1509.
Items recovered from the wreck site and which will be on permanent display include Tudor tankards, wooden and pewter plates, nit combs, longbows and arrows, musical instruments and even bleeding bowls.
These were used to collect blood during bloodletting — a practice once carried out to treat a wide range of diseases and medical conditions.
“It’s the strength of the perfectly preserved personal belongings that really captures the imagination and the horror of the sinking on July 19, 1545,” said a spokeswoman for Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
The lottery fund gave full approval for the grant after the Trust raised almost 10 million pounds toward the project.
The Trust will be launching a fund-raising appeal next month for the remaining 4 million pounds needed.
Building of the museum is due to begin in the autumn.
Editing by Steve Addison