It is impossible to ascribe a definite date or a definite country of origin for the first Matchlock, the lock which mechanically carried the fire to the priming and tliereby made elementary gun sights practical.
Like all mechanical devices of importance, once the principle was established, copies and improvements and variations appeared in tremendous numbers. Moreover, the time in which we first encounter the Matchlock was an epochal period in the development of military might. It was the period when the old system of dependence on feudal levies for war was being replaced by armies of regular troops.
All of Europe was experimenting with and developing instruments of war. Every nation was on the alert for anything new which would save it from aggression—or help it in aggression.
Very early English records show a knowledge of hand firearms but it is not until 1471 that we find them of military' importance, as introduced by Edward IV. It is to Henry VIII (1509-1547) that England is indebted for much of the early development of her hand firearms. The annals, order and inventories of his time, as well as many of the actual weapons used, have come down to us as understandable and detailed pieces in the mosaic of arms evolution. Henry VIII drew- on all the development centers of the Continent for his knowledge, but most particularly from Flanders and Germany. He centered and developed a great arms industry at London in The Minories, a convent which was founded in 1293 and which Henry sei?ed in 1539, promptly converting it to an arsenal. Stow, a contemporary historian, in a Survey of London written in 1598 testifies to the way this original arsenal had growm by the time he wrote. Very few of the important inventions of those early days were English; that country's conservatism being well evidenced by the fact that it w-as not until October 25, 1595, that an Order of Council instructed that all the "trained bands" must turn in long bows and arrows, to be replaced with "calivers and muskets." Various inventories list both bows and arrows in quantity until about 1635. Indeed the bow was not accepted as obsolete until 1638, when the official inventories dropped all mention of the weapon.
Howrever, ever)' development wras duly reported and samples imported by Henry VIII and his successors.
The Zeugbiicher of The Emperor Maximilian (1159-1519)
Across the scene now stalks one of the strangest and least known figures in history—Maximilian I, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, one of the most com plex characters that even Germany has ever produced; a man whose influence on the period in which he lived, particularly with reference to military matters, and to the evolution of the Germany to come, has never been properly weighed.
Maximilian instituted great military reforms, the most notable being the establishment of the first standing army—the Landsknechte. A great huntsman, he was also an artillery expert of note. He was interested in every phase of small arms development.
The Zeiigbucher—the Arsenal Books—of Maximilian, comprising nine huge, profusely illustrated volumes in their assembled form, are the outstanding record of arms developments to the year of his death, 1519. The entries run from the most learned and erudite by scientific minds of those days to the scribblings of unlearned smiths who forged and hammered out the actual weapons. The illustrations range from the most primitive to the genius of Diirer.
It is largely to these Arsenal Books that we must turn for a clear picture of the early period of the Matchlock, though the arms range from the Cannon Lock through many varieties of the Wheel-Lock. It must be remembered that there is never a distinct dividing line in the design and use of weapons. In primitive areas the Matchlock and the Flintlock are in use even in our own time.
The first positive record of the "serpentine," the first Matchlock, occurs about the beginning of the 15th Century. The best known and authenticated of the early drawings is found in Codex 3069 at Vienna (date 1411).
Very early attempts were made at designing the serpentine, as shown in Codex 1390 (Erlangen) and Codex 55 (Vienna), but these were merely anticipations of the successful matchlock of fifty years later.
The earliest and simplest Matchlock to see field use was the simple "C" type; followed by the elementary iron bar, bent to form a reversed "S", pivoted to the stock. The match was held in a split section at the top. To fire, the soldier aiming the piece pushed the serpentine with his left index finger, dropping the lighted match into the flash pan. This form is shown in Codex hon. 22 (Munich) and in other contemporary 15th Century records. It is said by Hol-linshed to have been in use in 1471 by Edward IV in his landing in Yorkshire at Ravenspur; while at the famous battle of Pavia its use enabled the Spanish to route the French army. It was issued to the English Yeomen of the Guard in 1485. A Swiss harquebus of the period of 1500-1510 of this general type still to be seen in Basle has a bronze barrel, front and rear sights and ramrod, as well as a needle for cleaning the touch-hole.
