Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe

Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europeexplores the history of gunpowder in Europe from the thirteenth century, when i

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Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe

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Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe

Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology MERRIT ROE SMITH,

Series Editor

Bert S. Hall

Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe Gunpowder, Technology, and Tactics

Thc Johns Hopkins University Press Baltimorc & London

To the memory of Lynn White

© 1997 The Johns Hopkins University Press All rights reserved. Published 1997 Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper 06 05 04 03 02 01 00 99 98 97 5 4 3 2 1 The Johns Hopkins University Press 2715 North Charles Street Baltimore, Maryland 21218-4319 The Johns Hopkins Press Ltd., London Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data will be found at the end of this book. A catalog record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN 0-8018-5531-4

Idling reader, you may believe me when I teli you that I should have liked this book, which is the child of my brain, to be the fairest, the sprightliest, and the cleverest that could be imagined, but I have not been able to contravene the law of nature which would have it that like begets like. CERVANTES, Don Quixote


List of Illustrations ix

Preface and Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1 1·11APTER

1 Alternative Weapons andTactics in the Later MiddleAges 9

Thl' Evolution of Tactics and the Role of Cavalry 10 Missile Weapons 16 Mt•rhanical Artillery 20 lntegrating Cavalry and Longbow Tactics: The Wrl�h and Scottish Wars 23 The Hundred Years' War 28 Pikemen: The l.ow Countries 32 Pikemen: The Swiss 36 Conclusion: Tactics before ( ;unpowder 38 CHAPTER 2

Gunpowder's First Century, ca. 1325-ca. 1425 41

Nomenclature and Niches 43 Gunpowder Battles: From Crécy to Rosebeke 4, Sicge Warfare 55 Cheaper Gunpowder 58 Conclusion 65 CHAPTER

3 Black Powder in the Fifteenth Century 67

'l'h" Origins of Corning 69 Saltpeter Production 74 Corning's Problems ,m,1 Prospects 79 The Road to Early Modem Ordnance 87 The Road to t.1111II Arms 95 Controlled-Grain Corning 101 CIIAPTER

4 Firearms in Warfare (l):The Fifteenth Century

l'h, I !unite Wars 107 The End of the Hundred Years' War 114 11f lht Reconquista 123 Technology end Tactics 130


The End



5 Inter/ude: Smoothbore Ballistics 134

Smoothbore Guns: Physical Characteristics 135 Practical Problems: Small Arms 147 FieldArtillery and SiegeArtillery 151 A Note on Progress 155 CHAPTER

6 Firearms in Warfare (II): The Sixteenth Century 157

Sieges and the Trace Italienne 158 Field Warfare: From Cerignola to Bicocca 164 Muskets:A False Innovation 176 Pavia and ItsAftermath:A Confused Lesson 179 The End of Knighthood 190 CHAPTER

7 Technology and the Military Revolution 201

Patterns of Army Growth 202 Technology and Tactics: The Long View 210 Larger Armies 216 Army Composition and Army Size 225 Technology and the Status of the Soldier 234 Notes 237

Bibliography 265 Index 289


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4. "Mons Meg," now on display in Edinburgh. Made by the Burgundians, it was sold to the Scots when artillery altered its shape to accommodate corned gunpowder.


Crown copyright: Reproduced courtesy of Historic Scotland, Edinburgh.

to James II of Scotland, is 13 feet, 2 inches, in overall length (401 cm) and has a bore diameter of 19.5 inches (49.6 cm); it has a gross weight of some five tons (5,080 kg) and fires a stone shot weighing 549 pounds (249 kg)92 (see fig. 4). The coming of these giant bombards made sense. Within the technological regime defined by early methods of forging barrels and making ungranulated powder the best means of obtaining sufficient momentum in a stone cannon­ ball was to make the gun bigger. A single large gunstone moving at relatively slow velocities could do much more damage to a masonry target than a greater number of smaller stones also moving fairly slowly. Loading procedures seem to have changed in favor of increased powder charges, but these were still lim­ ited to only about 16 percent or less of the shot's weight.93 This restriction sig­ nals a different limitation, a technological one, on how guns could be handled. Clearly, the decline in gunpowder prices throughout Europe at the turn of the fourteenth century made it attractive to employ larger guns consuming pro­ portionally more gunpowder than before, but metal-working techniques did not develop at the same pace as gunpowder-making. In guns of this period the walls in the powder chamber had to be thicker than those in the main barrel; thus, the diameter of the powder chamber was usually less than half (about 40% or less) the diameter of the barrel. Some-



times this resulted in the characteristic rnegaphone shape, as in the Steyr piece (fig. 3), while other designers preferred to keep the external shape cylindrical, as in "Mons Meg" (fig. 4). In addition, rnany of these guns, like their predeces­ sors, had tapered or conical bores, meaning that the gap between the gunstone and the barrel wall increased as the shot moved down the barrel. This design sacrificed ballistic performance to considerations of safety, and again it should be seen as an index of the dangers involved in gunnery. Prudent gunners did not dare overload their pieces, which suggests that the impact velocity of their shots was quite low by later standards, even those of the next generation of gunners. If the large bombards were still limited in their effect, economie changes in the powder rnarkets around 1400 permitted a dramatic proliferation of siege ordnance of lesser calibers. Christine de Pizan's French translation and re­ working of Vegetius's Epitoma rei militaris provides insight into what a first­ class siege effort might entail. Considering the defensive needs of a hypothet­ ical garrison with 600 defenders, Christine recornmends that it have "at least" 12 guns shooting stone shot, two of which should be larger guns than the rest for "counter-battery" fire. In addition, the defensive garrison should possess 94 "six bricolles" and two "coyllars," that is forms of the trebuchet, and two or three "spryngalles," large, mounted crossbows. Christine recornmends 1,500 pounds of gunpowder, including 500 pounds to be kept on hand in case an ex­ tra supply is needed. The French text specifies a reasonable 1,000 pounds of 9 lead for making pellets and lists crossbows and longbows as well. 5 Then come 24,000 viresons (srnall crossbow darts, or quarrels), 12,000 larger missiles for crossbows, and finally 200 stone cannonballs, along with additional unfinished rough stone blanks. Against this the besiegers should expect to mount a truly impressive arse­ nal. Eight trebuchets head the list, followed by a rather confused roster of some 248 firearms, at least 42 of which shoot stones of 200 pounds or more. This is a considerable arsenal, and Christine recommends having on hand some 30,000 pounds of gunpowder to sustain it. This quantity of powder is large by the standards of even a few decades earlier, but it amounts on average to only a little more than 121 pounds per piece. Stone and lead shot for the firearms amounts to approximately 2,200 pieces, according to Christine (the actual total is 2,270). The distribution of cut stone shot between the cannon and the mechanical engines is evenly balanced: 1,170 for firearms and 1,0001,100 for the trebuchets. In addition to the stone ammunition, one needs 5,000 pounds of lead for pellets.96 Christine's 30,000 pounds of powder for the attack­ ing forces amounts to only about 25.6 pounds per stone shot, but this average would leave no powder whatsoever for the lead-shotted guns. In her chapter 27, "Gunstones," Christine calls for a minimum of 99,000 pounds of stone �hot for the larger guns. Working from the fifteenth-century loading formula, we need only 15-16 percent of the shot's weight in powder, meaning that roughly half the available powder, 16,000 pounds, is destined for the larger



guns (16% of 99,000 pounds of shot = 15,840 pounds of powder). This would leave ampie supplies of gunpowder for the smaller-caliber guns, including the lead-shotted pieces, with some reserve for emergencies. These are considerable numbers, but there is every reason to take them se­ riously. Christine de Pizan was probably advised by members of the Burgun­ dian court during her reworking of a military classic, 97 and she seems to have taken the advice. Nowhere else in her intensely detailed account of items needed for a siege do Christine's figures seem outlandish, and it is unlikely that her gunpowder amounts are somehow singularly erroneous. Moreover, independent accounts of actual sieges suggest that Christine may actually have erred on the side of conservatism. Maastricht, besieged for 45 days in the winter of 1407-8, counted 1,514 hits from large bombard stones, to say noth­ ing of smaller missiles.98 (Christine allows 1,170 gunstones for a siege lasting six months.) A generation later, on a single day (17 October 1428), the English army investing Orléans hit the city with 124 stone shot, and in 1431 at Lagny the tota! was reported as 412 gunstones. 99 Quantities of gunpowder similar to Christine's estimates were routinely stockpiled in the early fifteenth century. Preparations for the anticipated siege of Calais in 1406 involved the purchase of some 20,000 pounds of gunpowder. 100 In 1413 François Pastoreau, a Parisian spice dealer, sold some 10,000 pounds of powder and raw materials to John the Fearless of Burgundy. 101 And an inquest carried out during Henry V's brief tenure as regent of France (1421-22) revealed that in Paris alone there was 10,000 pounds of "poudre à canon" on hand, together with the materiai to make 10,000 more pounds plus nearly 8,000 pounds of saltpeter. 102 Gunpowder weapons begat gunpowder weapons as tactics evolved. Both sides learned very early on that during sieges the crews of great bombards needed protection during their slow reloading operations. Massive hinged shields, normally called "mantlets," offered some protection, 103 but for both attackers and de­ fenders firearms offered the best means of dealing with the problem. For the defenders a lucky shot on the besieger's mantlet would disrupt or even destroy the bombard, while for the attackers "covering fire" (smaller-caliber gunfire) would be directed at the defenders on their walls during the vulnerable phase of the big guns' operation. Christine was aware of ali these aspects, and her fig­ ures reflect the new reality of early fifteenth-century warfare. Cheaper gunpowder available in larger quantities meant that besiegers could hope to farce matters to a quicker conclusion than was possible under the older regime of mechanical weapons or limited firepower. At the siege of Bourges in early June 1412 the besiegers, seeing that the machines they first set against the walls did little good, brought up a cannon called Griete, bigger than the others, and mounted it apposite the main gate. It shot stones of enormous weight at the cost of large quantities of gunpowder and much hard and dangerous work on the part of its expert crew. Nearly twenty men were required to handle it, and when it went off

the thunderous noise could be heard four miles away, terrorizing the locals as if it were noise made by the furies of Hell. On the first day, it partly de­ stroyed the foundations of one of the towers. On the second day it shot twelve times; two of its stones penetrated the tower, exposing many rooms and their inhabitants to injury. At the same time, elsewhere in the city, other instrumenta were breaching the walls. 104 The defending garrison surrendered on negotiated terms shortly thereafter. Perhaps the best indication of how this new ability might work in strategie ways appeared at the siege of Harfleur (August-September 1415), at the be­ ginning of Henry V's campaign in northern France. Henry waged a different style of warfare than his ancestors had in France, a campaign of conquest rather than another chevauchée, "raid."105 The logie of his pian argued for tak­ ing an important port through which he could later supply his army; he chose Harfleur, the richest port in Normandy and the key to ali maritime traffic along the Seine estuary. Sources comment on how heavily equipped with fire­ arms Henry's expedition was when it sailed from Portsmouth in mid-Au­ gust.106 But Henry had been delayed, and Harfleur was in a good position to withstand a siege, having a defended tidal harbor, marshy lands on ali sides, up-to-date defensive works, and a well-supplied garrison. The French had also flooded the approaches to Harfleur by diverting the small river Lézard. Under ordinary circumstances the English could have expected to spend an inordi­ nately long period, perhaps the entire fall and winter, awaiting the city's fall. Henry's strategie situation, on the other hand, demanded that the town be forced to capitulate quickly, and his only real hope of bringing this about lay with his siege machinery. The English began conservatively enough, employ­ ing miners in an attempt to bring down key parts of the defender's walls. But both the watery terrain and the clever countermining by the French brought this effort to a halt. Forced to turn to his artillery (which stili included me­ chanical as well as gunpowder weapons),107 Henry began battering the walls. We have no inventory records of Henry's artillery, but it perhaps numbered as many as twelve guns, at least three of which were large enough to bear nick­ names-"London," "Messenger," and "The King's Daughter."108 They seem to have been large enough also to cast stones weighing about 400 pounds.109 The French chroniclers emphasize the "unheard of size" [inaudite grossitudinis] of Henry's weapons, as well as their noise and smoke.110 The English records stress how the besiegers kept up a constant fire on the town, moving their en­ gines to more favorable positions under cover of darkness.111 The defenders also were in possession of some guns, as well as a host of older weapons, but at the very beginning of hostilities the English had captured a shipment of "guns and powder-barrels and missiles and catapults" en route from Rouen to Har­ fleur.112 However spirited the defenders' resistance, they seem to have been outgunned. Casualties on both sides are difficult to estimate because disease carried off as many as the actual fighting did, perhaps more.



The English concentrated their efforts on one barbican gate, which was for­ tified with great tree trunks rammed into the earth before the walls and rein­ forced with earth and mud plaster. 113 The French defended this key point fero­ ciously, but their Jack of ordnance allowed the English slowly to work their guns into more favorable positions. Once the great guns had breached the bar­ bican walls, the English at last set the gate's internal framework afire with in­ cendiary arrows and then fed the flames with additional incendiary com­ pounds (almost certainly launched from trebuchets).114 The French abandoned the position and fled through the remaining gate, which they then blockaded, leaving the smouldering and ruined barbican to the English, who had some difficulty extinguishing the blaze they had set. 115 Loss of this salient seems to have demoralized the defenders, for they agreed to rather unfavorable terms with the English so quickly that even Henry was surprised.116 On 22 Sep­ tember, after a siege of only five weeks, the English entered Harfleur in tri­ umph. Guns were criticai to the English success, and they remained important throughout the remainder of the Lancastrian conquest of Normandy. After re­ covering from the disaster of Agincourt, the French made an unsuccessful bid to recapture Harfleur in 1416. From that point onward the English moved to bring as many Norman towns as possible under English rule, denying them to the French as bases or supply depots. Caen was successfully besieged in 1417 and later became the chief English arsenal for centrai Normandy. Falaise fell to the English later the same year, followed by Cherbourg in 1418, Rouen in 1418-19, and Meaux in 1421-22.117 Certainly guns were not the sole factor in the English successes, but we can see something of the new ways of war made possible by cheap gunpowder and inexpensive guns in the extensive efforts the English made to organize and supply an "artillery" that included a large number of firearms.118 The powder expenditure required to reduce Normandy to obedience would have been considered ruinously expensive by the stand­ ards of an earlier age. (Each firing of, say, a 400-pounder would have taken some 60 pounds of gunpowder, to say nothing of the powder consumed by the smaller firearms.) Saltpeter plantations had become a criticai component in the underlying network of support for the making of a successful war. Traditional methods of laying and resisting a siege were not rendered use­ less. What we are dealing with here was not a revolution but only the first stage in a transformation of siege warfare. Saltpeter-based propellants and in­ cendiaries supplemented in very powerful ways the older methods. Many "in­ extinguishable" incendiaries, for example, relied on nitrate (NO3) as the oxi­ dizing agent that made them difficult to put out; they were, in effect, degraded gunpowder mixtures that burned very slowly.119 Gunpowder bombs, on the other hand, made the miner's work even more effective. He could now explode the very foundations of a wall rather than merely undermining it. The fall of Harfleur makes clear how the older and newer weapons were from the very



outset integrated into a seamless pattern. Later generations would find new ways to combine the old and new as warfare was continuously reinvented. Likewise, the early fifteenth century's new reliance on heavy artillery did not amount to a quick and easy pathway to conquest. Harfleur once again demonstrated that the psychological effects of gunnery were at least as power­ ful as their physical impact. Later in the campaign for Normandy, when the French defenders were often better prepared and the English attackers less pressed for time than at Harfleur, sieges could last many months despite the increase in violence that accompanied gunpowder artillery.Each siege seems to have had its own pace and its own logie. Caen surrendered in even less time than Harfleur, whereas Rouen held out for not quite six months, surrendering only when the inhabitants were reduced to eating rats and mice. The town of Falaise surrendered within a month after being subjected to only a desultory artillery attack; however, the castle garrison, subjected to a more vigorous pounding, remained obstinate for an additional six weeks. Cherbourg asked for terms after five months of siege in :14:18, while Dreux surrendered after less than a month under siege in :142:1.The Breton town of Meaux, on the other hand, held out for nearly seven months in :142:1-22.120 As in ali ages, the suffer­ ings of the civilian population, especially from hunger, and the prospects of re­ lief were the main determinants of how long a city might withstand siege.

