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I'm trying to find out information on various 16th and 17th century English artillery, specifically numbers like barrel length, caliber, piece weight, shot weight, etc. Anything really.

I do know these weapons were not really standardized, but arranging pieces into broad categories that can be arranged hierarchically is certainly possible.

With a lot of digging, I have been somewhat successful, but the following pieces are a mystery to me and I'm hopeful someone can shed some light of them:

  • Curtall (Anthony Rolls, 1546): Brass, some kind of cannon-sized piece?
  • Port Piece (Anthoney Rolls, 1546): Iron, breach loading?
  • Chamber Piece (Anthoney Rolls, 1546): Brass, breach loading?
  • Top Piece (Anthoney Rolls, 1546): Iron, breach loading?
  • Flanker (Ordnance Recommended to Arm the Defensive Earthworks Proposed for the Sussex Coast, 1587): being deployed on the flanks of earthworks.
  • Fowler (Anthoney Rolls, 1546): Iron, swivel gun?
  • Somma (Anthoney Rolls, 1546): Brass or iron.
  • Murderer (my own vague memories of visiting a castle as a child and vague mentions if you Google it): Iron, swivel gun?
  • Hailshot Piece (Anthoney Rolls, 1546): Iron, hand gun or swivel gun?
  • Double Base (Anthoney Rolls, 1546): ???
  • Base (Anthoney Rolls, 1546 & Robert Norton: The Gunner, 1664): Iron, 45 lb
  • Demi-base (Anthoney Rolls, 1546): Iron, ???
  • Sling (Anthoney Rolls, 1546): Iton, swivel gun?
  • Demi-sling (Anthoney Rolls, 1546): Iron, swivel gun?
  • Quarter Sling (Anthoney Rolls, 1546): Iron, swivel gun?
  • Syrene (Robert Norton: The Gunner, 1664): 8100 lb
  • Aspicke (Robert Norton: The Gunner, 1664): 7600 lb
  • Dragon (Robert Norton: The Gunner, 1664): 1400 lb
  • Pellican (Robert Norton: The Gunner, 1664): 2550 lb
  • Sparrow (Robert Norton: The Gunner, 1664): 4600 lb
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    This seems on-topic to me, with the proviso that there should probably be a wiki answer. I've added one, with just your starter content. Its expected that when you do accept an answer, it should probably be the community wiki answer (but of course upvote any other answers to your heart's content)
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 15, 2023 at 17:51
  • @T.E.D. understood, thank you. Dec 15, 2023 at 17:59
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    From the book I had in my computer, Angus Konstam, Elizabethan Sea Dogs 1560-1605, murderers and port pieces are considered the same, wrought-iron breech-loading guns and there's a photo of a couple of them from the Mary Rose Trust, which might be worth visiting for this question. Dec 15, 2023 at 19:03

2 Answers 2

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I think the key problem here has been identified in the question "weapons were not really standardised". This was a period when artillery was almost entirely bespoke. You went to a cannon maker and told him what you wanted and he made it to order. For most of the period there were no standard sizes, or calibres, or even names for these weapons.

Only towards the end of the 17th century does a degree of standardisation appear as the European nations started forming standing navies. Once you start arming arming multiple ships with dozens of cannon, it makes logistics much easier if the guns can share ammunition, tools and carriages.

In his introduction to Appendix II, of The Armouries of the Tower of London, The Ordinance, H L Blackmore summarises the problem and suggests why creating a definitive list might be a fool's errand.

The following selection of tables, reprinted here in condensed form as a convenient aide-memoire, give some idea of the wide divergence of opinion amongst contemporary writers as to the sizes of the different types of cannon. For example, the tables given by Harrison in his introduction to Holinshed's Chronicles and those compiled by William Bourne, both published in the same year, 1587, agree on hardly an particular. Some tables appear to have been republished by different authors over a period of years with little attempt to check them with guns in actual use. Here, it may be added, a comparison between the tables given in this Appendix with those of Appendix I is illuminating. John Sheriffe's tables of c. 1590 were thus used by Sir William Monson in c. 1630 and by John Smith in 1627 and 1652 with little alteration. These early tables can, therefore, be used only as a very general guide. Well might the English translator of the 1588 edition of Tartaglio's Arte of Shooting write: 'through the intolerable fault of careless or unskilful gunfounders all our great pieces of one name are not of one length, and of an equal weight, nor of one height of their mouths, and therefore the gunners' books and tables which do show that all our great pieces of one name are of equal length, and of equal weight, and of an equal height in their mouths, are erroneous'. The Italian gunfounder Biringuccio was one of the few honest members of his craft. 'It is possible' he said in his Pirotechnica of 1540, 'to say of the guns we call antique as well as of those that are modern to us today that I have never found a uniform size in any kind that is seen. Those masters who say, in order to make a reputation, that they have them depart from the truth...'

Even when authorities had given up the attempts to place cannon into categories by name and listed them under their weight of shot and length, the continual experimenting with the various lengths, weights of metal and allowances for windage still leads to confusion in a gun's identification today.

Almost by way of confirmation of this confusion, it should be noted that none of the twenty or so cannon types in the Harrison or Bourne lists given in the book's Appendix appear in the list given in the question.

