Dealing in Death

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Dealing In Death The Arms Trade and the British Civil Wars, 1638-52

by Peter Edwards Published by Sutton Publishing (2000)

Review by Simon Frame

The book covers the supply, production, distribution and, to a lesser degree, the use of arms and equipment during the period mentioned. It has 9 main chapters, covering Supply, Finance, Weapons, Ordnance, Clothing and Equipment, Horse and Tack, Imports and Shipping, Transport. Each chapter is further divided into sections about Parliament, the Royalists, Scotland and Ireland.

The author started this as a thesis, and expanded it. He had support from various foreign experts and Dr Ian Roy amongst others, in this country. The book is well referenced to primary and secondary sources. There are some maps and typical inventories provided, and the usual suspects in the way of illustrations (Farndon Church window, equipment layouts from Tactics of Aelian and Hexham etc.).

The book starts with a general guide to C17th warfare, and each chapter starts with a section about the use of the items and the ideal amounts and ratios, then describes the reality. What comes across clearly is the scale and cost of the operations required to sustain the armies, particularly when you consider the number of ‘fronts’ that all sides were operating on and the delay in manufacturing supplies once they were ordered – especially horses.

Two nuggets that caught my eye were where the sulphur (brimstone) for gunpowder came from (all of it imported from the volcanic regions of Italy and Sicily) and the scale of the ‘off-the-peg’ clothing industry, which often employed non-apprenticed labour and found itself in conflict with the Statute of Artificers. These ‘salesmen’ formed consortia to bid for contracts and then farmed out the work with, for instance, of 10,000 coats contracted for use in Ireland on 6th May 1642, 7000 had arrived by 17th June.

There are no glaring errors, although the author does frequently mention ‘priming wire’ (sic) in conjunction with bandoliers and muskets, when he presumably means prickers. All in all, a good, informative read, but possibly worth waiting for the price to come down before buying.