The end of the school year and some travels after that have left me with no time to write anything on this blog. I’m sure the scores of adoring readers out there have been infinitely disappointed over the past three months (that is sarcasm, by the way, in case anyone is in doubt)! But my travels did put me in contact with a very interesting cannon in Galesburg, Illinois. On the grounds of the Knox County Courthouse sits a muzzle-loading, bronze cannon placed atop a stone base shaped like a carriage, which reads “CAPTURED AT SANTIAGO 1898,” during the Spanish-American War. However, at the time, a bronze muzzle-loader was already made obsolete by such innovations as breech loading and steel construction, which had made artillery devastatingly effective. So what was an apparently useless cannon doing in Cuba? And how did it end up in Galesburg—a town of about 30,000, the site of one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and hometown of poet Carl Sandburg?
Closer inspection revealed the gun to be decorated ornately. Near the muzzle, on the chase, it is marked “L’Effronté.” Then a motto, “Ultima Ratio Regum.” Below that reads “Louis-Charles de Bourbon, Comte d’Eu, Duc d’Aumale” and a coat of arms. The lifting handles come in the shape of dolphins.
On the reinforce, near the trunnions, is stamped “DE” followed by a figure that looks like a circle with a triangle facing point-down on top of the circle. Then another motto, “Pluribus Nec Impar.” This is followed by an image of a radiant sun and a second coat of arms with fleurs-de-lis. Finally, the cascabel is fashioned into a dragon and around the base ring is inscribed, “Berenger Donincourt fecit Duaci 25 Martii 1741.”
So I set about researching the various imagery, phrases, and people inscribed on the cannon. Starting near the muzzle, on the chase, “L’Effronté” is the title of the gun, meaning “Insolence.” The naming of guns was a common practice in 17th- and 18th-century France. Some guns even had quite bizarre names, such as “Le Nasillard,” the one who speaks nasally. The motto “Ultima Ratio Regum” is Latin for “The Last Argument of Kings.” This motto had first been engraved on French cannons during the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715).
Then there is the name of a nobleman from the House of Bourbon: Louis-Charles de Bourbon, whose titles on the cannon include Comte d’Eu and Duc d’Aumale. Louis-Charles’ father was Louis-Auguste, the son of King Louis XIV and his mistress. Louis-Auguste held the post of Grand-Maître de l’Artillerie (Grand Master of Artillery), who was responsible for the production of artillery, ammunition, and powder, as well as for the administration of arsenals. The Grand-Maître de l’Artillerie also served as the commander of the royal artillery regiment.1 Louis-Charles was born in 1701, and in 1710 Louis-Auguste passed the position onto his son, who presumably was only nominally in charge as a 9 year old!2 Louis-Charles held the post until 1755, when the position itself was suppressed by King Louis XV. The coat of arms below Louis-Charles’ name features a crown, fleurs-de-lis on a shield, and cannons.
The reinforce of the cannon features symbols of the Bourbon monarch, who was, at that time, Louis XV. The phrase “Pluribus Nec Impar” is emblazoned above the sun symbol. The phrase itself means “To Many Not Unequal,” but it requires a little elucidation. King Louis XIV took it as a motto, and wrote that it meant that he would not be unequal to the task of ruling other empires as the sun was not unequal to illuminating other worlds.3
Engraved above this Latin phrase are the letters “DE” and the figure of a circle with a triangle, point-down, on top. I’m not sure what this is, though I suspect it also indicates the caliber. Anyone who is more knowledgeable can certainly weigh in and clarify.
Around the base ring of the cannon is engraved the founder, the place where the cannon was made, and the date it was cast: “Bérenger-Donicourt made [this cannon] at Douai on the 25th of March, 1741.” Bérenger-Donicourt is the name of the gun founder. François-Simon Bérenger-Donicourt was commissioner ordinary at the foundry at Douai from 1739 until his death in 1747.4 Douai, in northeastern France, had been the location of a royal foundry since the reign of Louis XIV; guns continued to be manufactured in the town until the period of World War I.
Finally, the cascabel features a dragon. In the early 18th century, Jean Florent, Marquis de Vallière and Lieutenant General of the Artillery and Armies of the King, standardized guns by caliber. Caliber was indicated by the representation on the cascabel: 24-pounders, a lion with a mace in the mouth; 16-pounders, a Medusa with torch in mouth; 12-pounders, a rooster; 8-pounders, a dragon; and 4-pounders, a lion with mace again (the sizes of 24- and 4-pounders would be so great that there would not be any confusion). L’Effronté hurled 8 pound projectiles.
This is the first of two posts in which I will explore this cannon, its markings, and where it came from. Partially, this was an exercise in extracting as much information from this artifact as possible; it was very instructive for me, as I learned a lot about weapons production and army organization in Bourbon France. I also found many resources on military history in general and cannons in particular that I will no doubt refer to often in the future.
1John A. Lynn II, Giant of the Grand Siècle: The French Army, 1610-1715 (1997): 99-100.
2M.A.-L. d’Harmonville (ed.), Dictionnaire des Dates, des Faits, des Lieux et des Hommes Historiques; ou les Tables de l’Histoire, vol. 1 (1842): 273.
3Memoirs for the Instruction of the Dauphin, trans. and ed. P. Sonnino (1970 (1661)): 104.
4 A. de Ternas, Généalogie des Bérenger, commissaires ordinaires des Fontes de l’Artillerie à Douai, de 1695 à 1820, in Souvenirs de la Flandre-Wallonne, vol. 7 (1867): 51.