A row has erupted after a museum adopted artifacts found in a sunken Tudor warship as ‘queer’ in a bid to interpret them as representing LGBTQ+ stories.
The Mary Rose Museum, which is dedicated to the famous ship that emerged from the depths of the Solent in 1982 after more than 400 years on the seabed, raised eyebrows after claiming some items found in the wreck could be seen through a lens odd .
This includes a nit comb that represents how hair is a “central pillar” of queer identity, a gold ring that shows the “long history of queer people marrying or considering themselves married” and a mirror that “can stir up a lot of emotions for both straight people and LGBTQ+ people.”
The claims have drawn scorn from historians and the general public, with the museum itself admitting it would be “impossible” to determine the crew members’ sexuality or gender identity.
The museum says a total of 82 nit combs were found on the ship. He claims nit combs represent how hair is a ‘central pillar’ of queer identity
A woodcut of the Mary Rose is depicted. The warship served Henry VIII’s Tudor Navy and fought in several wars against France between 1511 and 1543
THE Blogtitled “Queering The Mary Rose’s Collection”, indicates that it attempts to use “Queerness as an interpretative tool to represent LGBTQ+ stories”.
Among the objects he projects under this lens is an octagonal mirror, which, according to the author, would be a “luxury item” on the warship.
However, he goes on to say, “Looking at your own reflection in a mirror can bring up a lot of emotions for straight and LGBTQ+ people.
“For queer people, we can experience a strong feeling when we look at ourselves in the mirror, a sense of distress caused by our thinking in conflict with our own gender identities.”
The Portsmouth Museum admits that the 82 combs, which were the most common personal items found on the ship, would have been used by the men to remove nits, not to comb their hair.
But he goes on to say, “For many Queer people today, the way we wear our hair is a central pillar of who we are. Hairstyles today are often heavily gendered, following the gender norm that men have short hair and women have long hair.
“By ‘subverting’ and playing with gender norms, queer people can find hairstyles they feel comfortable wearing.”
Looking at a gold ring found on the lowest deck of the ship, the blog says that while same-sex marriages have only been legal in the UK since 2020, “there is a long history of queer people marrying or regard as married”.
Referring to the paternosters – which are a type of prayer beads – that were found on the ship, the blog says it showed that many sailors were Christians, before discussing how the English Reformation led to the introduction of the Buggary Act.
An octagonal mirror is shown. A reflective surface would have sat in the frame. The museum claims that “looking at your own reflection in a mirror can stir up a lot of emotions for heterosexual and LGBTQ+ people”
The museum also claims a gold ring – found on the lowest deck of the Mary Rose – represents the “long history of queer people marrying or considering themselves married”
The warship was one of two immediately commissioned by Henry VIII with his own money when he became king in 1509.
It had lain for 437 years on the bed of the Solent outside Portsmouth Harbor after sinking in 1545 under the King’s watch from Southsea Castle.
But he was brought up from the seabed on October 11, 1982 after an 11-year rescue operation.
More than 19,000 objects were recovered from the site in what was at the time the largest underwater archaeological dig in the world.
The objects are now on display at the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth.
“Queering the collection” has become a popular approach in museums around the world to interrupt LGTQ+ experiences through the works on display.
A spokesperson for the Mary Rose Museum said: ‘As one of the UK’s premier attractions, we actively encourage people around the world to visit, experience and interpret the Mary Rose for themselves.
“Queering the collection” is an approach used by museums around the world.
“We are proud to support all of our dedicated staff, volunteers and interns as they offer their own personal reflections via our blog.”
The wooden wreck of the warship Mary Rose is pictured as it undergoes conservation in the ship’s foyer, Portsmouth, July 1987
An exhibit from the Mary Rose Museum, Portsmouth, is pictured. The ship, commanded by Henry VIII, rested on the bed of the Solent outside Portsmouth Harbor for 437 years
The Mary Rose Museum is pictured in Portsmouth. It displays artifacts from the ship after it emerged from the seabed in 1982 after an 11-year operation
The wreck of the Mary Rose, a warship of King Henry VIII, is raised from the sea floor in a giant 500 tonne cradle after 437 years on the sea floor in 1982
But historians have criticized the blog. Professor David Abulafia, from the University of Cambridge, said: “With all due respect to its authors, the highly speculative comments about Queering the Mary Rose have as much to do with the sinking as a tin of beans in the Heinz bacon.”
Historian and author James Heartfield added: “I’m afraid people will just laugh at these legends.” I don’t think that makes them very serious historians, and I don’t think it makes them very good gay rights activists either.