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.