Colour Plate Commentary


The siege of Basing House was one of the most celebrated events of the Civil War. There were in fact three sieges and the illustration shown here is during the siege of 11 July 1644 when the Parliamentarian Colonel Richard Norton laid siege to the Marquis of Winchester. The first siege had proved difficult so the second was intended to be carried by artillery at a distance. Two large mortars were sent to the siege on 20 July with 'divers grenadoes' to cause the besieged trouble. It is thought that these mortars were able to fire stone as well as mortar shell. They arrived on 28 July and lobbed 36lb stones into the house as well as grenadoes or shell. The shell were more likely to have been the terror weapon because their explosive capability could not be defended against. Loading the mortars was a time-consuming and dangerous business as the shell had to be loaded and then slung on a bar with two chains to be placed in the muzzle, it is not clear when the idea was hit upon that the burning of the propellant would light the fuse at the same time but some manuscripts mention it whereas others do not. The greatest fear was that the shells would explode in the mouth of the mortar before being fired and so they were often coated with a form of paint to prevent this.


This is the sort of view the gunners would have had as the enemy approached the guns. Normally a cannonade opened the battle to weaken the enemy units and disrupt their battle line. Both guns have a crew of four men and they are standing waiting to fire. On loading, both of the front men would move to positions between the wheels and the barrel. When the gunners were about to fire, the crew would retire behind the gun either side of it. This was not always the case and Eldred points out that he had seen many gunners who did not carry out good and sensible drill.


This plate shows several methods of transporting and towing guns for a siege train. It was not unusual for labourers to have to manhandle guns, especially in difficult terrain. Here the middle gun is towed by attaching ropes to the drag hooks on the wheels of the gun and lifting the trail. The carriage at the back of the train is called a drug and was intended to carry the barrel only. A gyn was used to lift the barrel off the cart and place it on its field carriage. This train could extend for several miles depending upon the number of guns being transported. All of the ancillary workers such as coopers and waggoners were attached to the train and other weapons were supplied from it.

Robinet Gun

ABOVE Detail from The Art of the Gunner by Nathaniel Nye showing the method of destroying the wall of a fortification. Each gun is trained to fire on roughly the same spot, thus weakening the wall. The creation of a breach often only took a few hours with the right kind of artillery and skilled gunners.

RIGHT Many 17th-century illustrations show guns mounted on carriages and placed in the uppermost tower of a fortification. This interesting plate shows how the gun was placed there.

Horse Carriage 17th Century17th Breech Loading Firearms
An Italian gunner's sight. The object is made of brass and is pierced with an aperture vertically. The gunner placed this sight on the breech of the gun and aimed through the aperture.


This image is copied from the German book on guns by Jacobi von Wallhausen dated 1617 and gives a good impression of the construction of the gun carriage. Similar texts in England and Spain show almost identical construction techniques but this is one of the finest images of a gun and all its parts. The gun drawn here is meant to represent a saker or a gun of 5-6lb shot weight. See plate for further details.


There were many different types of light field gun and they were used for various purposes:

1. Iron gun on naval carriage as drawn from photographs of the iron gun at Windsor Castle. The iron gun is similar to one in the collection of the Royal Armouries.

2. Petiero a braga or wrought iron breech-loader

Typically this type of gun has been dated to the 15th century but more recent studies have shown that it was in use throughout the 17th century. The powder is loaded into a small iron chamber at the rear of the gun and is held captive by an iron stirrup to which a tiller is attached. This type of gun is associated with naval use but could easily have been adapted for fortifications.

3. Eldred's platform carriage

This unusual design is a copy of the illustration in Eldred's The Gunner's Glasse on pages 37 and 38 which describes the replacement of the axletree with an oak bar. The centre of this bar was to have a hole one calibre in diameter and lined with iron. The tail transom was to be fitted with a wheel which would 'turn the piece about when she is shot off'. The post, as we can see here, was actually set into the ground with one foot of the post showing above it. It appears that Eldred intended to mount the carriage on a spindle as shown here and have the trail rest on the ground. When the gun fired, the post dug into the ground took the recoil. He stated that he had tried the carriage but whether it was ever of any practical use is debatable.

4. Robinet

Representative of a gun of bore about 17?in in diameter, the weight of the shot would have been about Valb. The barrel could be of iron or bronze but tended to be anything from 4 to 8ft in length.

5. Robinet barrel

A similar barrel to E4 but viewed from the rear.

6. Drake

Described in Hexham as having a bore of 33Ain and with weight of shot of 6lb, the length and weight of the gun being 5ft and 580lb. This version has been drawn with a dispart sight cast into the barrel which was rare but not unknown. The carriage is heavily made and has iron reinforcing bands on its wheels and trail.


