A large metal cannon on a wooden support and wheels

Object info
Henry’s Gun, 1500–1540
Iron, oak

Where to see it
Front entrance, Hull and East Riding Museum of Archaeology

Accession number

Purchase a print or image licence
Henry's Gun on Bridgeman Images

About this object

Henry's Gun is a stave-built iron barrel and breech of a Tudor port piece. Mounted on a modern wooden carriage, only four like it survive worldwide.

The gun was designed for close fighting against ships and would have been stationed along the river bank. With a limited range (c. 500 m) and accuracy, it fired solid stone balls of about 15 cm across, weighing 5.5 kg (13 lbs), to penetrate the side of ships. Bags of flint and scrap would also have been fired to shred the opponent's crew and rigging. It would have taken a crew of four men around five minutes to reload the gun after firing.

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 gained 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Stone shot was still stored at Hull in 1660, but was by this time an outdated weapon.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 were dumped and buried in 1681. At that time, the South Blockhouse formed part of the Hull Citadel. Archaeologists rediscovered them in 1997 when examining the remains of South Blockhouse.

Henry VIII and the Defence of Hull

South Blockhouse – where this gun was found –  was part of Henry VIII's fortifications along the east bank of the River Hull. Built between 1541–3, South Blockhouse overlooked the mouth of the river. From this site, even short-range 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. This was possibly the only time the gun was ever fired in anger.

Making the gun

If this was Henry VIII's gun, the King's gun-maker Cornelius Johnson (or his son John Johnson) would have made it.

If, however, it's one of the guns shown on the plan in 1540 it might have come from a ship originating from the Low Countries.

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

The original body of the carriage would have been made locally from a single timber. Many makers preferred elm as its complex grain allows it to withstand the shock of discharge. In sixteenth-century Hull, builders and shipwrights widely used oak. So this was used for the replica carriage. Made by craftsmen from the Royal Armouries workshops in Portsmouth, the design is based on carriages found on the Mary Rose (1509–11).