Trivia

Military and War Weapons the Pistol

About the military and war weapon the pistol, origins and history, first use by Lady Forbes, the handgun today.

CHOOSE YOUR WEAPON--FROM THE LONGBOW TO THE NEUTRON BOMB

PISTOL

Description. A pistol is any small gun which is held and fired with one hand. Most modern pistols are multiple-shot, rapid-firing revolvers or automatics.

Origin. Before the 16th century, guns were large, cumbersome weapons requiring two hands, one to hold the gun and one to light the gunpowder. The first pistol came into existence after the invention of the wheel lock, a complicated firing mechanism with a wheel that was wound like a clock. When the trigger was pulled, the wheel ground against a stone, throwing sparks that ignited the gunpowder, thereby allowing the user to aim and fire the gun with one hand. Named after the town of Pistoia, Italy, the pistol was supposedly invented there by Camillo Vitelli in the early 1500s.

Wheel-lock pistols gained immediate popularity throughout Europe. For over 100 years before the invention of the pistol, foot soldiers armed with muskets had massacred horsemen armed only with sabers and lances. Therefore, cavalrymen quickly adopted the pistol, which could easily be carried on horseback, to combat the infantrymen's firepower. Since the pistol was the first gun small enough to be hidden on the body, it became the favorite weapon of assassins. For that reason, Emperor Maximilian of the Holy Roman empire outlawed the manufacture of pistols in 1517. Also, thieves and highway robbers found the pistol perfect for their occupations. Widespread criminal use of pistols created a crime wave in England and forced Parliament to pass pistol control laws in 1542.

First Notable Use. One of the first accounts of the use of a pistol is included in an English 16th-century ballad entitled "Captain Car," which describes events during the reign (1553-1558) of "Bloody" Mary. The ballad relates how Mary attempted to forcibly reconvert Protestant England to Roman Catholicism, with the aid of a ruthless henchman named Captain Car.

In control of Towie Castle, the powerful Sir John Forbes opposed the queen and rebelled against her authority. When Sir John went out on a raid against royal forces, leaving Towie Castle in the care of his wife and three young sons, Queen Mary was informed of the fact by a spy. She dispatched a troop of soldiers, commanded by Captain Car, to seize Forbes's castle. Thinking Car and his troops were her husband and his men, Lady Forbes allowed them to enter the castle.

Lady Forbes quickly learned her mistake when Car demanded that she surrender the castle and become his mistress. Considering these requests equally repellent, Lady Forbes refused, even though her eldest son urged her to turn the fortress and herself over to Car to save their lives. As Car's men began to plunder the castle, she ordered a servant to bring her her "pestilett"--a wheel-lock pistol.

Lady Forbes aimed and shot at the "bloody butcher" Car. Unfortunately she missed him but managed to kill three of his men. Though the intrepid woman kept up a steady barrage, Car managed to set the castle aflame with fire arrows. Never surrendering, Lady Forbes perished, pistol in hand, in the flames.

Weapon Today. Since Lady Forbes fired on her attackers, the pistol has evolved into a modern lethal weapon which, today, is used more by police and private citizens than by soldiers. The criminal use of pistols which plagued 16th-century Europe continues in the U.S., where, each year, an average of 51% of all murders, 34% of robberies, and 25% of aggravated assaults are committed with handguns.

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