Watch a musket fire in slow motion and learn all about becoming a 17th Century musketeer!

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The regiment started 2015 with a bang as members spent the weekend training at a secret location just outside of Bradford in West Yorkshire – though the worst enemy they had to face was the gale force winds!

It gave us the opportunity to blow away the cobwebs after a long off-season and for some of the junior members of our musket block, who aren’t currently able to fire on the battlefield, to take the official Sealed Knot musket test. Once they’ve proven they can safely handle gunpowder, and load and fire a musket under pressure, then they pass and can use their matchlock musket in battle – so congratulations to Adam and David, who both passed their tests at the weekend and will be firing ‘in anger’ at their next event.

The musket is one of the most impressive parts of our displays and re-enactments; creating lots of crowd-pleasing noise and gunpowder smoke, you can imagine for yourself what it must have been like in the 1640s with massed volleys of musketeers all firing together in battle.

For more than 100 years, the matchlock musket was the universal firearm on European battlefields. Becoming widespread by the mid-16th Century, despite the invention of more advanced ignition systems such as that of the wheellock and the snaphance, the low cost of production, simplicity, and ready availability of the matchlock kept it in use in European armies until about 1720. It was eventually completely replaced by the flintlock as the foot soldier’s main armament.

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On the face if it, the matchlock is a fairly basic weapon, but the process of loading and firing it was slow and dangerous. At the bottom of the barrel, a small hole lead to a ‘pan’, into which a small amount of gunpowder is poured. More gunpowder is then poured down the barrel, followed by paper wadding and a round lead musketball. These are compacted together using a long stick called a scouring stick, compressing the gunpowder so that it explodes with more force when ignited.

Thin rope called match cord, impregnated with saltpetre (potassium nitrate) so that it burnt very slowly, is attached to the S-shaped ‘serpent’ on the side of the barrel; the serpent is connected to the trigger and when the trigger is pulled, it dips the burning match cord into the gunpowder in the pan, which in turns burns through the small hole and ignites the gunpowder in the barrel.

Our training weekend was also an opportunity to do some quick filming of a musket shot in slow-motion, which we’ve then slowed down even further to show you the process we’ve described above. There are two shots from different angles, with newly-qualified musketeer David and our musket officer Dave, slowed down to 80%, 10% and 2% their normal speed.

To give you a better idea how to load and fire a musket, Dave and musketeer Martin show you the process:

Musketballs were irregular in shape but packed a massive punch if fired close enough to a target. Unlike modern bullets which cut through their target, musketballs punch their way through and would eviscerate organs and shatter bone, leading to horrific injuries, and would also often fragment on impact, leaving scraps of lead in the wound. Most casualties from English Civil War battles died not on the battlefield but afterwards from infection and musket wounds were a major cause of death.

The problem with the musket was that it was highly unreliable and inaccurate – the gun might fail to fire, or even blow up, and even if it did fire the lack of barrel rifling and the irregular shape of the musketball would mean hitting a specific target at a long range was very difficult, so the only effective way to use them was to have rows of them shooting at the same time, creating a massed volley that would cut enemy soldiers down. They were also slow to load – even skilled musketeers might manage, at best, two or three shots a minute, and some training manuals of the time had up to 43 separate commands and moves for loading, presenting and firing! They were also vulnerable – when unloaded, musketeers had no means of defending themselves from cavalry attacks, so infantry regiments would also include pikemen who would use their long spear-like weapons to ward off enemy horse. Musketeers also had a tendency for blowing themselves up – with all those explosives and lit matchcords around there were many incidents of people being blown skyhigh by their own side.

The main advantage of the musket, however, was its versatility. Whereas cavalrymen needed to have and know how to ride a horse, and pikemen needed to have strength, discipline and training, you could take an untrained man from a field or a town and have him firing on a battlefield in a matter of days.

The musket was the great leveller. Nobleman and commoner alike could fall to its fire. It was easy to produce and musketeers were relatively easy to replace. Warfare suddenly became a matter of firepower.

At the beginning of the first English Civil War in 1642, there were two musketeers for every pikeman. By the end of the third war, the ratio of musketeers was four or five. But it is not until the invention of the bayonet later in the 17th Century, enabling musketeers to defend themselves against cavalry, that the pike disappeared from the battlefield and the gun reigned supreme.

So, you’ve seen the science – but what’s it like being a musketeer in the Earl of Manchester’s Regiment of Foote? Well, here’s a video showing our musketeers in action!

Remember, YOU could be taking to the field as a musketeer! Visit our contacts page or contact our recruitment team leader Ian direct by calling 07932 706896 or emailing theearlofmanchesters@gmail.com

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