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Garry James




Location: Los Angeles, CA
Joined: 02 Jan 2009

Posts: 9

PostPosted: Fri 02 Jan, 2009 1:19 pm    Post subject: Hand Cannon Accoutrements         Reply with quote

Does anyone out there have any hints concerning how c.14th, 15th century hand cannons were charged? One would assume that powder, projectiles and some sort of loading rod would have to be carried on the person, but I have yet to find any reference delineating what they were or how they were managed. As far as discharging the guns goes, there are references to "glowing wires" which I have my doubts about as they cool too fast, would be difficult to hold when hot and drawing wire at the period was laborious and expensive. As most vintage illustrations show rigid igniters of some sort, I lean more towards a personal theory that a variant of a period illumination or fire starting device , such as a the rush light, was employed. there is also a possibility that matchcord was used as well, but it would have had to be supported in some sort of linstock, as setting off a hand cannon with loose cord is neither efficient nor pleasant--I know, I've tried it. Any thoughts would be much appreciated
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Randall Moffett




Location: Northern Utah
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PostPosted: Fri 02 Jan, 2009 11:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As luck would have it one of the things I have been researching here in Southampton is early firearms. Here they used leather bags to store it both in their arsenal and on person. For large amounts barrels

Sadly period terms for the igniters are not usually helpful. IN Southampton in the 15th they are called touches. That said they are often made by a blacksmith so the hot wire may in fact be what was used. You get touches made by men with somewhat specialized relation to firearms, at times the same guy selling guns which might be something else but it is hard to imagine them buying touches of another material than metal from the smith. The earliest pictures all seem to show men with fairly rigid igniters. Some clearly are a rigid combined with a flexible material. In the end It is a fairly hard issue to resolve and also misses the point that first as a time where the gun is brand spanking new they had nothing to fall back on like it so they had to try out a variety of things likely through the 14th and 15th. The other is that more than one form of ignition may in fact have been used and from period sources I have read this seems fairly likely. By the early 14th wire drawing was being mechanized so prices were falling on it. Mail would fall in price in part to this as well so expense would not be great.

If you look here you can see several images that are period. Careful with some of the info, example, Angelucci's reference has also been clearly shown to be wrong and the idea small guns came before big is not well supported.

http://homepages.tig.com.au/~dispater/handgonnes.htm

http://homepages.tig.com.au/~dispater/peterson_1326.htm

In the end I can recommend Bert Hall's Warfare in Renaissance. Europe. It is a great book, relatively inexpensive and by far the best overview on the development on firearms and their use that there is.

RPM
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Garry James




Location: Los Angeles, CA
Joined: 02 Jan 2009

Posts: 9

PostPosted: Sat 03 Jan, 2009 7:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Many thanks for the reply. I had rather suspected that some sort of bag(s) or pouch(es) were used to contain the powder and projectiles as no example of any kind of flask from that early period has surfaced. One would think, that as a number of early handgonnes are extant that at least something of the sort would have surfaced if it, in fact, existed. My guess is the rammer was simply thrust through the shooter's belt. If you've ever tried igniting one of these things with a hot wire, you'll see the difficulty involved. First off, a ready source of fire would have to have been available very close to the shooter. next, the wire cools very rapidly and simply will not set off the charge ( I have tried it.) It would certainly had to have been held with a gloved hand, because getting the tip glowing causes the area where the wire is held to get uncomfortably hot--unless it is unreasonably long. Wire certainly could have been used for artillery as their fixed positions make its use more practical. I'm wondering if the blacksmith reference might actually refer to some sort of linstock or appliance to hold a rush or matchcord.
I have seen many of the pictures in the material you sent, but there were some others that were new to me. I've seen the horseback matchlock shooter picture previously. I wonder if that was ever used, or if it ,like the camel-mounted Gatling Gun, was a designer's or artist's idea of something that just seemed like a good idea. To fire a matchlock the knight has to release his horse's reins, and during a battle I would think that might be a bit risky at best. Shooting a hand cannon with a loose matchcord is really not very efficient, as one has to keep his hand well up on the cord to keep from being burned by the gasses expelled upward from the touchhole, and the farther away one holds the cord from the end, the more difficult it is to position it properly. When the gun goes off, it blows the cord out of the way rather violently, spraying bits of glowing ash on the shooter's person and on others around him. Also, using a loose cord causes the firer to take his eyes off the target/enemy for a very long time--even longer than with a rush which is much more precise.
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Randall Moffett




