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Villagers Object to Cost of Guns

A village objects to the cost of guns in 1596

This is a petition of the Queen’s tenants of Holme Cultram in West Cumberland. They are complaining at the expense of having to pay £1 each for 50 new ‘callyvers’ (muskets). They plead that their old weapons of bows and arrows, and horse, spear, blackbill, sword and dagger were of far more use! A blackbill would be like the glaive or poleaxe shown on two video clips.

There is an argument here between the Warden of the West March and the local people. Lord Scrope was the Warden and it was his job to make sure that each parish could muster (bring together) a group of armed men to defend the area against invaders or Reivers. They did not want to use the weapon – he said they were mean!

Guns and gunpowder were becoming popular with some people but you must remember that a musket had to have dry gunpowder poured down a long barrel, a lead ball rammed down the barrel, more gunpowder rammed in. Then the rifleman had to hope that when he pulled the trigger the hammer would strike on a piece of flint (a piece of stone) and make a spark that would ignite the gunpowder.

These are some of the problems that these early musket guns had. The Holme Cultram people may have heard about these problems.

Imagine the enemy running towards you waving swords, axes and spears and the gun does not fire properly because of the following:

• Early guns had the gunpowder ignited by a smouldering wick (like a firework). This is a matchlock mechanism, not flintlock. The wick is difficult to keep alight in rain.

• The gunpowder may not be dry (like a wet firework it will not ignite)

• There may not be enough gunpowder so the bullet does not go far enough.

• The gunpowder may have leaked onto the outside so that there is a flash, but no bang (a flash in the pan) and the bullet does not fire.

• If you were in a rush to reload the gun and the barrel was hot then the gunpowder may ignite when you try to pour it in the barrel – and the barrel is pointing at you!

• There may be too much gunpowder so the barrel explodes and injures or kills the shooter.

• You fire the gun too early – the bullet can kill someone at no more than about 30 yards away. Whether you hit or miss, the rest of the enemy are running at you with their axes and swords and you know it will take a minute to reload the musket. What do you do? You can not retreat because there is a mass of your own troops behind you.


This activity can be carried out in a group or be carried out individually.

Imagine the following scenario and discuss your reactions.
You can write your comments as a letter and send it to the Warden of the March.
You can give a verbal response to the Warden (your teacher).
The situation
Reivers have been raiding villages in your area. Their raiding parties are becoming bigger and very organised. The Warden of your March suspects that the King from over the border is encouraging these bigger raids and he thinks the big raids may end up as an invasion of your country. If this happens then the border will be re-drawn and you may find that your village is claimed by the other country!

You must defend your family, your village and your country. There is no army but every man from the age of 12 is expected to be able to use a weapon and is expected to form a people’s army called a militia when the Warden demands it. The law says that you must practice using your weapons or you will be fined. Some weapons are like the tools that you use on the farm, such as an axe or bill-hook on a pole so you feel competent with these familiar weapons. People sometimes like to practice archery because it is a sport as well as a weapon for the militia.

Today your villagers have been told that you will buy and use a new weapon called a ‘callyvers’ (a gun like a musket). You have never used one and have heard good and bad stories about them. You know they cost a lot of money and it costs money to buy the powder and shot to practice with. They also have a reputation of being dangerous to use.

Prepare the responses from the villagers. To assist your response you may consider the following:

Women and children of the village want to be protected.
Some people like high tech gadgets, especially if there is a flash and bang.
Some people can not afford the new weapons.
The weapon sometimes does not work.
The weapon sometimes blows up in your face.
Perhaps some of the rich people can buy the weapon and get the poor people to use it.
The weapon can be used as a spear or club if it can not be re-loaded.
The Reivers have started to use pistols in their raids.
Horses of the Reivers are scared by the noise.
Remember to look at the video sections about weapons.
Read the section on the shot pouch and remember that fights often happened on rainy days.
Think about the choice between shooting someone from a distance and having to get close to them in hand to hand combat with swords and daggers.

Development work
Act out the village arguments as a play. Start with a group discussion, then write down your work then get together and write the play. Then perform the play.

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