Probably the most important military development in Elizabeth’s reign was the victory of fire-arms over older weapons. It was by no means an easy victory; the substitution was made slowly, in the face of considerable difficulty, and even opposition from professional soldiers.

C. G. Cruickshank, Elizabeth’s Army, Oxford, 1946

Harquebusier or caliverman discharging his weapon

Harquebusier or caliverman discharging his weapon

There were at least twenty-four steps, or postures, before discharging a harquebus, caliver or musket (other scholars and commentators have counted both more and fewer depending on how they interpreted the moves). In their procedures the English followed the Dutch. The first illustrations of the postures in their proper order were by Jacob de Gheyn in his Wapenhandlingen van Roers, musquetten ende spiessen. For their technical accuracy and convincing sense of three-dimensional movement, they are often cited as fine examples of late sixteenth/early seventeenth century engraved art.

The first time these illustrations were used for training was around 1597 during the reorganization of the Dutch army by Maurits van Nassau-Dietz (Maurice Prince of Orange), but they were not released for ten years to prevent them being used by a potential enemy. When, in 1607, Gheyn’s work did at last appear, it was an instant success with the various steps being reproduced, with little or no alteration, in seventeenth century manuals across Europe.

There is not space here to reproduce all Gheyn’s illustrations, or to even list all the steps and postures, but the following compressed highlights will perhaps be of some help in understanding the complexity of the drill, and why practice was necessary to make the whole procedure second nature.

Harquebuse

  1. Unshoulder the already charged and primed harquebus
  2. Hold the piece upright in the right hand freeing the left to manipulate the slow match
  3. Move the piece down into the left hand
  4. Take up the match with the right hand
  5. Blow on the match to revive its glow
  6. Clamp the glowing end of the match within the cock
  7. Test the match to ensure it will reach the priming pan
  8. Cover the pan and blow on the match, then reopen the pan
  9. Bring down the piece into the firing position
  10. Aim and fire
  11. Return the piece to the left hand, the muzzle upwards
  12. Uncock the match
  13. Take the match in the left hand
  14. Blow the pan clean and take up the priming flask
  15. Prime the pan from the flask
  16. Close the pan
  17. Shake off and blow away any loose powder
  18. Bring the piece around to the left hip
  19. Take up the larger powder flask with the right hand
  20. Charge the piece by releasing powder from the flask into the barrel
  21. Withdraw the ramrod from within the forestock with the right hand
  22. With the right hand remove a ball from the mouth or shot-pouch or your mouth, and insert it in the barrel
  23. Ram home the shot and charge
  24. Reinsert the ramrod into the forestock
  25. Prepare the weapon for discharge by following the above steps from 2

Musket and rest

  1. Unshoulder the already charged and primed musket
  2. Hold the piece upright in the right hand while holding the match and rest in the left
  3. Bring the gun down into the left hand which continues to hold the match and rest
  4. Take the match with the right hand
  5. Blow the match to revive its glow
  6. Clamp the glowing end of the match within the cock
  7. Test the match to ensure that it reaches into the priming pan
  8. Cover the pan and blow again on the match
  9. Place the musket within the fork of the rest
  10. Aim and fire
  11. Return the musket to the right hip taking the weight of the gun in the left hand
  12. Uncock the match
  13. Take the match in the left hand
  14. Blow the pan clean and take up the small priming flask that is either hung from a shoulder strap or bandoleer
  15. Prime the pan from the flask
  16. Close the pan
  17. Shake off and blow away any loose powder
  18. Move the musket around to the left hip, butt down with rest trailing behind from the left hand
  19. Take up one of the small canisters (‘apostles’) hanging from the bandoleer across the chest
  20. Charge the musket by pouring the contents of the canister into the barrel
  21. Using the right hand, withdraw the ramrod from the forestock
  22. With the right hand, take a ball from either the mouth or the leather shot-pouch, insert it in the barrel
  23. Ram home the shot and charge
  24. Reinsert the ramrod into to the forestock
  25. Prepare the weapon for discharge following the above steps from 2