From W. Harrison's list (from Holinshed's Chronicles (1587)):

Name Wt of Piece (lbs) Diameter of Shot (ins) Wt of Shot (lbs)
Basilisk 9000 8.50 60.0
Old Cannon 8000 6.75 42.0
Cannon 7000 7.75 60.0
Demi-Cannon 6000 6.25 30.0
Culverin 4000 5.25 18.0
Demi-Culverin 3000 4.00 9.0
Saker 1500 3.25 5.0
Minion 1100 3.00 4.5
Falcon 800 2.25 2.5
Falconet 500 1.75 2.0
Robinet 200 1.00 1.0

From William Bourne's list (from The Arte of Shooting in great Ordnaunce (1587)):

Name Wt of Piece (lbs) Diameter of Shot (ins) Wt of Shot (lbs)
Old Double Cannon 8000 8.00 70.0
Ordinary Double Cannon 7500 7.75 64.0
French Double Cannon 7000 7.50 58.0
Old Demi-Cannon 6000 6.50 38.0
Ordinary Demi-Cannon 5500 6.25 33.0
Small Demi-Cannon 5000, 5400 6.00 30.0
Foreign Demi-Cannon 5000 5.75 26.5
Old Culverin 4800 5.25 20.0
Ordinary Culverin 4500 5.00 17.0
Small Culverin 4300 4.75 15.0
Old Demi-Culverin 3200 4.50 12.5
Ordinary Demi-Culverin 2700 4.25 10.75
Small Demi-Culverin 2200 4.00 9.0
Old Saker 1800 3.75 7.25
Ordinary Saker 1500 3.5 6.0
Small Saker 1300, 1400 3.25 5.0
(old) Minion 1000 3.00 3.75
Ordinary Minion 900 2.75 3.0
Falcon 700, 750 2.50 2.12
Foreign Falcon 600, 650 2.25 1.75
Falconet 360, 400 2.00 1.12

[Some details have been omitted from the above tables to fit the page]

From the same Appendix, there are a number of other tables drawn from publications during the period. One of particular interest is from a volume by Robert Ward, Amimadversions of Warre (1639), which includes a number of "non-standard cannon" types. An abridged version appears below:

Name a.k.a. Wt. of Piece (lbs) Wt. of Shot (lbs)
Bastard Double Culverin Basilisk 14660 48.0
Double Culverin Dragon 14000 -
Bastard Culverin Serpentine 8100 24.0
Bastard Demi-Culverin Aspike 7600 12.0
Half-Culverin Saker 2650 -
Bastard Quarter Culverin Pelican 2550 6.0
Bastard Base 450 -
Base 300 -
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  • I agree that the endeavour is fraught with difficulty, but these divergent tables do give us a range of seldom overlapping terms, no? Dec 15, 2023 at 23:02
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    @JessieKirk I don't have a problem with the question being asked (I've not downvoted or voted to close) but I thought it's important to add a caveat in case people find the list in the Wiki answer and assume that the examples given represent definitive classifications rather than particular instances.
    – Steve Bird
    Dec 16, 2023 at 8:23
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Roll-up community-wiki answer. Partial answers with details on one or more individual pieces are encouraged, but novel information in them should also be rolled into this answer (as consistent with the other entries as possible)

  • Curtall (Anthony Rolls, 1546): Brass, some kind of cannon-sized piece?
  • Port Piece (or Murderer[1]) (Anthoney Rolls, 1546): Iron, breach loading?
  • Chamber Piece (Anthoney Rolls, 1546): Brass, breach loading?
  • Top Piece (Anthoney Rolls, 1546): Iron, breach loading?
  • Flanker (Ordnance Recommended to Arm the Defensive Earthworks Proposed for the Sussex Coast, 1587): being deployed on the flanks of earthworks.
  • Fowler (Anthoney Rolls, 1546): Iron, swivel gun?
  • Somma (Anthoney Rolls, 1546): Brass or iron.
  • Hailshot Piece (Anthoney Rolls, 1546): Iron, hand gun or swivel gun?
  • Double Base (Anthoney Rolls, 1546): Calibre: 8 in. Length: 12ft. Weight: 7,500 lb. Shot weight: 64lb*
  • Base (Anthoney Rolls, 1546 & Robert Norton: The Gunner, 1664): Iron, 45 lb
  • Demi-base (Anthoney Rolls, 1546): Iron, Calibre: 6.5 in. Length: 10-11ft. Weight: 5,500 lb. Shot weight: 33lb *
  • Sling (Anthoney Rolls, 1546): Iton, swivel gun?
  • Demi-sling (Anthoney Rolls, 1546): Iron, swivel gun?
  • Quarter Sling (Anthoney Rolls, 1546): Iron, swivel gun?
  • Syrene (Robert Norton: The Gunner, 1664): 8100 lb
  • Aspicke (Robert Norton: The Gunner, 1664): 7600 lb
  • Dragon (Robert Norton: The Gunner, 1664): 1400 lb
  • Pellican (Robert Norton: The Gunner, 1664): 2550 lb
  • Sparrow (Robert Norton: The Gunner, 1664): 4600 lb

* - According to Angus Konstam, Elizabethan Sea Dogs 1560-1605, based on William Borne, The Arte of Shooting in great Ordnaunce.

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