Queen Elizabeth's Pocket Pistol, Naafi Restaurant, Dover Castle Knights Road, Kent, UK 2

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John Latter on October 18, 2007

This is the second photo to be uploaded of a 16th Century 24-foot long 12 pounder basilisk cannon, nicknamed "Queen Elizabeth's Pocket Pistol". It is located in the NAAFI Restaurant building close to Canons' Gate in Dover Castle.

The gun was built in 1544 in Utrecht (Holland/Netherlands) by Jan Tolhuys. The 19th Century carriage, however, was made in 1827 by the Royal Carriage Department from cannon brought back from the Battle of Waterloo.

Despite this cannon being an easily accessible object nearly 500 years old there are remarkable discrepancies between the current internet and non-internet sources regarding its characteristics. These are presented in the first photo of Queen Elizabeth's Pocket Pistol and include what it's made of (bronze, brass), range of shot (1200 yards, 2000 yards, 7 miles, 21+ miles), size of shot (10 pounds, 12 pounds, 60 pounds), and much else besides!

Standard Info

From "Dover Castle" by R. Allen Brown (Her Majesty's Stationery Office, HMSO 1974):

This remarkable gun, which for some time has been known as Queen Elizabeth's Pocket Pistol, is a 12 pounder brass Basilisk. As the inscription on the base-ring indicates, it was cast in Utrecht in 1544 by Jan Tolhuys. Subsequently it was presented by the Emperor Charles V to Henry VIII. It is known to have been mounted at Dover Castle as early as 1613. Contrary to its appearance, however, it was not simply a presentation piece. During the English Civil War it formed part of the King's artillery train. It was used at the siege of Hull in 1643, when it was captured, after which it was employed by the Parliamentarians at the siege of Sheffield in 1644 and was retaken when Essex's forces surrendered at Lostwithiel later in the same year. In the eighteenth century it was known as the 'long gun' and mounted on the cliff edge of Dover Castle. Its present ornamental carriage was made by the Royal Carriage Department in 1827.

The gun is of unusual length, 24 ft, and with a calibre of 4.75 in., it was reputed to throw a shot seven miles. Its most striking feature, however, is the wealth of Renaissance ornament in relief. Much of the barrel is faceted and profusely decorated with vases, acanthus leaves and grotesques, broken by panels showing allegorical figures, including Victory and Liberty; a male figure crowned with foilage is almost certainly a river god, since the word Scalda inscribed about it is probably a version of Scaldis, the Roman name for the Scheldt.

Near the breech are two shields, one bearing the English Royal arms, and the other, nearer the breech, surmounted by a coronet and surrounded by a collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece, bearing the arms of Maximilian van Egmont, Count of Buren and Stadtholder of Friesland. In association with the latter, the legend Dieu et mon Droict may suggest that it was made for presentation to Henry VIII. Between the shields is an inscription which boasts the capabilities of this exceptional piece of artillery:

BREECK SCVRET AL MUER ENDE WAL BIN IC GEHETEN DOER BERCH EN DAL BOERT MINEN BAL VAN MI GESMETEN

This has been translated:

'Breaker my name of rampart and wall, Over hill and dale I throw my ball.'

From "The History of the Castle, Town and Port of Dover" by Reverend S. P. H. Statham, Rector of St Mary-in-the-Castle (ie St Mary-in-Castro) (Longmans, Green, and Co., 1899):

It is generally believed that the handsome "long gun" still exhibited in the Castle was presented to Elizabeth by the States of Holland, and it bears the nickname of "Queen Elizabeth's pocket pistol". It was made by James Tolkys at Utrecht in 1544, is twenty-four feet long, and was considered capable of carrying a twelve-pound ball for seven miles. An inscription which it bears has been translated:

O'er hill and dale I'll throw my ball, Breaker my name of mound and wall.

In an old print of the Castle this gun may be seen standing in solitary glory upon the edge of the cliff, as though defying all and every enemy of England. [Page 287]

John Latter on November 13, 2007

Out of shot to the left of the above photo is part of a prototype 'bouncing bomb' (also contains a video link).

These bombs, designed by Barnes Wallis, were subsequently used by Guy Gibson and the RAF's 617 squadron in the Dambuster Raid of 1943 during the Second World War.

John Latter on November 23, 2007

Click to see an external view of the 'Naafi Restaurant' Victorian building which also houses Queen Elizabeth's Pocket Pistol and the remnant of the Barnes Wallis 'Bouncing Bomb'.

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Photo taken in Dover Castle, Castle Hill, Dover, Kent CT16 1HU, UK

Photo details

  • Uploaded on October 18, 2007
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2007/09/30 10:57:59
    • Exposure: 0.033s (1/30)
    • Focal Length: 18.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/3.500
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • Flash fired

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