Earliest firearms: bullets are thicker

Multiple charge! This is perhaps the main trend in the development of hand-held firearms. Multiple charges and rate of fire. But humanity went along this path for a very long time. And the path was not straight, but winding.

But neither multi-charge nor multi-barrel dominant directions in the development of hand-held firearms at that time did not become. Economy and thrift won out. Therefore, for the infantrymen for many years this weapon has become their “military right”. Military History Museum, Vienna

Bullets, thicker!
By the timid!
Running in the thick of it
grun, parabellum!

“150,000,000” V. Mayakovsky

The history of firearms. What, however, was our luminary Mayakovsky: to hit people fleeing with bullets in the back is awful. This is something of the style of the cannibal Bokasso, only he drove a ZIL through those tied up in the square in front of his palace. I could, probably, and on the DT-75, but, apparently, did not realize. Or the tractor was not sent to him.

However, so that Mayakovsky, glorifying 150,000,000, did not write there, he conveyed the basic idea of ​​firearms quite rightly – bullets should be fired at the target as much as possible. That is, shoot more often and then you will definitely hit someone!

And they realized, I must say, this is the same as our ancestors a very long time ago. Right at the dawn of firearms. In the previous material of this cycle, an illustration of Liliana and Fred Funkenov was given, which showed arrows with shooting clubs, the warhead of which consisted of several barrels: I shot all the charges and you can hit them on the heads – they will not break.

Weapon of kings

Moreover, even kings did not disdain such weapons. So, Henry VIII, who was very enthusiastic about the original combined weapon and had a “sprinkler” in his collection – a shooting club, similar to the same Hussite samples.

It was first mentioned in the inventory of 1547, and since at least 1686 has been known as the “Staff of King Henry VIII”. At the end of the 16th century, it was argued that it was Henry’s favorite weapon during his night walks in London. By 1830, the Tower’s guides told stories of Henry’s imprisonment on one such walk, after which the guard who had arrested the king was congratulated on his honest duty.

“Walking Cane” of Henry VIII. This weapon has a long wooden hilt and a cylindrical steel pommel with nine radial spikes, reminiscent of a “sprinkler for holy water.” 1501-1530 (Tower Collection, London)

Its most distinctive feature is its three short barrels, each of which was first equipped with a sliding cover for the powder shelf.

The central spike covers the muzzle with a freely rotating cover, which leaves only the firing barrel free, and why this is done is not clear. The charges were ignited with a wick, which had to be held in the hands, which, of course, was inconvenient. However, it is believed that the “sprinkler” was about as effective as a pistol of the later 16th century.

Surprisingly, such a primitive weapon coexisted in the arsenal of Henry VIII with truly revolutionary models.

So, for him in 1537, a gun was made, which was loaded from the breech. It is the larger of the two surviving guns of this type, created for King Henry VIII. It lacks the original locking mechanism and the luxurious velvet cheek pad, but is otherwise in good condition.

The stock and breech are decorated with royal insignia, and the barrel is engraved with “HR” by Henricus Rex. The initials “WH” on the barrel are believed to represent William Hunt, the gunsmith who became King Henry’s first “Keeper of the Royal Pistols and Falconets”.

Henry VIII’s breech-loading rifle (Dated to 1537). (Royal Arsenal, Leeds)

A square barrel at the breech, then a round, muzzle trimmed with moldings.

At the rear there is a hinge block that is lifted by a lever on the right. When closed, it is secured with a transverse pin at the front. Metal cartridges.

The barrel is engraved with acanthus flowers, a Tudor rose, and has the letters H and R.

The rest of the barrel is grooved to the very end, the sight is brass. The back retains traces of gilding.

A slightly curved stock. The left side was fitted with a zygomatic pad, of which only the brass fixing nails remained. Just behind the breech is a shield-shaped, previously gilded, copper plate on which the figures of Saint George and the Dragon are engraved.

The steel trigger guard is probably a replacement. The current sliding lid lock appears to have been made in the 19th century. Barrel length 650 mm. Total length 975 mm. Weight 4.22 kg.

In the collection of the Tower’s Royal Arsenal, it was listed as the “Carbine of Henry VIII”. The first mention in the inventory – 1547.

The weapon is so well made that even with a smooth barrel it could accurately shoot at a distance of at least 100 meters (which roughly corresponds to the length of a football field).

Heinrich probably used this rifle for target shooting. It can also be quickly loaded and reloaded by opening the bolt and inserting a pre-loaded chamber.

That is, having, say, ten pre-loaded chamber chambers, a shooter from such a weapon could easily fire ten rounds per minute. Interestingly, soldiers will not have such firearms for another 300 years.

Wick lock device. As you can see, all its parts were easy to forge and carve even for a village blacksmith. Drawing from the book “Small Arms” by Christopher Hunt. P. 7


Note that the wick weapon of that time was also inconvenient to use because the burning wick had to be brought to the seed either, in general, with your hands (although, most likely, with gloves!), Or with special tongs.

Therefore, already in the 30s of the 15th century, people took care of creating a mechanism that would save them from this unpleasant operation, as well as from wearing forceps.

There is a document from 1439, from which it is clear that already at that time in the city of Bratislava “castle blacksmiths” were working, and they made locks precisely for ignition. Well, in the work of Martin Merz “The Book of Fire Case”, which dates back to 1475, you can already see a schematic drawing of a matchlock, which subsequently did not change very much.

