Cannon, development

Cannon were getting larger and better in the 14th century, so that pieces of more than 1,000 pounds were in existence by Du Guesclin's death. There was one at Mons in 1375 which ran to 9,500 pounds. But such monster guns were so immobile as to be practically worthless and so costly as to practically beggar their owners. As a result, most cannon remained fairly small. In a list of 73 pieces of artillery manufactured for Richard II of England (reigned 1377-1399) in the period 1382-1388, the heaviest weighed no more than 737 pounds, while the nine lightest were but 43 pounds each; the average weight of the entire lot was but 294 pounds. Guns were surprisingly still without wheels, normally being mounted on heavy sledges. This greatly impeded their movement as well as making accuracy in aiming little more than guess-work, as the pieces had to be moved by brute force, but neither problem appears to have bothered anyone at the time.

Casting was increasingly replacing welding as the preferred means for constructing cannon. Iron, however, was still much more favored than bronze as a gun metal, due largely to the greater cost of the latter; Richard II's 73 pieces apparently included only four bronze guns. Despite advances in the technology of gun making, each cannon was essentially an individual --indeed, guns were usually named, a practice indicative both of their relative rarity and their highly individual qualities. This was typical of the age, as there was little standardization either in manufacture or anything else.

Nevertheless, it was in this period that the basic types of artillery pieces were evolved. Thus there were;

Mortars. Squat, short-barreled pieces capable of hurling bombs and balls over obstacles at fairly high angles, but with little range.

Bombards. Very heavy pieces able to fire great stone or lead or iron balls at reasonable ranges in order to batter down walls.

Culverins. Long, lighter pieces firing modest sized balls at great distances.

Experimental pieces of all sorts were developed, including repeating firearms, rifled weapons, and breech loaders. But technical problems in the manufacture of such made them highly ineffective, expensive, and usually even more dangerous to use than the ordinary firearms of the day. Multi-barreled guns known as ribaults were popular, in the form of dozens of little cannon firing one or two pound balls, all mounted on a single frame, all of which could be discharged simultaneously, thus creating the first genuine anti-personnel firearms.