Queen Elizabeth's Pocket Pistol, the Long Gun of Dover Castle, Kent, UK

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John Latter on June 30, 2011

Queen Elizabeth's Pocket Pistol is housed in the northern end of the Regimental Institute building on Knights Road, close to Rokesley Tower and the Canons Gateway entrance to the grounds of Dover Castle.

The photo was taken on Wednesday, 11th of August, 2010. The long gun is now positioned flush with the right-hand wall and the World War Two prototype Barnes Wallis Bouncing Bomb fragment, partially visible below the barrel in the pebbled area against the far wall, has been moved elsewhere. The recovered floor-space is being used by the Naafi Restaurant which originally only occupied the southern half of the building.

Three new information boards about the artillery piece have been provided whose text is appended below. The "replica side arms" referred to in the second entry can be seen in the Queen Elizabeth’s Pocket Pistol (Side View) photo, uploaded in 2007 along with Queen Elizabeth’s Pocket Pistol (Rear View).

Captions to the images on the information boards have also been included.

A fourth section contains "Additional Information" about the cannon. This is followed by the listing text for the Victorian Regimental Institute (built 1868) which is a Grade II Dover Listed Building separate to the Grade I designation for the whole of the castle.

The recently uploaded Rare view of the 13th Century Norfolk Towers at Sunrise photo is one of many containing the Grade I listing text.

Click to see all Dover Castle and Dover English Heritage photos.

Making Henry's Guns

This gun was made at a time when Henry VIII was building up England's military power.

Henry VIII (1491-1547) bought guns from abroad, employed continental gun makers, and fostered a native industry in England, notably using cast iron - a stronger material than the bronze used for this gun.

'Queen Elizabeth's Pocket Pistol' was made by Jan Tolhuys, possibly using a design by the architect Alessandro Pasqualini. Molten bronze (an alloy of copper and tin) would have been poured into a clay mould in the shape of the gun, positioned vertically and securely in a deep pit. When the metal had cooled and solidified, the mould was broken open and the gun was finished and decorated. The process required a high degree of technical expertise, skill and care.

The elaborate decoration is arranged in fields, leaving some areas plain. There are repeating bands of flowers, vases, grotesques and eagles, and figures including the goddesses Victory and Liberty, and Scalda, the god of the River Scheldt.

Top left (photo): This image of the goddess Liberty is one of many intricate designs on the gun.

Right (painting): From the beginning of his reign, Henry VIII showed an interest in all things warlike. He took an army to France in 1513, during which big guns played an important part, as here at the siege of Therouanne.

Bottom left (photo): This rear of the barrel is adorned with the maker's name - Jan Tolhuys of Utrecht, 1544 - shown in this image. Close by is another panel of sardonic verse that reads:

As breaker of ramparts and walls Am I known.

Over mountain and valley fly balls By me thrown.

An Accurate Weapon

'Queen Elizabeth's Pocket Pistol' is a type of gun known in the 16th century as a basilisk, but of exceptional size.

Perhaps surprisingly, it is of medium calibre, with a barrel bored to 4.75 inches (12cm) diameter, whereas the largest guns were up to 8.5 inches (21.6cm).

The most unusual feature is the great length of the barrel - almost 24 feet (7.3m) - which stabilized the aim of the shot far more than a short barrel would have, making this gun very accurate.

It was designed to fire a solid round ball, propelled by a charge of gunpowder. The charge was exploded by lighting a small trail of powder contained in a narrow vent in the top rear of the barrel.

Replica side arms, wall-mounted behind the gun, comprise (top down) a sponge used with water to quench any remaining burning powder after a shot, a worm for dislodging hard debris, a powder scoop for loading the gunpowder, and a rammer for pushing the ball firmly home.

The gun was tested in 1613, 1617 and 1622, when it was charged with 18 pounds (8.16kg) of powder, elevated 4.5 degrees, and fired, delivering a 10 pound (4.5kg) ball accurately to a target 2000 yards (1,829m) away.

Right (painting): Queen Elizabeth's Pocket Pistol as it may have looked in around 1545 on its original wooden carriage. The gun is about to be fired from behind a protective screen of earth-filled baskets, or 'gabions', designed to protect the gunners from in-coming shot.

Left (photo): Many Tudor guns were named after birds of prey and serpents - this one a 'basilisk'. The carriage is embossed with basilisk heads, a legendary king among serpents, with the power to cause death with a single glance.

Whose gun was it?

Despite its delightful name,'Queen Elizabeth's Pocket Pistol' was not intended for a queen.

The name probably arose during the English Civil Wars, when several big guns were termed 'Queen's Pocket Pistol'. The gun was made in 1544 in Utrecht in the Netherlands, and given to King Henry VIII (1491 -1547) by his friend, Maximilian of Egmont (1509-1548), Count of Buren and Leerdam and Stadtholder of Friesland. The coats of arms of both men are proudly displayed on top at the rear.

Though essentially a prestige gun, it was serviceable and in 1547 - 1548 may have stood on the 'Black Bulwark on the Pier' in Dover harbour. It saw action occasionally during sieges, notably in the First Civil War (1642 - 1646) with the Parliamentary army, though it was captured by Royalist forces at Lostwithiel in Cornwall. Since then it seems to have been at Dover Castle.

By 1700 the gun was an obsolete curiosity, whose fine craftsmanship was admired. In 1827 a new cast iron display carriage was made for it. The decoration includes the letters 'ER' (Elizabeth Regina = queen), continuing an old mistake that the gun was a gift for Elizabeth I (1533-1603) - hence the name 'Queen Elizabeth's Pocket Pistol'.

Right (photo): The royal arms of England of Henry VIII shows the three lions (for England, Normandy and Aquitaine) quartered with fleurs de lys, symbolising the English claim to the throne of France.