1. Leather gun

A very fine example of a leather gun from the Heeres-geschichtliches Museum in Austria. This gun dates to 1640 and the barrel is 9ft 9in long. The carriage is extremely well made but light, taking advantage of the lessened weight. Clearly this weapon is not intended to be used for a few shots but is obviously intended for longer use, in contrast to those made by the Scots in the Civil War.

2. Falconet on field carriage

This gun and carriage is one of the very few examples of a gun carriage that was made at the very end of the 17th century and thus is later than the Civil War. However, it is a good example of the lengths to which guns could be decorated. It was a gift to William, Duke of Gloucester, from the City of London, and the carriage was made in 1699. It also gives us a close glimpse of carriage construction in the 17th century. The gun was called a falconet when it was cast. The plates linking the felloes in the wheels, and the strakes nailed to the outside of the wheels, are all typical of guns constructed during the Civil War period. This carriage is much more finely made as it was intended to be given as an ornate gift rather than to be used as a weapon.

3. Iron gun

Iron gun on parapet carriage dated 1635, from the Heeres-geschichtliches Museum in Austria. Two similar weapons exist in the Royal Artillery Museum in the Rotunda and at Firepower and are similar in construction and appearance. This type of carriage may have been designed to fire over a parapet or from fixed positions. The example at the Rotunda has a traversing mechanism so that the gun can move from side to side. In Europe these weapons are often breech-loading and later examples of such weapons have a small, prepared, cartridge to be used with them. This may suggest they were intended for rapid firing. The three examples quoted here are all breech-loaders and the swivel may have been so that the gun could be turned and loaded easily. The long length of the barrel, in this case 8ft, would make it awkward to load in a fixed position.


1. Powder horn

The powder horn changed very little during its use in the 17th century. Some could be a simple horn with a removable end piece and others could be much more elaborately carved.

2. Shot gauge

A simple shot gauge made from wood as illustrated in the 17th century. It would be placed over the shot to see which projectile best suited which gun.

3. Gunner's stiletto

Apart from being a highly elaborate form of dagger, the gunner's stiletto was a symbol of office as well as a useful tool. The blade was marked off in a scale that would, when measured at the bore of the gun, give the weight of the shot required for that gun.

4. Budge barrel

A wooden gunpowder barrel with a leather liner that was used to supply powder near the gun. The leather inner was tied up when not in use. In many respects it was an early form of safety device.

5. Gunner's calipers

Gunner's calipers took many different forms and this flat-bladed hinged type was typical of the English style. Similar forms can be seen in Eldred's and Norton's texts. They could be used to measure the width of the gun bore or shot and had useful mathematical tables engraved into them.

6. The gyn

Again copied from the images in Robert Norton's book, this image shows a sturdy wooden form with a block and tackle and axle on one side. The hook of the block was attached to the dolphins and the gunners placed levers in the slots cut into the axle to turn it, thus lifting the barrel.

7. The gunner's quadrant

The highly ornate instrument in this illustration is copied from a German quadrant made in 1585. It was used by sighting along the staff through two notches on the upper surface. The elevation was read off the scale on the quadrant and then the haft of the quadrant placed in the barrel of the gun and it was elevated to the same angle indicated on the quadrant.

8. Vent tools

Small tools were used for clearing the vent of the gun and in particular for punching a hole through the cartridge bag if there was one. The powder horn could then fill the vent with loose powder prior to firing. They tended to be made from a non-ferrous metal to avoid sparks.

9. The linstock

This was a staff surmounted by an iron head, often elaborately inscribed, which held the burning match used to light the powder train.

10. Sponge

A simple sheepskin sponge for damping down embers in the gun and for cleaning the bore.

11. Ladle

A copper-headed ladle for placing the propellant charge in the bore of the gun.

BELOW This very small bore breech-loading gun has counterparts in Moscow, Italy and Malta and is an early example of a breech-loading smooth bore. It is part of the collection In the Army Museum of Vienna. (Author's photograph)

Breech Loader

ABOVE An iron gun mounted on a parapet carriage. The mounting is a reproduction but the gun itself raises some interesting questions about such weapons. Reloading would have required the gun to be withdrawn right back away from its firing position and required a great deal of length to allow the gunners to carry out loading drill.

ABOVE An iron gun mounted on a parapet carriage. The mounting is a reproduction but the gun itself raises some interesting questions about such weapons. Reloading would have required the gun to be withdrawn right back away from its firing position and required a great deal of length to allow the gunners to carry out loading drill.

17th Breech Loading Firearms

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