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Feb 11, 2013

Medieval Mondays: Mons Meg, supergun of the Middle Ages

When we think of the Middle Ages we don't usually think of artillery, yet black powder cannons were around for most of that period. The first European cannon was depicted in a manuscript in 1327. Within a hundred years they were becoming commonplace.

They were a cumbersome and slow to load, so mostly were used for sieges. Soon, though, they began to be used on the battlefield and even on ships. In the 15th century there was an arms race to see who could build the biggest cannon. One of these giant cannons, called bombards, was Mons Meg, which you can see at Edinburgh Castle.

It was made in Burgundy in 1449, one of the centers for artillery production at the time, and was given as a gift to King James II of Scotland in 1457. It weighs more than 15,000 pounds, is 15 feet long, and fired stone balls 20 inches in diameter and weighing 400 pounds. It was supposedly made for James II to knock down castle walls. Records show that it had a range of more than two miles!

Like the typical big guns of the era, it was made from long iron bars fused together and strengthened with iron hoops. This was so much like making a barrel that the term "barrel" began to be used for the long tube of a gun.

Sadly, it no longer works. It was fired for the last time in 1680 by an English gunner. The Scots say it was blown up on purpose because the English were jealous of the Scots having such a huge gun. Ah yes, bombard envy!

This was also the era that saw the development of medieval firearms.

Photo by Phil McIntosh.