Incredible Details Of The Past: Bringing The Cowdray Murals Back To Life – With Dominic Fontana

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The header image is a watercolour painting which shows detail of one of the Cowdray murals, recording the sinking of the Mary Rose on 19th July 1545. The image is based on an original painted between 1545 and 1548, commissioned by Anthony Browne, Master of the Horse, and tragically lost in the fire that destroyed Cowdray House in 1793. Image credit: James Basire (1730-1803), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

This gallery of images has been assembled specifically to accompany a podcast episode in The Tudor History & Travel Show. In Part 2 of my episodes from Cowdray House, I am joined by Dominic Fontana as we discuss the Cowdray murals, and what they tell us about the events of 1545. Join us as we pore over a fascinating mural, bringing to life the scene of the sinking of Henry VIII’s beloved warship, the Mary Rose. Tune in here to join us.

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The Cowdray Murals: A Brief History

Cowdray House is famous for its lost murals. Six, large paintings, the Cowdray murals were a set of images recording Henry VIII’s campaign in France during the summer of 1544 and the events of 19th July 1545. In this episode of The Tudor History & Travel Show, we discuss The Encampment of the English forces near Portsmouth. Showing the battle of the Solent in which the French King, Francis I, attempted to invade England and wrest the crown from Henry VIII, the image shows the sinking of the flagship, the Mary Rose.

The murals were thought to have decorated the walls of Cowdray House, hanging in the Great Parlour, which functioned as a splendid dining room. Dominic believes, ‘their location in the dining room might suggest that Sir Anthony intended these images as “visual aids” to support his storytelling at dinner’. While the original murals went up in smoke with the fire, thankfully engravings had been taken prior to their destruction. While both the sinking of the Mary Rose and the coronation procession of Edward VI have been repainted, the others remain as simply line sketches, which nevertheless show incredible detail.

The Cowdray Murals: Scenes at Portsmouth

Cowdray murals: The Encampment of the English forces near Portsmouth.
Engraving and watercolour version of The Encampment of the English forces near Portsmouth.
Image courtesy of Kester Keithley.

Looking from the south of Portsmouth towards the Solent, the image shows the battle of the Solent on 19th July 1545. The land at the top of the image is the Isle of Wight and the southern shore of Portsmouth is at the bottom. The sea in the middle is the Solent. The ships on the left are the French fleet, with the English ships in the centre and to the right of the image. With the English ships anchored in this location, their guns denied the French access into the Solent.

Sources & Further Reading

To read my blog about Cowdray House, click here.

To watch the modcast of Dominic and me at Cowdray House, click here.

To listen to Part 1 of my episodes from Cowdray House, click here.

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