Little work has been done on how artillery developed in the 15th century into the recognizable cannon form – one which was so successful that it remained essentially the same for over 300 years. New research, using a combination of object studies, experimental archaeology and documentary evidence, is now enabling us to ‘see’ how some of the changes took place. This paper will outline the way that the medieval cannon, a formidable but not fully realised weapon became a dominant force on the battlefield, on fortifications and aboard ship.
It took many decades from the first appearance of gunpowder artillery in the early 14th century before there was a significant impact on the design and construction of fortifications – castles, forts, city walls, fortified churches or baronial towers. To start with, the usual approach was to pierce holes for small guns in existing walls; as guns became more effective new approaches were required. The 15th century was dominated by the construction of towers designed to house guns before, during the 16th, it became universally accepted that low-lying geometrically-shaped inter-locking layers of bastions and outworks were the future. Prior to that, at different times and places, old fortresses were reconstructed, or built anew: was this because of an external threat, or further technological change, or was it a question of keeping up appearances? We will examine through a number of continent-wide examples this evolution and possible motivations.
Researching gunners and gunfounders before 1500 has special difficulties. Like other soldiers and craftsmen, they crossed boundaries in time and space, leaving little trace. One such example is Patrick de la Mote, chief gunner and master founder first under Richard III, then under Henry VII of England. He advised to the Knights of Saint John on Rhodes following the first siege and in 1507 he was employed by Louis XII to set up a new gun foundry. This talk will stress the difficulties of researching such a far-flung life – have you seen Patrick de la Mote?