It’s a shield. It’s a gun. It’s a shieldgun! In 16th-century England, gun technology was a sign of the times. He who had the best firearms had a serious advantage on the battlefield. But how to defend yourself against incoming fire? Shields worked for swords. Why not attach one to the end of your pistol? In 1544, royal gunsmith Giovanni Battista did just that.
The shieldgun was a circle several feet in diameter, made of solid iron. In the middle was the barrel of the handgun. Directly above the point of the barrel was a small, slitted screen where the operator could safely take aim at his enemy.
You could make faces, dance a jig, and otherwise taunt your enemy behind your shieldgun castle. Battista invented the shieldgun in the era of manually loaded bullets. Most guns at the time needed to be loaded and packed from the front of the barrel. The shieldgun could be loaded from the rear. However, the new design came with a few drawbacks.
Cumbersome and full of flaws
Battista’s design wasn’t very practical for the heat of battle. The main issue was its weight. A solid chunk of iron that size is a burden to haul around. Could you imagine aiming a gun attached to something so big? And what if your enemy was positioned above you? Tough to aim, to say the least.
Although the shieldgun was rear-loading, you still had to clean it once every few shots. If you didn’t, it could explode in your face. You could only clean the shieldgun from the front of the barrel, meaning you had to spin the gun around to do so every third shot.
A shieldgun fit for a king
They were never put to much use, but they sure looked impressive in the royal armory. The concept was there, but the heavy materials of the day weighed it down. Battista was ahead of his time.