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History of Firearms and Flintlock Pistols
We tend to think of gun powder as a much later invention yet the Chinese precursor, the fire lance, was being used as early as the 10th century. It consisted of a tube on the end of a spear that acted as a flame thrower. “Greek Fire”, also known as ‘sea fire’, was first recorded in use by the Eastern Roman Empire or the Byzantine Empire, around 672, which was not made from gunpowder but was an incendiary mixture that would burn even in water. Prior to that, as early as 472 BC, a sulfur-based mixture was used in tubed flamethrowers in the Siege of Delium as reported by Thucydides, an Athenian historian. All of these were applications of mixtures of sulfur, bitumen and/or petroleum that were used to make fire for warfare prior to the use of gunpowder. I would assume fire has always been used by man since the first caveman picked up a burning branch out of the fire to ward off a marauding animal or man yet the problem was the delivery system. How do you get fire to a specific place and not burn yourself or your environment at the same time?
The Chinese fire lance, developed about 100 years after the Chinese developed gunpowder, was the first hand carried gunpowder weapon. These hand lances were first developed using paper and bamboo but as the ratio of saltpeter was increased to add to the explosive nature of the weapon, metal was used, the earliest found to be bronze, dated around 1288 AD.
These weapons spread to the Middle East and into Western Europe via several paths. Use against Mongols by the Mamluks (Arabic slaves) was recorded around the mid-thirteenth century and rifles were uneasily accepted into their ranks even one hundred years later. Trade with the Arabs may have been one resource for these new weapons as well for Europe. Yet it was the Mongols who took their weapons with them as they invaded not only the Middle East, but Europe as well who spread the use of this new power. The first recorded use of gunpowder weapons in Britain lists called ribaldis, was a form of cannon in the 1340’s found in their weapon records. The Italians in the late thirteenth century, who had broken down into battling city-states, recorded the use of shioppos, a portable cannon, which was the first smooth bore personal firearm. The Ottoman Empire was recorded as using firearms in their regular infantry by the mid 1400’s. This was the beginning of gunpowder weapons as an expected armament in warfare.
Gunpowder weapons began to gain popularity for widespread use in Western Europe around the 17th century but even during the Civil War in the 1860’s in the United States, swords and daggers were a soldier’s ‘fallback’ weapon when his gunpowder weapon required too much time to be utilized, failed to fire or the gunpowder ran out.
The pistol went through several evolutions before the flintlock was developed as the most reliable use of gunpowder and the fastest delivery system. Introduced by a French court gunsmith, Marin le Bourgeoys developed the first true flintlock mechanism applied to a pistol and presented it to Louis XIII shortly after he ascended the throne in 1610. The advances, which utilized many of the previous elements from the earlier delivery systems, were quickly adapted by Western European troops, although usually in the form of rifles. Around 1650, another development which involved the ability to detach the barrel was introduced and this was better applied to the smaller weapons, such as the Queen Anne pistol, the first flintlock pistol of popularity that was named for Queen Anne of England but was actually introduced during the reign of William the III. It remained an elegant choice for a flintlock pistol that came in various lengths over the next two centuries.
Flintlock weapons came in a variety of sizes and shapes. As a defensive weapon, their range was short and used as an adjunct to a sword or dagger. They could measure as long as twenty inches; however, by the 1700’s, the length became shorter, around sixteen inches and could be as small as six inches, ideal for hidden access in a boot or a woman’s muff. The longer pistols, called horse pistols, were carried in a holster ahead of the saddle on a horse. The mid-size range pistols were good in waist holsters and the smaller ones in the coat pocket or boot.
The best mechanical design was the British dueling pistol which was a long pistol around 16 inches long, sold in a set of two in a wooden case with compartments for accessories. The internal design was of the highest craftsmanship with a much less elegant external look, but was the most reliable, the most resilient and even waterproof of all the flintlock designs.
Flintlock weapons are still used today by black powder hunters and re-enactors, but they have been replaced and are considered obsolete with the advent of percussion lock systems in weapons in the 19th century.
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