Wheel lock pistol, about 1580. Museum no. M.949-1983

Wheel lock pistol, about 1580. Museum no. M.949-1983

Wheel lock pistol
England
About 1580
Steel; wooden stock inlaid with engraved staghorn; barrel mounts damascened in gold and silver
Length 58 cm
Museum no. M.949-1983
Purchased with the assistance of the National Heritage Memorial Fund

This pistol is the most important of the Spanish Armada relics owned by the Raymond family of Belchamp Hall, Essex. The pistol is the only surviving 16th-century wheel-lock (a system of ignition operated by a revolving wheel) that was certainly made in England. It has also come down to us with most of its original delicate gold and silver damascened (inlaid) decoration still remaining.

Several features identify this wheel-lock as of English workmanship. The ornament on the stock (the support that holds the barrel) can be compared to English textiles and other English 16th-century firearms. The shape of the butt is similar to that on other English 16th-century pistols and the damascened decoration on the lock and barrel is very similar to that on a small box dated 1579 that was made for Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, Elizabeth I's favourite courtier. The lock is also fitted with a safety catch of English form.

Like the accompanying powder flask, this wheel-lock pistol originally belonged to Sir William Harris of Shenfield House, Essex. At some date in its history the interior mechanism of the lock was altered by an unskilled hand, perhaps to prevent children trying to fire the pistol.