Cannons & Current Events: Oldest Cannonball in England?

A piece of a lead cannonball has been discovered in the fields of Northampton, United Kingdom, and dated to the Battle of Northampton in 1460 during the Wars of the Roses between the Houses of York and Lancaster. It is believed to be the oldest surviving cannonball in England.

Northampton Cannonball

More accurately, we should say that the artifact has been “re-discovered”. Stuart Allwork, a farmer, found the 3 inch diameter lead ball on his land several years ago. It was apparently lost, but now found again. Glenn Foard, an archaeologist at the University of Huddersfield who specializes in Medieval and early Modern battlefields, has studied the cannonball and concluded that it almost certainly was fired during the Battle of Northampton. The fragment features a long divot on its surface, and appears to have taken at least two bounces on the battlefield, including possibly against a tree.

I don’t know much of anything about the type of cannons used, or where they were made, or what tactics had been developed for the use of cannons during this period. As always, comments are very welcome on any of these details (and others that I may not have mentioned). Based off of accounts of the battle, this ball may have been fired by the Yorkist side as it was reported that rain had prevented the Lancastrians from making use of their cannons.

The Battle of Northampton took place on 10 July 1460 and pitted against one another noblemen loyal to the House of York and the House of Lancaster King Henry VI and his supporters. Henry was defeated and captured at the battle, which helped usher in 20 years of rule in England under kings from the House of York. Lancastrian resistance continued until Henry Tudor defeated the Yorkist King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485; Richard was killed, and remains the last English monarch to die in battle. The conflict was resolved when Henry took a wife from the House of York, thereby uniting the competing factions and setting the stage for an era of prosperity and stability that would continue through the time of his granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth I.


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