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  • Place of origin:

    Greenwich (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1545 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Steel and oak, lined with leather and woollen fabric

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Major Victor Alexander Farquharson

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 58b, case 3

Object Type
This is one of a number of shields combined with matchlock guns (guns ignited and fired using a glowing match) that are listed in an inventory dated 1547 of the arms of Henry VIII (ruled 1509-1547). They are described as 'Targettes steiled wit gonnes' (steel shields with guns). The shields that have survived are of several distinct types. The best have finely etched decoration heightened with gilding and wrythen barrels (barrels that have been forged with a prominent twist). Most, however, are very rough and appear to have been crudely converted from plain steel shields. This was done by cutting a hole through the plates in the centre and fitting a breech-loading (a means of loading a gun from the rear of a barrel) matchlock gun.

Design & Manufacture
The better quality gun shields were probably made in Northern Italy. By chance, a letter survives from a painter of Ravenna named Maestro ('Master') Giovanni Battista. On 19 March 1544 he wrote from Venice to the court of Henry VIII with an offer to bring over his company (a group of soldiers serving under one captain) for the King's service. Included in the letter was a proposal to supply 'round shields with guns inside them'. The Ravenna painter was probably wealthy since he was in charge of a company. He was probably an arms and armour supplier rather than a manufacturer. Because his surname is unknown, it has not been possible to identify him. However, it is certainly possible that he supplied the Italian gun shields that are now in the Tower of London.

Ownership & Use
All the gun shields have been repaired and altered. Sufficient original elements survive, however, to allow a reasonably accurate reconstruction of their operation to be made. The guns were fired by a charge contained in a re-loadable tube which slid into a hinged breech-block (a box fitting into the rear of a gun barrel). The trigger was operated by a coiled brass spring. One trigger has survived intact. It is flattened at the end and pierced with a hole, probably to take a lanyard (a cord used to discharge a gun). At the back are the remains of a series of leather straps. Two were for the arm and hand so that the shield could be carried in parades. The others may be associated with the firing of the gun shield, but their function is not certain. No original leather straps have survived complete on this shield, but the fragments that remain are retained by very substantial washers.

The shields were probably attached by straps to a frame for firing and fired from a distance by using a lanyard attached to the trigger. The grating would allow the gunner to see an approaching enemy, and the shield would offer some measure of protection. By attaching lanyards to the trigger, one gunner could fire several gun shields at once. Used in such a way on a ship's gunwale (rail), they would make formidable weapons. This may explain why several were found on the Mary Rose. These gun shields are heavy and awkward to carry. They would be very difficult and dangerous to fire unless they were mounted on a support. If the gunner was supplied with a number of tubes containing charges, fairly rapid fire could be maintained.

Place of Origin

Greenwich (possibly, made)


ca. 1545 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Steel and oak, lined with leather and woollen fabric


Height: 50 cm, Width: 45 cm, Depth: 30 cm including nozzle

Object history note

Made in England, possibly at Greenwich, London; based on gun-shields supplied by Master Giovanni Battista of Ravenna

Descriptive line

Originally from the armoury of Henry VIII at the Tower of London; Arms and armour

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Hayward, J. F., European Armour. London: 1965

Labels and date

British Galleries:
Gun-shields of this type have been found in the wreck of the 'Mary Rose', which sank off Portsmouth, Hampshire in 1545. A matchlock pistol was combined with a heavy steel-plated shield, allowing the user some protection while he fired from the side of the ship. [27/03/2003]


Arms & Armour; Firearms


Metalwork Collection

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