Conclusion Between about :1325 and :1425 Europeans gained their first experience of gun­ powder weapons in warfare.After a century gunpowder appeared not to have fulfilled its promise; it was stili a difficult substance, something for which a proper role had yet to be found. This was especially true in field warfare, for which gunpowder weapons simply lacked the technical attributes needed to make them genuine competitors with the well-developed longbow and cross­ bow.Michael Roberts once observed that "from the point of view of battle-tac­ tics, the invention of firearms ... represented, for dose on two centuries, a de­ cidedly retrograde step. Firearms in battle attempted to repeat the tactics of Crécy with instruments which were ludicrously unapt for the purpose.Their weight, their unreliability, their inaccuracy, their painfully slow rate of fire, made the early hand-guns, arquebuses, and muskets inferior, in every respect save one, to the cross-bows and longbows they superseded." 121 Each of these faults was at its very worst in the early stages of handgun de­ velopment, and none of them could be offset by the ribaudequin method of mounting multiple barrels on a common cart. The enduring fascination that the ribaudequin held for some of the better military thinkers of the Renais­ sance is an interesting issue in itself, but from the perspective of a much later day we can see how any successful employment of guns in field warfare had to await technical changes that would make them, if not more accurate, at least more portable and more plentiful.As we have seen, guns in field warfare were



rarely effective, and when they were, they achieved their success mainly by fright rather than by sheer physical shock. At Beverhoudsveld an ill-trained and probably drunken urban militia broke and fled when fired upon. At Rose­ beke a hardened corps of the feudal equivalent to professional soldiers stood its ground under fire and won the day. Sieges, on the other hand, provided a ready-made military niche for fire­ arms. This was the sphere already dominated by the trebuchet, whose long fa­ miliarity suggested most of the tactical roles siege firearms could play. Here the obstacles to adopting firearms were primarily economie and logistical; gunpowder was expensive, and guns large enough to be effective required a great dea! of powder and were extremely difficult to move overland . The plan­ tation system of making saltpeter seems to have been the key early improve­ ment. From the :1380s the price of gunpowder slid downward and, what is far more important but more difficult to pinpoint, gunpowder supplies increased dramatically. (Obviously, demand and supply curves both shifted rapidly up­ ward, making the equilibrium price of gunpowder fall slowly but steadily for more than a century.) As this economie change took piace, it became feasible to make guns that were large enough to be reasonably effective against defensive walls. This trend is visible from the late fourteenth century onward, and it plays a significant strategie role in such campaigns as the Lancastrian conquest of Normandy between :14:10 and :1425. The comparison of large bombardas with trebuchets has a familiar ring: a simple, reliable, cheaper, older technology is pitted against a newer, more ex­ pensive, and more demanding way to achieve the same goal. The siege gun promised a military commander a shorter length of time required to reduce a stubbornly defended site. Investing a town tied up substantial resources of manpower and equipment, ali of which meant money, and drastically reduced a field commander's freedom to maneuver. Time saved before the walls was re­ paid in both politica! and monetary terms. The siege gun did not always achieve a speedy resolution, but it seems to have done so often enough to be credible. And credibility, that most subtle of psychological factors, should not be underestimated. Guns could sometimes breach walls more rapidly than tre­ buchets, and they could cause damage within a besieged city, but often their greatest contribution was to convince the defending garrison that further re­ sistance was pointless and to make the defenders willing to surrender on terms. It was difficult for defenders to reply in kind to a very large siege gun (their walls alone would likely not withstand the strain of firing a monster gun even if they had one at hand), and for this reason alone the big bombard tipped the balance in favor of the attackers.

3 Black Powder in the Fifteenth Century Our careful monarch stands in person by His new cast cannons' firmness to explore: The strength of big-corned powder loves to try And hall and cartridge sorts for every bare. DRYDEN,


Annus Mirabilis

n his 1628 treatise on the gunner's art Robert Norton echoed a long line of commentators stretching back to the fourteenth century when he wrote that "powder is compounded of three Principles, or Elements, Saltpetre, Sul­ pher and Cole, whereof Saltpetre is it that gives the chiefest violence."1 In gen­ erai, most authorities regard approximately 75 percent potassium nitrate (KNO3), 10 percent sulfur, and 15 percent carbon as the best recipe, but opin­ ions vary on this, and the mix is often tailored to meet specific requirements.2 Mixed together as powdered solids and burned under virtually any conditions, these ingredients produce temperatures somewhere in the vicinity of 2,1000 2,700 c and a volume of gases that for most powders amounts to between 274 and 360 cubie centimeters per gram of solid.3 Confined in a closed container, these gases will break the container apart, making a bomb; confined to an open-ended tube, the reactants will either propel the tube itself, as in a rocket, or propel a projectile from the tube, as in a gun. This ali sounds very simple; however, a host of complexities impinge on the tangible properties of gunpowder in real-world weapons. Historically, manu­ focturing gunpowder has been much more like baking or brewing than like modem chemistry. Many recipes and procedures actually "work," but the pre­ cise reasons why have usually been poorly understood. Like cooks, gunpowder makers exploit seemingly minor differences in their materials to achieve im­ portant differences in the finished product. The historian must try to under11tand at least some of the technical mysteries behind gunpowder in order to



grasp how changes in powder production influenced the design and the opera­ tion of firearms and thus how guns themselves behaved in action. We have al­ ready seen one instance of the link between powder making and warfare in the advent of saltpeter plantations in the late fourteenth century. By making avail­ able larger quantities of cheaper gunpowder, the new method encouraged the giant bombards of the early fifteenth century. This is exactly the sort of "eco­ nomie" result we commonly expect technology to bring about. The next phase of gunpowder's history involves something much more subtle, powder mak­ ing changes that altered the properties of gunpowder itself. One fundamental fact that affects the practical ballistics of all gunpowder weapons is how quickly the powder burns. Obviously, terms such as fast or slow burning are relative. By the standards of modem high explosives, gun­ powder burns so slowly that is not said to explode or detonate at all; it merely burns rapidly (deflagrates in the jargon of the trade).4 At best, black powder is regarded as a "low" explosive. Historically, this is unimportant, but it is critica! to be aware that gunpowder does not burn instantaneously and that small changes in its burning speed can have profound effects on its useful action. Gunpowder burning near its maximum combustion speed, for example, as the charge of a musket or small cannon, typically oxidizes completely in about seven to eight milliseconds. Powder designed for other uses, for example, in rockets or mines, may burn much more slowly. Even within the very limited tempora! framework that the gun represents, changes of a few milliseconds in the speed of combustion can have extremely powerful effects on the ballistic behavior of the weapon. The primary way later gunpowder makers regulated the speed of gunpow­ der's combustion was by controlling the grain size of the powder. Corning, or granulating, the powder was a major preoccupation of industria! powder makers by the nineteenth century, and most major mills produced powders in several distinct shapes and in grain sizes ranging from less than 1 mm to more than 15 mm. 5 Corned powder carne long before the industria! revolution, how­ ever. lt was an innovation of the fifteenth century, although in a form few in­ dustria! powder makers would have recognized. Corning's history has been poorly served by historians, for although it is widely recognized that corned powders were more "powerful" than the pulverized, or mealed, powders used earlier, little has been done to articulate the history of early corning tech­ niques or to show how these changes affected weapons design. We know that from the 1420s to the 1520s, corned powders were used along with mealed, or serpentine, powders6 and that thereafter corned powders became the dominant form of gunpowder. This was far from a simple transformation. lt was not a case of linear "progress" in technology but a process of interdependent change in both powder making and gun founding. Each side of the technical equation linking gunpowder production and gunpowder use was altered in response to challenges posed by the other. By the middle of the sixteenth century both guns and gunpowder were very different from what had been in use earlier.



The Origins of Corning Corning is normally thought of as being rooted in the urge to improve the bal­ listic performance of guns. This is half true, and like most half-truths, it fits into a larger preconceived scheme, in this case the "Darwinian" model of mili­ tary technology mentioned earlier. The earliest texts to mention corning em­ phasize that corned powders are less subject to spoilage during storage than are mealed powders. Gunpowder is not a chemical compound but a mechanical mixture of dry powdered solids. The saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal must be comminuted, ground to a fine powder, and mixed together well in order for combustion to take piace at ali. Incorporation, as this step was later termed, was originally done using completely dry ingredients, resulting in the mealed, or serpentine, form of gunpowder (see fig. 5). Serpentine powder is finer than any powder made today-too fine, in fact, to burn efficiently-and it also has a very high surface-to-volume ratio. For any given space, the total volume of larger-diameter solids (like more coarsely grained powders) required to fili it will be equal to the total volume of smaller-diameter solids required to fili it. However, the larger-diameter solids will have a smaller total surface area than will the smaller-diameter solids. Im­ agine a cylindrical wastepaper basket filled completely first with softballs, then with ping-pong balls. Let us assume that both the softballs and the ping-pong balls completely fili the wastebasket, so that there is no wasted space, and that ali the balls are in their densest packing order, a face-centered cubie lattice. In such circumstances, any group of spheres, regardless of their size, will occupy slightly less than 75 percent of the available space (0.7405%, to be precise). 7 Thus the total volume of ali the softballs taken together equals the total vol­ ume of ali the ping-pong balls taken together, or 0.7405 times the wastebas­ ket's tota! volume. This means that the total amount of free space between the balls is also the same in both cases. But the total surface area of ali the ping­ pong balls taken together will be significantly greater than the total surface area of ali the softballs taken together. Smaller grains mean more surface area per unit volume. Now, it is true that gunpowder grains are not perfect spheres and may not be packed together in a face-centered cubie lattice, but many ordinary objects do approximate this law of packing to a greater or lesser degree (for example, �tacks of apples at the green grocer's), and so do granular solids. This little in­ �ight from lattice theory helps us understand something important about 8rnnulated gunpowder. Since the smallest particles expose the maximum sur­ fncc to the atmosphere, gunpowder's tendency to absorb moisture will also be increased as the particle size is made smaller. Gunpowder, like most solids, ab1111rbs water only at its surface, and anything that minimizes total surface area (or more properly, tota! surface area per unit volume) will reduce the amount of atmospheric moisture absorbed. Powder makers were obliged to grind their row materials as finely as possible in order to mix them thoroughly, but by do-




5. Sifting and weighing gunpowder's raw materials. Because gunpowder is a simple mixture, careful weighing and mixing of finely pulverized ingredients was the only way to achieve full com­ bustion. Used with permission of the Board of Trustees of the Royal Ar­ FIG.


ing so, they created a gunpowder that would readily absorb moisture from the air itself. This problem could be dealt with, at least in part, by making powder into balls or round lumps after incorporating the ingredients together. In ef­ fect, a considerable percentage of the total mass of the gunpowder would be in­ side the grains of powder, away from the harmful effects of atmospheric mois­ ture.



Historically, corning derives from "experiments" frequently found in many early gunpowder texts. These texts advised adding many different things to the basic ingredients of gunpowder in order to obtain different sounds, smells, colors of smoke, or other properties. Camphor, salamoniac, wood shavings, iron filings, and a wide variety of salts all found their way into gunpowder. So too did water, urine, wine, brandy, and vinegar. Adding liquids, however, turned the already mixed powder into a paste, which had to be dried and crushed anew be­ fore it could be used. When the dry ingredients are made into a paste, some of the saltpeter (the only highly soluble ingredient) dissolves in the modest amounts of liquid, but when the paste dries, the saltpeter reappears both out­ side and inside the pores of the powdered charcoal, making the mixture into a friable solid. The different pore structures in different species of wood seem to be the reason why charcoals from some species such as birch, alder, or willow are traditionally preferred for making gunpowder and why nonporous carbon sources such as powdered minerai coal do not make working gunpowder at all. As powder makers soon discovered, gunpowder that had been made into paste and then dried was ballistically "stronger" and had a longer life span than other gunpowders. Even the earliest texts to mention the process cali such powder "kreftiger" and also "wirig" or "behaltig" (durable, i.e., resistant to spoilage).9 In the Feuerwerkbuch, the earliest Urtext of which has yet to be identified but which can safely be said to stem from the period before 1.420, the anonymous author/compiler describes what he calls "lump powder" (Knollen­ pulver). Moisten a mixture of saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal with "good wine vinegar. And grind the mixture together with a wooden mortar, and make it so moist with the vinegar that it will clump together, and then roll the lumps as large as you want them to be. Then take a glazed round deep saucepan or pot or a copper bowl and press the lumps in wet just as you would force a cheese into a pot; then knock it out onto a board-it will come out easily."9 The text continues with a description of air-drying the Knollen either in sunshine or in sheds, depending on the season, and with appropriate warnings about using fire as a source of heat (see fig. 6). 10 The text does not suggest making small, shaped grains; instead it speaks of the dried product as Knollen, a German word used today to mean "dumplings." This led older researchers to assume that the text was speaking of very large pellets of gunpowder, comparable in size to the largest gauges of nineteenth-century artillery powder, but such a reading makes it difficult to understand how any sort of useful powder could be made using the instructions in the Feuerwerkbuch without adding another step. In fact, however, Knollen can mean idiomatically lumps or bits of food as large as tennis balls or as small as peppercorns (cf. the modem German kniillen, "to crumple"). The semantic range of the word Knollen may help ex­ plain why the text's explanation is incomplete and why scholars have been di­ vided on its interpretation.11 Fortunately, one later Feuerwerkbuch manuscript clarifies the matter by in­ cluding the advice that one should break or crumble these gunpowder Knollen



-�: .;-�_.,"'-_ ... ·�.+ .


