Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: Bavaria, Germany - the center of 15th and 16th century gunmaking
The Upcoming, Development, and Use of Gun Rests/Forks, ca. 1430 to 1650
This is another topic relating to early firearms that no weapons historian has ever done research, or at least published, on.
Most probably, black powder and firearms turned up in Northern Europe as early as the 2nd half of the 13th century. We may safely assume that gunners and gun makers alike started thinking about a simple tool that could be employed in field battle, for more than a century before hooks for barrels were invented in around 1430.
Hooks acted as a recoil stop, and made aiming safer. A forked rest slanted forward against the hook must have worked out fine, as depicted on 15th c. illustrations. Hooks do not turn up in contemporary historic sources before ca 1430, though, but rests do.
The simplest, and therefore oldest, solution obviously was resting the gun on a solid stand, and the next step most probably was to pivot it - in order to move its muzzle vertically and/or horizontally, for a quicker and safer aiming.
As the oldest sources of illustration depict, various solutions must have existed, and been tested, side by side, for at least decades.
The earliest dated sources that have been detected and published so far are miniature illuminations found in two manuscripts by Walter de Milemete, England, dated 1326 and 1327 respectively; and they show the simplest rest of all, from the very beginning, seemingly a table:
top four attachments
The author is convinced that, with the growing digitalization of codices preserved in libraries all over the Western world, it will only be a matter of maybe a decade or two before an earlier source will turn up.
What Walter de Milemete depicted as a table actually represents the prestage of a stock, a wooden casing for what was just a barrel - of cast bronze like a contemporary aquamanile, although the latter were often made of clay still in the 14th century:
attachments #5 and 6
showing a 14th c. German Gothic clay aquamanile
Neglect the handle, and the tubular and bell-mouthed shape of a contemporary jug becomes evident;
author's photo of two late 13th c. clay jugs in the Museum of London
This is also the basic form of the de Milemete, and the Loshult barrels of ca. 1300-1350, the latter see
The data of the Loshult barrel:
Length 31 cm, bore 36 mm at the breech (German: Pulversack) narrowing to 31 mm at the muzzle - corresponding to the diameter of the rear end, cord binding, of the gun arrows it fired; weight 9.050 kg.
The first firearm barrels adopted the shape of a tubular vessel of everyday use, apt to keep things like water or milk, but also delicately grained powder-like substances such as meal, sugar or salt. The earliest guns were shaped exactly like the average contemporary 13th to 14th c. household clay mug or jug (neglecting the handle), a can or a bucket made of wood, hammered brass, or iron.
As the origins of the words rura/roer/rör/Rohr/barrel/puxe/puchsn/Büchse/tube/Tube/canale/canna/cannetto/Kanne etc. all denote in the respective language, the basic shape of such a vessel must have been tubular, longitudinal, and round from the beginning. This form also met the Late-Romanesque sense of style which went down into all objects of everyday use, and was traditionally kept for very long, in spite of the break of the Early Gothic period in the 13th century; those were not the days of a throwaway society.
Various solutions for resting a portable gun in the field are depicted in the oldest illustrations.
Haquebuts, of course, were rather large and heavyweight wall guns that were mostly employed in fortified places, or on carriages; with the muzzle stuck out of the loophole in the wall, the hook would then safely prevent the recoil - with the wall taking it all, instead of the gunner.
But what about the lighter and portable guns in field battle, or at sieges?
The earliest barrels recorded to have been survived so far, all feature rather short barrels, varying between ca. 13 and 35 cm in length, but comparatively large bores, ca. 35-30 mm before ca. 1400, and narrowing to ca. 20 mm by the turn of the century.
Latest excavations, however, done on battle sites of ca. 1400-1402 in both the Netherlands and Eastern Germany, and within the previous twelve months, have brought to our knowledge the first two pieces of smallbore leaden clod shot, ca. 11-13 mm in diameter/caliber. They prove that smallbore tiller-stocked arquebuses must have been around by at least the late 14th century.
The author owes it to his good friend M. that one of those two tiny clod shot items has just entered his collection, and will be published soon, along with the other that was detected in Germany.
Together with them, among other remarkable variants of shot, a smallbore iron ball (!) covered by a thin layer of lead was detected.
