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Mounted guns, gun shields and handguns on the Mary Rose

There was a variety of smaller arms on board the Mary Rose, including mounted guns, gun shields and handguns. Some of the artefacts in our collection, such as the hail shot pieces, are the only known examples of this weaponry from the Tudor period. This was a period of great technological experimentation and advancement with weaponry.

Swivel Guns

Swivel gun 82A4076

These were long thin wrought iron guns supported on a yoke which slotted into a hole in a rail or sill. Thirty are listed, we recovered parts of 15.  They could be elevated, traversed, loaded and fired by one individual. They had a separate chamber which fitted into the back of the barrel and a long handle to move the gun. Shot recovered for them was mostly composite shot made of lead with an iron dice imbedded within. Bores ranged from 45-90mm.

Hailshot pieces

Hailshot piece 80A0544

The only known examples of these are the ones recovered from the Mary Rose. Four out of the 20 listed were found.

These are muzzle-loading anti-personnel weapons, with a rectangular bore of about 58 x 28 mm which fired small iron dice. They have a hook on their underside which was wedged over a rail, with a short wooden stock held under the gunner’s arm.

Every vessel in the Anthony Roll is listed with between 2 and 40. They were cast in a two-part mould, an early attempt to mass produce guns in cast iron. At this time there were only 32 large cast iron guns in the entire fleet.

Ultimately, hailshot pieces were obsolete within a few years, and represent an experimental stage in the casting of iron guns.


Section of the stock of handgun 81A2679

Section of the stock of handgun 81A2679

Throughout the 16th century the use of handheld guns increased, and by the time of the Mary Rose these dominated the battlefield. All vessels carried handguns, in numbers of between three and 100.  We found parts of seven, with three different styles represented. Three of these are matchlocks imported from Brescia in Italy, possibly, perhaps some of the 4500 bought in early 1545. These fired cast iron shot.

Trials using reproductions gave a maximum muzzle velocity of 520m/s. A 90lb draw weight longbow only achieved 45.6m/s. The age of the longbow as a military weapon was nearly over.

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Gun shields

The most unusual weapons found consisted of round targets (shields) made of wood covered with iron plates with a small breech loading handgun with a matchlock ignition system in the centre. Remains of 7-8  were found, all in storage.  Two had decorated copper alloy bosses surrounding the handguns with copper strips shaped like oak leaves covering the seams between the iron plates.

During Henry’s reign almost all of the 80 or so noted were located in palaces rather than in the Tower Armouries. We think they may be specifically for Henry’s closest bodyguard, the ‘King’s Spears’ – also known as ‘the Gentlemen Pensioners’. But what were they doing on the Mary Rose?