Twenty five years after it was retrieved from the bed of the Solent from the Mary Rose, a rare 16th century basket-hilted sword has been put on display for the first time.
The Right Worshipful The Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Councillor Mike Blake officially opened the display of the basket-hilted sword, arguably one of the most important in the world because it can be dated precisely to the sinking of the ship, on July 19th 1545. It pre-dates by a hundred years the only other two with firm dates attached to them. Curator of Ordnance Alex Hildred and former Research Director Dr Margaret Rule were on hand to pay testimony to the importance of the find.
The sword, which measures 105cm in length, was recovered in September 1982, just one month before the momentous lifting of the hull of the Mary Rose. The sword had fallen through a gun port as the ship sank and then was buried beneath the hull as it settled into the seabed.
Although the sword has never been on display before, photographs and drawings of it have excited military historians worldwide. Guy Wilson, ex Master of the Royal Armouries, has written of the sword “It is one of a very important type that may be called the first British Military pattern sword as it appears to have been used extensively by the elite troops and personal guard of King Henry VIII.”
Of the many thousands of Tudor artefacts retrieved from the wreck, the sword is unique as every other metal edged weapon was almost completely destroyed underwater leaving only the wooden parts or just a few fragments of metal trapped within concretions. The handle is wood, either beech or alder; the blade is made of iron with steel cutting edges and the basket hilt is made from quarter inch iron rods hammer welded together.
John Lippiett, Chief Executive of The Mary Rose Trust explains: “Even after 437 years in the sea, the sword is still wonderfully balanced and the edge of the blade near the hilt is sharp enough to cut. Once again the Mary Rose has yielded another unique Tudor treasure.”
Conservation of the sword started in 1983 with initial removal of chlorides present in the sea water. Removal of the remaining chlorides by electrolysis was commenced under the supervision of Dr Mark Jones, Head of Collections at the Mary Rose Trust. The final stage of conservation was the dehydration of the sword and treatment of the wooden hilt.
The display of the sword is the first event to mark the 25th anniversary of the raising of the Mary Rose on October 11th.