Location: Northern Utah
Joined: 07 Jun 2006
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PostPosted: Sat 03 Jan, 2009 7:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Garry,

Leather unfortunately is one of the materials that just does not usually make it. We have a few bits of leather items for digs here in town but most are so disintegrated that who knows what they are. Guns on the other hand made of metal or latten are much more likely to survive over leather powder bags.

Indeed I have seen, helped and used along with several others the hot wire method a few times, even in rather foul weather. I agree it is not perhaps easy but it is clearly possible so I see no reason why the historic accounts are incorrect. There also is the possibility that if it fails now in our attempts that we are just doing it wrong and they were able to get it to work. Could not say one way or the other for sure, only that I am very familiar with the pros and cons. That said it is very possible that the smith did make something like an arm that held the fuse but since the account does not say anymore than what I shared putting anymore into it is speculation in either direction.

As far as the pictures... yes a great deal of wishful thinking likely went into them, many such devices never being employed in reality. That said though some of them likely are pretty close to reality. Early firearms clearly did have the issue of not being able to watch closely the target, or perhaps even aim very accurately (relative as to what accuracy we are referring and how the gun was held or fired) several period chroniclers mention this/these taking place. One reason perhaps why two man teams were fairly common with early hand guns, one man to hold the gun the right direction and brace while the other lights it up. To be fair research on firearms sadly is usually very pro or con, especially by reenactors. That is why I referred you to Hall’s book as it is very even and fair in most aspects of firearms I can think of.

RPM
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Garry James




Location: Los Angeles, CA
Joined: 02 Jan 2009

Posts: 9

PostPosted: Sat 03 Jan, 2009 9:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randall:

Will definitely check out Hall's book. Would also be interested in hearing exactly how you made the wire work, as my efforts have been fairly dismal, even when cheating and heating it with a blowtorch. As most early flasks were horn or wood, occasionally with some metal thrown in, one would think at least something might have survived--or at least be pictured, so the leather pouch theory certainly has considerable merit. As you note, many things have been forgotten over the years, so it certainly is possible that a method of maintaining the wire at a point where it would reliably set off the charge was devised. When you look at many of the existing handgonnes, they do not have a provision around the touchole for a priming charge, so one would expect that something that to be thrust down into the aperture to reliably set off the charge. My experiments with rush-type lights have been fruitful, but I will admit I have found nothing in writing to support the hypothesis, and the concept remains pure conjecture on my part. Rush steeped in vinegar, saltpeter, or even oil or fat does keep burning and as rush lights were familiar and inexpensive methods of illumination, am taking the idea one step further (perhaps too far) and thinking they might have had a military application.
As I am a writer and firearms historian, I have no preconceived notions, and am always on the prowl for new information, so I really appreciate your input.
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Gordon Frye




Location: Kingston, Washington
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PostPosted: Sat 03 Jan, 2009 9:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Garry;

I definitely second Randall's suggestion to check out Bert Hall's book. It is really superb, a term I don't use too often. I've read through that book several times cover to cover, and I learn something new each and every time I go over it. He covers not only the use and tactics of early firearms, but also the methods of powder manufacture, the chemistry of same, and smoothbore ballistics as well. Fascinating stuff, all packaged in a very readable format to boot.

Good to see you posting here, take care!

Cheers!

