Remembering Margaret Rule

Four years ago yesterday, Doctor Margaret Rule CBE, the woman who raised the Mary Rose, crossed the bar.  For nearly 50 years, her name has been synonymous with King Henry VIII’s flagship.  Resolute, professional, driven and determined, her vision was clear: to find, excavate and preserve for all time, such remains of the ship Mary Rose, as may be of historical or archaeological interest. With the opening of the new Mary Rose Museum in October 2013, her dream was finally achieved.

Starting in the mid-1960’s with no money and limited skills for such a task, Margaret was not one to give up, or for that matter, take no for an answer. Originally a chemist, she had studied archaeology at Cambridge, supervised the excavation of Fishbourne Roman Palace, and become the palace museum’s first curator. So, when diver and Naval historian Alexander McKee asked her to help him find Mary Rose, she naturally said yes. McKee wanted to find King Henry VIII’s flagship, and that they did. Wreck found; Margaret proceeded to lead Britain’s most ambitious and pioneering maritime archaeology project, the raising of the Mary Rose.


If leadership is about making others better because of your presence, and ensuring that impact lasts in your absence, as Sheryl Sandberg suggests, then Margaret Rule was the physical embodiment of a leader. Margaret routinely asked the impossible of her staff, but made them all believe that they could achieve it; and achieve, they did. On 11 October 1982, an estimated 60 million people worldwide watched on, as the Tudor warship emerged from the Solent, after 437 years underwater.

The Mary Rose was Margaret’s gift to Britain. She also gave a gift to me: my education. You might be surprised to learn, that I never met Margaret Rule (not through a lack of trying!) but she cast a long shadow. Her impact endured her absence.

It’s because of Margaret, that there was a Nautical Archaeology Society Training Program for me to complete, and Chris Underwood there to teach it. It’s because of Margaret, that Jonathan Adams was able to establish the Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Southampton, and be there to educate, guide and mentor me. It’s because of Margaret, and the belief in the benefit of professional and amateur archaeologists working together, that the Nautical Archaeology Society endured, and I was able to take that belief to the UNESCO Permanent Delegation in Paris. It’s because of Margaret, that Mary Rose Trust was established, and I was privileged to work with the incredible Christopher Dobbs and Alexzandra Hildred, notably during the 2005 excavations.

And it is because of Margaret, that over the course of my career, I have been fortunate to work with, and get to know, Lucy Blue, Sean McGrail, Peter Marsden, Ray Sutcliffe, Nick Rule, Kester Keighley, Peter Holt, Mark Jones, Mark Beattie-Edwards, and many, many talented individuals past and present. For that Margaret, I thank you. You have inspired, and continue to inspire, generations of archaeologists, divers and people with a passion for past, and this is the greatest gift of all.

Margaret Helen Rule, archaeologist, born 27 September 1928; died 9 April 2015. Survived by her son Nick.

If you would like to know more about Margaret Rule and her unique combination of passion and contribution, please read the obituary written by her friend, and fellow archaeologist, Peter Marsden.

If you would like to help keep Margaret’s dream alive, for future generations, please help support the Mary Rose.

If you met Margaret, or volunteered on the Mary Rose, please share your memories of below. My thoughts are with all of those who knew and loved her.

About Sarah Ward

I’m Sarah Ward, a maritime archaeologist, commercial diver and factual presenter with 16 years experience, both in and out of the water. I’ve investigated sites ranging from the Bronze Age to the modern, across more than 20 countries. A Visiting Professor at Dalian Maritime University and MIT Ocean Discovery Fellow, I am on a mission to bring archaeology to a broader audience, helping people to connect with the past in a meaningful way.

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(c) Indiana Sarah 2019