Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the University of Southampton's online course, Agincourt 1415: Myth and Reality. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds DAN SPENCER: Hello. I’m Dan Spencer. I’m at the Royal Armouries. I’m here with a gun dating from the 15th century. So the English first began to use gunpowder weapons in the mid 14th century, but it wasn’t until the first decade of the 15th century that they began to use guns similar to this one that were capable of causing significant damage to the fortifications of any new settlements. Rather usually these weapons were given the right individual names, so a surviving inventory of guns which belonged to Henry in 1415, were called names such as ‘The George’ and ‘God’s Grace.’

Skip to 0 minutes and 47 seconds In this period, there were two main types of guns that were used by the English, the very large sorts of guns as we have here, which were later referred to as being bombards, the other type were very much smaller guns which were called fowlers, which fired much smaller gun stones. The fowlers, as they had removable powder chambers had a much greater rate of fire, whereas the large bombards here, because the ammunition was so much heavier and larger, they could only be fired at much slower rates and maybe a couple times an hour. At this particular period in time, the English did not use guns on the battlefield, so they were not used by the English at Agincourt.

Skip to 1 minute and 34 seconds They were, however, used at the siege of Harfleur earlier on in the campaign. And they were used by the English to cause significant damage to the walls of the French town, which eventually compelled the French defenders to surrender to the English. In 1415, Henry recruited a large number of foreign gunners, most likely from the modern Netherlands or Germany to fire, make, and maintain his weapons. So we have a record of 29 master gunners and 58 assistant gunners being retained for the campaign. Unlike a modern gunner, these men weren’t simply the people who fired the guns, but they also had smithery skills, which meant that they could construct these weapons on the forge.

Skip to 2 minutes and 27 seconds They also, such as at the siege of Harfleur, directed teams of labourers in moving and firing these weapons and they were also responsible for repairing them as well and making gunpowder. As I said before, guns were used at great effects at the siege of Harfleur and we know this for a fact because we have the surviving town accounts, whilst the time was under English control, and they shared that for years afterwards. The English were paying for repairs to the damage fortifications being caused by gunfire.

Skip to 3 minutes and 8 seconds NICK HALL: This is a wrought iron breech-loading gun. It’s a replica of one of probably late 15th century date and found on the wreck in Plymouth Harbour, Cattewater. And we’re going to demonstrate firing it without a projectile, this in other respects possibly in the way it would have originally been fired.

Skip to 3 minutes and 40 seconds These breech loaders were provided with usually at least two powder chambers and the powder chamber is loaded into the breech. The ball would, of course, have been put into the barrel before putting in the powder chamber. So I put the powder chamber in. I like to make sure that it’s lined up and with the vent or touch hole at the top and it looks as though the taper at the forward edge is presented well to the barrel. And then the wedge is knocked in. It doesn’t have to be incredibly tight, but it needs to be tight enough so that that seal is as good as possible. That is simply a metal-to-metal seal.

Skip to 4 minutes and 34 seconds So the powder is already in there and so the gun now is loaded, but it’s not quite ready to fire. The priming powder has to be put in and then it’s ignited with a slow match. Right. I’m now putting priming powder in the touch hole or the vent so that the flame from the slow match can communicate with the main powder charge. I’m going to put this back in a safe place. The gunner would wear it. And I’m going to put on my ear defenders. Put the apron of lead there.

Skip to 5 minutes and 21 seconds Excellent.

Skip to 5 minutes and 26 seconds I told you it was loud.

Medieval gunpowder weapons

In this video, Dan describes how medieval gunpowder weapons were used at the time of Agincourt. We also watch the loading and firing of a replica medieval gun.

This video was filmed on location at the Royal Armouries Fort Nelson, near Portsmouth, UK. The replica gun is loaded and fired by Nicholas Hall, Keeper of Artillery.

What do you find interesting about the use of gunpowder weapons at this moment in history?

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Agincourt 1415: Myth and Reality

University of Southampton

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join: