The Mary Rose archers were among the elite soldiers of the 16th century, research reveals


The archers who fought on Henry VIII’s warship the Mary Rose, which sank in 1545, would have been elite soldiers for their time, standing over 6 feet tall and able to pull weights over 200 lbs. These findings come from a new research project being carried out by sports scientists at Swansea University and the Mary Rose Trust to discover more about the lives of the 16th century archers on board the ship.

When the ship was raised from the Solent in 1982, many thousands of medieval artefacts along with 92 fairly complete skeletons of the crew of the Mary Rose were recovered.

Nick Owen, Sport and Exercise Biomechanist from the College of Engineering at Swansea University said, “This sample of human remains offers a unique opportunity to study activity related changes in human skeletons. It is documented that there was a company of archers aboard when the ship sank, at a time when many archers came from Wales and the South West of England.

“These archers had specialist techniques for making and using very powerful longbows. Some bows required a lifetime of training and immense strength as the archers had to pull weights up to 200lbs (about 90kg).”

He adds that these men were “6ft 2in or 6ft 3in, and strapping individuals…These archers were the elite athletes of their day.”




The longbows themselves were about 6ft 6in and specially made to produce maximum power. Alexzandra Hildred, Curator of Ordnance at the Mary Rose Trust explains, “It was a requirement by law for every male to practice archery regularly from an early age, and many of the skeletons recovered show evidence of repetitive stress injuries of the shoulder and lower spine. This could be as a result of the shooting heavy longbows regularly. Being able to quantify the stresses and their effect on the skeleton may enable us at last to isolate an elite group of professional archers from the ship.”

Mr Owen and his team are basing their research on the biomechanical analysis on the skeletons of the medieval archers to examine the effect of a life of using very powerful longbows on the musculoskeletal system.

Part of the process of analysing the skeletons involves creating 3-D virtual images so that measurements can be taken from the remains without causing any damage to the valuable heritage artefacts.

See also Sports scientists examine the medieval archers of the Mary Rose

Source: Swansea University

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