Henry's Gun

Henrys Gun

Henry's Gun is a stave-built iron barrel and breech of a Tudor port piece, designed for close fighting against ships. Mounted on a modern wooden carriage, only four of its type survives worldwide.

With a limited range (c500 metres) and accuracy, it would have fired solid stone balls, about 15cms across and weighing 5.5kg (13lbs), to penetrate the side of a ship. Bags of flint and scrap iron would also have been fired to shred its crew and rigging. It is believed a crew of four men would take five minutes to re-load the gun after firing.

If this was Henry VIII's gun it would have been made by the King's Gun-maker Cornelius Johnson or his son John Johnson. If, however, it is one of the guns shown on the plan in 1540 it might have come from a ship possibly originating from the Low Countries.

Henry VIII and the Defence of Hull

The gun was found on the site of the South Blockhouse, part of the fortifications built by Henry VIII between 1541-3 along the east bank of the River Hull. It closely overlooked the mouth of the river, a site from which even short-ranged guns could threaten ships entering the port.

Henry's fortifications completed the circuit of Hull's defences, and were meant to maintain royal control over this strategic port. Ironically, Henry's Gun may have helped defend Hull against Royalist attack in 1642 in what was possibly the only time it was fired in anger.

The discovery of Henry's Gun

This type of gun was first mentioned at South Blockhouse in a list of Henry VIII's property compiled in 1547. In 1553 Hull Corporation were give responsibility for both the guns and the fortifications. Stone shot was still stored at Hull in 1660, but was by this time an outdated weapon. The breech and barrel of Henry's Gun was dumped and buried in 1681, when the South Blockhouse was used to form part of the Hull Citadel. They were discovered again in 1997, as archaeologists examined the remains of South Blockhouse.

Making the gun

The gun barrel is made of wrought iron, and was made using the same technique as a wooden barrel with eight hammered strips or staves being bound together by eleven hoops. The hoop at the muzzle was modified to form a simple gun-sight. The breech was made in a similar way, but with thickened hoops, a tubular iron sheath and a one-piece collar.

The body of the carriage would have been made locally from a single timber. Elm was preferred by many as its complex grain allows it to withstand the shock of discharge. Oak was widely used in 16th century Hull by builders and shipwrights, and was used for the replica carriage. Made by craftsmen from the Royal Armouries workshops in Portsmouth, the design of the carriage is based on those found on the Mary Rose (built between 1509-11).

A PDF file (297Kb) containing a series of illustrations showing how the gun was loaded and fired is available.