' .


>ytc��·- ... ·�9...,� � . � ' .

6. Making gunpowder Knollen in a bowl and dry ing them in the sun. The relative size of the gunpowder "lumps" is apparent despit� the poor use of perspective in this drawing. Used with permission of the Zentralbibliothek Zurich. Ms. Rh. hist. 33 b Fol. 36v. FIG.



before loading the gun.12 This would fragment the cake into irregular particles, something perhaps best expressed by the English word crumbs. The method described in the Feuerwerkbuch method is very similar to that used by the fogueteiros, the peasant fireworks makers of rural Galicia, who were stili active as late as the 1950s. They incorporated the raw ingredients of gunpowder in hand stamps with a little water and shaped the resulting paste into bolas, "balls," some 8 centimeters in diameter. These bolas were set out to dry in the sun and then stored safely away. When the gunpowder was to be packed into paper tubes to make rockets and bombs, the balls were crushed in hand mor­ tars.13 Writing in the 1470s, Francesco di Giorgio Martini advised his readers of a "secret" method to preserve powder on long expeditions. He said to moisten the powder with strong white vinegar, then shape the paste into loaves weigh­ ing 4 or 8 pounds. Once these loaves dried, they would last indefinitely.14 Sim­ ilar methods are quite vaguely alluded to in powder-making sources from the southern Low Countries in the fifteenth century, and they are described more explicitly in Chinese sources composed after the corning process was intro­ duced, apparently by the Jesuits, in the sixteenth century.15 The Gunner, by Robert Norton (1628), has a similar recipe using aqua vitae as the liquid. Kept properly, he said, these balls of powder "will neither decay, nor waste by age. 1116 What made such an elaborate step seem necessary? What was "wrong" with the serpentine form of gunpowder that Europeans had known since the thirteenth century? Improved ballistic performance hardly seems to be a con­ vincing explanation. Guns were, after ali, stili seriously undercharged with powder, and there is ampie evidence that in the early fifteenth century corned powder was regarded as something too powerful to be used without special precautions. In effect, corned powder was degraded to the same ballistic stand­ ards as serpentine powder in the interests of safety. Many modem writers comment that corned powder would be homogeneous in composition and would not separate into its components as the mixture is shaken during trans­ port. Could separation problems have prompted efforts to com gunpowder? This is possible, but I know of no early text that complains about separation, whereas complaints about spoilage from moisture are frequent. In fact, the specific gravities of saltpeter, sulfur, and powdered charcoal are really rather dose (KNO3 , 2.109; sulfur, 2.07; and amorphous carbon, 1.8-2.1 depending on the wood species). There should be little tendency to separate during transit uccording to density differences. Any irregularities in grain size would have rnused separation, however; if the saltpeter were larger, on average, than the sulfur, for example, it would rise to the top. But the main materials were 1-1round in a common mortar in the final stages of incorporation, a step which ought to have produced a fairly uniform powder. It is most likely, therefore, thnt the problem of atmospheric moisture absorption was what stimulated the �orliest attempts at corning. This assumption leads to stili another problem. Classic black powder is made with saltpeter that is pure potassium nitrate, KNO3, and although KNO3



and most charcoais have some tendency to absorb moisture from the air, they are not severely probiematic in this regard. Sodium saltpeter, NaNO3 , com­ moniy substituted for KNO3 in the nineteenth century, is another matter. The other form of saltpeter-iime saltpeter, or calcium nitrate, Ca(NO3h, was never used in iater powder making, for it is the most voraciousiy hygroscopic of the trio. lt appears that medievai saltpeter as it emerged from the piantation process was piainiy not pure potassium nitrate, and it may well have contained iarge amounts of calcium nitrate. This was why medievai gunners had troubie "keeping their powder dry" and why they began to practice corning their fin­ ished gunpowder.

Saltpeter Production Like bread, wine, and cheese, gunpowder ultimateiy owes its existence to the action of microbes. When living tissue decays (or is digested by some other or­ ganism) the amino acids are broken down into simpier and simpier com­ pounds. One important by-product of this decomposition is ammonia, often as the end result of severai stages of breakdown. Ammonium ions, NH4+, oxidize to form nitrites and nitrates chiefly through the combined action of two gen­ era of bacteria, nitrosomonas and nitrobacter. The former obtains energy by oxidizing ammonium ions to nitrites:

Nitrobacter compietes the process, oxidizing nitrites to nitrates:

These reactions, while doubtless unfamiiiar to most of them, are those which countiess amateur gardeners hope to promote in their backyard composting heaps. Nitrates are the principai ingredient of the commerciai fertilizers that composters hope to repiace. Serge Winogradsky, who first discovered the roie of nitrosomonas and nitrobacter, aiso discovered that calcium or magnesium carbonate was necessary if these bacteria were to grow properly, that they re­ quired abundant oxygen, and that they were not toierant of highiy acidic con­ ditions.17 Virtually any body of decaying organic matter will produce some ni­ trates, but not necessarily in usefui quantities. Creating an environment in which conditions were most favorabie was the task of the early saltpeterers. This was iargeiy a European probiem. Some naturally occurring geoiogical deposits of nitrates, often sodium, calcium, or magnesium nitrate, result from iarge-scaie organic processes taking piace over very iong time frames, but such deposits are not found in Europe outside of Spain. The most famous modem deposit of this sort, consisting mainiy of sodium nitrate, is found in Chiie. In the premodern period the Ganges River valley offered the best prospects for commerciai saltpeter production. There high concentrations of human and an-



imal excreta in the soils, together with hotter climatic conditions and fortui­ tous chemical inclusions, resulted in higher nitrate yields than elsewhere. From the Middle Ages until the discovery of the Chilean source, India seems to have provided a great deal of Europe's saltpeter. 18 James Massey, writing in 1795, explained that in India the highest nitrate contents "are found at the bottoms of the tanks or shallow ponds of water, which, in this country, are of­ ten of great extent, where, the water being evaporated by the heat of the sun, large quantities of filth are left to corrupt, which furnishes a mud of strongest nitrous quality."19 Since there is no published economie history of the saltpeter trade, it is impossible to estimate just how much of Europe's supply was pro­ duced domestically and how much was imported. lt is clear from the price trends cited earlier, as well as from the frequency with which saltpeter planta­ tions are mentioned, that the domestic saltpeter product was important from about 1390 onward, but the ratio of domestic to imported nitrates remains a mystery. Early European texts on gunpowder are often quite vague about precisely how saltpeter should be produced. Indeed, there is no clear technical descrip­ tion of saltpeter production until the sixteenth century. Although saltpeter plantations are mentioned in archival documents from the late fourteenth cen­ tury, the first "technical" description is found in Conrad Kyeser's Bellifortis (ca. 1405), which treats the whole process somewhat obscurely. 20 Other fif­ teenth-century technological treatises mention saltpeter production without adding any significant technical insight.21 Many sixteenth-century printed treatises, such as those by Biringuccio (1540), Georgius Agricola (1556), and Lazarus Ercker (1574), 22 mention "nitre-beds," but none describe the process in very much detail. A manuscript dating from 1561 by Gerard Honrick, a German who sought to profit from establishing the petering process in England, provides more helpful information about the management of a saltpeter works. Honrick stip­ ulated "black earth" (probably composted wastes, mainly fecal matter), urine ("namely of those persons whiche drink either wyne or strong bears"), dung ("specially of those horses which be fed with ootes"), and two kinds of "lime," one from "plaster of Paris" (presumably quicklime, CaO, although this will quickly become slaked lime, Ca(OH)z) and the other from oyster shells, thus CaCO3• He said that the materials were to be kept in a dry environment paved with bricks at an even temperature. The pile must be turned fortnightly for a period of at least one year, and the walls and floors swept clean of the crude saltpeter (which "will hang like snowe upon them").23 Honrick's recipe states the materials and conditions modem studies indicate are needed for nitroso­ monas and nitrobacter to flourish: ammonium (from urine), partially decom­ posed organic matter (from the "black earth" supplemented by the horse ma­ nure), an alkaline ingredient to offset any acidity in the "earth" and the dung, nnd calcium carbonate, essential for the bacteria to grow properly. Even the de­ toils ring true; for example, Honrick's stipulation of urine from wine and beer



drinkers is based on the fact that ammonia levels in the urine increase dramat­ ically as the body metabolizes alcohol, typically increasing threefold in exper­ imental subjects following alcohol ingestion. A heavy drinker's urine contrib­ utes more vitally needed NH4+ to the heap than does the urine of an abstemious person. 24 The mixture is aerated through frequent turning, which increases the microorganisms' exposure to oxygen. The process takes a year or more, but the saltpeter yield appears reasonable by premodern standards. Many endosed spaces with little air circulation will approximate Honrick's conditions, and readers may have observed for themselves the commonplace phenomenon of efflorescences of white crystals in basements, especially where the winter months produce a dry coldness. These crystals may contain appre­ ciable quantities of saltpeter, but for the most part they will not. Partington analyzed a modem specimen and found it to be mainly sodium sulfate, yet some eighteenth-century and early-nineteenth-century writers found speci­ mens that yielded saltpeter upon analysis.25 The widespread practice, both on the Continent and in England, of allowing what the French called the fouille, "digging," or scraping and sweeping of walls likely to produce saltpeter, has led to the generai assumption that saltpeter grows spontaneously on walls.26 In fact, the earlier walls that produced significant quantities of saltpeter probably were located in dose proximity to stables or latrines-at some time in their past, if not at the time the samples were taken. Celiar walls in particular may contain leached nitrates stemming from some time before the crystals formed. The generai improvement of sanitation starting in the mid-nineteenth cen­ tury has likely reduced the average nitrate content of wall scrapings to near the vanishing point. Modem chemistry and Honrick's description confirm that anyone practic­ ing his method would gather a mixture of salts when the compost pile was leached. In particular, calcium and magnesium would predominate. In farmed soils in temperate dimates sodium and potassium together do not usually amount to more than 5 percent of the tota! cations. Calcium and magnesium usually make up some 95 percent of the exchangeable cation complement of arable soils.27 In addition, the success of nitrobacter and nitrosomonas depends on calcium and magnesium, and calcium was deliberately added to the heaps. Sodium and potassium would have been enhanced through the use of fecal wastes, and the quantities of "lye" added during the process would also raise their percentage. (Naturally produced lyes would comprise a mixture of so­ dium and potassium, depending on the source of ash from which the lye was made.) Stili, potassium must have remained the minority cation. Honrick's ad­ vice to use dung from oat-fed horses, for example, probably represents an un­ conscious means of enhancing potassium, in that oats contain more potassium and less sodium than do the likely alternative horse fodders, meadow or dover hay. 28 Likewise, Honrick's recommendation to prefer urine from heavy drinkers makes sense as a means of reducing the sodium and enhancing the potassium content, for sodium excretion dedines during alcohol metabolism. 2�



The desire to avoid sodium is attested by Agricola and Ercker, who rec­ ommended removing the "salt" that forms in the bottom of the vats as the water boiled off, but before cooling took piace. Ercker explicitly recommended purifying the crude salt to sell as table salt.30 Powder makers knew that they should avoid common salt (NaCI) in their saltpeter, and master gunners knew to taste gunpowder to detect the presence of table salt. The task was to separate the desired form of nitrates from the contaminat­ ing chemicals. The chief means of doing so was to concentrate the salts in water by boiling off ali the excess liquid and then cooling the saturated solu­ tion. Potassium saltpeter (KNO3) has a solubility of some 247 g/100 cc in water approaching 100°c but only 13.3 g/100 cc at just above 0°c.31 This means that a hot aqueous solution nearly saturated with saltpeter will precipitate most of its KNO3 merely by allowing the vessel to cool to the ambient temper­ ° ature of a workshop (ca. 10-15 c). As a method of eliminating table salt, NaCI, one of the salts most damaging to gunpowder's proper burning, the method works splendidly. Common salt is saturated at 39.12 g/100 cc centimeters at ° ° 100 c and remains so at 35.7 g/100 cc at 0 c. The great majority of the undesir­ able NaCI will remain in solution in the cooled supernatant liquid, while the nitrates form a precipitate at the bottom of the vessel. Iterated two or three times, this is a very effective way of segregating nitrates from chlorides, and it works reasonably well for segregating sulfates from sulfides. Unfortunately, the method merely selects nitrates; it does not discriminate nearly as strongly between potassium nitrate and other nitrates, such as so­ dium, magnesium, or calcium. Sodium nitrate, for example, is roughly twice as soluble in hot water as in cold, and calcium nitrate is about three times as sol­ uble. This means that fractional crystallization will also precipitate out signifi­ cant quantities of these nitrates. Repeated iteration of the process will indeed increase the percentage of potassium nitrate, but far too much of the tota! ni­ trate content will remain in solution. The crude leachate contains 1-3 percent nitrates; leaving the larger fraction of this small percentage in solution would render the entire process pointless. Obviously, calcium nitrates were simply accepted at this stage of processing. For gunpowder combustion, sodium, cal­ cium, or even magnesium nitrate presented no special problem. In fact, sodium nitrate was widely used in the nineteenth century, its burning characteristics being slightly different from, but not poorer than, those of potassium nitrate.32 But from the point of view of the Renaissance gunpowder maker, any nitrate except potassium nitrate was far too hygroscopic to be desirable. Gunpowder made with the other nitrates will spoil quickly unless special steps are taken to cxclude atmospheric moisture. The saltpeterer appears to have been faced with an unenviable dilemma. To promote bacterial action, he had to add ingredients that he preferred not to have in the finished product. The obvious solution was to add a step that would cause the crude leachate to react in such a way as to substitute potassium for calcium, magnesium, and sodium. Later practice used a traditional cleansing



