The earliest reference to a hand held gun is found in China in 1260. This weapon was a simple tube with a hole by which its user lit the powder and is referred to as a hand cannon. The weapon spread west until in the early 1400's it reached Europe, where it was developed into the arquebus, the light precursor of the full sized muskets that appeared in the 1500's. By the 17th Century the musket was becoming the weapon of choice.
THE MUSKET THEN
Muskets were muzzle-loaded, smooth-bore guns, up to 48 inches in length. They fired a ball and as the barrel was not rifled, they were not especially accurate. However, they would usually fire by ranks from a distance, giving a much better chance of hitting the target. Most English Civil War muskets were matchlock, although there were some doglocks—an early form of flintlock—and these became more common over time. Matchlock muskets are fired using a slow burning match cord doused in saltpetre to keep it lit. Flintlock muskets instead use a piece of flint to produce sparks to ignite the powder.
Early muskets were long and heavy and a rest was commonly used when firing. However, as the war progressed, muskets became shorter and lighter, and so rests were largely discarded.
Musketeers could be trained much more quickly than pikeman, and pike increasingly fell out of use in favour of musket as the wars progress. It is thought that at the start of the wars pike outnumbered musket, but by the end there more than double the number of musket than pike.
THE MUSKET TODAY
Sealed Knot musketeers are fully trained to fire accurate replicas of Civil War muskets. To do this, you will need to obtain a shotgun licence and pass a Sealed Knot test, but you can still go on the field before this carrying a dummy musket. If they wish, musketeers can also carry swords, for which they will need to pass a safety test.
Musket fight in two basic ways on the field. At distance, they fire by rank or in volley. As they close on their opponents, the more enthusiastic musketeers draw their swords or turn their muskets around and use the butt-end as a club ("clubbing muskets") to fight hand-to-hand. Many musketeers particularly enjoy this one-on-one combat and skill-at-arms, which contrasts with the more block-oriented fighting style of the pike.
For your first battle, you only need basic clothing and will be provided with a dummy musket. If you decide musketeering is for you, you will need to purchase a musket, powder-flask, and a sword if you want. Experienced musketeers will always be happy to advise new recruits on any purchase.
A MUSKETEERS VIEW
"I enjoy the thrill of firing together as a block, with the smell of black powder and the noise of a massed volley. Couple this with the hand-to-hand combat where we get to test our skill with a sword and clubbed musket while covering each other's backs, and you have the perfect battlefield combination of individual and block fighting"
If becoming a musketeer interests you, or you would like more information please get in touch