Earliest firearms: bullets are thicker
Edo era Japanese wick rider pistol (carbine) c. 1750 It is interesting that the spring on it is also brass. Trigger in the form of a staple. Length 48.7 cm. Photo courtesy of Alain Daubresse, author of www.littlegun.be.

The powder shelf is closed with a special lid. Photo courtesy of Alain Daubresse, author of www.littlegun.be.

The difference, perhaps, was only in the position of the S-shaped clip for the wick: in Europe, it moved from the barrel to the shooter when fired, but in Asian countries, on the contrary, from the shooter to the barrel.

The mainspring could be arranged in different ways, but on the whole it was such a simple mechanism that there was simply no need to improve it.

Tanzutsu – short-barreled match pistol, Edo period 1615-1868. It is not clear that this is a military weapon, which will obviously be very difficult to use, or just an expensive souvenir. Anne and Gabrielle Barbier Museum, Dallas, Texas

In addition to a wick lock with a pushing action, there was also a more complex, locking one.

In it, the trigger with the wick did not fall on the shelf, but fell on it under the action of a spring. That is, first it was necessary to cock it, and then, by pressing the trigger, release it from engagement with the whisper tooth. The descent in this case turned out to be very fast, so the sight did not go astray.

Such locks, as more expensive, have found their use among hunters and target shooters.


To prevent the wind from blowing gunpowder off the shelf before firing, they came up with a shelf cover. And so that the sparks of gunpowder did not fly into the eyes, a transverse shield was placed on the barrel.

This is how wick arquebusses and muskets appeared, firing from which from a distance of 40-50 meters it was already possible to hit a full-length figure with precision. True, to fire their heavy musket, they had to lean on a support – a bipod.

Venetian arquebusier of the beginning of the 16th century. with a hand-to-hand fighting pitchfork (left), right a German halberdist. The fashion at that time for military clothing was, of course, still those … Illustration from the book by Liliana and Fred Funkenov “Encyclopedia of weapons and military clothing. Middle Ages. Renaissance: Infantry. Cavalry. Artillery. M .: Astrel, 2002, S. 55

Arquebusier from an engraving by Jacob de Gein 1608 Illustration from the book by Liliana and Fred Funkenov “Encyclopedia of weapons and military clothing. Middle Ages. Renaissance: Infantry. Cavalry. Artillery. M .: Astrel, 2002, p. 101

And already then (namely in 1530) revolver guns with drum power appeared.

In particular, the wick arquebus with a drum for ten charges dates back to this very year, the image of which is cited in their book on weapons and military clothing of the Renaissance by Lilian and Fred Funkens.

Also known is a three-barreled wick arquebus with two barrels of 9-mm caliber and one – 11, made in Northern Italy at about the same time. By the way, in its length – 653 mm, it is nothing more than a carbine.

Drum match gun from India. XVII century. That’s what people thought of there, and so long ago. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The drum of this gun. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

From the second half of the 15th century. firearms also penetrated the cavalry. The horse-drawn rifle was called petrinal, from the word “poitrain” – “chest”. These were the trunks, the breech resting against the breast cuirass, while the horned stands attached to the saddle bow served as a support for them. They were set on fire with a wick, which had to be held in hand. Later, the petrinal also received wick locks, but the characteristic butts for resting on the chest on them remained for a long time.

An early example of a horseman’s firearm. The barrel device is shown on the left. Illustration from the book by Liliana and Fred Funkenov “Encyclopedia of weapons and military clothing. Middle Ages. Renaissance: Infantry. Cavalry. Artillery. M .: Astrel, 2002, p. 65

Petrinal 1590 Royal Arsenal, Leeds

A little about the bullets that were used at that time in hand-held firearms.

Initially, both shells for large-caliber cannons and small-caliber bullets for hand-held gadgets and writers were … made of stone. Moreover, if the stone cores had to be hewn out, then the stone bullets were easily carved out on emery wheels.

But very soon it became clear that from the blow from the knight’s cuirass, such bullets turn into dust, without causing any particular harm to anyone. The nuclei from the impact also shattered into pieces, but their fragments flew to the sides and could hurt someone. That is why, by the way, they were used for so long.

Stone cannonballs for artillery pieces. Cesky Krumlov Castle, Czech Republic

And these are lead bullets, equally suitable for both 16th century arquebusses and 18th century muskets! Penza Museum of the Russian Army

That is why bullets very soon began to be cast from lead. Although it was dangerous to shoot such bullets. The famous French knight Bayard, for example, ordered to hang all the arquebusiers who were captured by him, but they did not give any mercy, first of all, to those who fired bullets from lead. As if he knew that he was destined to die from such a bullet.

So some used iron bullets and even silver bullets. And only because it was believed that lead is poisonous (which was true!), So wounds from it should be disinfected with boiling oil or red-hot iron (so that it would be completely wrong and, in addition, very painful). Well, the silver bullets helped to avoid this torture and therefore hope for a kind attitude towards oneself.

No one then knew that the point was not at all in the toxicity of lead, but in the general unsanitary conditions that reigned everywhere.

For example, the same French arquebusiers, although not only they, used to cover the ignition holes on the trunks of the arquebus (so that water does not get there in the rain) with their own feces, so that from the then male shooters and their weapons also smelled …

And today we can only guess what kind of purity they took on these bullets with their hands.

To be continued…

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