Social Impact of Cannon

Cannon were also beginning to have a social effect in the 14th century. Artillerists, largely men of lower class background, were regarded as the guardians of arcane secrets and knew it. Gunnery was still very much an art, and a poorly understood one at that. The gunners of the period worked purely on the basis of experience. Indeed, it appears that most of them had no clear notion of the trajectory described by a cannon-ball; they seem to have believed that the ball travelled in a straight line until the force of the powder was spent. Artillerymen very early earned acceptance by the social order in the most perfect of Medieval fashions. Guilds of gunners appeared fairly early, replicating all the practices of the guilds which regulated and guarded the secrets of less spectacular crafts. And they soon acquired a patron saint of their own, St. Barbara, selected appropriately enough because her martyrdom is alleged to have been avenged by a timely bolt of lightning. St. Barbara's Day, 4 December, became an occasion on which the artillerymen's guild engaged in great festivities. Her popularity was such that in both Italian and Spanish the name given to an ammo magazine is "santabarbara." Alas for the Middle Ages, St. Barbara was demoted to the status of a pious legend in 1969.

Despite acceptance, the growing importance of artillerymen and their "children" tended to have a destabilizing effect on the relatively orderly class-structure of the period. The gunners were often rough, crude, unsophisticated men, yet they had to be treated with respect and even honor by the aristocracy of the blood. In addition, they dealt death in a highly unchivalrous fashion, striking down the Quality with as much ease as the Quality had formerly struck down the Commonality. Moreover, their services were costly, a factor which effectively put such services out of the reach of all but the wealthiest in society.These included the great lords, the cities, and the kings, much to the detriment of the formerly influential lesser nobility. And as costs tended to rise, ultimately only the crown would be able to afford artillery, which would eventually break the power of the magnates and the cities and subject all to the will of the crown. This was a trend which was already under way by the late 14th Century, as the costs of making fortified places began to escalate beyond the means of the lesser lords. Kings began to find it easier to curb recalcitrant nobles.