agent, wood ashes, in a measure meant to "purify" the crude saltpeter. Birin­ guccio describes washing the nitrate-laden "earths" with a mixture of quick­ lime and wood ashes in water. 33 This lixiviation was meant to cause the avail­ able nitrates in the mixture to react with potash (K2CO3) in the wood ashes so as to eliminate the undesirable calcium by forming calcium carbonate, a highly insoluble salt that is the principal constituent of limestone. Calcium carbonate has a solubility in cold water of only about 0.00:14 g/:100 cc, and magnesium carbonate (magnesite, MgCO3) is nearly as insoluble (saturated at 0.0:16 g/:100 cc). The combination of lixiviation with potash and fractional crystallization efficiently removed those salts having the worst tendency to absorb water from the air and thus to spoil gunpowder. Sodium saltpeter would remain in the mixture (which probably accounts for such tips as Honrick's), but on the whole saltpeter treated in this manner was as good as Europeans could make before the modem era. The historian's question is, When did Europeans learn to produce saltpeter in this manner? Unfortunately, Biringuccio's text (ca. :1540) is the first clear description of potash lixiviation. The only earlier text to describe something similar is the ambiguous recipe from about A.O. :1280 of the Syrian Hasan al­ Rammah Najm al-Din al-Ahdab concerning a wood ash additive used in mak­ ing barud. Al-Rammah's text is plainly defective, and its exact meaning has been argued by Arabists for some time.34 Even if al-Rammah's text were per­ fectly clear, it might be unwise to conclude that Europeans always followed his prescriptions in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Bellifortis (ca. :1405) mentions wood ashes in its impossibly confused description of saltpeter plan­ tations, possibly reflecting a confused transmission of al-Rammah's recipe northward.35 The earliest unequivocal European evidence that ash additives were being used is from :1474, when municipal records from Winchester stipu­ late payment for ashes to purify the saltpeter as part of a large contract for made-to-order gunpowder.36 Conservatively judged, it seems that by the later fifteenth century Europeans routinely reacted crude saltpeter with potash to repress calcium and enhance potassium. Biringuccio, writing around :1540, merely recorded an already common practice. On the other hand, the Feuerwerkbuch-reflecting early fifteenth-century practices-gives a number of recipes for restoring gunpowder spoiled by expo­ sure to dampness, leading one to infer that in the early fifteenth century the saltpeter must often have been contaminated. Even more telling is the advice the Feuerwerkbuch offers on judging saltpeter at the time ·of purchase: Stick your hand into the sack with the saltpeter; if it feels damp (i.e., if it is hygro­ scopic), it is no good.37 The author especially recommends this test for saltpeter purchased from Venetian merchants. The safest assumption is that Europe's early saltpeter-and thus its gun­ powder-varied considerably in respect to its potassium content, especially be­ fore about :1450. Potassium levels were probably higher and certainly more consistent toward the latter part of the century. lt is also likely that the salt-



peter varied according to geographical origin. Saltpeter from East Asian or South Asian sources may well have been high in potassium and low in cal­ cium, as perhaps was saltpeter produced in the Levant, where al-Rammah's recipe may have been commonly used. Yet other saltpeters, and perhaps espe­ cially those made locally in northern Europe, may well have been low in potas­ sium and high in calcium and magnesium until late in the :1400s. In this re­ spect, then, the economie benefits that carne about from domestic production of saltpeter may have been offset in some measure by a qualitative degrada­ tion of the finished product. Gunpowder now spoiled more readily than before. The primitive, or Knollen, method of corning gunpowder makes technical sense seen in this light. Gunpowder made with hygroscopic saltpeter could be stored for longer periods if it was shaped into fairly large lumps. Water dam­ age might take place at the surface of the lumps, but the bulk of the gunpow­ der would be protected from moisture. The gunner would crush the lumps to make crumbs of gunpowder shortly before he needed to load his piece (ob­ viously the exact amount of lead time would depend on circumstances). If Eu­ ropeans had continued to rely on saltpeter from Asia, where conditions seemed to favor potassium nitrate,38 they would not have had to make do with inferior nitrates. As it was, they were obliged to come up with an interim solu­ tion (corning) unti! the root problem could be corrected by eliminating the cal­ cium through the potash reaction. By the time this became commonplace, cor­ ning had established itself as an indispensable technology for entirely different reasons.

Corning's Problems and Prospects By corning gunpowder into Knollen to deal with the problem of dampness, powder makers exacerbated an old problem for gunners, namely, how to en­ sure the safety of the gun itself. Ironically, the advice to crush or crumble the gunpowder before using it (since Knollen themselves would never have burned satisfactory) made the safety issue even worse than it might have been under other conditions. Even the earliest texts to discuss corned gunpowder warned the reader that it was "stronger" than mealed powders. The Feuer­ werkbuch claimed that two pounds of corned powder were equivalent to three pounds of pulverized powder (the French version sets the ratio even higher, at 3 to :1).39 Gunners were counseled to load less of the corned product, although in the long run the effect of corning was to permit charges to become greater, not less. Most telling of ali, the composition of gunpowder itself was changed if the batch was to be corned. The Feuerwerkbuch recipes cali for "common" powder, with a saltpeter-sulfur-carbon ratio of 4:2::1, whereas the ratio for "better" powder is given as 5:2::1, and the ratio for "better still" as 6:2::1.40 As Bernard Rathgen noted, these proportions are weaker than those given in ear­ lier recipe books from which the Feuerwerkbuch seems to have been derived, for example, the so-called Frankfurter Buchsenmeisterbuch of ca. :1400, which recommends recipes of 4::1::1 and 5::1::1. Rathgen regarded the sulfur-richness



of the Feuerwerkbuch's recipes as compensation for the increased strength of Knollenpulver41 Biringuccio's recipe, dating more than a century later than the Feuerwerkbuch, also called for a gunpowder containing only 50 percent salt­ peter for use in heavy ordnance.42 In the fourteenth century, gunpowder reci­ pes tended toward the optimal saltpeter content; in the fifteenth century less potent gunpowders were deliberately made. All of this makes sense when we realize that Knollenpulver, the "petites mottes" or "pelotes" of the French text, was bumed in crushed form and that this "crumb" powder was actually a very rapidly buming type of gunpowder. To understand why, it is necessary once more to delve into some of the techni­ cal aspects of how gunpowder bums. It may come as a surprise that the me­ chanics of gunpowder's combustion is still not fully understood, and such un­ derstanding as we do have is based on studies of types of powders produced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Gunpowder's combustion takes piace only on the surface of the individuai grains. Gunpowder grains bum at a fairly uniform rate from their surface, slowly consuming themselves. As a rule, grains of powder do not fracture, and powder inside the grain is chemically unchanged until the instant it begins to combust.43 In this respect gunpowder differs from many more familiar sub­ stances, like gasoline and air in an automobile engine, which bum in a gaseous state. Similarly, surface buming differentiates gunpowder from most modem high explosives, whose initial stage of combustion liquifies or vaporizes the mass of explosive, which reacts very, very quickly thereafter. This difference means that gunpowder's behavior cannot be deduced by analogy with other, perhaps better understood modem explosives. The way combustion takes piace in a given mass of gunpowder depends very heavily on its grain size. Recalling the thought experiment with ping-pong balls and softballs in a wastebasket, if the total surface area of a given mass of materiai is larger when the materiai is in the form of smaller particles, and if gunpowder's buming takes piace at the grain surface only, then small-grained gunpowders could be expected to bum more rapidly than large-grained gunpowders. They have more surface area to bum. If it were possible to imagine that gunpowder in a real firearm could be instantly and uniformly set on fire, this simple geometrie explanation would be all that was required. Small grains would always bum faster than large grains. Combustion has to begin at some point in the powder charge (ignition), and the initial bum must move through the powder mass (propagation). This takes time, and in the real world it is unlikely that all parts of a powder charge ever bum at the same rate at one time. To make matters worse, somewhat different conditions prevail in each of these stages. Grain size does affect the energy required to achieve ignition. In a standard­ ized experimental apparatus smaller-grained powders (150 mesh, or generally less than 0.2 mm average grain diameter) take less energy to achieve ignition than do larger-grained powders (25 mesh and 12 mesh, or 2 mm and 1 mm, re­ spectively). This is why very finely grained comed powder (never serpentine)



is used as a priming powder in small arms and artillery. lt should be noted that ignition generally takes piace at the same speed whatever the grain size; the difference is the energy required to set the grain on fire. Once a threshold level of energy appropriate for each grain size has been reached, the grains all burn at about the same rate. If we were to try the foolish experiment of priming our guns with very coarse powders, we would not find that they would shoot slowly: most simply would not ignite at ali. Once ignition has been achieved, the generai mechanism by which combus­ tion propagates in gunpowder is a fine spray of molten salts, chiefly potassium ° carbonate and potassium sulfate, at temperatures in excess of about 500 c. This spray travels quite rapidly, about 50 cm/sec at atmospheric pressure.45 lt seems that corned gunpowders burn more efficiently because they permit sufficient space between the grains for the spray of molten salts to develop during the propagation phase. Recall that in the idealized example of spheres in a waste­ basket roughly 25 percent of the available volume was empty space between the spheres. lt is this intergranular spacing, and not the gasses in these spaces, that is criticai to the development of the spray. lt is a purely geometrie issue. Oxygen from the air does not enter into the picture at all, for gunpowder burns virtually the same in ordinary air as it does in pure nitrogen or pure ox­ ygen. It would seem that all gunpowder must have a certain amount of empty space in order to burn properly. Modem studies confirmed this in 1952: "If rapid propagation is to occur it is apparently necessary to have an open space between the grains so that the hot flying spray can be effective." For very fine powders (stili corned, of course) the rate of propagation and the overall rate of burning proved to be virtually the same, and both were quite slow, about 1 rm/sec. "When confined in tubes, even lightly, [fine powder] tends to burn from one end only" rather than deflagrating as a mass, as coarser-grained pow­ ders do.46 Older practices confirm something similar. Makers of ornamental skyrockets have always slowed the burning of the gunpowder propellant by packing fine-grained powder extremely tightly in the rocket tube, which forced the powder to burn from one end of the tube to the other, evenly gener­ nting the propellant gasses for flight. Conversely, bombards were charged with 8Unpowder in the serpentine-powder era by filling only about 60 percent of the firing chamber, then closing the chamber with a wooden plug, or tompion, which occupied about 20 percent, leaving the remaining 20 percent of the rhamber empty.47 This method allowed space for the initial phases of the burn to "loft" the remaining powder into a gaseous suspension, thereby increasing its effective spacing between particles and possibly reducing propagation time. Once there was sufficient gas pressure to blow the tompion out of the mouth of the powder chamber, the shot began to move down the barre!. lt is interest­ ing that this method approximates the 25 percent free space that grained pow­ ders packed in a gun include by virtue of their geometry. On the other hand, when the interstitial spacing between individuai grains 44



becomes too fine, the space needed for sprays to propagate combustion no longer exists. We do not know exactly what the threshold value for grain size is in this respect, but it seems to be around 0.2 mm or smaller. Serpentine pow­ ders must have fallen in this zone; perhaps even worse, their grain shapes may not have approximated spheres, making it possible for them to pack even more tightly together. Twentieth-century laboratory studies of serpentine gunpow­ der are very limited, and their results vary widely. These studies show that such powders can produce muzzle velocities equa! to about 70 percent of those obtainable with corned powder, but only if the experimenter has a good load­ ing technique. On average, test guns loaded with serpentine shoot consid­ erably more slowly than comparable pieces loaded with corned powder, and some barely shoot at all.48 lt would appear that the earliest guns, those that shot arrows rather than round shot, merely took advantage of the slow burn­ ing properties of early serpentine gunpowder. With the movement to some­ what larger charges and larger stone shots in the late fourteenth and early fif­ teenth centuries, we see the development of a loading pattern that was meant to compensate for the undesirable burning properties of serpentine powder and to make guns workable in the manner with which we are familiar. Corned gunpowder, at least in its later forms, allows the powder maker to dea! with these issues in a very different manner. By the simple expedient of altering grain size, the powder maker gained a considerable degree of contro! over the speed of burning and thus over the forces acting on the shot and the gun. In the nineteenth century the practice of ali gunpowder mills was to vary grain size, not nitrate content, and twentieth-century laboratory work con­ firms the wisdom of the black powder industry. The nineteenth century usually produced ultra-small-grain powders as primers; then small-grain pow­ ders, defined as having a diameter of less than 1.5 mm; medium-grain, up to 3 mm; and large-grain, from about 5 mm (but often as large as 7-8 mm) to about 20 mm. The small-grain powders were traditionally used for muskets and handguns, the middle grades for mortars, and the largest-grain powders for long-barreled cannon, the coarsest being reserved for the largest-caliber weapons.49 This practice reflected the fact that the slower the powder combustion, the less the strain on the gun barre!. The danger of bursting the barre! is quite low in most small arms, which is why they can use fine-grained, quick-burning gunpowders. The risk of bursting becomes deadly in large guns, which is why slow-burning, coarse-grained powders are best. In a 1980 study, gunpowder grains of different sizes and nitrate contents were tested in a "whirling épro­ vette" (see fig. 7). 50 Two powder recipes are compared, one with 70 percent ni­ trate content and the other 75 percent, a difference that does not concern us here. Five grain sizes of each powder, ranging from 1 mm to just under 4 mm, were tested. Increased grain size is negatively related to whirling éprovette height . This means, of course, that the rate at which the gas pressure builds de­ creases as the mean grain size increases, a relationship shown clearly in figure








WEII: 70'll, NO


WEH: 75'll> NO


3 3










Mean Grain Size (mm)

7. Whirling éprovette height versus mean grain size. Smaller grains of gunpowder burn more rapidly, producing a superficially more "powerful" explosion. In a real gun this means greater strain on the breech. After Hahn, Hintze, and FIG.

Treurnann, "Safety," 132, table 4. 8. Note that in both graphs the curves for different powder recipes have essen­ tially the same shape. Altering the nitrate content changes the values but not the relationship between grain size and gas pressure. Éprovette testing is somewhat objectionable in that the experimental appa­ ratus releases the rising pressure rather too early in the burn period and thus overstates the effect of grain size. A cannon obviously needs to contain those prcssures to convert them into missile velocity. In the 1850s, Capt. Thomas Jdferson Rodman, dissatisfied with the data from early éprovette tests, worked to develop a picture of the pressure within an actual cannon. He conducted tcsts on a large-bore (42 pdr) naval gun held on a special suspension and fitted with instruments of his own design (see fig. 9). Rodman compared small-grain musket powders with a special-shaped powder that he had developed, some­ thing like an ultra-large-grain powder. In graphic form, the pressures gener­ ntcd by the two powders both show a peak very early in the burn. The lower nirve, representing the pressure generated by Rodman's special powder, shows u much reduced peak compared with the very steeply peaked curve represent­ ing the pressure generated by the musket powder. Rodman measured maxi­ mum pressures ranging up to about 2,900 atmospheres in his test firings, and his average maximum was about 2,450 atmospheres.51 Later researchers with lmproved instruments actually measured pressures even greater than Rod­ man's already dangerously high figures, recording maximums of over 4,200




Buildup Rate: 709!, NO


Buildup Rate: 75% NO

3 3


Mean Grain Size (mm)

8. Rate of pressure buildup versus mean grain size. The smaller grains build up gas pressure much faster than do coarser grains. After Hahn, Hintze, and Treumann, "Safety," 132, table 4.


