Archive for September, 2009

This post continues the Civil war theme of last week with a look at how the musket was used and also what might happen if a person was hit.

Maintaining a constant rate of fire.

As you can see from the previous post, firing the gun was not an easy process. An experienced person might manage just under 3 shots a minute but the rate of fire would most often be about one shot every 30 seconds. In order to maintain a constant volley of fire, groups of musketeers were arranged in ranks. Whilst the person at the front would be firing, the three people behind would be re-loading. As the first person discharged his gun he would retreat to the back of the line and begin re-loading,  the gunner at the front would then fire before returning to the back to load again. In this way the gunners would advance across the battlefield towards the enemy lines – firing more or less continually.

Comparison with the longbow.

Before this period the English longbow was the most feared weapon on the battlefield. It is interesting to note that the longbow has a longer useful range  than the more technologically advanced musket. It is estimated that a longbow could shoot an arrow up to at least 180 yards – compared to 70 to 100 yards for the musket. There is an idea that the musket was used because it was easier and quicker to train someone to use it. Another idea is that the longbow simply fell out of fashion – eventually there were less people who could use them in battle.

The Musket ball and it’s effectiveness.

12 bore musket ball

12 bore musket ball

This is a 12 bore musket ball and it measures about 3/4 of an inch in diameter. The term ‘bore’ comes from the number of balls that can be made from a pound of lead. It is possible to make 12 of these balls from a pound of lead. Sixteen bore shot was also commonly made i.e. 16 smaller balls from a pound of lead.

As stated in the last post test firing has revealed these guns to be much more accurate than expected but what effect did they have ?

It is generally thought that at up to a range of 30 yards the ball would go straight through a man. At a greater range it would still be enough to cause very significant injuries. At this time,  any serious wound would be almost certainly prove to be fatal. In his excellent book about the Civil War, Trevor Royle describes the death of a soldier called Gabriel Ludlow who was  wounded in the battle of Marston Moor

his belly broken and bowels torn, his hip bone broken, all the shivers and the bullet lodged in it’

Of course,  for poor Gabriel and thousands of others like him there was little chance of survival. The wound would have fragments of cloth and dirt driven into it, although not immediately fatal,  it would certainly become septic quite soon – causing a prolonged and painful death to the victim.

Just in case all this hasn’t put you off why not learn to be a Musketeer yourself?

(This is the second of a two part post – see also ‘Musket’



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This post has a Civil War theme – one of our occasional excursions away from the normal Tudor period.  Harvington Hall had a living history weekend at the end of August.  The Hall really comes to life during these occasions as there is always a wide range of re-enactors from a variety of different historical periods (click here to see the diary of events at the Hall – by the way, if you contact the Hall you can ask to be kept informed of future events, some sell out quite quickly )

Ian the deputy Hall manager was demonstrating  the use of this gun for the benefit of Hall visitors and kindly agreed to talk to Tudor Stuff.

Priming the gun

Priming the gun

Ian is holding is a musket of a type used in the English Civil War. This gun has an effective range of 70 to a maximum of 100 yards although it’s accuracy drops off sharply beyond it’s minimum range. It is often said that these weapons were quite innacurate but apparently the gun was much more accurate than expected when tested with live ammunition.

Process of firing the gun.

Firstly, Ian takes the priming flask which contains very fine gunpowder and pours it into the circular flash pan.  This is where the term ‘a flash in the pan’ comes from i.e. the gunpowder in the pan goes off but fails to ignite the powder inside the gun – resulting in a lot of smoke but nothing else.

Loose powder is blown away and then the musket is turned upwards to allow for gunpowder to be poured down the barrel.  A ball is then rolled down the barrel, in practice, an experienced gunner would hold several of these in his mouth and spit them down the barrel – people were unaware of the dangers from lead poisoning at the time!

The next thing is to add some wadding, ideally a bit of cloth but some grass would do just as well in an emergency. This partly serves to keep everything tightly in the barrel but is mainly neccesary because it causes the ball to be ejected more powerfully – thereby increasing accuracy and damage caused.  The scouring stick is then removed, pushed down the barrel so that the powder, ball and wadding sits at the bottom.

The match is a piece of cord impregnated with saltpetre which once set alight burns with a steady glow. Ian blows on this to make sure it is alight and then threads it into the ‘serpentine’, so called because it looks like a snake. This mechanism will plunge the lighted cord into the gunpowder in the flash pan – this causes the gunpowder in the barrel to ignite – ejecting the ball from the gun at an estimated speed of around 300 metres per second.

As mentioned above, these guns are more accurate than many would expect, however, there most effective use was probaly when fired into a crowd of opposing soldiers. The next post will say a little more about tactics as well as discussing the injuries these weapons would have caused.

PS Many thanks to Ian Fletcher at Harvington Hall for help in putting the post together.

Don’t forget the second part of this post ‘ The Musket – use in battle and a dreadful injury’



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Square composition, Central Tower, Canterbury Cathedral: archdiave on Flickr (click image)

Square composition, Central Tower, Canterbury Cathedral: archdiave on Flickr (click image)

My two great musical interests are English folk music, and polyphonic church music from the tudor period – English or otherwise.  William Cornysh, Thomas Tallis and Willaim Byrd are some of the major English composers from this period; Palestrina and Allegri being two great Italian composers of the time;and Tomas Luis de Victoria being probably the most famous Spanish composer of the late Renaissance.

