The Use of Gunpowder Weapons in the Wars of the Roses
Traditions and Transformations in Late Medieval England, (Leiden, 2001)
Introduction: Among historians of medieval military technology, there is little doubt that the perceived “lack of use” of gunpowder weapons by all sides during the Wars of the Roses poses several problems. John Gillingham, for one, blames this lack of gunpowder weaponry use on the lack of sieges during the Wars, sieges being that military activity in which guns had begun to play a pivotal role in continental warfare of the same period.
yet for all the growing importance of [gunpowder] artillery, it remains true that this arm played only a minor role in the campaigns of the Wars of the Roses. The reason for this was the fact that in England battles could be decisive. Once the enemy’s forces had been cleared from the field, his castles and towns proved relatively easy to capture. ￼
Anthony Goodman counters this by admitting that there is sufficient evidence to recognize that these weapons were used and, on occasions, were used effectively. Indeed, he admits, “Their presence may have been particularly useful in steadying hastily organized men”. Still, Goodman concludes, the use of gunpowder weapons in the Wars of the Roses was limited by the nature of the war itself: “… since armies were assembled in haste and on the move to deal with swiftly developing crises, the time factor probably made it difficult to assemble a formidable ordnance train …”
Before criticizing these statements, however, it should be noted that both of these renowned authors of superb military histories on the Wars of the Roses are writing in relative terms. They are comparing the use of gunpowder weapons by the English in their fifteenth-century civil wars with the more “modern” use of guns in continental warfare during the same century and even with the perceived notion that, during the fourteenth century, England had been the most progressive inventor and innovator of gunpowder weaponry technology. This comparison, coupled with the current military historical fad, the Military Revolution thesis, which holds that the movement from the medieval to the early modern in warfare was due to the advent and proliferation of gunpowder weapons, has thus led to a depiction of the use of gunpowder weapons during the Wars of the Roses as “backward”, making England technologically inferior to the rest of Europe, a situation which would not change until the end of the sixteenth century, when England’s gunpowder weaponry superiority would once again be felt with the defeat of the Spanish Armada.