The ascendancy of the West has been attributed to two factors, the deep-ocean wind ship and heavy ordnance …

One gun has been raised and conserved and is now on display in the Alderney Museum … the Alderney guns are our earliest complete, datable, provenanced gun unit of a kind that would become the standard naval weapon system for over three hundred years.

A fully conserved gun from the wreck.  The carriage and other timbers are modern reconstructions.

A fully conserved gun from the wreck. The carriage and other timbers are modern reconstructions.

The Alderney ship was full of weapons but cannon were its main armament. The complete number is not yet known, but is believed to be either eight or ten (because of weight distribution and operational space, there were not normally odd numbers of beam-firing guns). One gun has been raised and conserved and is now on display in the Alderney Museum, another has been closely studied on the sea-bed. All the shot so far recovered is of 78 – 80 mm (3? inches) diameter which reinforces our current view that the guns are all the same, that is to say 7 foot long, cast iron, smooth bore, muzzle loaders of 3½ inch bore and 14 hundredweight (1568 lbs).

Usually when we speak of cannon they are described in terms of the weight of shot they fired (12 pounders, 24 pounders, etc), but for much of the Tudor period there was a lack of technical regulation and guns were known by a bewildering array of names which caused as much confusion then as it does today. The largest were the cannon royals, the smallest were the robinets, in between were cannon, cannon perriers, demi cannon, culverins, demi culverins, sakers, minions, falcons, falconets, port pieces, fowlers, slings, demi slings, double bases, bases, etc; and then there were the variations of so-called ‘bastard’ type. The favoured gun on the large fighting ships at this time was the culverin, an example of which was excavated by the writer from the Dutch East Indiaman Nassau which sank in 1606 during a battle in the Straits of Malacca. But smaller vessels, because of burden and stability, favoured medium-weight sakers and minions. The recovered gun from the Alderney wreck was identified by the Royal Armouries of the Tower of London as a minion, a type that was common both on land and sea from the mid 16 th century to the end of the 17 th century. It must, however, be said that other commentators have thought the gun to be a saker, a slightly larger weapon but which, according to certain handbooks, also had a 3½ inch bore, and fired a 3¼ inch shot. The Trust has decided not to become involved in this debate until the remaining guns on the sea-bed have been studied and the facts marshalled.

Although the Alderney vessel was not a Queen’s ship proper, it has none the less been assumed that she was armed with Queen’s guns. This assumption is based on the evidence of Ordnance Board surveys of the time, in which it is clear that fleet auxiliaries and even common hoys (usually flush-decked, single-masted, sloop or gaff rigged coasters) were often issued with artillery. If boats that did no more than transport men and supplies about the Medway were armed with Queen’s guns, then certainly a vessel that was carrying Privy Council communications of the highest national importance through a war zone, would have been given appropriate Crown weaponry.