A musket you know, but what’s an arquebus?

An arquebus was one of the first truly portable firearms. It appeared in the early sixteenth century. It made a big difference in one or two battles on the Continent in its early days. In Britain, a few wealthy people, including Henry XVIII, owned some.

Did the musket replace the arquebus?

Yes. There were some intermediate variations, but by the seventeenth century the musket had arrived. In England, people produced thousands of these weapons in the 1640’s, as both sides used them in the Civil War. The proportion of musketeers, as opposed to pikemen, increased as the war went on.

The musket must have been an improvement on the arquebus then?

Not really! Most surviving specimens of the arquebus are finely crafted and of high quality from every point of view. They were more accurate and had greater range than most Civil War muskets.  How come? In the Civil War, people produced weapons in a hurry. They did not intend to impress, to make items a king would be proud to own. Their aim (excuse the pun) was to equip as many men as possible, to give their side the advantage.

Didn’t the accuracy of a musket matter?

Not much. You were usually standing in a rank, shooting at an approaching horde of pikemen or cavalry, and, if you all fired at once, you were very likely to hit some of them. Ever man just had to keep his nerve and wait until the enemy were close enough.

You probably don’t want either weapon (unless you’re a collector)

If you don’t want an antique weapon, whatever you do want to buy, you need to be clear as to its purpose. Do you want the best, or is ‘good enough’ good enough? Similarly, if you are making something, think of your market. Are you aiming high (excuse pun again) or going for the mass market? As a writer, I want to sell as many books as possible and I want them to be cheap enough for most people to afford. In a different role, such as a consultancy, I would aim (!) at having a few high-value clients, paying top level fees. (I have always been, however, grateful for any clients, large or small, rich or poor.)


I am indebted to Professor Sam Willis for his recent series, Sword, Musket and Machine-gun, for reminding me of much of the information in this blog, and much else.