Left (engraving): Boulogne was captured after a 3-month siege in 1544, during Henry VIII's last military foray into France. James Basire's engraving, after a wall painting at Cowdray House, shows Henry's big guns grouped as a 'battery'.

Additional Information

Only in recent years has Queen Elizabeth's Pocket Pistol been housed indoors. Previously it was located on the mound where the NAAFI, Regimental Institute and Hurst Tower photo was taken from with its barrel pointing out across the English Channel.

Excerpts from a 1818 book (1):

Dover Castle, although it is situated close to the sea-side, has the advantage of a copious supply of the purest water; the wells being dug through the solid rock to a depth of nearly four hundred feet.

...Near the edge of the cliff is the celebrated piece of brass ordnance called Queen Anne's Pocket Pistol. The history of this gun is simply as follows: that it was cast at Utrecht in 1544, and highly ornamented, being intended as a present from the States of Holland to Queen Anne: and it is said to be capable of carrying a twelve-pound shot to the distance of seven miles; but the account which has been given of the inscription upon it being,

"Load me well, and keep me clean, I'll carry a ball to Calais Green,"

is entirely fabulous (ie untrue).

In 1889, Queen Elizabeth's Pocket Pistol was still being referred to by some writers as Queen Anne's Pocket Pistol (2); I've no idea when the practice died out.

Excerpt from the 2002 "The Artilleryman" article on Queen Elizabeth's Pocket Pistol (3):

The unusual iron carriage dates from the 19th century. It was designed by the Inspector of the Royal Carriage Works Woolwich, and was cast in Kent in 1827. On the rear transom is the inscription, “Constructed, Royal Carriage Department, Field Marshal, Duke of Wellington, Master General, MDCCCXXVII.”

Since it was thought at the time that the gun was presented to Elizabeth I the carriage bears a relief of the head of her archenemy Philip II of Spain surrounded by vipers.

One internet source (currently offline) stated the carriage was made from French guns captured at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

The Regimental Institute Grade II Listed Building (4)

The following is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under the terms of the Click-Use Licence (PSI licence number C2010002016):

Building Details:

Building Name: FORMER REGIMENTAL INSTITUTE Parish: DOVER District: DOVER County: KENT Postcode:

Details:

LBS Number: 469564 Grade: II Date Listed: 08/07/1998 Date Delisted: NGR: TR3253841699

Listing Text:

TR 3242 DOVER KNIGHT'S ROAD (north side), Dover Castle 685/1/10007 Former Regimental Institute

II

Regimental institute, now offices. Dated 1868, probably by G Arnold RE (Royal Engineeers), Clerk of Works (5); altered c1994. Polygonal rubble, dressings, external and ridge stacks and slate roof. Tudor Gothic Revival style. Single-depth axial plan.

EXTERIOR: single-storey; 4:3:3-window range. Central section set forward with roll-top copings to end gables with kneelers and dividing fire walls, first-floor drip, and flat-headed mullion windows with metal casements. Central section has right-hand 2-centre arched doorway with hood stops and boarded door, beneath a 2-centre arched cross window in a small gable, with 3 ground-floor and 2 first-floor windows and a small gable to the left. Right-hand section has central 3-light and flanking 2-light transom windows and a central small gable, and a right-hand return with a low basement doorway with small lights each side, 3-light mullion and transom windows, the first-floor one with cusped heads. Left-hand section has a right-hand 2-centre arched doorway and label mould beneath sunken quatrefoil panel, and 3-light transom windows; the left-hand return has a central external stack, inserted doorway to the front, and rear first-floor cross window. Rear has external stacks to left-hand section, and a short central wing with a cross gable.

INTERIOR: has an open well stair from the entrance with metal balusters, and large first-floor room to the right-hand section with an arch-braced roof.

HISTORY: In a similar style to the nearby Officers' Barracks (6) by Anthony Salvin (eminent Victorian architect). Institutes were introduced to provide improving pastimes in barracks and to reduce drinking. Used for education and training at the Castle garrison, and one of the oldest institutes in an English barracks.

Listing NGR: TR3253841699

Source: English Heritage.

(1) A journey round the coast of Kent, by L. Fussell (1818)

(2) English mechanic and world of science: with which are incorporated "the Mechanic", "Scientific opinion," and the "British and foreign mechanic.", Volume 49. E. J. Kibblewhite (1889)

(3) Queen Elizabeth’s Pocket Pistol, by Art Kraus (Fall - Autumn - 2002)

(4) Grade II: buildings that are "nationally important and of special interest".

(5) Historically the Clerk of the Works (CoW) was employed by the architect on behalf of a client, or by Local Authorities to oversee public works.

(6) There are currently four main photos of the Officers New Barracks:

White Cliffs of Dover Castle from the Roman Empire to the Cold War

Main Entrance Steps to the Victorian Officers Mess

The Victorian Officers Mess, Queen Elizabeth Road

The West Wing Controversy, Officers New Barracks

On Friday, February 14th, 1862, Anthony Salvin appeared in front of a Military Committee appointed by Sir George Cornewall Lewis, 2nd Baronet (Secretary of State for War 1861 - 1863) where he was cross-examined regarding the problem of damp in the West Wing. The caption to the West Wing Controversy photo contains a transcript of that cross-examination.

Dover Castle appears in the video, "Dover in World War Two: 1942", a ten minute British Ministry of Information film, released by the US Office of War Information, and narrated by the American journalist, Edward R. Murrow.

John Latter / Jorolat

Dover Blog: The Psychology of a Small Town

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

This photo was taken indoors

Photo details

  • Uploaded on June 30, 2011
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2010/08/11 12:50:56
    • Exposure: 0.020s (1/50)
    • Focal Length: 28.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/4.000
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • Flash fired

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