Leather guns and other light artillery in mid-17th-century Scotland

Leather guns and other light artillery in mid-17th-century Scotland

David Stevenson and David H. Caldwell

Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Vol.108 (1977)


The so-called ‘leather guns’ of the 17th century originated in the 1620s, and first became famous through the efforts made by King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden to provide his army with light, mobile artillery. Until this time most gunshadbeensounwieldy that, once placed in position on the battlefield, they had to be left in the same position throughout the battle; thus they often proved virtually useless except in the opening stages of battles. Gustavus Adolphus therefore initiated a series of experiments aimed at producing a gun which was effective in giving protection against enemy infantry and cavalry and which could be moved quickly enough to keep up with the fortunes of battle, advancing or retreating withtheinfantry.Ofthemany experimental guns produced, ‘the to famous,butquite ephemeral “leather gun”was the best remembered’.

A large gunwound with rope and cased in leather is recorded as early as 1375(Carman 1955, 26), but it is not known whether the 17th-century leather guns owed anything to such early experiments. They first appear in 1622, in Zurich, their construction being attributed to Philipp Eberhard, and for a time these guns proved quite popular in their native Switzerland. News of the invention was brought to Sweden by an Austrian officer who enlisted in the Swedish service, Melchior Wurmprandt or Wurmbrandt; by 1627 (and probably earlier) he was building leather guns for Gustavus Adolphus (Wijn 1970, 218; Roberts 1958,I,232; Hime 1898, 595-7; Carman 1955, 62, 63; Blackmore 1976, 233). Several of these Swedish leather guns survive, and are described in part II; their construction varies in detail, but basically they consist of a relatively thin metal barrel tightly wound with rope, wire or cord, with a tough leather casing shrunk on top.

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