Gordon

"After God, we owe our victory to our Horses"
Gonsalo Jimenez de Quesada
http://www.renaissancesoldier.com/
http://historypundit.blogspot.com/
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Randall Moffett




Location: Northern Utah
Joined: 07 Jun 2006
Reading list: 5 books

Posts: 2,098

PostPosted: Sat 03 Jan, 2009 12:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Garry,

I am almost sure there were multiple sources of ignition for handguns and other firearms in general in the medieval period. These might be determined by the employment of the firearms themselves or type of gun itself. Part of it also likely from the development of the weapon itself and people trying different materials used for similar activities. The ‘touches’ seem to be bought from all sorts of sources and we have the random bit of art here and there with little uniformity in this aspect.

In regards to how we used wire I can help at least a little. We kept the wire hot in a small portable forge, used for all sorts of little projects around camp. It used simple two chamber bellows every once and a while but not very often and when not in use the wire was in the coals. This keeps it from accidentally getting in contact with powder both around the camp and the gun while being prepared as well as the wire warm. I think we have some pictures around but I have been unable to find any. The forge really is not anything special though.

I am not sure how this could be used on the move exactly. The wire does not stay hot long enough that one could move around for more than a few minutes and/or fire more than one discharge or so. Maybe small groups of gunners with someone carrying such a small device to provide heat on the move. That said especially till 1450 they seem to be primarily used in semi-static placements and thereafter the gun even more so became used for defence of fortifications etc. so it might not be a huge issue. Here in Southampton they are a major part of the town defence in the 2nd half of the 15th. As it is static placement this wire method would be straight forward as small portable braziers could be placed near by, most guns being in towers of bulwarks in town. Before this they have a fair number.... including a bombard which who knows how they used it but it was named Thomas with the Beard. In the 2nd half of the 15th Thomas still is in use.

I honestly have no idea how a medieval type matches/touches could have been used with the medieval type firearms/guns for certain. Everyone I know has used some small cheat in this as well. While I know of little to no real evidence that can describe your method I do not think it can be discounted as 'touch, touches' etc. is hardly sufficient description to be sure.

One chapter I am working on right now is on the town's equipment, especially firearms so once it is done I will let you know.

RPM
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Garry James




Location: Los Angeles, CA
Joined: 02 Jan 2009

Posts: 9

PostPosted: Sat 03 Jan, 2009 2:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randall:

Great information. Gracias. To be sure most early firearms were used for defensive purposes or during sieges--even handgonnes--so the forge/brazier method would make perfect sense. Would be very interested in reading your piece on firearms, etc. Please let me know when it is available.

Cheers,
Garry
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Grant Fettis





Joined: 17 Aug 2007

Posts: 3

PostPosted: Tue 06 Jan, 2009 2:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would be very interested in reading this work too.

regards

Grant
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Randall Moffett




Location: Northern Utah
Joined: 07 Jun 2006
Reading list: 5 books

Posts: 2,098

PostPosted: Tue 06 Jan, 2009 5:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

OK. I still have till about April or May before it is done and then a few more bits of business but I will post a link up here when it is done. The info might be in Off Topic as it is on the military organisation of Southampton in general though this includes a fair amount of arms and armour, chapter 4 being on the town equipment as well as individual items I could find. It is only 4 chapters and not 5 so it is much closer now than it was 2 months ago! Big Grin

RPM
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Garry James




Location: Los Angeles, CA
Joined: 02 Jan 2009

Posts: 9

PostPosted: Tue 06 Jan, 2009 7:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randall

Will keep an eye out for it. By the bye, picked up a copy of the Hall book you recommended and am currently working my way through it. Quite good so far. All-encompassing and great for not just a student of weaponry but of early warfare in general. Many thanks for the excellent tip.
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Randall Moffett




Location: Northern Utah
Joined: 07 Jun 2006
Reading list: 5 books

Posts: 2,098

PostPosted: Tue 06 Jan, 2009 9:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Garry,

Glad you like it. Hall also is pretty good at answering questions as well.

RPM
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