Matchlock Rifle

Detail of matchlock rifle
Detail of matchlock rifle

Matchlock Rifle detail. It is known that some of the citizens of Enniskillen who rallied to the defence of their town in 1688-89 were armed with matchlock rifles.

The matchlock evolved in the mid-fifteenth century and remained in use until the early 1700s. The lock secured a ‘match’ which was a lighted wick in a moveable arm. When the trigger was depressed the ‘match’ was brought down against the flash pan to ignite the powder. This allowed the musketeer to keep both hands on the gun, improving his aim dramatically.

The gun had its weaknesses though. It took time to ignite the end of the wick, which left the firer useless in case of a surprise attack.  It was difficult to keep the wick burning in damp weather. For the most part longbow-men were more effective in battle than musketeers. The one real advantage that musketeers possessed was the intimidation effect of their weapons.

The first important use of musketeers was in 1530 when Francis 1 organized units of arquebusiers or matchlock musketeers in the French Army.

By 1540 the matchlock design was improved to include a cover plate over the flash pan which automatically retracted as the trigger was pressed.