… the Alderney guns would seem to confirm what many have thought, that the Armada experience and the continuous threat of invasion, led to a higher level of professionalism within the Navy.
In short, the Alderney ship was very likley able to out-gun anything her own size or smaller that she could not out-run, and could out-run anything bigger that she could not out-gun. A perfect formula for a dispatch vessel carrying letters from the Chief Minister, Lord Burghley, to the nation’s formost general, Sir John Norryes, who was campaigning to prevent a second attempted invasion by Spain.
It can be argued that the guns from the Alderney wreck and those from the Mary Rose represent the two most important, dated, provenanced gun collections in the world. Just as it is not possible to discuss the state of gunnery in the English fleet under Henry VIII without reference to the Mary Rose, so too is it impossible to consider the state of naval gunnery under Elizabeth I without reference to the Alderney ship. As we have seen, comparisons between the armament of the two ships are highly illuminating. In broad terms, the Mary Rose guns of 1545, looked to the past; the much smaller collection from the Alderney wreck of 1592 were totally different and looked to the future. Only 47 years separated the two vessels, but in that period nothing less than a revolution had taken place in gun design, manufacturing and ballistic science.
The Mary Rose was a cumbersome, backward-looking, old-style ship with castles at both ends, that depended as much on its archers as its gunners for success in the grapple-and-board actions it favoured. The Alderney ship came at the end of a period of transition; it was smaller and more weatherly and was without a forecastle; it was intended for stand-off actions. The Mary Rose contained what its excavator called a ‘random mixture’ of guns which gave a sense of ‘making do’. Some of the guns were old stone-shot, stave-built, wrought iron, breech-loaders on wooden beds, others were huge, much more powerful, cast bronze, muzzle-loaders; some were on field mounts whose recoil would have been difficult to control, others were on carriages that, as we have seen, anticipated those from the Alderney wreck. The muzzle-loaders from the Mary Rose were not only all of bronze but were all different (and thus of different ballistic capability); on the current evidence, the guns from the Alderney wreck, were all the same and of a technology, material and type that would not change much until Nelson and after. In fact, the cast iron, smooth-bore muzzle-loader was in use right up until the dawn of the twentieth century.
In conclusion, the Alderney guns represent the victory of iron over bronze, muzzle-loaders over breech-loaders, trucked carriages over stationary stocks, new breeching over old, corned powder over serpentine powder and iron shot over stone. These were all major innovations which had far-reaching effects not only on the management of ordnance at sea, but also upon the construction of ships as gun platforms which not only were able to protect a nation whose only borders are the sea, but which could also be wind-driven to the ends of the earth and, once there, by feat of arms, or by no more than the threat of arms, impose British will. The importance of the Alderney guns lies not in any one piece, but in them all as an entire, coordinated, uniform weapon system, a weapon system which gave Britain a domination of the seas that lasted until the twentieth century, and whether for better or worse, helped build and sustain an empire which changed the economic, political and social history of the world.