The only plausible reason for investing a disproportionately high amount of work is to minimalize material wear of barrels founded of comparably soft copper alloys (brass or bronze), at the same time saving the maximum impact of the iron core of the ball.
This fact is especially striking as all barrels recorded to be pre-ca. 1420-30 were made of wrought iron - the only exception being the Loshult gun.
- The short barrels of the so-called Aljubarrota type, datable to ca. 1350-75, all of round section throughout, made of wound band iron, fire welded and slightly swamped at both the rear end and the muzzle:
- the octagonal barrel of the Bern gun, ca. 1390, now showing the beveled edges of the hexagonal or octagonal shapes influenced by the Gothic style, with the rear and the muzzle section still slightly swamped:
posts #15 through 20.
- a very similar and contemporary barrel retaining one of its originally two iron stock bands, preserved in The Michael Trömner Collection:
As an exemption to that rule, earliest socketed barrels for tiller/stick stocks, made between ca. 1390 and 1430, do not have swamped rear sections.
That type of barrel is found on the world's oldest gun recorded to exist, ca. 1390-1410, also preserved in the author's collection; its socket is not yet wrought integrally with the barrel but consists of a rather delicate, fragile and rounded tubular iron sleeve folded around the rear end of the hexagonal barrel, with the oaken tiller stock attached by a nail:
As the author has shown before, the so-called Tannenberg gun, of cast bronze, traditionally dated "pre-1399" and termed "the world's oldest datable gun", actually cannot have been made before ca. 1430:
The consequence of such large calibers means that the recoil of those earliest guns actually must have been quite hard. Moreover, the potential danger of bursting eminating from them is proven by the decidedly cautious and protective attitude denotes which the gunners were shown taking in the earliest illustrations of 1326/7.
Even after 1400, they were still usually portrayed leaning their upper body way back from the touch hole, and raising the left hand in a repelling gesture, out of sheer fear - obviously aware of the fiery and thunderous hell they are going to raise, and make burst open at the very moment of ignition, unleashing the demons, to leave a thick cloud of smoke, and the stink of sulphur. Only at best, though, and when the gunner was lucky.
In German, there is a saying, vorsichtshalber weit ab vom Schuss sein, meaning: better keep as far away from danger as possible. Like many others of those very old proverbs, it obviously derives from long-disctance weapons, such as the catapult, and especially black powder exploding to gases within nothing.
Lately, Dr. Alfred Geibig, curator of the historic arms and armor arsenal (Zeughaus) preserved at The Veste Coburg in Northern Bavaria, and the author had an intense brainstorming. Both were in unanimous consent that until at least the second half of the 17th century, employing bigger devices to throw heavy projectiles of various kinds with enormous sudden power, and especially guns - the most dangerous of them all - , must have primarily been a matter of try and error. It all started in Ancient Times, thousands of years ago, by testing the actual strength needed for a mechanic device like a catapult, to effectively throw a heavy stone at, or over, a city or castle wall; the next step was trying out various mixtures, and grades of graining, of black powder - including bravely experimenting with the diameter of touch holes and barrel bores.
Whatever the outcome, success or catastrophe, it all got noted, and barrelsmiths, founders, and gunners alike must have competed in a permanent race, simultaneously trying to find out, and prove, a surer and safer method. He who failed would drop right out of competition; the best that he could hope for was survive that test, and stay sound. Only the master whose powder and gun performed, and stood the test, would receive a major contract from the wealthiest warlord, receive big pay, and gain fame. The loser, though actually second best, was rumored to have proven a failure; all he could hope for was a second chance to apply for another test - with a lesser principal, and the hope of lesser pay.
After that basic thinking, let us get back to the first barrels with recoil hooks, and what they meant for field use of transportable handgonnes, generally termed long guns from ca. the 2nd half of the 14th c.
From the foregoing, we may conclude that every gunner and gun master very soon started thinking of a device to reduce the recoil of portable "long guns" that had to be carried outside a fortified place and fired there - with the gunner taking both the impact of the recoil, as well as the fact that both aiming and firing the piece should be made easier, in the original sense of the word.
To be continued in follower post.