This edited article about guns first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 536 published on 22 April 1972.
There are some weird and wonderful weapons in the Artillery Museum at Woolwich outside London, and one of the strangest is the “Leather Gun.” The barrel is a copper tube bound with rope and covered in leather. It may have belonged to King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden who made good use of these strange “leather-guns” during the Thirty Years’ War, though other countries used them as well.
No one is certain who invented leather-guns. A good claim could have been made by a Scotsman named Robert Scott. He died in 1631 and there is a monument to him in London’s Lambeth Church. It says that the inventor “. . . bent himself to travel and studie much and amongst other things invented the leather ordinance and carried to the Kinge of Sweden 200 men . . .” Unfortunately for Scott, an Austrian gun-maker also arrived at the Swedish court and got the credit for Gustavus Adolphus’s revolutionary artillery.
Scott had a nephew named Weems and he cashed in on leather gun-making during the English Civil War. Colonel Weems seems to have earned quite a fortune from his leather-guns and by 1643 he had become Lt. General of Ordinance and Train. Weems’s cannon could be drawn by one horse and this lightness, plus their cheapness, made them very popular. On the other hand they wore out quickly and sometimes got so hot during a battle that they went off of their own accord!
The Parliamentarians’ light artillery also had another advantage over heavy iron guns; they did not need so many animals to pull them. Even that dashing Royalist, Prince Rupert, had to throw some of his best cannon into the Thames to stop them getting captured. He just didn’t have enough horses to tow them away.
When the brilliant Duke of Marlborough came on the scene some decades later the British Army’s artillery was still in a sorry state. Marlborough was a great general and fully understood the importance of gunnery. The whole organization of trains of artillery was brought up to date and new ideas adopted. Uniforms were standardized, as was equipment. Some trains even included portable boats as well as guns, ammunition waggons and blacksmith’s forges on carts. Yet even in Marlborough’s “modern army” half the men in every train were civilian drivers hired with their horses to pull the guns. The poor discipline of these civilian drivers may have been one reason for the creation of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. The Fusiliers guarded the artillery trains, but they also had to keep an eye on the panicky drivers if the battle started to get dangerous.
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