Object Title

Matchlock breech-loading gun

Matchlock breech-loading gun


Dated 1537

Object Number



Old Tower Collection. 'King Henry Eights carbine' in 1691 valuation. This gun may be one mentioned in the inventory of the King's armour and weapons drawn up after his death in 1547. 'Itm one Chamber pece in a Stocke of woode lyned in the Cheke with vellet.'.

Physical Description

Originally a wheel-lock but now fitted with a match-lock. Barrel of square section at the breech then round , the muzzle finished with mouldings. Hinged breech-block resembling the Snider breech. The block has a short operating-lever on the right and is secured when closed by a transverse pin at the front, the breech being chambered for a reloadable steel cartridge. The breech-block is chiselled with acanthus foliage and the top face of the breech itself with a Tudor Rose crowned with two lion supporters, the space below being engraved with foliage now almost obliterated. The beginning of the round section is chiselled with three slender columns framing at the base two medallion heads, the capitals supporting a frieze bearing the initials H R. The remaining length of the barrel is fluted as far as the mouldings at the muzzle which carry a brass fore-sight. The breech retains traces of gilding. Stock with slightly up curved shoulder-butt with a butt-trap on the right and another smaller trap below, the covers of both missing. The left side has been fitted with a cheek-pad (originally recorded as velvet) of which only the brass securing-nails remain. The space between the lock-screws is slightly carved with foliage. Immediately behind the breech is an applied shield-shaped plaque of brass, formerly gilt, engraved with figures of St. George and the Dragon. There is a projecting boss on the underside of the stock carved with acanthus, intended as a grip for the left hand. The fore-end, which was originally carried to the muzzle, has had the final three and a half inches trimmed away. The letters G T are incised twice on the right side behind the lock plate. Steel trigger-guard, probably a replacement. The present match-lock with sliding pan-cover appears to be of 19th century make.





BarrelLength25.6 inhes
BarrelLength650 mm
OverallLength38.375 inhes
OverallLength975 mm
OverallWeight4.22 kg
OverallWeight9.5 lb


Serial Number None visible


30 bore

Inscriptions and Marks

behind lock plate
Maker's mark
W H over a cross

Bibliographic References

John Hewitt, Official Catalogue of the Tower Armouries, London, 1859: p.67

Sir Sibald D. Scott, The British Army, Vol.2, London and New York, 1868, p.263, illus. (Plate XXV)

C ffoulkes, Inventory and Survey of the Armouries of the Tower of London, London, 1916, vol.II, p.331. illus.( plate XXXIII.)

Royal Armouries Museum, Tower of London [souvenir guide], Royal Armouries, Leeds, 2000, p.10, colour ill.

Graeme Rimer, Wheellock Firearms of the Royal Armouries, Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds, 2001. p.15, ill.

C. Paggiarino, The Royal Armouries, masterpieces of medieval and renaissance arms and armour, Milan, 2011, volume 1


This is the smaller of two breech-loading guns in the Armouries collection which were made for Henry VIII. Both were originally equipped with wheel-locks, which have now disappeared, the lock of this gun being replaced by a plain matchlock with an automatic sliding pan-cover, which was probably made in the nineteenth century. Both guns employ reloadable steel chambers which are pushed into the breech in the same way as a modern cartridge. The side hinged breech-block of both these guns bears a striking resemblance to the breech action, developed by the American, Jacob Snider, which was adopted by by the British Army in 1864.
Breech-loading hand guns using reloadable cartridges were produced intermittently from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century, the earliest ones apparently being modelled on contemporary breech-loading cannon, the chambers simply lying in a trough at the breech end of the barrel and secured by lugs and pins or simple wedges.
The guns of Henry VIII are the earliest known examples of this type of hinged breech-blocks. Henry, who, like many of his contemport princes, seems to have been fascinated by new mechanical contrivances. He had no fewer than 139 breech-loading guns in his collection at the time of his death in 1547, including 116 Italian guns. It is now impossible to be certain which, if any, of the entries in the 1547 Catalogue Inventory of his possessions relates to this gun.
However, as this gun obviously had a velvet covered cheek pad it may be the 'chamber pece in a Stocke of woode, lyned in the Cheke with vellet' which is listed as being in the Palace of Westminster along with another chambered gun, perhaps the larger of the two now in the Royal Armouries collection. Henry's interest in breech-loading guns is further attested by the series of curious gun-shields from his arsenal which are also preserved in the Royal Armouries collection and which are equipped with breech-loading matchlock pistols of an otherwise unknown type (Inv. No. V.39).
The fine barrel of this gun, which is chiseled in the form of a column and bears the device and initials of Henry VIII, illustrates the quality of craftsmen that Henry could call upon. It seems likely that this barrel was made in England by one of Henry's own gunmakers. It is stamped with a mark which maybe that of William hunt who in 1538 was appointed Keeper of the King's Handguns and Demi-Hawkes and was 'emplo'd about the makeing and furnishing of te King's Highnesses' devices of certain pieces of artillery'.
It is perhaps this gun which Joseph Platter, a Swiss traveller, saw in the Armouries in 1599 and describes as a pistol 'very like a musket', which 'could be loaded at the breech, that by this means it might be less readily exploded'.