Thomas TallisThomas Tallis

Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-23 to November 1585) made an appearance in the BBC ‘The Tudors’ series, and this seems to have stirred up a new interest in him.  Little is known about Tallis’s early life, but there seems to be agreement that he was born close to the end of the reign of Henry VII. We know that he was appointed as organist of the Benedictine priory at Dover in1532, moving, in the autumn of 1538, to the Augustinian abbey of Holy Cross at Waltham, until the abbey was dissolved.

(Try listening to the link below whilst looking at the picture on top of the blog – imagine the music echoing around the cathedral. Should you happen to be feeling in any way tense right now try doing this for a couple of minutes & see if you still feel tense! )

From there he went to Canterbury Cathedral (see photo at top of blog) and finally to Court as Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1543, composing and performing for Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth I until he died in 1585.

Throughout his service to successive monarchs in turbulent times Tallis managed to avoid religious controversy, and, like William Byrd, stayed an “unreformed Roman Catholic.”

Spem in Alium

He changed the texts to which he set music for changing monarchs to match their religious standpoint, however his music in no way feels constrained by changing religious politics.  The mood of the country in the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign leant towards puritanism, which discouraged the liturgical polyphony. However for the Holy Week services in 1573 the motet Spem in alium was written for eight five-voice choirs. The text is penitential, but the music is mesmerising, and very far from dour.

I have never put my hope in any other but in you,

O God of Israel

who can show both anger

and graciousness,

and who absolves all the sins of suffering man

Lord God,

Creator of Heaven and Earth

be mindful of our lowliness

Marriage, death and an appearance in ‘The Tudors’

Tallis married around 1552.  His wife, Joan, outlived him by four years. They apparently had no children. The television series recently produced by the BBC shows Tallis arriving in London and attracting the attention of Sir William Compton, a close friend of King Henry VIII, with the two becoming lovers.  After Compton’s death Tallis begins to court two sisters.  I have no idea whether this is accurate or not – but it makes for a good story!  Late in his life Tallis lived in Greenwich, close to the royal palace, and was buried at St Alphege’s Church.  A couplet from his epitaph reads:

As he did live, so also did he die, in mild and quiet Sort (O! happy Man).

Spike Milligan: Janesdead / Sheldon Wood on Flickr (click image)

Spike Milligan: Janesdead / Sheldon Wood on Flickr (click image)

Thomas Tallis likewise inspired this poem by Spike Milligan,

Thomas Tallis

Bore no man any malice

Save an organist called Ken

Who played his music rather badly now and then.


PPS We had an email from Phillip Sheppard (composer of the music for the recent David Starkey TV series about Henry VIII) – Phillip has added a page of tracks to his blog – click here to listen to them (password is ‘crumpets’) – his blog is called ‘Radiomovies’



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On a busy day Harvington Hall attracts many visitors. As well as enjoying the history of the Hall it is a wonderfully peaceful and restful place. Someone once remarked that as soon as you cross the moat it can feel as if time has stood still here. If you have even a bit of imagination it is easy to sit quietly in the Hall and think about the people who once lived here.

I like to know everything that happens here

I like to know everything that happens here

Sometimes I like to try and see in my mind’s eye what it must have looked like. A lot of posts on Tudor Stuff have focused upon the big players on the Tudor stage, King Henry and his wives, Queen Elizabeth, Thomas Cromwell or Shakespeare. Otherwise, we talk about religion, persecution, torture – events that still have echoes today.
What about the ordinary folk though? I suspect that for the common people life (usually) went on, untroubled by events at court.  What would it be like to talk to these people? – what would they tell us about their lives?

Let’s go back to 1608 and meet Susan, a lady’s maid.

Susan in the herb garden

I am Lady’s maid to Mistress Abigail Packington.  She is married to the Master of the House, Humphrey Packington and she comes from a fine family in Derbyshire, the Sacheverell family.

My day begins early, before the sun is up. I make sure that my mistress has her clothes laid out to wear and that she has water to wash with. Mistress Packington says her prayers every morning before breakfast and I go with her to the little chapel in the house. The Master and Mistress like to keep to the old religion and so do I.

After breakfast, I go about my duties. I have to look after the Mistress’ things and  her own chamber. I make it my business to know what is going around the house and the mistress likes me to tell her what is going on. All of the servants have to look up to me and as I am responsible for helping the Mistress with her clothes and personal things I get to talk to her quite a lot – especially when the master is away on business. My clothes are quite nice too – I have a proper pair of shoes, an underskirt and a nice dress. I carry a lot of keys too – I know where the jewellery is and I am trusted by the Mistress.

I am trusted with things that the other servants don’t hear about too.

I was one of the first to hear that Mistress Abigail was pregnant, I was there this summer when the baby was born – a little baby girl. I was there at her Christening and at her funeral, poor little thing. That was hard on the Mistress.

Abigail Sacheverall

Abigail Sacheverall (1630)

I know about things that happen here too, things that other folk don’t know and have no business knowing.  I see the Priests that come here and I hear them say the Mass – poor things they are too! Some of them are so young; and they are so brave – especially when everyone knows what dreadful things will happen to them if they are caught by the priest hunters. There are so many treacherous people around these days, spies that would betray us – but they will never hear anything from me!

That is all from Susan right now but over the next few weeks I will try to introduce you to a few more of the people around the Hall.


PS – Historical note: The character ‘Susan’ is completely fictional. The above account  is a creative mixture of fact and imagination.

On the 23rd of June 1608 there is a record of the christening and burial of ‘Mistress Abigail Packington’ daughter of Humphrey and Abigail.


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