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in their ability to engage competent military skilled labor from the vast do­ minions ruled or controlled by Charles V. Since the Landsknechte carne mainly from Charles's Austrian inheritance, Habsburg funds usually but not invariably paid for the Landsknechte's services. Spain had her own traditions of military service, quite distinct from those of northern Europe. As Spain moved toward the center of Europe's struggle for hegemony, she also produced the military means to engage in that strug­ gle, the famous tercios. 101 Unlike mercenaries from marginai regions, the ter­ cios were recruited largely from Castile, at least at first. In arder for the tercios to fight as well as the Swiss or the Landsknecht companies, they had to be transformed into homogeneous social units. They had to imitate within their own ranks the same sort of group loyalty that made the Swiss and the Landsk­ necht units function as well as they did. But whereas the older mercenary groups of pikemen found their social cohesion naturally, so to speak, in the communities from which they were recruited, the Spanish had to make a so­ ciety out of their soldiers "artificially," through their training and through the very conditions of their lives as soldiers. lt has often been noted that soldiers tend to come from the social and eco­ nomie fringes of society. The English employed the Welsh and later the Scots, the French used the talents of the Bretons, the Picards, and the Gascons, and the Habsburgs sought to recruit Swabians. The list could be extended indefi­ nitely. Such "foreign" mercenary troops merely represent a special case, an ex­ tension, as it were, of the alienation common to all soldiers. 102 It was part of the genius of Renaissance warfare to harness the phenomenon of alienation and make it an instrument of state policy rather than a political hazard. All soldiers carne to be seen as aliens to some degree. Contemporaries complained of this in superficial terms, singling out "the infantry, who are so ill conditioned in everything, and especially in respect to blaspheming the name of God, the Vir­ gin Mary, and the saints that they seem not to be reputed men of stout heart unless they do it. Therefore it is not surprising that they scarcely do anything of note."103 Any armed soldier who is alienated from society represents a certain danger; this is especially true of mercenaries. Their loyalty, having once been purchased, may prove all too easily negotiable. Even more alarming is the prospect that their demands might prove impossible to satisfy and that they might simply decide to plunder what they believe is owed them. Exposing one's own countryside to the marauding efforts of highly trairred, deeply dis­ gruntled professional soldiers was a risk with which most late medieval and early modem rulers were all too familiar. One of the great advantages of Swiss and Landsknecht mercenaries was that they generally did not supplement their incomes in this manner. The disciplined mercenary soldiers of the High Renaissance demonstrated that the alienation of the soldiery did not nec­ essarily represent an unacceptable danger to the state. If adequately paid, mercenary troops could be trusted far more than a citizen army, whose loy•



alties might lie much too deeply in the soil whence it carne. Foreign troops were always prized over locals; when the marquis of Aytona wrote his king in 1.630 that "there is no surer strength than that of foreign soldiers" he was summing up the wisdom of more than a century of experience in managing armed men.104 The tercios represented the stable nucleus of the army, a coherent, "artifi­ cial" social order that was trained and could be relied upon in virtually any cir­ cumstances. These "sinews of the army" were the best troops the king of Spain commanded; and whenever possible they received the best pay and enjoyed the best living conditions. They were made up of veterans, soldiers who for the most part, at least in the sixteenth century, had originally been recruited from Castile and who had spent their period of training in the presidios of Italy, the "seminary in which the invincible Spanish tercios were made." 105 The system made sense in terms of the needs of all parties. In Castile it was always easier to recruit soldiers for service in Italy than for service in any other theater, since life in Italy was considered more pleasant than life anywhere else. Spain's need to garrison her often disgruntled Italian cities was met, and garri­ son duty provided recruits (bisoiios) with ampie opportunity to be trained and "drilled" in both the actions they needed to perform in battle and the life of a soldier in the king's service. Once trained, the units could be sent north far duty against the Dutch rebels. Philip II's governar generai, the duke of Alba, initiated the system of training when he went to the Netherlands, and it served the Spanish well throughout the Dutch Wars. lt was eventually codified into administrative law in 1.632. Around the nucleus of the tercios, Spain recruited a much larger army, as circumstances demanded, by hiring mercenary "volunteers." One of the more remarkable features of military operations in the sixteenth century is just how rapidly an army could be assembled. The Spanish effort to increase the size of the Army of Flanders is illustrative. The initial force under the command of the duke of Alba numbered barely 1.3,000 men. After the Sea Beggars captured Brill on 1. Aprii 1.572, he began a serious effort to recruit through locai man­ power contractors in Germany and the Netherlands. By 31. August of the same year some 67,000 men were on the payroll, a figure that proved to be the aver­ age for the Army of Flanders for most of the Eighty Years' War. The speed with which Alba's manpower needs were met in 1.572 suggests that a well-developed system was already in piace to raise and maintain ar­ mies. The key participants in this system were the mercenary colonels, the in­ dividuals whom Fritz Redlich called the "military enterprisers." 106 These enter­ prisers had grown up in many lands under many names, the Italian condotierri being perhaps the best known, but in the speed and fluency of their operations none of the earlier prototypes could match the centrai European mercenary colonel as he appeared after about 1.560. As the call for men went out, the en­ terprising colonel would receive a contract, or Bestallung, which might include an advance on expenses and under whose te,ms the colonel would engage as



many captains as were needed, furnishing each with a patent that permitted him to recruit in a specific region. Captains held the responsibility for recruit­ ing common soldiers, and the most fertile ground was an army on the verge of disbanding. Here the captains often practiced what might be called wholesale recruiting, hiring whole companies virtually intact from a previous employer, much as a modem building contractor might employ the discharged labor force of another builder. In this way the group cohesion and the state of train­ ing of the men could be attested by their former employer. Such men com­ manded better pay than raw recruits, but their superior skills might make them well worth the premium. When the supply of readily available men with prior service records was in­ adeguate, the recruiting captain usually had recourse to the locai magistrates, who provided him with a suitable setting and publicity for a recruiting cam­ paign. The levy in a given locality was usually concluded in fewer than twenty days. lt was common knowledge that recruiters who stayed in one area for longer periods could expect to lose more men by desertion than they could gain through fresh enlistment.107 Desertion from the ranks was common in ali armies and under any circumstances, but it seems to have been at its highest in the days immediately following recruitment. Once an enlistment bounty and perhaps a new set of clothes had been issued the recruit, his immediate induce­ ment to remain had been more or less satisfied. Recruiters complained bitterly about the attrition rate among newly recruited men. Normally, between one­ seventh and one-sixth of those who had signed on, and at times as many as a quarter to a half, would desert before embarking on ship. Deserters often signed on with another company in short order, thus doubling their bonus. Lo­ cai authorities took no responsibility for any of the men who fled, nor did their town of residence need to replace them. Thus, one could enlist many times over without ever actually serving, and some men apparently made a regular practice of sham enlistments.108 Even later in service, desertion stili remained one possibility among many for those who found army life intolerable. "Wastage," as it was called, took piace at a regular and probably fairly predictable rate. For the Army of Flanders in the early 1570s, this has been calculated at 0.7 percent per month, or about 10 percent per annum, in peacetime. Some of this was due to battle deaths or to disease, but the bulk was simple desertion. Once active hostilities broke out, the desertion rate increased, approaching 2 percent per month from mid-1572 until late 1573, then increasing further as the fighting grew heavier, reaching about 3 percent per month at its worst. This is higher than, for exam­ ple, figures for eighteenth-century France, which reckon an attrition of 0.5 percent per month in peacetime and 1 percent per month in war.109 By compar­ ison, modem armies have extremely low desertion rates. At the height of the Vietnam War, U.S. Army desertions varied between about 2 percent per an­ num (1967) and 5.2 percent per annum (1970). 110 Early modem commentators, on the other hand, fully expected armies on campaign to melt like spring



snows. The mere report that a French army might be moved into Germany was sufficient, according to Richelieu, to reduce its strength by 50 percent ovemight. 111 Unremarkably, those who left in greatest numbers were those who were most poorly paid (in the tercios, these were the arquebusiers), even when actual pay had not been provided for anyone for months on end. 112 Severe penalties were imposed for desertion, on paper at least. What is re­ markable is how mildly the offense was usually treated in practice. In princi­ ple, desertion was a capitai felony, yet there is ampie evidence that such an ex­ treme penalties usually was applied only in cases of the most outrageous, highly organized mass desertions, accompanied by violence and mutiny. In most cases fines or corpora! punishment seem to have been the norm. Given the need for manpower, it seemed wasteful to military authorities to put to death all who yielded to the impulse to leave. 113 More striking still, successful deserters often reappeared in the ranks of another army, responding perhaps to a new levy after a period of "unofficial leave." Often enough it was only the hardship of the moment that the deserter found unbearable, and after a taste of civilian life he would reenlist . Others simply drifted from the service of one prince to that of another, for example, from the Army of Flanders to the Cath­ olic League. Some govemments actually encouraged this sort of labor-force mobility because it reduced training costs and provided better service for money than did recruiting raw men. Headhunters, or "debauchers," were par­ ticularly likely to operate in the Army of Flanders, where men were moved by promises of easier service elsewhere. 114 The generai picture of desertion and re­ enlistment suggests that the soldier often saw such movement as merely a way of capitalizing on the value of his acquired military skills. Once trained and experienced in military service, men tended to remain soldiers, in the service of one prince or another. The age composition of regi­ ments in the sixteenth century is not well known, but censuses of some com­ panies of the Army of Flanders survive in Spanish records. As summarized by Parker, Spanish and Italian troops numbering 379 men who served between 1596 and 1599 seem to have been divided roughly equally between men 30 and under and men 31 or older. Many quite old men are included in these rec­ ords: roughly 20 percent of the 379 men were beyond the age of 40, and one grizzled veteran gave his age as 80! There is a fairly consistent distribution of men in each decade of adult life; the numbers drop off only after age 60. To judge from this one example, the Army of Flanders was composed of far more older men than any modem army would contain. Other figures, however, are somewhat less skewed in favor of older men. Reported data for the Spanish mutineers at Calais in 1598 and data for a new Walloon company of 1630, for example, show an age distribution similar to what one expects for modem troops. Most men were under 30. However, in still another Walloon company of 486 men, for whom records dating 1630-34 survive, an estimated 40 percent of the troops were above the age of 30. In generai the conclusion is inescapable: veteran troops made up a much greater proportion of these armies than we


WtAl'UN::; ANU WAKt'AKt lN Kt.NA1::;::;ANLt t.UKUl't

would expect from modem experience. Once one became a soldier, there was little else one could expect to do in this life but continue as a soldier. 115 From the sixteenth century onward in all countries there was a sharp and persistent divergence between real incomes of the poor and what we might call the apparent revenues of the state. In a modem context any decline in real in­ comes of the majority of the population would be reflected in declining real re­ turns from taxation, a phenomenon many North Arnerican and European in­ dustriai nations have experienced since the 1980s. In the sixteenth century matters were quite different. Taxes made µp only part of the financial means at the disposal of the monarchies. Far from being constrained in their actions by the progressive immiseration of their peoples, states pursued policies that took no notice of this disparity. States felt that they were in a position to act as they wished, committing themselves to contests for international hegemony and the expensive maintenance of large armies such contests required. The para­ dox here is that even as real persona! incomes declined, state revenues, as well as the ability to manipulate the financial economy so as to make ever more re­ sources available, appear to have increased.116 The widespread gap between the new poverty of the people and the new wealth of the state fed the growth of armies from the sixteenth century onward. The crown had a new ability to pay for soldiers, and the poor had new incentives to heed the recruiter's cali. There can be little doubt that men enlisted in military service for economie reasons. As André Corvisier said with respect to a somewhat later period, "En­ listment was ... a means of escaping from miserable poverty." 117 To be sure, it was not a "career" that many chose entirely freely; nor was it an especially at­ tractive one when other alternatives were available.For many men, however, the alternatives to soldiering might be very poor indeed. Populations were ris­ ing almost everywhere, swelling the ranks of peasants and squeezing the small proprietors and day laborers who eventually made up the bulk of all armies. Not only did this demographic swelling increase the pool of potential recruits but it made the prospects of finding gainful employment in the civilian econ­ omy that much poorer. For peasants, too many hands meant less land per capita-always a crisis situation in an agrarian economy-and with that pres­ sure carne reduced opportunities for marriage and a family. When the numbers of potential workers became too many, even day labor became difficult to find, and it was poorly paid when it was available. Inflation in the countryside added its own special burdens as land rentals cut stili deeper into the already slim margins of near-subsistence farmers. Workers in the towns felt similar pressures. Too many hands meant static wages (declining wages when inflation is taken into account) and, even worse, grave problems in obtaining work at ali. Inflation-driven declines in real wages were the most in­ sidious destroyer of prospects for earning a decent living. In many western European towns in 1600-1620 small craftsmen and skilled laborers lived on 30-50 percent of the real income their great-grandparents had enjoyed in



:1500. But the same conditions that produced the new waves of vagrants and beggars sweeping through the cities also eased the recruiter's task. Contemporaries only dimly recognized the connection between economie conditions and recruitment. Everyone knew that the soldier's life was hard, and contemporaries saw in it a special theological danger that most civilians avoided.There was only a thin line between killing in war and committing murder; crossing it placed one's immortal soul in imminent perii.To serve for honor's sake, out of a sense of duty, was for most moralists and intellectuals the only acceptable justification for running such a terrifying risk. When it be­ carne apparent that the ranks of most armies were filled with men who had en­ listed for less lofty reasons, criticism born of disillusion was the usual re­ sponse. The Venetian commander Giulio Savorgnan, whose experience in Friuli and the Terrafirma gave him a somewhat better insight into soldiers, ex­ plained the inducement to enlist quite plainly.Most men, he said, "join in the hope of having enough to live on and a bit aver for shoes or some other trifle that will make life supportable." 118 Sir Thomas Wilson's book The State of Eng­ land (:1600 ) echoes this sentiment: "They which are thrust out for service in war [are] ... poore, and lyve cheefly upon contry [labor] workeing by the day for meat and drinke and some small wages." 119 Cervantes has the would-be re­ cruit whom Don Quixote met on the road sing his lament: "My purse is lean, so to war I go/ If I had money, more sense l'd show." 120 When rural circumstances took a temporary turn for the better, recruiters learned the hard way that living conditions and recruitment were inversely re­ lated. From the later :158os onward recruiters in Iberia had increasing diffi­ culties reaching their manpower quotas.The years after :1590, and especially the plague period, 1596-:1602, saw a slow decline in the annua! totals of em­ barked troops.121 Concurrently there was a rise in the wages of rural labor, probably a consequence of the shortage of manpower in some districts, until it was possible for a harvest worker to earn slightly more per day than a soldier's base pay.122 These were harvest wages, not steady work, but then the soldier's pay was often not forthcoming at ali, and his expenses in the costly Nether­ lands could be much higher than at home. Stili, even slight improvements at home reduced the rate of enlistment by a measurable amount. Hard times were the recruiter's friend, easy times his foe. As Marshal Villars observed more than a century later in respect to a threat of famine, "The misfortune of the masses was the salvation of the kingdom." 123 No one was foolish enough to join up in the expectation that he would be­ come rich. The base rates for Spanish soldiers remained fixed in nominai monies from :1534 to after :1620, a period that saw generai prices rise at least threefold. (To be sure, these base rates were effectively raised by upward reval­ uations of the monies of account used to calculate soldiers' rates of pay.) 12' J. R. Hale, relying on Venetian data, calculates that the basic wartime rate of pay for infantry troops in real terms rose from slightly more than :10 soldi per day in



