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A “flintlock” refers to any device that
uses the flintlock mechanism and it may refer to the lock mechanism itself. The
first true flintlock mechanism was introduced in the seventeenth century;
however, using flint against steel to create a spark of gunfire has been seen
as early as the sixteenth century. The flintlock mechanism was a substantial
improvement compared to its predecessors such as the doglock, matchlock, and
wheellock mechanisms. The flintlock was used from the sixteenth to the
eighteenth century and was followed by the percussion cap and cartridge based
mechanisms in the nineteenth century. The flintlock mechanism has been used in
devices such as pistols, muskets, rifles, and drawbacks. The two earliest forms
of a flintlock type gun are the Snaphaunce in 1560 and the Miguelet following
it. The invention of the flintlock mechanism was a major stepping-stone in the
developmental process of firearms throughout human history.

The Snaphaunce performed by holding flint
in the cock, with gunpowder on the outside of the barrel. To fire a
Snaphaunce, a steel striking plate is required to pull the cock back in order
to fire. Keep in mind, early guns were not the most efficient form of
weaponry, as they were slow to load and frequently inaccurate. In the case of a
flintlock-based weapon, the powder in the pan may or may not ignite which
resulted in no fire in the barrel and no fire, also called “a flash in the
pan.” The powder used in a flintlock mechanism must also be kept dry in order
to ignite and fire accurately. The early forms lacked a shielding force from
the elements. In the sixteenth century, weapon accuracy was important while on
the battlefield, as it can either kill your victim or make you the victim. For
example, soldiers in the English Civil War supposedly used the Snaphaunce
muskets to fight in battle. Eventually, weapon makers caught on to this problem
and created a sliding pan cover that would keep the powder in place and protect
it from any harsh weather conditions.

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Around the 1580’s, the Miquelet flintlock based
gun improved and reduced the size of the Snaphaunce by making the battery and
pan cover one L-shaped piece called the frizzen. The frizzen worked by pivoting
down to cover the pan after the powder had been loaded. When the trigger was
pulled, the cock would swing forward and strike this piece, which produced the
sparks needed to ignite the powder and fire the weapon.1

By the seventeenth century, each European
country had been exposed to this new form of weaponry and was developing
versions of their own. However, it was not until 1610 that French courtier
Marin le Bourgeoys, under the request of King Louis XIII, developed the first
true flintlock or the “Frenchlock.” Although each type of flintlock weapon had
improved in some way, Le Bourgeoys introduced a new type of perfection by
adding simple details to the pre-existing features to create the most accurate flintlock
mechanism of the time. By 1630, the “Frenchlock” had become growingly popular
and people across Europe had access to one.

By the 1650’s, many different forms of
breech-loading flintlocks had been created and the pistol was becoming more and
more popular. The most popular at the time had a barrel that was disconnected
from the gun frame and could be screwed back on to fire. This form eventually
became known as a Queen Anne pistol because of the shorter barrel length and
its increasing popularity during her reign even though it was actually
developed during King William III’s reign. Another type consisted of a screw
plug that could be removed and set on the side, top or bottom of the gun barrel.
This type was popular in sporting rifles because of the tight fitting bullet
and patch, which allowed an easier loading compared to the loading of a muzzle.
In 1704, Isaac de la Chaumette invented a more complex barrel that could open
by three revolutions of the trigger guard.

By the eighteenth century the flintlock
was the most standard musket used in both Europe and American colonies. The two
flintlock breechloaders to be produced in a vast quantity were the Hall,
invented by John Hall, and the Crespi, invented by Giuseppe Crespi. The Model
1819 Hall Breech Loading Rifle was given to the United States Army and was used
in the American Civil War. The Hall rifles were loaded paper cartridge inserted
breechblock; nonetheless, these rifles leaked gas, which resulted in a poorly
fitted action. The Crespi was experimented with by the British in the
Napoleonic Wars was eventually used by the Austrians in 1771.2 During
the American Independence War, Patrick Ferguson, a Scottish officer developed
his version of the breech-loading rifle. This rifle surpassed any rifle that
the British had ever seen or used in terms of accuracy, time to load, and
firing. If the soldier was trained
correctly, this rifle could fire six to ten times each minute with a killing
accuracy of about two hundred to three hundred meters in range. To load, the
trigger guard must be turned two hundred and seventy degrees so that the pitch screw
can create the breech opening in order for the ball to drop into the cavity. To
fire, gunpowder is added, the frizzen is then closed, and the hammer is pulled
backwards to ignite the shot.3 A variety of guns, such as the French
Charleville Model 1763 musket, were used in the American Independence War. The
French Charleville Model 1763 musket
was in fact a flintlock based musket that worked similarly to the Ferguson
rifle but had a bayonet attached to the barrel. Flintlock weapons were commonly
used until the mid 19th century, when they were replaced by percussion lock
systems.4

            The flintlock was a major step in the technological
advancements of firearms. For two centuries, this device was the basis of most
rifles, pistols, and muskets. It was used by soldiers in several well-known
wars such as the Napoleonic Wars and the American Independence War. If it were
not for Marin le Bourgeoys and his perfected version of the early flintlock,
man would have never advanced in firearm technology. The ideas and technology
that create the firearms that are used today ultimately were formed as a result
of past ideas and inventions, such as the flintlock.

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