Warfare in Late-Medieval Europe went through some drastic changes with the introduction of gunpowder from China. The first military uses of gunpowder in Europe were in the form of hand-bombs, rockets, the mine, and petard. These devices augmented the traditional offensive and defensive siege tactics of the time. However, the device that became the most useful, and widely used, was the cannon. Invented by Europeans in the 14th Century, the cannons rise to prominence was an evolutionary one, born out of the prevalence of war. The cannon soon revolutionized warfare in Late-Medieval Europe and affected everyone from the commoner to the king.
As cannons gained popularity with lords and kings as a tool of war, the men that fired and took care of the cannons gained experience and expertise. These men became known as artillerists, or artillerymen. Knowing how to fire a cannon so that it would have the desired effect without wounding or killing any friendly troops or yourself, became a sought after and marketable skill. Soon there were artillerymen guilds that guarded and regulated the secrets of this new profession. Artillerymen even had a holiday, St. Barbara’s Day, 4 December, named after the artillerymen’s patron saint. This holiday became an occasion on which the artillerymen’s guild engaged in great festivities. Early on, the artillerymen gained acceptance by the aristocracy even though most artillerymen were of commoner background. However, it was upsetting to the chivalrous how unchivalrous artillerymen and cannon warfare seemed to be, striking down the chivalrous and commoner with the same ease and lack of respect. Warfare had just become a little more brutal, and expensive. It soon became clear to the aristocracy that good artillerymen had to be paid a good wage, typically 10 ducats a day. They also realized that cannon warfare was not for the financially weak.
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Lesser lords that could not afford cannons, or the expense of upgrading their defenses to withstand cannon fire, had to align themselves with the ruling aristocracy, or be faced with the very real threat of cannons outside their gates. In the 1340s, a mid sized iron cannon of about 300 pounds, capable of firing a two to three pound projectile, cost around 1,800 ducats. Artillerymen to fire the cannon cost 10 ducats a day each, gunpowder was 35-40 ducats a pound, and handmade stone projectiles ran 20 ducats each. Upgrading ones castle to withstand cannon fire proved very expensive as well. Castles that had previously been thought defendable against attack were now vulnerable. Lords that could not improve their defenses were left with a feeling of doubt when faced with the new reality of the cannon. This all worked to bring about a basic change in the society, where the fighting forces and political power of lesser lords moved, by force or necessity, to the ruling aristocracy and ultimately the king. Consolidation of a kingdoms military force made sense from a strategic point of view, and caused some military leader to rethink their strategies.
A paradigm shift in the way war was prosecuted had taken place in Europe, and in 1444 the French put the new paradigm to the test in the 100 Years War. In 1444 a truce was arranged between the French and the English, leaving the English with Normandy and Aquitaine. The French then setout to rebuild their military, investing heavily in artillery, now considered an integral part of the army. Advancements in metallurgy, gunpowder, and the use of iron cannon balls all came together during this time. Mobility and accuracy were improved with the introduction of trunnions, allowing better elevation and training of the cannon. When the French restarted the war by invading Normandy, they quickly reaped the rewards of their investment, sacking English strongholds with relative ease. The French artillery also proved itself on the battlefield against the previously formidable English longbow tactics. The French would deploy cannons on their flank, out of longbow range, and fire on the English forces. The English did not know quite how to handle this new tactic. Confusion and frustration in their ranks ensued, upsetting their strategy, and making them vulnerable. The French ultimately won the 100 Years War, do in large part to their commitment to, and mastery of, the cannon.
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The invention of the cannon in Late-Medieval Europe had social affects beyond the obvious military ones. Kings and lords that embraced the new technology generally improved their political position at the expense of those that did not, or could not. Artillerymen were able to ride on the coattails of their lords into a higher social class. And the French ended the 100 Years War with the aid of the cannon. The cannon continues to affect the social and political structure in Europe, and probably will for the foreseeable future.