Tn the Codex Germanicus 599 (Munich), dated 1475 A.D., attributed to Martin Merz, the most celebrated arms authority of that day, is illustrated and described a matchlock with many features generally overlooked until the end of the 17th Century. Curiously, its tremendous military potential was not grasped.
This arm had a right hand lock plate concealing a system of levers and springs. Pressure on a trigger was transmitted through a short sear to drop the cock carrying the match forward (most early matchlocks brought the cock back toward the shooter). This arm had both breech and muzzle sights (most early
types had only a rear sight, if any). A needle for cleaning the touch-hole was attached to the forearm and an iron ramrod was carried in a socket below the barrel. (The iron ramrod was introduced in the field in 1698 by Prince Leopold I of Anhalt Dessau. Ii contributed materially to his victory at Mollowitz in 1730.)
This type of arm made its initial appearance in Cannon Lock days but came into general military use only in the day of the Matchlock, and reached its highest form during the Wheel-Lock period.
The name probably derived from the "hak" (haken or harq), a spur projecting from below the fore-end, which served as a recoil block when hooked over a wall or against the forked stick on which the gun was usually supported when fired. This design was known as the harquebus, hakbut, hackbut, arquebus?, archibuso and by various other terms. The original hac (in French "k croc"), was much lighter than the "handgone" whose other names included demi-hake, halbehaken, handbuchse, handrohre (from the High German meaning hand-tube), bombardes a main, canons & main, sclopos, schioppi, schiopetto, escopettes, scopitus, etc.
In later pieces the "hak" or spur was eliminated but the name and its variants continued; a fact which seems to have confused numerous writers.
In Codex Icon. 222 (Munich) is a drawing in detail of one of Maximilian's
landsknecht firing a harquebus from the shoulder. The spur had by then gone from the piece, and no rest was employed. The lock is a serpentine dropping towards the firer.
These included "standbüchsen," "scheibenbüchsen," and "zeilbüchsen," target guns, usually rifled, and fired from a rest; "pirschbüchsen," hunting rifles . of large bore; "soldnerbüchsen" or infantry guns (an improved harquebus); and "langeróhr," a variety of long barreled harquebus.
Viscount Dillon's On the Development of Gunlocks, Thierbach and Schón, and the Nunnemac.her Catalog in America, afford detailed studies. Chronologically, the types run as follows:
Button Lock: This seems to be the earliest type in wide use employing springs and levers, not merely a pivoted serpentine. Probably German in origin, it is widely illustrated in the works of Maximilian's time. Pressure on a button on the outside of the lock plate released the cock (serpentine) which dropped into the flash pan. This was the most common military form until about 1520.
Pressure Locks: This most common and successful type of spring and lever matchlock was used long after better methods of ignition were developed. It was noted for its simplicity, consisting only of a cock, tumbler, sear and two flat springs. When the cock attached to the tumbler axle is pulled back it is caught by one end of the sear. Pulling the trigger releases the tumbler and allows it to revolve 90 degrees under spring force, bringing the lighted match down into the priming powder. Locks of this variety were manufactured in the Tower of London as early as 1521 by Cornelius Johnson.
Snap Locks: The 'litntenschnappschloss"—light snapping lock—also called the "schwammschloss"—tinder lock—was common on the Continent and is listed in many inventories from 1568 to 1596. Its name came from the fact that it carried a piece of tinder or match in a small lube in the jaws of the cock. The tinder was ignited by the soldier directly from a lighted match just before firing. Pushing the sear dropped the tinder under mainspring action into the pan. This lock is considered by some authorities to have been the forerunner of the snaphaunce. This lock was often used as a supplementary lock in conjunction with the standard Matchlock (and also with the later Wheel-Lock) as it was considered more reliable than either.
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