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Medieval Handgonnes: The first black powder infantry weapons Paperback – October 19, 2010

4.3 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“This book charts the rise of the 14th century new weapon that used black powder to shoot projectiles ... Military weapons collections will welcome this survey!” ―The Midwest Book Review

“The best historical account on the development of gunpowder that I've yet encountered.” ―Dick Salzer, Arms Heritage Magazine

“One often wonders about the origin of hand held gunpowder weapons and thanks to this book, author Sean McLachlan carries us back to the early 14th century to tell us the story of those early projectile weapons ... another superb title in Osprey's new Weapons series.” ―Scott Van Aken, Modeling Madness (October 2010)

“... this book reveals the true history of what may be the most revolutionary weapon in history. The author uses the latest scientific and historical research to expose the accuracy and the penetrative power of the medieval handgonne. He includes firsthand accounts of battle experiences and a discussion on the impact the handgonnes had upon tactics and the use of armor during the medieval and later periods.” ―www.mataka.org (November 2010)

About the Author

Sean McLachlan is a full-time writer who has previously written American Civil War Guerrilla Tactics for Osprey Publishing as well as a number of magazine articles and books for other publishers on a range of historical subjects. His interest in medieval handgonnes was first fueled by a visit to the Medieval Centre in Denmark where groundbreaking research is currently being undertaken on the subject of medieval technologies.

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Product Details

  • Series: Weapon (Book 3)
  • Paperback: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Osprey Publishing (October 19, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1849081557
  • ISBN-13: 978-1849081559
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.3 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,377,449 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Steven Peterson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 11, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Fine examination of the first "black powder infantry weapons," as the subtitle for this book has it. This is another volume in Osprey Publishing's "Weapon" series.

The 14th century witnessed the first serious military use of black powder. This book traces the development of black powder weapons through the mid-14th century and the next 150 years or so. These were the precursors to the matchlock arquebus from the late 15th and 16th centuries. The early guns were simple weapons (Page 4), ". . .lit by a slow match held in the hand for want of a trigger and lock." However the guns evolved fairly rapidly. The handgonnes certainly look different from pistols/muskets/rifles that we are used to (e.g., see a drawing of a soldier firing a handgonne on page 5). The handgonne itself is defined as a pre-matchlock hand held black powder weapon.

The book begins with a discussion of the development of black powder and the military revolution that it set off. Cannons developed early, using powder to throw a variety of weapons ahead (including arrows!). The process of making gunpowder is discussed, as well as the variety of powders actually used. Given the increased use of cannons, why were handgonnes developed at all? It appears that when handgonnes were paired with the bow and arrow, one had a pretty effective multiple weapon formation. And the technology for making gunpowder improved the quality and capability of firepower.

Three different types of handgonnes were deployed in combat--from fairly simple to considerably more complex. An actual example of a surviving handgonne as well as a depiction of these weapons being used in combat on pages 30-31 and 37 help illustrate the look of these weapons. The book also discussed the use of handgonnes in various wars (e.g.
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Format: Paperback
The development of early artillery is a topic hotly debated by historians. Many questions still remain poorly understood, more so as few researchers have a proper grasp of both the primary sources on the one hand and the chemistry and technology on the other hand to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Since most of the scholarly research has been devoted to heavy artillery you would be hard pressed to find any kind of publication focusing on the handgonne. Sean McLachlan's work attempts to fill this void and the timing is certainly well chosen. Typically for Osprey titles, it is not a heavyweight scholarly analysis but rather an accessible, richly illustrated volume aimed at the general public.

At a first glance, the book covers all the bases one would expect, starting with the invention of gunpowder and ending in the early 16th c. when the matchlock arquebus finally replaced the simple handgonne. However, the text is not without serious flaws though most might not be readily apparent to a casual reader. It is basically a compilation and not based on any serious amount of original research. There are no footnotes and citations but anyone professionally involved in this field of study will be able to tell quite easily where the author was borrowing from.

Sadly, in many cases the information has been »borrowed« a bit too hastily. Overly simplified conclusions have been drawn and on a few occasions the information is flat out wrong. For example, the discussion on the experiments at Graz is based on an inaccurate reading of the German text, resulting in a number of errors. Many of the major conclusions in the book are necessarily flawed as well or at least unconvincing. Also, some of the eqipment depicted on the illustrations is clearly anachronistic, i.e. 17th c.
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Format: Paperback
People have been killing each other with guns for centuries. Some may find it surprising that guns actually played a role in the War of the Roses and the 1453 Siege of Constantinople. They appear in European chronicles as early as the mid-14th century. Of course gunpowder, that beguiling mixture of saltpeter, sulfur and charcoal, had to come first. The discovery of saltpeter in particular must make for an interesting tale. However, the early history of guns in Europe remains nearly as murky as the early history of gunpowder in China. Many pre-modern eras had very different attitudes towards history and name recognition and so accurate dates and personages related to numerous significant events will likely stay perennially imprecise. Nonetheless, the highly infomative and intriguing little book, "Medieval Handgonnes" from Osprey Publishing attempts a lineage of the earliest guns that saw battle. The use of the medieval spelling "handgonne" throughout lends an air of historical accuracy and also serves to contrast the older weapons discussed from modern handguns. Though the similarities of these handgonnes to modern weapons probably outnumber the differences. As the book states, the basic design of the gun was established very early. Apart from matchlocks, cartridges and other advances, the essential basic design of a firearm has persisted to the present day.

The book includes voluminous photos of these early weapons and, at a cursory glance, many resemble spears, strange battle axes or some kind of blunt instrument used for bludgeoning opponents.
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