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A Love Affair with Firepower

The Essay, The Stewarts Episode 5 of 5

'For the illustrious James, worthy prince of the Scots, magnificent king, when I sound off I reduce castles. I was made at his order, therefore I am called Lion.'

That's the inscription on one of James I's favourite cannon. It's the beginning of a royal love affair between the medieval Stewart dynasty and really big guns. 'Lion' was big enough to demolish occasional bits of palace, just by colliding with it, never mind firing on things. However dragging these monsters through bogs to besiege a castle, was no guarantee of success. They could blow up the wrong people, such as monarchs like James II who wanted a good view of his guns in action. As one chronicler (obviously an early Health and Safety officer) said, James's untimely death should be 'a lesson to future kings, that they should not stand too close to instruments of this sort when these are in the act of being discharged'. Perhaps ' Most Magnificent King, if you can read this, you are standing too close!' might have made a better inscription for 'Lion'.

But Stewart ventures into big guns, also led them into naval warfare. In their wars against the Lords of the Isles, the Kings of Scots found that those meaty cannon were not much use, if you couldn't get them to the Hebrides. This led to a step-change in British sea-power, as James IV's admirals pioneered effective deck-mounted naval artillery. Finally James IV moved into international waters, commissioning the largest warship in Europe, a masterpiece of Renaissance naval gunnery, 'The Great Michael' for hire to the King of France. A naval arms race with Henry VIII of England was on, but all this fascination with fire-power would end tragically, not at sea but on land, at the Battle of Flodden.

15 minutes

Last on

Fri 8 Oct 2010 23:00

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