How Early Handgonnes Work

    Alexander Spiridonov demonstrates how to aim an early handgonne

    Mike Beliveau has uploaded an interesting guest video on his Duelist1954 channel. Alexander Spiridonov, a Russian engineer and black powder scholar, explains how Europe’s earliest firearms worked in battle.

    Gunpowder reached Europe via Genghis Khan’s Mongol Empire in the 13th century. Early European firearms began to emerge in the 1320s. By the 1500s Handgonnes were increasingly common place during sieges and field battles with Handgonners appearing in contemporary illustrations. Little more than bronze or iron tubes mounted on wooden shafts they began to be used alongside the more ubiquitous longbows and crossbows.

    Firearms, like crossbows before them, gained popularity rapidly as they were simple to make and use. Untrained men were able to master a projectile weapon relatively quickly when compared to the years of practice it took to master the powerful longbow.

    Handgonners in action during a siege

    Alexander Spiridonov discusses how Handgonnes were loaded and aimed. There is considerable debate about how Handgonnes were actually aimed with contemporary artistic representations showing various methods – and the accuracy of these images is difficult to confirm. Spiridonov makes some interesting hypotheses and demonstrates how, with slower burning serpentine powder, handgonners might have been able to ignite the powder and still have time to aim their weapons. He also does some interesting accuracy testing at about 11 yards. He manages to put 5 rounds on a relatively small target. Impressive accuracy for a replica of such an early firearm.

    Firearms evolved quickly and by the late 1400s arquebuses were becoming increasingly common. These new firearms began to see stocks and triggers similar to what we know today emerge. It is difficult to trace the history and development of early firearms in such a short post – if you want to find out more check out Medieval Handgonnes by Sean McLachlan or Firearms: A Global History to 1700 by Kenneth Chase.

    Matthew Moss

    Matthew Moss – Assistant Editor.

    Matt is a British historian specialising in small arms development and military history. He has written for a variety of publications in both the US and UK he also runs www.historicalfirearms.info, a blog that explores the history, development and use of firearms. Matt is also co-founder of www.armourersbench.com, a new video series on historically significant small arms.

    Reach Matt at: [email protected]


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