Oldest gun barrel in Europe revealed at Richard III museum

13 Mar 2015 @ 8.41 pm
| History
On display at the Richard III Experience, this is the oldest fragment of a handgun found on a battlefield in Europe

You are now staring down the barrel of the oldest gun in Europe.

For the first time on Saturday (March 14) this ancient piece of weaponry goes on display to the public, right here in York.

This piece of an exploded 15th century handgun is among a new collection of very old artefacts at the Richard III Experience in Monk Bar.

Sarah Maltby is director of attractions for York Archaeological Trust, which runs the Richard III Experience. She explained the significance of the gun, possibly used at the Battle Of Towton in the Wars Of The Roses.

Handguns had been around for less than a century by the time of the Battle of Towton in 1461, and these fragments show just how unreliable they were.

We can tell that this weapon effectively blew apart, almost certainly in use, so we can only imagine the horrific injuries – and possible fatality – its owner would have suffered.

Bodies and badges

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New on display: a spur, a piece of armour, a Yorkist badge and the skeleton. Click to see a bigger image

Also on display is the skeleton of what is thought to be a Civil War soldier probably executed at Knavesmire in the 1460s.

It was discovered while new electricity cables were being laid across the city.

Richard III Experience

Monk Bar, York

Daily visiting times: Apr-October 10am-5pm; Nov-Mar 10am-4pm

Adult £3.50, child £2

Museum website

Visitors to the museum will also be able to see the remains of a chapel that Richard III commissioned to mourn the fallen soldiers of the Battle of Towton, a key battle in the War of Roses which had led to his own enthronement 20 years later.

Although started in 1483, Richard’s death meant that the chapel was never completed.

The new displays include both military and personal finds from Towton Battlefield, and have been loaned by Simon Richardson, the metal detectorist and member of the Towton Battlefield Society who found them.

There is a medieval pendant which would have been fastened to a horse harness. It bears the three lions emblem familiar from the England football shirt today.

There are also 15th century spurs, made from iron but which would have been tin plated, including one with its spiked rowel. And a field ring bearing the initials ‘JB’.

“There’s nothing really that changes in fashion,” said Christine McDonnell, head of curatorial services at the trust.

“Everyone wears rings and buckles. I think the men were more decorated than the women actually!”

Laying Richard to rest

The exhibition opens ahead of the reinterment of King Richard III at Leicester Cathedral on March 22.

Philippa Langley, a screenwriter who instigated the search for Richard III under the car park where he was found in Leicester, will be appearing at the Jorvik Medieval Festival in York in August.

Also later this year, the York Archaeological Trust will stage an exhibition devoted to Henry VIII at Barley Hall.

It’s a year since the trust opened the Richard III Experience at Monk Bar, remodelling the museum at Micklegate Bar as the Henry VII Experience at the same time.

Sarah Maltby said the first twelve months had gone better than expected, with visitor number exceeding their estimates.