Henry VIII's Gun Shield

26th April 2019

One of England’s most iconic kings, Henry VIII is known as much for his warlike tendencies as his many wives.

Famed for his strength, bravery and his prowess on the battlefield, the 16th century monarch took an active part in battles fought on both English and French soil and was an innovator in the weapons and armoury used by himself and his troops. Now a rare gun shield that is believed to have been a part of that armoury is being sold at auction.

The shield is a form of combination weapon and would have once had a matchlock pistol that would have projected through the hole in its surface. Henry is known to have acquired several of these shields, most of which are now in museums, including the Royal Armoury at the Tower of London and Royal Collection at Windsor Castle. Close comparison clearly shows this shield to belong to the same group.  An inventory of the royal armoury, made at the time of the King’s death in 1547 includes a reference to 35 “targettes steeled wt gonnes”, further confirming the presence of such items in the King’s possession.

Being sold from a private collection, the shield featured in a loan exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in 1931 at which time it was part of the Alexander MacMillan Welch Collection. It appears also to have been in the collection of Charles Lee, RSA in the 1880s. The link with the collection at the Tower of London appears also to be confirmed by damage to the central boss – perhaps caused by a pike or halberd; damage that closely mirrors that found on other pieces of armour from the Tower, and hints at frivolous mishandling of the shield in a long-ago era before conservation was taken seriously.

Items with any connection to early British royalty are scarcities on the open market, and it is hoped that the shield could fetch as much as £50,000 when it is sold at auction in Salisbury on 1st May. Arms and Armour specialist, Ned Cowell of Woolley and Wallis, has spent a long time in establishing the shield’s heritage. “This was always an exciting piece and the opportunity to compare it with shields held in the Royal Collection has shown just how historically important it is. To have an object so closely associated to a monarch that wrought such profound changes on English society is just incredible.”

The shield carries an estimate of £30,000-50,000 and features in the Arms and Armour, Medals and Coins sale on 1st May.

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