The Mary Rose was one of the largest warships in Henry VIII’s navy. Launched in 1511, the lumbering carrack saw battle for decades. She was extensively rebuilt in 1536 and finally sank, probably from incompetent seamanship, in 1545 while leading an attack against French galleys in the Solent, the strait north of the Isle of Wight. The wreckage was located in 1971 and raised a decade later. A large section of the ship and hundreds of artifacts from the site are on permanent display in an imaginative and award-winning museum at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, which is also home to Admiral Nelson’s flagship, the Victory.
That bit of maritime history is very much worth absorbing. Unfortunately, the woke busybodies who have dedicated themselves to injecting a political agenda into society’s presentation of the past are working overtime in Portsmouth. Once upon a time, you could visit the museum dedicated to the Mary Rose and expect to learn all sorts of interesting facts about Britain’s navy in the sixteenth century as well as something about modern maritime salvage and various techniques for the preservation of antique wooden structures.
Today, alas, those educational items are overlaid with an obfuscating blanket of politically correct persiflage. It is hard to know how to respond to “Queering The Mary Rose’s Collection.” Is it a joke perpetrated by enemies of the lgbtq+ agenda? Or is it meant in earnest? We vacillate on that question. On the one hand, it seems too preposterous to take seriously. On the other, we live in strange times.
On the whole, we sadly incline towards the latter alternative. As evidence, we note that the museum’s blog devoted to this subject begins with this question: “How can we understand The Mary Rose’s collection of personal objects through a Queer lens?” Though high on the list of questions no one is asking, that does sound in earnest, doesn’t it? But what does it mean? Thankfully, whoever is behind this surreal gambit does not propose to discuss “the sexuality or gender identity of crew members”—after all, that “would be an impossible task.” As Francisco said in another context, “For this relief, much thanks.” Instead, our cicerone proposes to employ “Queerness as an interpretative tool.”
Ah. So what would that look like? The museum’s website offers several examples, each stranger and more implausible than the last. One of the objects recovered from the wreckage was a small wooden octagon whose circular center once held a mirror. “Looking at your own reflection in a mirror can bring up lots of emotions for both straight and lgbtq+ people,” the text tells us.
For Queer people, we may experience a strong feeling of gender dysphoria when we look into a mirror, a feeling of distress caused by our reflection conflicting with our own gender identities. On the other hand, we may experience gender euphoria when looking in a mirror, when how we feel on the inside matches our reflection.
Really? Reading such sentences, we suppose that grammar dysphoria might be likely. But “gender dysphoria/euphoria”? Maybe you just wanted to be sure that your tie was on, er, straight.
And perhaps you wanted to check your hair. According to the blog text, nit combs were the most common object found among the wreckage. Eighty-two were recovered. The authors acknowledge that the
combs would have been mainly used by the men to remove nits from their hair, rather than using the comb to style their hair (which would have usually been covered up by a hat). However, for many Queer people today, how we wear our hair is a central pillar of our identity.
A “central pillar,” eh? And savor that “however.” Here’s one sort of thing; and here is another sort of thing that is completely different; but it somehow reminds us of that first thing; ergo we are going to pretend that there is a connection. Nice work if you can get it.
Such logical incontinence is a trademark of this kind of contribution to knowledge. Or maybe it is only a contribution to the attitudinizing and proclaiming of your political bona fides. Someone found a gold ring on the Mary Rose. Maybe, the writer suggests, it was a simple wedding band. Chances are good. But what’s the connection between that and what immediately follows?
In England, Wales, and Scotland same-sex marriages became legal in 2014. In Northern Ireland, same-sex marriages only became legal in 2020. However[!], there is a long history of Queer people marrying or viewing themselves as married [and even, we are told, exchanging rings].
You see how it goes. To say that this narrative is tendentious is a calumny on the polemical teeth of tendentiousness. To say that it is pointless accords it too much direction. In the hands of an accomplished satirist, this species of over-interpretation can be amusing. We think, for example, of Ronald Knox’s proof that Queen Victoria was the actual, if unacknowledged, author of Tennyson’s “In Memoriam.” “One looks, naturally, for a cryptogram,” Knox writes.
And here a most impressive fact meets us at the very outset of the inquiry. Give the letters their natural value as Greek numerals: that is, make A = 1, E = 5, I = 10, M = 40 . . . . The letters of In Memoriam thus work out at 10 + 50 + 40 + 5 + 40 + 70 + 100 + 10 + 1 + 40, cyphers which on a careful computation add up to 366, the number of days in the full year! . . . Again, if you give the vowels their natural values as a separate series, this time making A = 1, E = 2, etc., you find that the vowels ieioa represent 3 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1, cyphers which add up to the mystical number 13. Adding 100 to 13 (for want of anything better to do), you arrive at . . .
well, you arrive at an amusing satire. “The implication is plain enough; the author of this poem is not its reputed author; somebody described as H. M. is really writing the poem,” i.e., Her Majesty. “Astounding—impossible! . . . And yet, is it so extraordinary?” Sometimes, a mirror is but a mirror, a nit comb but a nit comb, and a sixteenth-century maritime wreck a window into the past. Just inject an ampule of preening sexual obsession and, presto, out comes something like “Queering The Mary Rose’s Collection.”
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 42 Number 1, on page 1
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