01Taking Aim - Renaissance-style20170123

In this first of five talks by specialists of guns and gun-culture, historian of early weaponry Catherine Fletcher trains her gaze on arquebuses, matchlocks and wheellocks. She wanders the battlefields of Renaissance Italy to discover why, back then, it was so difficult to fire a gun when the sun wasn't shining. And just what the connection was between today's main supplier of weapons to the US Army, and the artist Leonardo da Vinci.

Catherine Fletcher is a historian and a Radio 3 'New Generation Thinker', and her specialist field is the origins of fired weaponry. In tonight's Essay, she delves back 500 years to when handguns were in their early stages of development, when the gunpowder had to be ignited by a match or taper and the mechanism wasn't hugely reliable. On battlefields where knives and swords were the weapons of tradition, they did, however, have the ability to change the course of conflicts. They were also, unsurprisingly, targets for the artists and craftsmen of the period, who loved to decorate them with hunting scenes, and - discreetly - with more intimate images. They were too, of course, particularly useful for would-be murderers...

Producer: Simon Elmes.

02Gotham's Gun Baron20170124

Historian Brian DeLay, of UC Berkeley, reveals the arms and the man that was Marcellus Hartley, the most dangerous man you've never heard of - the first great American gun baron, who rose to prominence and utter respectability during America's Civil War - a man who amassed guns, ammunition and power to start several small wars and help determine the fate of nations.

Producer: Mark Burman.

03Pistols At Dawn20170125

In the third of five talks by specialists of guns and gun-culture, Radio 3 'New Generation Thinker' and historian of early weaponry John Gallagher invites you to a duel. Where disputes of honour had previously been settled with the sword and the rapier, by the 17th and 18th century pistols became the gentleman's weapon of choice when wronged.

The polished firearms we find in museum cases make it hard to imagine the crack of pistols and the stench of gunfire, and our noisy culture has had time to become blasé about the incredible impact - sensory, social, and violent - made by guns 300 years ago. In a culture where a gentleman's honour was paramount, men duelled to protect their reputations - first with rapiers from Italy or Spain, and later with the newfangled pistols that made an indelible mark on English and European culture from the late Renaissance onwards.

Carried by travellers, gentlewomen, farmers and assassins, early modern firearms ranged from the beautifully tooled and decorated duelling pistols owned by the wealthy and passed down the generations to the snub-nosed dags that could be concealed in a sleeve or a pocket and which were banned by successive English monarchs. While gun culture and gun crime became features of English society 300 years ago, the gun became a feature of colonial and imperial history. Firearms were traded with native peoples and gifted to friendly rulers, transforming warfare and everyday life far beyond Europe. What does the history of guns in the 17th and 18th centuries mean for us today?

Producer: Simon Elmes.


Writer Nicholas Rankin explores the emergence of the deadly 'force reducer' that is the sniper. From the muddy fields of Flanders to the ruins of Stalingrad, the sniper emerged as a powerful, unseen threat. In the age of mass destruction, the singular act of killing became a tactical necessity and a psychological terror. At first the British, being potted in their Flanders trenches, regarded it all as somehow not very British but very soon the tactics of sniping - of stalking, hunting and destroying German snipers and opposing soldiers became a new and deadly sport. Gentleman adventurer Hesketh Pritchard transformed the understanding and tactical deployment of snipers in the British army. In Stalingrad, the sniper became the model shock worker. They were exhorted to 'Kill a German today' amongst the ruins of the symbolic city where hand-to-hand fighting against overwhelming forces became a terrifying reality. Soviet snipers like Vasily Zaitsev became folk heroes with their hundreds of 'sticks' or kills celebrated in the Soviet press. But in wars where few ever saw their enemy up close, let alone pursued them like quarry, what was the cost to the sniper in the shadows as they squeezed the trigger and ended another life?

05The Howth Mauser20170127

Heather Jones, specialist in First World War Studies at LSE, explores the deadly symbolism of the Howth Mauser and other guns as the struggles for freedom began in 20th Century Ireland.

The arrival of crate-loads of already out-of-date German rifles in 1914 proved electrifying to the Irish Nationalist struggle and the cult of the gun had deep meaning for all sides in the struggle to come.

'The Irish National Anthem sings of guns. Towards its powerful musical crescendo, in Gaelic, it exhorts us to rally, this night, at the dangerous gap, amid the guns' screech - le gunnaí scréach - to fulfil our national destiny by fighting for freedom. Of Arms and the Man, in Ireland we still sing.'

Producer: Mark Burman.