Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: Bavaria, Germany - the center of 15th and 16th century gunmaking
Originally Posted by Marcus den toom
A great subject as always Michl,
But i have some questions
Are there any contemporary writtings about this "monk's gun" ? The wheel lock mechanism has been written about in that time, just as the matchlock mechanism?
Not to my knowledge, Marcus; as far as I know it only entered the Royal Saxon Armories, respectively their Kunst- und Wunderkammer ( ... ), in as late as 1667, and is still dated ca. 1600 to 1667 by their experts.
Is the monk's gun in fact a working mechanism and if so why wouldn't have been further explored? There are less moving parts than on a wheel lock mechanism and it should't have been to hard to add a (coil) spring with release mechanism. Just as in the more modern guns, with the bolt action etc.
The curators at the Dresden Armory (Rüstkammer) are known to be extremely strict; not even fellow curators from other museums are allowed to even touch their objects. So I cannot really imagine that anybody has ever dared to try and lay his hands on the Monk's Gun, let alone test its action, for at least about a century.
I reckon though that it works on the same principle as da Vinci's mechanical tinderlighter; these objects of everyday household use most probably kept being made much the same, until the mid-16th century.
And why is it called the monk his gun (monk's gun)? Is this also due to some juicy legend?
I do not know for sure but I guess that strange name has to do with Medieval monks. In the 14th through the 16th centuries, abbeys and orders were known to be cultural and intellectual centers, including the writing, copying, and illuminating of precious, because singular, manuscripts.
Before the late 15th century, and the invention of printing, all books were manuscripts. Most of them were written in Latin, for this was the international language of all academic communication, and of teaching at universities, regardless of the language of the respective country. In the 14th century, many kings could hardly read or write; all that was donefor them by learned secretaries, professional writers - or by monks in abbeys.
Therefore, all things relating to science, academic education, or philosophy, were commonly connected with monks. It was not just theology that was covered by their expertise - although the Roman Catholic Church prevailed in all everyday matters, just by the sheer power religion wielded over all people, including the nobility, simply by threatening that they would be damned and go to hell and its devils for all eternity if they did not follow the words of the Holy Bible, the Pope, and the clergy.
Only the wealthy were granted the priviledge to buy themselves free of all their sins, even the ones they would commit in the future; this was officially called the sale of indulges (German: Ablasshandel).
Almost everything that was written and taught was in Latin, including the Mass, so the common peope would not understand a single word, and were very superstitious as well. They must have got the impression of evil magic powers and secret hidden knowledge behind it all - in short: the devil, the fiend. Of course, monks fitted that scheme perfectly. Most orders were clad in black or brown, and they held all the knowledge. Serious sciences such as chemistry did not yet exist; it was all alchemistry, magic, and could only come from the devil.
And then, some fine day in the early 1300's, a completely knew and frightening sound rang out over North Western Europ; it was for the first time that anybody could remember such a noise: the sudden bang of a black dust-like substance that would explode with a bolt of orange fire, just by a tiny spark - and leave the smell of sulphur in the air.
For ages, both superstition and poular belief used to link things like the black, fire, sulphur, and magic with the devil, deep down in hell. Of course, black powder was characteristic of combining all those facts. The notorious German monk called der Schwarze Berthold (Black Berthold) actually never existed, but in England there was a monk named Roger Bacon, who is said to have been the first to write down the exact mixture of coal, saltpeter, and sulphur to create gun powder in the late 13th century:
Bacon is often considered the first European to describe a mixture containing the essential ingredients of gunpowder. Based on two passages from Bacon's Opus Majus and Opus Tertium, extensively analysed by J. R. Partington, several scholars cited by Joseph Needham concluded that Bacon had most likely witnessed at least one demonstration of Chinese firecrackers, possibly obtained with the intermediation of other Franciscans, like his friend William of Rubruck, who had visited the Mongols. The most telling passage reads: "We have an example of these things (that act on the senses) in [the sound and fire of] that children's toy which is made in many [diverse] parts of the world; i.e. a device no bigger than one's thumb. From the violence of that salt called saltpetre [together with sulphur and willow charcoal, combined into a powder] so horrible a sound is made by the bursting of a thing so small, no more than a bit of parchment [containing it], that we find [the ear assaulted by a noise] exceeding the roar of strong thunder, and a flash brighter than the most brilliant lightning." More controversial are the claims originating with Royal Artillery colonel Henry William Lovett Hime (at the beginning of the 20th century) that a cryptogram existed in Bacon's Epistola, giving the ratio of ingredients of the mixture. These were published, among other places, in the 1911 edition of Encyclopædia Britannica. An early critic of this claim was Lynn Thorndike, starting with a letter in the 1915 edition of the journal Science, and repeated in several books of his. M. M. Pattison Muir also expressed his doubts on Hime's theory, and they were echoed by John Maxson Stillman. Robert Steele and George Sarton also joined the critics. Needham concurred with these earlier critics in their opinion that the additional passage does not originate with Bacon. In any case, the proportions claimed to have been deciphered (7:5:5 saltpetre:charcoal:sulfur) are not even useful for stuffing firecrackers, burning slowly while producing mostly smoke, and failing to ignite inside a gun barrel. The ~41% nitrate content is too low to have explosive properties.
Attached find an engraving of 1617, of Roger Bacon conducting an experiment, as well as the formula of gun powder he wrote down before he died in either 1292, or two years later.
There is also a 16th ! century English drawing of devils, helping men make gun powder and firearms.