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8-08-2015, 17:03

Guns h at Soldiers Could Carry

Lightweight cannons were not the only i rearms employed by the soldiers in Charles’s invasion force. Possibly as many as one in ten of them carried portable, hand-held guns most commonly referred to as arquebuses. Extremely little is known about their early development. But most modern scholars think they evolved alongside cannons, starting in the early 1300s. h e i rst versions of hand-held i rearms were made from brass or bronze, measured 8 to 12 feet (2.4 to 3.6 m) in length, and were very heavy and awkward to use. To i re these weapons, gunners had to rest them on standing poles. A soldier inserted some gunpowder into the front of the barrel, followed by a stick to push the powder down tightly. Next, he slipped in the shot, most often a small lead ball. Finally, he stuck a red-hot metal wire into a little hole in the back of the barrel, thereby igniting the powder and i ring the weapon. Around 1400, a piece of burning rope called a “match” replaced the wire. In the course of the following two centuries, these primitive guns underwent a steady series of advances. h ey became shorter and much more lightweight, so a gunner was able to i re one without the aid of a pole. h e so-called matchlock mechanism was added in the mid- 1400s. It consisted of a smoldering match held in place by a metal lever on the top of the barrel. Pulling the trigger caused a spring to snap and touch a bit of gunpowder in a small pan. h e resulting l ash made a larger quantity of powder inside the barrel explode, thereby i ring the gun. By the late 1400s a long, slim, lightweight version of the weapon, the arquebus—the ancestor of the musket—was widely employed by foot soldiers across Europe. At that time such hand-held guns were already rapidly replacing crossbows, spears, and slings, just as cannons were steadily making catapults and other traditional artillery obsolete. h e complete transition from old-fashioned weapons to i rearms in warfare was destined to last another couple of centuries. But when the medieval era gave way to early modern times circa 1500 or so, the face of battle had already been mightily transformed. It had changed in ways that early medieval Europeans, and even the later, farsighted military leader Duke William, the victor of Hastings, could never have foreseen.