the first half of the sixteenth century to about 14 soldi in 1600 and more than 18 soldi by 1617. This rate compares favorably with wage rates for unskilled labor in the Venetian Arsenal at the beginning of the period, but by the end it had clearly fallen badly behind, at least in terms of daily wage rates. Base rates themselves are misleading. Most soldiers qualified for one or more supple­ ments based on their skill or on the hazards of their speciality, whereas few unskilled laborers worked steadily enough to realize their maximum wage­ earning potential; holidays and feast days alone reduced a laborer's potential by about one-third. When all these matters are taken into account the compar­ ison becomes somewhat less unfavorable to the soldier: at best the common soldier's annual earnings might equa! about 84 percent of the common la­ borer's wages.125 Data from other sources argue much the same case. Comparing wage rates from archives for Upper Austria, Redlich found that day laborers made 1.66 florins per month in 1525 and 2.5 florins per month by 1575; journeymen car­ penters made 2.5 florins per month and 3.5 florins per month in the same years. Journeyman masons seem to have done better still, going from 2.5 flor­ ins per month in 1525 to 5.00 florins per month in 1575. Agricultural labor varied substantially, ranging from a low of 4 florins per year for a herdsman to as much as ten florins per month for a harvest worker in season. One might compare the wages of a forester, who made 27 florins per year (2.25 per month), plus some perquisites, probably including his lodgings.12• The base rate of pay for a Landsknecht in this period remained fixed at 4 florins per month. Thus, although soldiering paid less than a skilled trade, it compared fa­ vorably with prevailing rates for unskilled labor in Venice and Upper Austria. Individuai soldiers, like all irregularly paid workmen, lived off credit ex­ tended by locai merchants. The relationship between soldiers and their cred­ itors was always somewhat precarious. The soldiers complained of being cheated, whereas the merchants were always fearful that the soldiers might slip away without paying. Broken credit was a windfall for the soldier when­ ever his pay finally materialized. The Spanish moved toward a system of pay­ ments in kind to support the Army of Flanders, partly to ameliorate conditions in the field and to stabilize the life of armed forces. This meant that the mili­ tary administration, not the individuai soldiers, contracted debts with local merchants; the administration could in turn recover the costs of a soldier's keep through a system of stoppages levied against his wages. These levies were charged for everything from daily bread rations to the powdet and shot fire­ arms troops expended in action! 127 The system had its drawbacks. On one hand, it limited the crown's ability to off-load some of the costs of the Army of Flanders onto its ·own soldiers; on the other hand, stoppages of the soldier's "take-home" pay were bitterly resented since in effect they deprived the sol­ dier of his ability to control his expenses. The new system worked better than the older method, but at greater cost to the treasury. Ali this assumes that the soldier was paid regularly and honestly, something that seems to have hap-



pened infrequently. What the soldiers objected to was not the formai rates but the infrequency with which pay was actually received and the depleted amounts they received after stoppages. Yet some men did enrich themselves in military service, even if the oppor­ tunity to make fabulous fortunes was not what it had been in Sir John Fastolf's day (see above, chap. 1). Men who survived the penury of the crown, the con­ niving of the military treasurer, and the hostility of the locai merchants and peasants might do quite well when accounts were finally settled. Payments left for years in arrears represented a form of enforced savings if the accounts were settled fairly. Parker cites cases in which individuai units of the Army of Flanders settled their accounts for sums ranging from 200 to 3,000 florins per man. 128 Plunder, or bonus in lieu of plunder, might fatten the purse of a member of a successful army, but such opportunities were rare. Thus, even though prospects for gain from soldiering may have been poor, quite often the prospects for anything at ali must have been even poorer if one stayed at home. At least there was some formai commitment to feed and to shelter the enlistee. A soldier's wages, unlike those of the day laborer, were paid on a monthly basis, and they were free of tax or tithe. In the end, if the soldier survived to collect his plunder and pay, he was rich. Many ordi­ nary volunteers, poor men when they enlisted, left the Army [of Flanders] with 1,000 ducats in their purse, and in rural Castile at least, a man with 1,000 ducats to his name was rich, one of the villanos ricos (rich peasants) who ruled their village. Sudden wealth followed years of miserable subsis­ tence; the paradox of the picaresque !ife of the Army of Flanders was com­ plete."' Just what percentage of those who enlisted ever survived to collect even a frac­ tion of their arrears from the paymaster and retum home as well-to-do peas­ ants is, of course, impossible to determine. Faced with such choices, men did not always enlist gladly or thoughtlessly, but they did enlist, and for the most part in ever increasing numbers as the sixteenth century tumed into the seventeenth. Military service is always a genuinely popular choice for young men in districts afflicted by poverty, espe­ cially those districts holding poor prospects for young men. 130 Indeed, "mar­ ginalized" socioeconomic areas have traditionally provided disproportionate numbers of recruits for ali conflicts, including quite modem wars. 131 In the six­ teenth century, conditions that usually characterize marginai areas became more commonplace in ali areas. As the century unfolded, !ife in the country­ side and in the margins of urban society grew steadily more grim and the re­ cruiter became an employer of last resort. An analogy can be made between early modem military service and play­ ing the state-run lottery games of the present. m In both cases the appeal to participate is strongest for those with the poorest alternative means to im­ prove their economie standing. The realistic hope for reward is somewhat for-



lom, but the expectation of reward, however unlikely it may be, is tempered by the size of the prospective payoff. As ali modem lottery officials have leamed, if the pot is large enough people will purchase tickets in great numbers despite the virtual certainty that they will never receive any reward at ali. The early modem equivalent was somewhat different: as the possibilities within the peasant economy grew poorer, the relative worth of the potential reward from military service grew proportionately greater, making the gamble more worthwhile.

Technology and the Status of the Soldier Recruitment, enlistment, the alienation of the soldier from civilian life, and the cycle of desertion and reenlistment ali point to a profound change in what it meant to be a soldier in the sixteenth century. Earlier rulers recruited men who already possessed the skills needed to conduct war. For his renewal of the French Wars, Henry V sought men who had spent their youth leaming to shoot a longbow. The arts that were needed to take part in combat were taught as part of civilian life. Under the right circumstances these skills had a certain market value. In the sixteenth century, by contrast, rulers preparing for war sought to recruit many men who possessed no martial skills whatsoever. Philip II of Spain recruited men with the lowest levels of skill and the poorest pros­ pects for work in the civilian economy to serve with the duke of Alba in the Netherlands. The difference, of course, was that Philip's captains could do what Henry's knights could not-drill any recruit in the ways of handling an arque­ bus or a pike and make him into a competent soldier. Just as the industriai rev­ olution opened up low-skill, poorly paid factory jobs to millions of women and men with few other prospects, so, too, pikes and small arms made soldiering an option for thousands who could never have served in an older-style army. On the other hand, soldiering in the sixteenth century often became a long­ term "profession" rather than a part-time or temporary employment. The willingness of recruiters to take into service men who had a demonstrated background as soldiers and even the willingness to turn a blind eye toward de­ sertion suggest that as the skill requirement for soldiering went down some other quality went up. That quality was the overall experience of soldiering, the ability to live within the ranks of a unit, and to submit to the harshness, occasionai brutality, and constant alienation of the soldier's life. Soldiers mus­ tered out of one service could find ready employment in another largely be­ cause they had proven themselves able to withstand, perhaps even to thrive on, the kind of life demanded of the soldier. Again, the industriai revolution suggests a parallel. What made a "good" factory hand in the eyes of the bosses had little to do with skills, which could be taught within a few days or weeks, but a great deal to do with attitudes and habits formed only in the factory set­ ting: time discipline, tolerance for harsh and dangerous conditions, and defer­ ence to authority. 133 The basis of military service in the sixteenth century, whether in long-serving unit such as the tercios or more casually employed


2J 5

units recruited for specific campaigns, became "proletarianized" through the same de-skilling process that industriai production would later undergo.134 In the long run, of course, the development of such armies was limited by difficulties in obtaining provisions. Not even the strongest states were im­ mune to the continually rising food costs of the sixteenth and early sev­ enteenth centuries.135 Economie conditions made it easy to recruit an army, and technology made it easy to put an army in the field, but providing adequate lo­ gistical support was practically impossible.As the seventeenth century un­ folded, the system of large armies began to break down under its own weight. This led to the imposition of generai conscription and the infamous system of "contributions" whereby occupied regions were forced to pay the bili for their occupation. 136 From their beginnings in Spain's desire to capitalize on her re­ source advantage, increasingly larger armies in the end became a leviathan that "multiplied the costs of war, ...spawned huge civil bureaucracies, ... bankrupted states, precipitated revolutions, and caused the rise and fall of great powers." 137


lntroduction 1. Bacon, Selection, 373-74 (Novum Organum, aphorism 129). 2. See, for example, Hale, "Gunpowder"; and Needham et al., Science, 17-18. 3. See, for example, Delbriick, History, 4:23-52. 4. See Hale, War, 248-51. 5. See, for example, Cipolla, Guns; Kennedy, Rise; McNeill, Gunpowder and Pursuit; O'Connell, Of Arms and Men; and Parker, Revolution. 6. See, for example, Raudzens, "Weapons"; and Van Creveld, Technology. 7. Braudel, Civilization, 430. 8. Ibid., 334-35. 9. Keegan, Face, 61-72. 10. See Robins, Gunnery; Hutton, Tracts; and Benton, Ordnance. 11. See Parker et al., Thirty; and Parrott, "Strategy." 12. Parker, Revolution, 83. 13. Cipolla, Guns; Guilmartin, Gunpowder, 643-46. 14. Hellie, "Warfare," 97. See also idem, Enserfment; and Parker, Revolution, 38-39. CHAPTER 1

Alternative Weapons and Tactics in the Later Middle Ages

1. Rice, Foundations, 10-18. 2. Orlando Furioso 11.26, quoted in ibid., 15. 3. Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote, 344. 4. Hale, "Gunpowder," 117-26.



5. Bumke, Knighthood, 44: "Knighthood did not originate from cavalry soldiers."

6. Medievalists who stress the coherence and rationality of medieval campaigning include Bachrach ("Animals" and "Caballus"), Contamine (War), Gillmor ("Cavalry" and "Chivalry"), Smail (Crusading), and Verbruggen (Art). For a more conservative view emphasizing the power of cavalry, see Parker, "Warfare"; and Guilmartin, "Tech­ nology," 535-39. 7. Bachrach, "Caballus," 183. 8. Ibid., 179 ff.; Bachrach, "Animals," 716-26. 9. Lyon, "Horses," 86-87. See also Lyon, Lyon, and Lucas, Wardrobe, 302 ff. 10. Gillmor, "Cavalry," 202; Guilmartin, "Technology," 535. 11. Guilmartin, "Technology," 535-36. See also Davis, "Warhorse." 12. Bachrach, "Caballus," 193-96. 13. Buttin, "La lance," 77-178. 14. Contamine, War, 230; Verbruggen, Art, 39. 15. Bennett, "Règle," 15-18. 16. Bachrach, "Caballus," 186-93. 17. Gillmor, "Cavalry," 204, cites Bouvines in particular for its display of coordina­ tion. 18. This sentence and the following discussion are based on an idea in Gaier, "Cavalerie." 19. Bachrach, "Caballus," 184. See also Contamine, War, 231, for other instances. 20. See, for example, Smail, Crusading, 119-20. 21. See Gillingham, "Richard I," 90; and Contamine, War, 110-13. 22. Rogers, Latin, discusses the evolution of techniques and expertise. 23. I know of no systematic study indicating the "average" length of medieval sieges; Contamine, War, 101, gives anecdotal accounts of eight thirteenth-century sieges lasting from five months to one year. 24. See Parker, "Warfare," 203. Gillingham's criticisms of Parker ("Richard I," 91) are noted in Parker, Revolution, 156, and Parker's impressions of medieval warfare are considerably revised (see also idem, 6-7), but Parker's views remain largely unchanged. See also Bartlett, "Technique." 25. Nickel, "Tournament." 26. Hatto, "Archery." 27. Contamine, War, 255-59. 28. Pétrin, "Crossbow," shows that Vegetius's fourth-century manuballista andar­ cuballista were not crossbows. 29. Joinville, Histoire, 86, 97; in English, Joinville, History, 73, 81 (= bk. 2, chaps. 50 and 55). 30. Histoire, 86; History, 73. 31. Histoire, 85-86; History, 72. 32. Histoire, 81; History, 68. 33. Contamine, War, 71-72; O'Connell, "Crossbow," 46-49. 34. Foley, Palmer, and Soedel, "Crossbow," 109. 35. Harmuth, Armbrust, 81-113. For the eccentric cam sytem see Hall, Hussite, 74-75. 36. Verbruggen, Art, 165. 37. Bradbury, Archer; Heath, Archery. 38. Bradbury, Archer, 15-16; Hardy, Longbow, 36-42. 39. Rees, "Longbow's Deadly Secrets," 24-25, analyzing bows from the Mary · Rose. Cf. Foley, Palmer, and Soedel, "Crossbow," 107.



