Medieval Handgonnes

The first black powder infantry weapons


By Sean McLachlan

Weapon Series #3

The contents of this book are:

  • The Introduction
  • Development-The gunpowder revolution
  • Use-Firearms on the medieval battlefield
  • Impact-A turning point in history
  • Glossary, Bibliography and Index

Sean McLachlan gives a very brief explanation of pre-matchlock Handgonnes and a somewhat vague time frame of its first use, since the exact time is not known. He advises that in this book he will concentrate mainly on the development of the handgonne in Europe. Also, he briefly discusses the different terminology that will be used throughout the text.

The author begins with the timeline for the first recipes of gunpowder and its earliest usage in fireworks and explosives. He explains in short detail the Royal Armies reconstruction and test firing of cannons using gun arrows and lead balls giving the reader an idea of the power and range of these early weapons. The Ho Group tested 4 different types of gunpowder giving in-depth information about the different types, their recipes, the mixing process and their firing results.

He discusses the controversy as to when black powder weapons were first used. The author does give more detail as the thirst battle that black powder was more clearly recorded, such as the Flemish battle of Beverhoutsveld, on 3 May 1382 and its pursuant battles of Comines and Roosebeke on 27 November 1382. The next major battle was at Aljubarrota on 14 August 1385 between Portuguese and the army of the Spanish kingdom of Castile. He author explains in detail the pros and cons of the ribaudiaux (wheelbarrow mounted with 3 or more small cannons, protected from attack by long iron spikes on the front).

The author shows the strengths and weaknesses of the different artillery and discusses how and why the handgonnes came into use in the 14th and 15th centuries. In a very interesting manner the author includes the trials and errors concerning the varying applications using in-depth details of the different recipes used in the making of the gunpowder. He covers the effects of the different gun barrel lengths and the addition of the matchlock.

The largest section is Use-Firearms of the medieval battlefield is 32 pages long. Here the author deals with handgonnes from the simple to the complex. He explains the progression of how they came to be and what materials were used to make them. The author goes chronologically from the first generation of handgonnes describing them in detail as far as size, how to use them, when, how and by whom they were utilized. Another words, he tries to include all aspects giving research analysis wherever possible. This section is extremely informative and detailed complete with photographs and illustrations. This section is divided into the following subsections: Type of Handgonnes, Early use, Spread, The Hussite Wars in Bohemia, The Wars of the Roses, The Late 15th Century, The Development of the Matchlock, Aiming (insert of Firing a Hackbut), Incendiary Devices and Explosives. Here is a brief overview of these subsections:

Type of Handgonnes – 1st type-hand cannon; 2nd typeHackbut, grooved and socketed; 3rd type-shoulder stock.

Early Use -The 1st recorded use of handgonnes in battle was in 1375 England when Rioter broke into Hunter combe Manor.

Spread – he briefly writes about the spread of handgonnes throughout Europe.

The Hussite Wars in Bohemia (1419 – 1436) – during this time is when handgonnes came into their own. And he discusses how the use of farm wagons “wagenburg” aided the crossbowmen and handgonner and how this led to the wagenburg tactics in 1420.

Wars of the Roses detail other ways to keep the enemy away from hurting the handgonners.

The Late 15th Century saw the transition of the handgonne into a workable weapon in the field. He discusses how it developed into an effective weapon used in attack and defense, on foot or mounted, on land or sea.

The Development of the Matchlock is a very brief summary on the end of the pre-matchlock handgonne.

Aiming is a brief discussion of how to aim a handgonne properly based on historians and re-enactors. Included here is a 2 page spread of 11 color photographs with descriptive captions depicting the actual loading and firing of a replicated hackbut.

Incendiary Devices and Explosives is a brief description of other hand-held black powder weapons.

The author touches on the fact that the Gonners were specialized soldiers especially the artillerists. The Gonner had to maintain and fix their weapons as well as deal with the black powder. In the last section the author discusses at length how powerful, penetrative and effective were handgonnes. He uses historical accounts, experiments, and research testing on the handgonnes (different lengths, etc.) type of powder used (dry or wet mix,etc.). This final section raises more questions than is possible to authentically answer but the attempt is thorough, interesting and well written. Another 2 page spread consisting of 12 color photographs with descriptive captions depicting the actual loading and firing of an Arquebus is included in this section.

Overall, this book is jam packed with detailed information on the Medieval Handgonne before the pre-matchlock. It’s an interesting easy read, filled with photographs and illustrations. It is a fascinating historical look at the early development of the handgonne.