Historical Perspective

Major battles in the English Civil War would very often begin with a large barrage from the artillery of either side, in order to "soften up" the enemy prior to the main attack. This is equally true of many modern battles. Then during the main battle the gun crew would need to be prepared to move the gun to a better firing position as the ebb and flow of the battle dictated.

Good shots from artillery could easily cause devastation amongst companies of soldiers as the ball, often weighing several pounds, tore through the ranks. This would be extremely demoralising for soldiers, to see the entire file stood next to them get ripped to pieces in the blink of an eye by a cannon ball! Alternatively the guns may fire "grape shotte", which would be a large spread of smaller shots designed to take out a wider frontage of soldiers. Grape shotte would only be effective at a closer range than a large ball though, as the smaller shots would slow down and drop sooner.

A good Gun Captain would need to be a master of the science of ballistics, and was a very valuable asset. In fact the enemy would, if they could help it, not kill Gun Captains if they captured one with his artillery piece because he was more valuable alive if he could be put to work for them.

Col. Sir William Compton's Company of Artillery

The artillery company is the third fighting arm of the Earl of Northampton's Regiment, and is named after Sir William Compton, third son of the 2nd Earl of Northampton Spencer Compton and commander of the Banbury Garrison. It currently has approximately 10 members (including 3 Gun Captains), and has 2 artillery pieces available. The guns we have are:

- Elizabeth-Henry: The pride of the regiment and one of the finest pieces in the Sealed Knot. A battery piece that has double barrels bound in leather, complete with a large four-wheeled limber and display colours. Each barrel fires a 2oz charge.

- Roaring Meg: Another battery piece, this single barrelled gun has been with the regiment since it was first formed. She is a Falconet with a 2 & 3/4" bore, firing a 4oz charge. Named after one of the original guns of the Earl of Northampton's regiment, she has recently had the trail and wheels rebuilt.

We will also soon have a third artillery piece available called Vulcan, recently purchased by a member of the regiment and undergoing licensing. It is a Robinet with a 1 & 5/8" bore and firing a 2oz charge. This type of gun is light enough to be manoeuvrable for infantry support. The Regiment is also soon to purchase a fourth artillery piece, hopefully to be available in 2006. In case you were wondering, all guns are fully proofed for live firing of real cannonballs, although they never do, of course!

We also have an impressive mock cannon, together with all the proper tools, made by Brian Osborne of our regiment. It is named Rebecca after his late daughter. Its purpose is to train children of the society in the proper drill procedures of a gun crew, and has proved immensely popular with the children since first displayed in June 2001.

Training and Safety

In order to work on a gun crew you should, like musketeers and dragoons, obtain from the police a licence to acquire black powder. Gun Captains must also have the appropriate shotgun or firearms licence. In addition it is common for members of a gun crew to carry swords as a sidearm, in case the gun gets attacked by the enemy and the crew have to fight to defend themselves. If a member of the gun crew wishes to carry a sword on the battlefield they must, like anyone else, undertake sword training prior to taking the Sealed Knot sword test.

The Gun Captain, as the name suggests, is the person who runs the crew. Safety is of the utmost importance on a gun crew for obvious reasons. Although no live rounds are being fired large quantities of black powder go into the dummy charges, and the slightest spark at the wrong time can easily lead to serious injury. For that reason careful and intensive training is given to any person wishing to work on a gun crew by the Captain. The number of people who may work on a gun crew can vary considerably, but generally depends on the size of the artillery piece being worked upon.

There are a number of stages in the preparation of a gun for firing, such as worming, wet mopping, dry mopping, loading the charge then wadding, pricking and priming the pan, before actual firing. Each stage must be carried out in a carefully practised manner. As far as the safety and control of an artillery piece is concerned the buck stops at the Gun Captain.


If you are interested in joining Sir William Compton's Company of Artillery please contact the Company Commander:
Sheeonah Thompson
Tel. 01745 888580


Above: The twin barrels of Elizabeth-Henry are wrapped in leather. Named after the two youngest children of King Charles I, it is the only twin-barrelled artillery piece in the Sealed Knot and certainly the most visually striking.

Above and below: Elizabeth-Henry unhitches from its trail when being positioned for firing. The chest containing powder and wadding is then lifted off the rear of the gun carriage, and kept at a distance from the guns for safety, usually near the trail section. A member of the crew guards this chest and keeps it shut at all times. This is primarily to prevent sparks entering the chest, but also to prevent theft.

"Roaring Meg" is named after a cannon used by the Earl of Northampton in the Civil War. Taken from the Stafford garrison when the Earl's troops occupied Stafford on 18th March 1643, it was brought the next day to the battle of Hopton Heath, 3 miles out of Stafford. She was a demi-cannon firing 29lb balls, and was positioned at the centre of the Royalist troops, the only artillery piece they had that day. She was aimed at the enemy pikemen of Sir John Gell, and reportedly on her first shot killed six and injured four others. Then with the next shot on the pike she made "such a lane through them that they had little mind to close again".

After the battle Roaring Meg was returned to Stafford, but two months later Sir William Brereton (the other main Parliamentary commander present at Hopton Heath) captured Stafford and siezed Roaring Meg. He would use it in 1644 to capture Biddulph Hall in Staffordshire, doing severe damage.