Mons Meg with its 175 kilograms (386 lb) cannon balls
|Place of origin||Mons, Hainault, Wallonia|
Kingdom of Scotland|
• Royal Scots Navy
|Barrel length||280 cm|
|Diameter||20 inches (510 mm)|
|Shell weight||175 kg|
Mons Meg is a medieval bombard in the collection of the Royal Armouries, but on loan to Historic Scotland and located at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland. It was built in 1449 on the orders of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy and sent by him as a gift to James II, King of Scots in 1454. The bombard was employed in sieges until the middle of the 16th century, after which it was only fired on ceremonial occasions. On one such occasion in 1680 the barrel burst, rendering Mons Meg unusable. The gun remained in Edinburgh Castle until 1754 when, along with other unused weapons in Scotland, it was taken to the Tower of London. Sir Walter Scott and others campaigned for its return, which was effected in 1829. Mons Meg has since been restored, and is now on display within the castle. Mons Meg has a barrel diameter of 20 inches (510 mm) making it one of the largest cannons in the world by calibre.
The bombard was manufactured from longitudinal bars of iron, hooped with rings fused into one mass. The barrel is attached to the powder chamber by means of a groove on the powder chamber into which lugs on the end of the barrel staves fit, and then bound permanently together by the hoops. The powder chamber itself is made from small pieces of iron hammer welded together to make a solid wrought-iron forging. Mons Meg weighs 15,366 pounds (6,970 kg), is 15 feet (4.6 m) in length, and has a barrel diameter of 20 inches (510 mm). The final cost of the gun was £1,536. 2s.
Mons Meg was constructed by Jehan Cambier, artillery maker to the Duke of Burgundy, and it was successfully tested at Mons in the County of Hainault on what is now Belgium, in June 1449; however, the Duke did not take delivery of the Mons Meg until 1453. Desiring to "interfere in English affairs", the Duke decided to help the Scots against the English. It was given to James II in 1454.
Additionally, an alternative legend about its manufacture is that it was built by a local blacksmith for the siege of Threave Castle in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. According to this tale, which was lent credence by Sir Walter Scott, when King James arrived at Threave to besiege the Earl of Douglas, the Clan MacLellan presented him with this bombard. The first shot fired is said to have passed clean through the castle, severing the hand of Margaret, Countess of Douglas on the way. The gun was subsequently named after "Mollance", the lands gifted to the blacksmith for his service, and "Meg", the name of his wife. Later historians have not taken this legend particularly seriously, not least because of the improbability that such a weapon could be forged by a village smith.
The 20 inches (510 mm) diameter cannon accepted balls that weighed 175 kilograms (386 lb). In early years the gun, like the other royal cannon, was painted with red lead to keep it from rusting. This cost 30 shillings in June 1539. From the 1540s Meg was retired from active service and was fired only on ceremonial occasions from Edinburgh Castle. When it was fired on 3 July 1558, soldiers were paid to find and retrieve the shot from Wardie Muir, near the Firth of Forth, a distance of two miles. The salute marked the solemnisation of the marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots, to the French Dauphin.
The gun was fired in 1680 to celebrate a visit by James, Duke of Albany and York, later King James VII, but the barrel burst. An English cannoneer had loaded the charge and many Scots believed that the damage was done on purpose out of jealousy, because the English had no cannon as big as this. The incident was also seen as a bad omen for the future King.
The cannon was left outside Foog's Gate at Edinburgh Castle. It was next taken, with other disused ordnance, to the Tower of London in 1754, as a result of the disarming acts against Jacobites aimed at removing weapons or spare cannon from the reach of rebellious folk. It was returned to the Castle in 1829 by order of George IV after a series of campaigns by Sir Walter Scott and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Following a restoration, it now sits outside St Margaret's Chapel. During the Edinburgh's annual Hogmanay celebrations Mons Meg is fired at the start of the firework display, although the effect is largely theatrical and the gun is not discharged.
"Mons Meg was a large old-fashioned piece of ordnance, a great favourite with the Scottish common people; she was fabricated at Mons in Flanders, in the reign of James IV. or V. of Scotland. This gun figures frequently in the public accounts of the time, where we find charges for grease, to grease Meg's mouth withal (to increase, as every schoolboy knows, the loudness of the report), ribands to deck her carriage, and pipes to play before her when she was brought from the Castle to accompany the Scottish army on any distant expedition. After the Union, there was much popular apprehension that the Regalia of Scotland, and the subordinate Palladium, Mons Meg, would be carried to England to complete the odious surrender of national independence. The Regalia, sequestered from the sight of the public, were generally supposed to have been abstracted in this manner. As for Mons Meg, she remained in the Castle of Edinburgh, till, by order of the Board of Ordnance, she was actually removed to Woolwich about 1757. The Regalia, by his Majesty's special command, have been brought forth from their place of concealment in 1818, and exposed to the view of the people, by whom they must be looked upon with deep associations; and, in this very winter of 1828-9, Mons Meg has been restored to the country, where that, which in every other place or situation was a mere mass of rusty iron, becomes once more a curious monument of antiquity" Notes to Rob Roy, Sir Walter Scott.
The gun is not called "Mons Meg" in any contemporary references until 1678. In 1489, she first appears in record as "Monss", and in the painter's account of 1539 she is called; "Monce in the castell," the only piece with an individual name. In 1650 she was noted as "Muckle Meg." "Meg" may either be a reference to Margaret of Denmark, Queen of James III of Scotland, or simply an alliteration, while Mons was one of the locations where the cannon was originally tested. McKenzie records that this class of artillery was known as a murderer and Mons Meg was certainly described as such. Mons Meg was made in the town of Mons (now the Walloon French-talking part of Belgium) or Bergen (in Flemish Dutch as in those days it was part of Flanders). Three cannons were founded: one resides now in Edinburgh, one in the Flemish town of Ghent at the Fish Market and one was in France but disappeared ages ago. The one in Ghent can be visited today, undamaged. The cannon is named "Dulle Griet" which translates into "Mad Meg".
For a while in its early days the Mons sat on a plain box without any wheels. Evidently, when Mons Meg was removed from Edinburgh Castle in 1754, her carriage had long since rotted away. A contemporary account describes her as lying "on the ground" near the innermost gate to the castle. Presumably the Ordnance Board fabricated a new carriage after her arrival at the Tower. In 1835, after the return of Mons Meg to Edinburgh Castle, the London-made carriage rotted away, too, and fabrication of a cast-iron replacement was undertaken. Mons Meg is now mounted on a reproduction of the carriage depicted in a carving of circa 1500 on a wall of Edinburgh Castle, built in 1934 at a cost of £178 and paid for by the Lord Provost of Edinburgh.