Sixteenth-century harquebus (source: Museu Histórico Nacional – Brazil)

The harquebus, invented around the year 1440, was a type of early firearm used from the fifteenth to the seventeenth century, when it was replaced by the musket. The weapon consisted of a metal tube adapted to a wooden stock, and had a weight, on average, of five kilograms. Ammunition consisted of muzzle-loaded, spherical lead bullets. There was no standard bore size in the sixteenth century, so sizes vary, but from at least one sixteenth-century source (1512) we can calculate bullet sizes of 15 millimeters in diameter and 20 grams (60 caliber).

The simplest models used a matchlock mechanism for firing, which actioned a lever to drop a lit match into the flash pan (which held the gunpowder). More sophisticated, sixteenth-century models used wheellock, snaplock, or snaphaunce mechanisms to generate sparks, which alleviated the need of lighting a match before shooting (and the related problems of moisture and rain).

Although harquebuses were small enough to be fired from the shoulder, their weight and the smoothbore tube made it extremely difficult to fire accuratley in this fashion. Thus, most shooters used a fork to support the weapon. This fork was often attached to the gun in such a way that it could be folded and unfolded as needed.

A matchlock harquebus fired from a supporting fork (source: archives of Pearson Scott Foresman, released to public domain through )

Being a portable weapon, the arquebusiers could be grouped into movable masses of firepower. Harquebus fire could reach several hundred meters, but it was difficult to hit anything farther than about one hundred and fifty meters.

The harquebus was typically a smoothbore weapon, which made it highly inaccurate, but Augustus Kotter of Nuremberg developed the technique of spiraled grooves known as “rifling” in 1520. This technique, although not widely used until the nineteenth century, was applied to some harquebuses (such as Gerard’s), greatly increasing their accuracy.

That’s why, in “The Fortuitous Meeting”, Gerard mentions, “I’m one of the best harquebus shots you’ll ever meet”. Besides his long hours of practice, he most certainly had at his disposal one of the best firearms in all of Brazil!

Arcabuz do Gerard
“Gerard’s Harquebus” by SulaMoon

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