40. Neillands, Hundred, 61. 41. Seward, Hundred, 55. 42. Guilmartin, "Technology," 541, presents a contrary view. 43. Seward, Hundred, 53. 44. Ibid. 45. Neillands, Hundred, 61. 46. Guilmartin, "Technology," 541. Cf. Stirland, "Diagnosis." 47. Esper, "Replacement." 48. Rogers, Latin, app. 3, "The Problem of Artillery," 254-73. 49. Needham, "China's Trebuchets." 50. See Hill, "Trebuchets," 102; and Chevedden, "Artillery." I am grateful to Pro­ fessor Chevedden for sending me a typescript of this study. 51. David, De expugnatione Lyxbonensi, 142-43; Tarver, "Traction," 161. 52. Rathgen, Geschutz, 612, mentions such large missiles at the sieges of Zara and Cyprus, but without citing sources. Paul Chevedden (persona! correspondence) thinks these weights are reasonable, however. See Mapes, "Scud," reporting on the British am­ ateur Hew Kennedy. 53. Contamine, War, 103. Cf. Schmidtchen, Mittelalterliche, 122-27. 54. Marsden, Historical Development, 90-91, claims that ancient shot averaged 27 kg, but Lawrence, Greek, 45-46, argues for 13-14 kg. 55. Contamine, War, 103; Hill, "Trebuchets," 114. 56. Contamine, War, 104. 57. Freeman, "Wall-Breakers," 14-15. 58. Contamine, War, 194. 59. Ibid., 195. See also Religieux de Saint-Denys, Chronique, 3:276-78. 60. Hall, "Notable." 61. Contamine, War, 195. 62. Oman, Middle Ages, 2:69-70. See also Morris, Welsh, 182-84. 63. Trivet, Annales, 335, claims that the English missile troops were made up of crossbowmen (balistarii) and archers (sagitarii). See also Rowlands, "Edwardian," 48. 64. Oman, Middle Ages, 2:70-71. Morris, Welsh, 256; see also 79-82. 65. Oman, Middle Ages, 2:78-81; Morris, Welsh, 284-93. 66. See Gough, Scotland, xv-xxxii; and Delbriick, History, 3=392-94. See also Nich­ olson, Scotland, 57-58. 67. Barrow, Robert Bruce, 201-32. See also Morris, Bannockburn; Oman, Middle Ages, 2:84-100; and Delbriick, History, 3:438-42. 68. Barrow, Robert Bruce, 243-44. 69. Le Bel, Chronique, 1:48-75; Barrow, Robert Bruce, 252-54; Nicholson, Edward, 26-39. 70. Allmand, Hundred, 62-63. 71. Nicholson, Edward, 171-76; see also apps. 3 and 4. 72. Figures based on Oman, Middle Ages, 2:102. See also Nicholson, Edward, 75. 73. Anonymous of Bridlington, Gesta Edwardi Tertii, 106. See also Morris, "Archers," 427-36, 431; Oman, Middle Ages, 2:103 ff.; and Nicholson, Edward, 75-90. 74. Burton, History, 2:315. 75. See Nicholson, Edward, 89, for quotations. 76. Ibid., 121. 77. Morris, "Archers," 431-32, discussing Halidon Hill, quotes the chronicle of the canon of Bridlington, who claims only that "sagitarii ali singulis deputantur" [the




archers were placed in one wing] (Anonymous of Bridlington, Gesta Edwardi Tertii, 114). See also Bume, Crecy, 37-39. 78. Nicholson, Edward, 135, quoting an unpublished contemporary account, Brit­ ish Library, Ms. Harl. 4690, fol. 82. 79. Nicholson, Edward, 119 ff.; Oman, Middle Ages, 2:106-8. Bo. For Crécy, see Bume, Crecy, 169-92, as well as Neillands, Hundred, 98-105; De Wailly, Crécy 1346, is disappointing. For Poitiers, see Bume, Crecy, 291-307; Hewitt, Expedition, 113 ff.; Oman, Middle Ages, 2:164-74; and Seward, Hundred, 88 ff. For Agincourt, see Bume, Agincourt, 76-96; Hibbert, Agincourt, 92-117; and Oman, Mid­ dle Ages, 2:380-86. See also Bume, Crecy, 192. 81. Bume, Crecy, 47-49. 82. Ibid., 71-75. 83. Ibid., 88--89. 84. Ibid., 178, 192-202. 85. Neillands, Hundred, 165. 86. Le Baker, Chronicon, 148: "Sagittarios ductos in obliquum iussit ad equorum posteriora sagittare." See also Bume, Crecy, 301. 87. Bume, Crecy, 233. 88. Ibid., 236-40. See also Neillands, Hundred, 119. 89. Le Baker, Chronicon, 143. 90. Pope and Lodge, Black Prince, 162-63. See also Neillands, Hundred, 165. 91. Pope and Lodge, Black Prince, lines 1188-89 (French); 145 (English). 92. Le Baker, Chronicon, 150. 93. Bume, Agincourt, 76-90. See also Keegan, Face, 78-116. 94. Keegan, Face, 95-96. 95. Verbruggen, Art, 164-66. 96. Ibid., 167-73. See also Contamine, War, 258; Delbriick, History, 3:431-38; Funck-Brentano, Courtrai and Origines, 404-15; Oman, Middle Ages, 2:112-18; and Strayer, Philip, 334. 97. On casualties, see DeVries, "Perceptions," 65. 98. Delbriick, History, 3:540; Funck-Brentano, Origines, 471-77; Lot, L'art, 1:267-69; Lucas, Low, 42; Strayer, Philip, 335; Verbruggen, Art, 176-83. 99. Contamine, War, 258; DeVries, "Perceptions," 126 ff.; Lot, L'art, 1:274-77; Lucas, Low, 84--90; Oman, Middle Ages, 2:118; Viard, "Guerre," 362-75. 100. Delbriick, History, 3:551-59; Oman, Middle Ages, 2:239-41. 101. Winkler, "Swiss," 52; Winkler is my source for most of what follows. 102. Brusten, "Compagnies," 112-69; Delbriick, History, 3:606-12. 103. Delbriick, History, 3:612-24. 104. Lane, "Crossbow," 161-71. 105. Seward, Hundred, 242-43. CHAPTER

2 Gunpowder's First Century, ca. 1325-ca. 1425

1. Needham et al., Science, 96-117, esp. 107. 2. Ibid., 127 ff. 3. Lu, Needham, and Phan, "Bombard." 4. Needham et al., Science, 346-52. 5. DeVries, Technology, 143; Partington, Greek Fire, 42 ff. 6. Needham et al., Science, 40; Partington, Greek Fire, 42-61. See also Foley and Perry, "Liber ignium," 200-218.



7. Biringuccio, Pirotechnia, 412-13. 8. Contamine, War, table 9 (p. 196). 9. Needham et al., Science, 349-51; Urbanski, Explosives, 3:330--40. 10. Rathgen, Geschi.itz, 97. 11. Tout, "Firearms," 671. "ad opus ipsius regis pro gunnis suis." 12. DeVries, Technology, 144; Contamine, War, 139. 13. Gay, Glossaire, s.v. "artillerie": "ad faciendum et fieri faciendum pro ipso communi pilas seu palloctas ferreas et canones de metallo, pro ipsis canonibus et palloc­ tis habendis et operandis per ipsos magistros . . . in defensione communis." The fem­ inine accusative plural pilas has usually been assumed to be the classica! Latin pila, "hall." But the pi/- radical can mean either a cylinder or a sphere, and even classica! La­ tin sometimes confused pila "hall" and pilum "spear, javelin." Medieval Latin fre­ quently confused the terms (see Du Cange, Glossarium, s.v. "pilus," "pila," or "pilum"). Thus, the passage might mean "iron arrows or pellets." 14. Oxford, Christ Church, Ms. 92, fol. 70v, frequently reproduced. See also DeVries, Technology, 144; Fino, Forteresses, 291, fig. 68; and Partington, Greek Fire, frontispiece. 15. British Library, Ms. Add. 47680, fol 44v, frequently reproduced. 16. Contamine, War, 139: "busa ferrea ad saggitandum tonitrum." 17. Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., s.v. "gun." 18. As held by Du Cange, Glossarium, s.v. "gunna." 19. "Una magna balista de cornu quae vocatur Domina Gunilda" (OED). See Ku­ rath, Kuhn, and Lewis, Middle English Dictionary, s.v. "gonne,'' for numerous exam­ ples. 20. For the French, see Gay, Glossaire, 1:76; see also Du Cange, s. v. "bombarda." For the English, see Kurath, Kuhn, and Lewis, Middle English Dictionary, s.v. "canon": "Duo magnas et duo minora ingenia vocata canons." 21. Dyboski and Arend, Knyghthode, 104, line 2854. 22. Tout, "Firearms,'' 670--71 and 688, quoting a Privy Wardrobe account by Rob­ ert de Mindenhale, 25 December 1344: "minutis ingeniis vocatis ribaldis." See also Ox­ ford English Dictionary. s.v. "ribald" and "ribaudekin." 23. Farai, "Jean Buridan," 542: "Virtus hujusmodi exhalationis apparet in illis in­ strumentis vocatis canalibus, ex quibus, per exhalationem ex modico pulvere genitam, grossa sagitta ve! globus plumbi sic fortiter emittitur quod nulla arma possunt ipsum retinere." 24. Contamine, War, 139-40; Pasquali-Lasagni and Stefanneli, "Noti," 150--51. 25. Burne, Crecy, 178, 192-202. Virtus hujusmodi exhalationis apparet in illis in­ strumentis vocatis canalibus, ex quibus, per exhalationem ex modico pulvere genitam, grossa sagitta ve! globus plumbi sic fortiter emittitur quod nulla arma possunt ipsum retinere. 26. Tout, "Firearms," 672-73. 27. See De Wailly, Crécy 1346, esp. 91, for a skeptic's version. 28. Contamine, War, 199. 29. Do Paço, "Aljubarrota." 30. Russell, English, 385-99. 31. Gatari and Bartolomeo, Cronaca, 266-78. 32. Tempie-Leader and Marcoti, Hawkwood, 198 ff. See also [Fiorentine Anony­ mous], Cronica volgare di Anonimo Fiorentino dell'anno 1385 al 1409, 25-27; Chron­ icon Estense, cols. 514-15; end Oman, Middle AKes, 2:296-300.




33. Contamine, War, 199. Mallett, Mercenaries, 160, is more cautious. Sce also Ri­ cotti, Storia, 185-86. 34. See, for example, Conrad Kyeser's Bel/ifortis (ca. 1405) or the "Hussite Anony­ mous" (ca. 1470-80) (Hall, Hussite). 35. Nicholas, Van Arteveldes, 99 ff.; cf. Van Herwaarden, "Low Countries," 101-17. 36. Froissart, Chroniques (Raynaud), 10:212-24. Cf. Froissart, Chronicle (Berners), 3:299 ff.; and Brereton, Froissart, 231 ff. On the date of Froissart's book 2, see Brere­ ton, Froissart, 25; and Van Herwaarden, "Low Countries," 110. See also Contamine, "Froissart," 132-44. 37. See Froissart, Chroniques (Raynaud), 10:217, 219, and 224 for the Gentenar forces and 225 for the forces of Louis of Male. 38. Froissart, Istore, 2:247. 39. Froissart, Chroniques (Raynaud), 10:219, translated in Brereton, Froissart, 233. 40. Froissart, Chroniques (Raynaud), 10:200; Chronicle (Berners), 3:312, "a sevyn myle." 41. Froissart, Chroniques (Raynaud), 10:223-24; Chronicle (Berners), 3:315, "hyghe stakes, bounde with yrone and sharpe pointed, which they used ever to beare with them in their warre." See also Brereton, Froissart, 236. 42. Froissart, Chroniques (Raynaud), 10:375 (cf. 9:x-xi); Froissart, Oeuvres (Lettenhove), 10:28. See also Froissart, Chroniques (Buchon), 196. 43. Froissart, Chroniques (Raynaud), 10:225; Chronicle (Berners), 3:316. 44. Froissart, Chroniques (Raynaud), 10:226; Istore, 2:246-47. 45. Froissart, Chroniques (Raynaud), 10:226; Chronicle (Berners), 3:316; Brereton, Froissart, 236. 46. Froissart, Istore, 2:247. 47. Froissart, Chroniques (Raynaud), 10:226; Brereton, Froissart, 236. 48. Froissart, Chroniques (Raynaud), 10:227; Brereton, Froissart, 237. 49. Froissart, Chroniques (Raynaud), 10:227-33; Brereton, Froissart, 237-40. 50. Gay, Glossaire, s.v. "ribaudequin": "niewen engien die man heet ribaude." 51. See Froissart, Chroniques (Raynaud), 10:376n. 52. Froissart, Istore, 2:247. 53. For descriptions of Rosebeke, see Mohr, Schlacht, 74-75. See also Autrand, Charles VI, 132; Delbriick, History, 3:442-45; idem, "Perceptions," 314 ff.; Lot, L'art, 1:452; Pirenne, Belgique, 2:198; and Vaughan, Philip, 27. 54. Froissart, Istore, 2:262-63. See also Mohr, Schlacht, 10-11. 55. See Froissart, Chroniques (Raynaud), 11:ii. 56. Delbriick, History, 3:444-45. 57. Froissart, Chroniques (Raynaud), 11:8-10; Istore, 2:263. 58. Froissart, Chroniques (Raynaud), 11:10-13. 59. Ibid., 15, "ne oncques vallèsn'i passa," given in English in Chronicle (Berners), 3:369. 60. Froissart, Chroniques (Raynaud), 11:23. 61. Mohr, Schlacht, 44 ff. 62. Froissart, Chroniques (Raynaud), 11:38-39. 63. Ibid., 38; Brereton, Froissart, 244. Froissart, Istore, 2:267, gives the number as 40,000. See also Orville, Chronique, 170; and Mohr, Schlacht, 34 ff. 64. Froissart, Chroniques (Raynaud), 11:49; Brereton, Froissart, 245. 65. Religieux de Saint-Denys, Chronique, 1:212, for example. See also Delbriick, History, 3:450.



66. Froissart, Chroniques (Raynaud), 11:50; Brcrcton, Froissart, 246. 67. Froissart, Chroniques (Raynaud), 11:54; Brereton, Froissart, 248. 68. Religieux de Saint-Denys, Chronique, 1:218. 69. Orville, Chronique, 171-72. 70. Froissart, Chroniques (Raynaud), 11:55; Brereton, Froissart, 249. 71. Froissart, Chroniques (Raynaud), 11:58; Brereton, Froissart, 250. 72. Delisle, Histoire, 2:181 ff.; Burkholder, "St.-Sauveur-le-Vicomte." 73. Delisle, Histoire, 2:238, doc. no. 160 (13 March 1375); Burkholder, "St.­ Sauveur-le-Vicomte," 49. 74. Delisle, Histoire, 2:340-42, doc. no. 250; Burkholder, "St.-Sauveur-le-Vicomte," 72-73. 75. Froissart, Oeuvres (Lettenhove), 8:342. 76. Burkholder, "St.-Sauveur-le-Vicomte," 26. 77. Ibid., 35, shows a cost of nearly 366 livres for one gun alone. 78. Ibid., 40. See also Contamine, War, 197. 79. Contamine, War, 141. See also Burkholder, "St.-Sauveur-le-Vicomte," 40. 80. Contamine, War, 141. 81. Tout, "Firearms," 683. 82. Contamine, War, 198. 83. Rathgen, Geschutz, 96, 97; Contamine, War, 198. 84. Thorold Rogers, Prices, 3:552-81. 85. Williams, "Saltpetre," 125-33. 86. The prices of iron guns declined by about a third in the first half of the fifteenth century (Rogers, "Hundred," 269-70 and n. 127). 87. DeVries, Technology, 145-46. 88. Christine de Pizan, Fayttes (Byles), 154 ff. See also Hall, "Notable," 219-40. 89. Schmidtchen, "Biichsen," xv. 90. Rogers, "Hundred," 260. 91. Hogg, Artillery, 210; Schmidtchen, "Biichsen,'' xvi. 92. Blackmore, Armouries, item 125; Hogg, Artillery, 211-12; Smith, "HM Tower,'' 193-95. See Contamine, War, 142, for further examples. 93. Hassenstein, Feuerwerkbuch, 71, describes the loading procedure. Cf. Contam­ ine, War, 143 (from Francesco di Giorgio Martini); and Schmidtchen, Bombarden, 50-51. 94. For "bricolles" see Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. "bricole," which does not cite Caxton. Kurath, Kuhn, and Lewis, Middle English Dictionary, apparently omits the word bricole. Godefroy, Dictionnaire, derives the word from "briche" (q.v.), meaning originally an animai trap. See also Huguet, Dictionnaire, which indicates that by the seventeenth century "bricole" was being used to mean a machine for throwing stones. For "couillart" see Godefroy, Dictionnaire, s.v. "couiller,'' whose only meaning is given as "testicule." Huguet, Dictionnaire, defines "couillard" as "qui a de gros testicules" and "sorte de machine de guerre." 95. Le Noir [Christine de Pizan], L'arbre, 83-84. 96. Christine de Pizan, Fayttes (Byles), 159. 97. Willard, "Christine,'' 185-87. 98. Contamine, War, 200. 99. Ibid. 100. Ibid., 148. 101. Garnier, L'artillerie, 57; Contamine, War, 148. 102. Gaier, L'industrie, ,28.



