How common were firearms on English ships during the Tudor period?

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MLF Supporter
Jan 27, 2008
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Republic mo
Good example of time. Henry VIII still has breach loading cannon in abundance. While by 1588 and the armada cast bronze cannon were the norm.
Good king Harry passed a law outlawing bowling. Seems too many yeoman were rolling ball on a summer Sunday afternoon then practicing at butts. And he needed his archers.
By Elizabethan times it was less important. Famously Drake was bowling when the Armada was first sighted. He finished the game before retiring to his ship. ( not an act of British officer calmness under fire, he just had lots of time as the plan was to let the Armada pass then come out windward of them).


32 Cal.
Nov 24, 2009
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San Antonio, Texas
The Swedish warship Mars aka. Makalös or "Jutehatar" of Eric XIVth had 173 guns--one of the largest warships afloat at the time before it sank in 1564 off Öland. This time period, like that of the 1588 Armada battles, marks the transition from boarding as the principal means of naval warfare to bombardment of enemy vessels with guns.

Cursed Warship Revealed With Treasure Onboard

Douglas McElvogue, Tudor Warship Mary Rose (Conway/Bloomsbury, 2015), goes into considerable details about the ship's armament, and the weapons used aboard before it heeled over and sank with great loss of life in a battle with the French.

Wrought iron guns, breech-loading, with three breech chambers at least per gun. Most fired stone shot, some cast iron shot, and smaller guns lead shot or pellets.

Port pieces only appear in inventory after 1535. These weighed 1,200 lbs. with a bore between 6-in. and 10-in. and a weight of shot 9 to 10-lbs. There were 12 of these by 1545.

Slings, demi-slings, and quarter slings--"Serpent" class guns, made of wrought iron with elm stocks with wheels and two or three spare breech chambers each. Mounted in the waist, fore castles, and firing a shot 5-1/4" of approx. 6-1/2lbs. weight, the gun had a high length to caliber ratio and was thought to be a longer-range gun. The demi-sling had a shot of 3-1/4lbs. 4" bore for the demi-sling, 3" for the quarter sling. stone, iron, and cannister shot.

Fowlers--wrought iron breech-loader that fired stone shot. short barrel, close-quarter, low-velocity weapons with a 6-lb. shot.

Bases--small wrought iron swivel guns on "minches" slotted into sockets and clamps on the fore and summer castles. 1/2-lb. shot with a 2-1/2-in. bore.

Top pieces--another swivel gun in the fighting tops.

Cast iron ordnance--Most cast guns were bronze/ brass, but there were some cast iron guns too.

Hailshot pieces--short, cast iron handguns with a rectangular bore firing "dice shot." This is basically the medieval handgonne fired from a rail or a pavise to repel boarders.

Handguns--These are large matchlock harquebuses, mostly purchased from merchants in Milan. Italian gun founders were encouraged to settle in Britain by Henry VIII.

Brass cannon and demi-cannon--7-inch bore firing a cast iron shot of 45-lbs. "Curtows" was an older name for these guns. Each weighed about 7,000-lbs. Elm carriages with truck wheels on the orlop deck, firing from gun ports in the hull. Primary anti-ship armament of Mary Rose.

Culverins and demi-culverins--high length to bore diameter ratio. Culverins could be 14-ft. long, with a 5 to 5-1/2" bore and 9-lb. shot. Found throughout the ship.

Saker--A 4-in. bore firing a 3-3/4-in. shot weighing about 5-1/4-lbs. Cast iron, stone, and cannister shot.

Falcon--light cast bronze gun firing cast iron, lead, and cannister about 2-1/2-lbs. mounted on small carriages and found high up in fore castles and summer castles.

Falconets--light cast bronze piece, firing 1-1/2-lb. shot or cannister.

Longbows of yew--250 longbows in five chests, 60 gross bowstrings, 9,600 arrows in 8 chests of 50 sheaves, or 192 arrows per chest. The sheave of 24 arrows was carried by the bowman.

Polearms--Morris pikes and bills. About 100 of each type. The bill was hafted on a shaft approx. 6-ft. in length. The Morris pike was shorter than the pike used on land.

Darts-- 40 dozen total, thrown down onto the opposing deck from the fighting tops. Some of these could be carrying a flaming substance if required.

Soldiers would have had bucklers, swords, etc. and probably every man aboard had a bollock dagger.

"Habiliments of war": Great curtows, great murders, Iron stocked gun with chamber, sling, falcon, falconet, murder, serpentine, hackbus, top pieces, ball of wildfire, linstocks, fire arrows, long bows,

Cannon, culverins, demi-culverins, bastard cannon, cannon royal, port piece, sling, demi-sling, quarter-sling, brass culverin, cast demi-cannon, cannon, cannon royal, demi-cannon, culverins, demi-culverins, minion, falcon,

Iron ordnance--port piece, demi-sling, sling, etc...

stone shot, iron shot, bar shot, star shot, lead shot/ pellets, canister shot of three types, dice shot. If you can read the old English and the crazy Roman numerals, there is an inventory.

Some of the other shipwrecks might shed light on the OP question. For example, the Mansfield channel shipwrecks, Spanish caravels that wrecked in 1554 and were excavated. Many of the finds are in Corpus Christi.


32 Cal.
May 9, 2013
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Angus Konstam's book 'Elizabethan Sea Dogs' says that on Martin Frobisher's ship Triumph there were 100 firearms issued before the battles of the Armada campaign. He also says that, of the weapons captured by the Spanish from John Hawkins' expedition in 1568, there were 89 muskets, 121 arquebuses, and 16 arquebus-á-croc.

Obviously these were more organised/high-profile vessels, so maybe the numbers were lower on smaller or less well-equipped ships. Still though, I'd welcome any information on how common firearms were aboard English ships during the Tudor period, whether naval, merchant, or privateer. Any comparison between the early, mid, and late Tudor periods would also be good.
what is an arquebus-a'-croc? I have never heard of one before.


32 Cal
Oct 6, 2020
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what is an arquebus-a'-croc? I have never heard of one before.
A larger, heavier piece meant to be fired like a wall-gun, or in this case likely from the ship's railing. On land they were sometimes fired mounted on wagons.

Pukka Bundook

45 Cal.
Jun 28, 2007
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Alberta Canada.
Speaking of wagons, the Huzzite wars are very interesting reading.... same time period as well....would make a very good film, rather than the too usual blowing stuff up and no story -line.