Essay: 16th Century English Weapons
Tags: 16th Century, Weapons
During the 16th century England and much of Europe found itself in turmoil and in a constant state of war. The outbreak of fighting led to the invention and development of new weapons and the growth and change of weapons of old. The development of weapons was a trademark of the time, with a sort of renaissance, or re-birth in the field of weaponry (Miller). The technology was highlighted by the invention of gunpowder by the Chinese which eventually found its way to England (Grolier). However, the use of gunpowder was minimal, because the use of had yet to be perfected. The technological advancement most useful during the period was progression of the metals used in weaponry. The new forms could be found in the production of swords, arrows, cannons, and armor, as well as varies siege weapons.
The three major categories of weapons used during the 16th century were handheld, siege, and missiles. The primary use of handheld weapons is for the obvious is hand to hand combat in close quarters. Handheld weapons were not always the most efficient weapons but played a major role in battle because of their simplicity. An entire army would depend on the use of foot soldiers and simply outnumber their opponent while fighting in the trenches (Grolier). Siege weapons were effective not on battles on an open area, but rather when one army would attack the fortress or castle of the other army. The siege weapons were used to either knock the gate at the entrance of the castle, or other wise gain entry, or to hurl large objects or arrows over the defensive walls around the perimeter of the castle. Fire was another common tactic used with siege of castles, as well as the use of the newly found gunpowder (Revell, "Missile"). The third type of weapons are missile weapons, which came to be the signature of the time period. The missile weapons were fired or projected from a distance and were found effective due to their range, but accuracy became important and so did the skill involved in warfare.
Handheld weapons represented a large portion of the weapons used during 16th Century warfare (Iannuzzo). Most commonly used was the sword. Throughout the middles ages, metals were developed to withstand more abuse and thus became more effective (Iannuzzo). The metals now had to strong enough to pierce through the newly developed armor of the time (Revell, "Armour"). The use of carbonized iron, which was heated, beaten, and cut the process repeated many times over to form a solid and durable and lighter than previous swords. The double edge sword was far superior in strength and sharpness of the other swords of the time (Grolier). The 16th century also brought forth the use of flamberge sword that had an undulating cutting edge, that was believed to be able to easily pierce the armor, but was too awkward for battle and was eventually abandoned. By this time the Great sword, sometimes over six feet in length, were being deployed. This sword was deadly only because of the pure size of it. The great swords required enormous strength just to hold and even more to be effective. Eventually the great sword became too awkward to use in battle just as the flamberge. These two inferior swords took a back seat to the smaller and more agile estoc sword. The estoc had a narrow triangular blade that was used to pierce the joints in the armor, rather than slash through it. But the progression in the strength of these swords made it able for the estocs to be strong enough to pierce through entire plates of the armour (Revell, "Armour"). This more effective sword led to a revolution in the art of sword fighting, because now a soldier must be able to beat an opponent with speed and quickness, rather than raw strength.
The second type of handheld weapon that made an impact during the 16th century, were maces. The mace was as a secondary weapon that was used after the initial charge, where swords were the primary weapon (Iannuzzo). Maces were heavy lead balls attached to a chain, which was attached to the metal handle that the warrior would hold. They were small and quick enough to crush a man’s skull (Revell, "Armour"). Early maces that were smooth were found to slide off the armor and not cause much damage. This lead to the elaboration of putting metal spikes on the ball that would be able to puncture the armor and cause injury to the opponent. The mace was also used by medieval knights, who would hang them by their side and use them when they were too close to use their swords or they had lost it. It was also a weapon used heavily by churchmen while defending their church (Rowse). The last type of handheld weapon were the pole arms that were primarily used to guard other weapons while they were loading (Revell, "Armour").
Siege weapons were the vital weapons when an army needed to attack their opponents’ stronghold. The two types of siege weapons were catapults and ballistae, with catapults being the predecessor (Iannuzzo). The catapults would heave large objects over the enemies’ walls and varied in size, from small for one or two soldiers to operate and to large, which required up to ten people to operate. The catapults would use large objects such as boulders, firepots, and dead animals as ammunition. The boulders would cause damages from impact, the firepots would start fires, and the dead animals would spread diseases inside the town or castle into which it was thrown (Revell, "Missile"). Ballistaes were gigantic cross bows that were capable of firing multiple arrows at a single time, as well as firing arrows with multiple heads. These arrows were much greater in size than those of the common bow and arrows, which were carried by a single soldier. The ballistae weapons were more complex than the catapults, and were required to be built prior to battle, due to their complex configuration. In addition it took many men to move them, but their effectiveness was well worth the extra manpower that was used for the transportation.
The missile type of weapons was commonly used and was very effective because they could be fired from afar. The bow and arrow was effective but slow in firing at opponents. The arrows were fired high into the air and would then come down with greater force then if they were fired straight at the enemy. The arrows were placed in the bow and pulled back against the tension and then release, thus propelling the arrow with great momentum in the direction they were aimed (Revell, "Missile"). The crossbows on the other hand were horizontal and would be drawn back and latched. The arrow was then released by pulling a trigger (Brigatta). The next weapon used the relatively new, at least to England, gunpowder. The discovery of gun powder by the Chinese lead to the development of the matchlock musket. The musket was small enough to fit under the arm of the soldier. The gun consisted of a wood base and a barrel made of lead strips held close by spirals and welded together (Brigatta). The arquebus was a matchlock weapon that used a trigger for the first and was found to be effective. This replaced the lever action and now made the matchlock easier to hold steady while aiming and firing (Revell, "Missile"). The use of gunpowder made the armies of the 16th century more dependent on supply trains and more powerful while attack strongholds (Grolier). The cannons then became the primary use of gunpowder, because of their effective use and rather simple mechanics. In 1543 England made the first single-cast iron cannon and ensured England as a dominant producer of military supplies (Iannuzzo).
The 16th century was a time when the weapons of warfare took on a rebirth and the force of the armies greatly increased. The handheld weapon alone became quicker and easier to manage and thus deadlier then ever. This was through the development of the shape, size, and texture of the swords and mace. The siege weapons also became so effective that the castles were no loner effective enough to stop the onslaught brought on by the catapults and ballistae. Both of these weapons were so effective that new architectural designs were needed for the castles. The missile weapons most likely had the greatest evolution, from the somewhat primitive design of bow and arrows to the rather modern introduction of the matchlock musket. The advances in weaponry were a gigantic step into the direction weapon technology we see today.