The Armstrong Pattern Cannon

NPG 5318, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough; John Armstrong
Rabinet, serpentine, falconet, falcon, minion, saker, demiculverin, basilisk, culverin, pedrero, demicannon, bastard cannon, cannon serpentine, cannon, and cannon royal.

None of these terms mean much to us today but in the army and navy of the late 17th century they were important. They were types of cannon. While there may be virtues to biodiversity, the same isn’t true of weaponry. Successful militaries have generally been characterized by a standardization of their weaponry and organization. Different classes of cannon had different weights, ranges, and projectile size. The characteristics within the class also varied with the armory where they were produced.

Armies and navies started standardizing the dimensions and calibers of their artillery in the early part of the the 18th century – some earlier than others, some later – and the English effort began in 1716 with the Board of Ordnance charging a Danish soldier of fortune, Albert Borgard, to develop a uniform pattern of cannon of varying sizes as well as their carriages.

In 1722, John Armstrong succeeded to the position of Surveyor General of Ordnance. Armstrong is pictured above standing next to a seated Marlborough.

It seems as though he and Borgard, despite their both being patronized by Marlborough, didn’t get on. Says Borgard in a memorial:

“I attended the Service, as formerly, at all surveys, &c., relating to the Artillery till such time Colonel Armstrong was made Surveyor, after which time, notwithstanding His Majesty’s signification to me for regulating the Artillery for sea and land service, I was never consulted in anything relating to the said service. His late Majesty was graciously pleased to renew my old commission as Colonel, and to give me the command of the Regiment of Artillery established for His service, consisting of four companys.”

Armstrong was a man of immense energy who controlled the development of British ordnance over the next 20 years. He set about improving upon, and adding his own stamp to, the standard designs developed by Borgard.

By 1725 he had developed a complex series of proportions which governed the dimensions of every section of the cannon. Gone was the craftsmanship and decorations of the last century. What was left was a cast iron brute which could be cast to the same specifications by any foundry.


Some minor modifications were made to the Armstrong pattern in 1753 under the guidance of Charles Frederick as Surveyor General, and thus creating the Armstrong-Frederick pattern gun. The Armstrong, or Armstrong-Frederick was finally supplanted in 1794 by the Blomefield pattern gun.

All in all, the Armstrong was a successful and resilient design and it was still present on British warships as late as 1808.


Filed under Age of Sail, Naval Equipment, Naval Gunnery, Naval Weapons

6 responses to “The Armstrong Pattern Cannon

  1. Pingback: The Blomefield Pattern Cannon « Age Of Sail

  2. Pingback: cannoni in batteria? - Pagina 3 - Forum

  3. Pingback: Τα κανόνια του δικέφαλου αετού των Ρωμανώφ στην Κέρκυρα

  4. New To This

    An interesting article comparing cannons.

  5. Justin M. Ruhge

    Thank you for this web site. We are checking the design of five iron cannon found on the beach at Goleta California in 1981. They were from a wreck of a Boston schooner there in 1829. From your article and others that we have found, they are all Armstrong pattern guns.

    They are all 4 or maybe 6 pounders. One had a date of 3-1-1776or8 on one trunnion
    4 pounders

  6. Pingback: Hidden Westgate Histories: The Westgate Cannon | Bridge the Power Gap

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s