103. Christine de Pizan, Fayttes (Byles), 155-56. 104. Religieux de Saint-Denys, Chronique, 4:652, translated in DeVries, Technol­ ogy, 151 (emended): "Sed videntes quod machine jam erecte muros modicum debil­ itabant, unam omnibus majorem, vocatam Griete, ante portam principalem erigi pre­ ceperunt, que non sine puiveribus nimium sumptuosis, expertorum quoque artificum et sibi famulancium sudore et periculoso labore, lapides ingentis ponderis emitteret. Quociens ministerio fere viginti hominum id fiebat, ad aures quatuor milibus distan­ cium veniebat, et emissum tonitruum viciniores terrebat, ac si ex infernali furia proces­ sisset. Jactu quoque violento prima die turris in parte destruxit fondamenta. Seguenti iterum die lapides molares emisit duodecim, e quibus due turrim illam penetrantes multa edificia cum habitatoribus exposuerunt ultimo discrimini. Reliqua iterum obsid­ ionalia instrumenta murorum precinctam locis plurimis confregerunt." 105. Allmand, "L'artillerie," 73-83. 106. Brie, The Brut, 2:382. 107. Allmand, "L'artillerie," 73. 108. Burne, Agincourt, 42. 109. Hutchison, Henry V, 112. 110. Religieux de Saint-Denys, Chronique, 5:536-37. 111. Taylor and Roskell, Gesta Henrici Quinti, 36 ff. 112. Ibid., 34-35. 113. Labarge, Henry V, 81. 114. See Burne, Agincourt, 45, which says the incendiaries were firearms. 115. Taylor and Roskell, Gesta Henrici Quinti, 46-47. 116. Labarge, Henry V, 81. 117. Allmand, "L'artillerie," 74. See also Newhall, English. 118. Newhall, English, 264. 119. See Credland, "Fire," 34-35. 120. For Caen, see Newhall, English, 6o-61; for Rouen, see Rogers, "Hundred," 262-63, and Newhall, English, 110-22; for Falaise, see Newhall, English, 78-79; for Cherbourg, see ibid., 114, Rogers, "Hundred," 263; for Dreux, see Newhall, English, 282; and for Meaux, see Rogers, "Hundred," 262, and Newhall, English, 287. 121. Roberts, "Gustav," 56-57. CHAPTER

3 Black Powder in the Fifteenth Century

1. Norton, Gunner, 9. 2. Bernstein, "Gunpowder"; Urbanski, Explosives, 3:330. See also Blackwood and Bowden, "lnitiation," 285-306. 3. Urbanski, Explosivee, 3:340; see also ibid., 335-36. 4. Needham et al., Science, 109-10 and esp. 110 n. a. 5. Howard, "Manufacture," 11-13. I am grateful to Dr. Howard for providing me with a copy of his paper and for discussing the technology of black powder. 6. Serpentine in this sense derives from the name of a particular gun. See Kurath, Kuhn, and Lewis, Middle English Dictionary, s.v. "serpentine." See also Blackmore, Ar­ mouries, 256-60; and Oppenheim, Naval, 19, 20, 129-30. 7. Conway and Sloane, Sphere, 2-3. 8. Vienna, Ùsterreichische Nationalbibliothek, cod. 3069, fol. 2r (dated 1411) and Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, cod. germ. 600, fol. 2r (undated, but between 1400 and 1420). I am grateful to Dr. Clifford Rogers of the United States Military Academy for discussing these passages with me and for the date of Vienna 3069.



2 45

9. Partington, Greek Fire, 154. The earliest firmly dated text is a 1429 copy by one Conrad Schongau (Munich, Staatsbibliothek, cod. germ. 4902). See Hassenstein, Feuer­ werkbuch, 85-88, for an obsolete list of manuscripts, which is updated in Hall, Hussite, 210. 10. Hassenstein, Feuerwerkbuch, 25. 11. Arnong those sources that said Feuerwerkbuch did not mention "true" corned gunpowder are Jiihns, Kriegswissenschaften, 401 (reversing his earlier verdict in Kriegswesens, 1:804); Romocki, Sprengstoffchemie, 179-230; and Partington, Greek Fire, 179. Those asserting that Feuerwerkbuch did mention corned gunpowder include Kohler, Entwicklung, 3:i, 336; Hime, Origin, 141; Hassenstein, Feuerwerkbuch, 101; and Schmidtchen, Bombarden, 115. Those who understood the Knollen process (but failed to cite a primary source) include Marshall, Explosives, 17-18; Guttman, Explosives, 1:17; and Koch, Medieval, 207. 12. Vienna, Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek, cod. 2952, fols. 27r-27v: "Knollen pulver belibt lenger giit den gereden pulver aber wennn man es nutzen wil so mag es wol zu gereden piilver stossen und es also niizen ob man wil." 13. Lorenzo Fernandez, Etnografia, in Otero Pedrayo, Galizia, 2:601-7. 14. Cited in Napoleon and Favé, Études, 3:198. 15. For the Low Countries sources, see Gaier, L'industrie, 282; for the Chinese sources, see Needham et al., Science, 358-59, translating Chi Hsiao Hsin Sho of 1584. Cf. Partington, Greek Fire, 253-54, quoting the Jesuit J. J. M. Amiot on similar Chinese practices in the eighteenth century. 16. Norton, Gunner, 147. 17. Williams, "Saltpetre." The equations are from Russell, Conditions, 330; see also Russell, World, 68-70. 18. Needham et al., Science, 95. See also Multhauf, "Crash," 163-64. 19. Massey, "Saltpetre," 195. 20. Kyeser, Bellifortis, vol. 1, fol. 106v, and vol. 2, p. 80. 21. Partington, Greek Fire, 315. 22. Biringuccio, Pirotechnia, 404-9; Agricola, Metallica, 560 ff.; Ercker, Ores, bk. 5, pp. 291-313. 23. See Williams, "Saltpetre," 128-30, for Honrick's text. 24. See Rubin, Kleeman, and Lamdin, "Alcohol," 440, fig. 2. See also Beard and Knott, "Alcohol." 25. Partington, in Greek Fire, 319, reports his own results and those of other investigators. See also Williams, "Saltpetre," 128 n. 16. 26. Partington, Greek Fire, 315-20; Multhauf, "Crash," 162. 27. Russell, Conditions, 89, 604-6. 28. Ibid., 24. 29. Beard and Knott, "Alcohol," 359. 30. Agricola, Metallica, 561-64; Partington, Greek, 317, recapitulating Ercker's description. 31. Ali data on solubility are from Weast, Handbook. 32. Urbanski, Explosives, 3:329. 33. Biringuccio, Pirotechnia, 406-7. 34. Hime, Origin, 19 ff. See also Quatremère, "Observation," 224 ff.; Reinaud and Favé, "Feu"; and Partington, Greek Fire, 200 ff. I am grateful to Muna Saloum of the lnstitute for History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto for assistance.




35. Kyeser, Bellifortis, voi. 1, fol. 106v, and voi. 2, p. So; Partington, Greek Fire, 150. 36. Wright, "Report," 32. See also Napoleon and Favé, Études, 205. 37. Hassenstein, Feuerwerkbuch, 59. 38. Urbanski, Explosivee, 3:342. See also Prinzler, Pyrobolia, 235. 39. Hassenstein, Feuerwerkbuch, 17. For the French version, see Napoleon and Favé, Études, 3:146; and Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, Département des manuscrits, Ms. lat. 4653, item 10, "Livre secret de l'art de l'artillerie et canonnerie." Livre de cannon­ erie, fols. 39 ff., contains a printed version of MS 4653 under the title "Petit traicté con­ tenant plusieurs artifices du feu, très-utile pour l'estat de canonnerie, recueilly d'un vi­ eil livre escrit à I main et nouvellement mis en lumière." See also Linet and Hillard, Bibliothèque, item 1217. 40. Hassenstein, Feuerwerkbuch, 25. 41. Rathgen, Geschutz, 119. 42. Biringuccio, Pirotechnia, 412-13. 43. Blackwood and Bowden, "Initiation," 304. 44. Ibid., 291. 45. Ibid., 295. 46. Ibid., 296. 47. Hassenstein, Feuerwerkbuch, 16, 43 ff., 100 ff.; Schmidtchen, Bombarden, 49 ff. On the rationale for this procedure, see also Reimer, "Pulver," 164-66, and "Schwartzpulver," 372. 48. Guilmartin, "Ballistics," 95. See also Williams, "Firing," 114-20, 134-38. 49. Benton, Ordnance, 28. Urbanski, Explosives, 3:330, gives grain sizes for modem powders. 50. Hahn, Hintze, and Treumann, "Safety," table 4 (p. 132). 51. Rodman, Reports, 174 ff. On Rodman's data, see also Hime, Origin, 166. 52. Noble, "Tension," 273-83. See also Guilmartin, "Ballistics," 79. 53. Noble, "Fifty," 452. 54. Noble and Able, "Researches" (1875), table 10 (p. 112). 55. Kalaus, "Feuerwaffen," 41-113. See also Krenn, "Test-Firing," 34-38. 56. Noble and Able, "Researches" (1875), table 10 (p. 112). 57. Guilmartin, "Ballistics," 87. 58. Ibid., 79. 59. Hahn, Hintze, and Treumann, "Safety," 132 and table 5. The experimenters do not give a mean grain size for these test samples. 60. Ibid., table 3 (p. 132). 61. Rathgen, Geschutz, 77. 62. Garnier, L'artillerie, 91-92. Again, my thanks to Dr. Clifford Rogers, of the United States Military Academy, for calling my attention to this entry. 63. Napoleon and Favé, Études, 1:375, prints the inventory. 64. Rathgen, Geschutz, 77. 65. Leguay, Rennes, 286 n. 44. 66. Leonardo da Vinci, Codex Madrid II, fols. 98r-98v. 67. Rogers, "Hundred," 270-72. 68. Needham et al., Science, 354-58, reporting on their own experiments and summarizing others. 69. Guilmartin, "Ballistics," 77. 70. Fawtier, "Documents," 372. 71. Deuchler, Burl{underbeute, 310 H.


2 47

72. "Wenn mangel an gemachtem pulver ist / So bin ich bereit zu jeder frist" (Reimer, "Schwartzpulver," 374-75). 73. Contamine, War, 144. 74. Schmidtchen, Bombarden, 44. 75. Bull, "Evidence," 3-8. See also Caruana, Tudor, 14-15. 76. Schmidtchen, Bombarden, 49-50, quoting a manuscript from 1445. 77. See, for example, Bartholomeus Freysleben, Zeugbuch [done for Emperor Max­ imilian I between 1495 and 1500), Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, cod. icon. 222. Blackmore, Armouries, 255-59, contrasts two inventories from 1405 and 1495. 78. Contamine, War, 142-43 and table 4. 79. Hassenstein, Feuerwerkbuch, 71. Bo. Hogg, English Artillery, 21 (from 1574). 81. Schmidtchen, Bombarden, 50. 82. Ibid., 51-80; Taccola, De ingeneis; Taccola, De machinis. 83. Hogg, English Artillery 21 (from 1574), 26 (from 1592). 84. Contamine, War, tables 6 and 7 (pp. 146-47). 85. Hogg, English Artillery, 29, compiling Robert Norton's and William Eldred's tables. 86. Smith and Brown, Bombards, 23 ff. ("Dulie Griet") and 1 ff. ("Mons Meg"). 87. Schmidtchen, Bombarden, 53-54. 88. Cipolla, Guns, 42 and app. 1. 89. Gaier, L'industrie, 345-46, listing 27 culverins of iron made in the period 1436-55. 90. Awty, "Blast Furnace," 69. 91. See Reimer, "Pulver," 165; and Reimer, "Schwartzpulver," 372-73. 92. Rathgen, Geschi.itz, 73. 93. Williams, "Firing," 114, citing C. Brusten, Compagnies (Brussels, 1953), 108. 94. Willers, Ni.irnberger, 5 ff. 95. Held, Firearms, 26-29 for example. 96. Vienna, 3069, fol. 38v. See also Reid, Arms, 58, illus. 6o-61. 97. Benton, Ordnance, 294. 98. For illustrations featuring it as a military weapon, see, for example, the figures included throughout Tschachtlan, Chronik; and for an illustration showing it for use in hunting waterfowl, see Fiirstlich zu Waldberg-Wolfegg'sche Bibliothek, Das mittelalter­ liche Hausbuch, fol. 17a, "Children of Luna," reproduced in Filedt Kok, Master, pi. Ib. 99. Biringuccio, Pirotechnia, 412. 100. For example, Kenyon, "Ordnance," 179. 101. Willers, Ni.irnberger, 17-18. 102. See Du Boulay, Germany, 141 ff. 103. Quoted in Hale, "Bastion," 477. 104. Eltis, "Towns," 92, 94. 105. Rathgen, Geschi.itz, 62. 106. Whitehorne, Certain Waies (1562), fol. 28. The first edition (1560) lacks this passage. 107. Biringuccio, Pirotechnia, 415. 108. Whitehorne, Certain Waies, fol. 27. 109. See Tartaglia, Colloquies, 78-79. 110. Blackmore, Armouries, 26o-66. 111. Lombarès et al., Histoire, 40-41. 112. Bourne, Arte, 6,; ff. See also Blackmore, Armouries, 191; and Sheriffe, "Se-



crets." On the dating of Sheriffe's small manuscript (P.R.O. SP 12/242/64), see Black­ more, Armouries, 393. Laughton, State Papers, believes it to be 1592, but see Lewis, Ar­ mada, 19. 113. Smith, Grammar, 71. 114. Reimer, "Pulver," 166. 115. Gay, Glossaire, 2:270. 116. Biringuccio, Pirotechnia, 412-13; Whitehorne, Certain Waies, fols. 31r ff. 117. Howard, "Manufacture," 9. 118. For versos see Guilmartin, Gunpowder, 15�2 and fig. 7. See also Smith, Grammar, 70. CHAPTER

4 Firearms in Warfare

(1): The

Fifteenth Century

1. For the conflict, see Kaminsky, Hussite. 2. Quotation from Deutsche Reichstagakten, 7, item no. 280, in Schmidtchen, "Karrenbiichse," 85. 3. For the socia! aspect, see Klassen, Nobility. For a Marxist perspective, see Macek, Hussite. 4. Schmidtchen, "Karrenbiichse," 9