The First Soldiers of New France

A Time Of Change

New Weapons on Sea and Land

Throughout these turbulent times, the search for more effective weapons and equipment led to numerous technical advances. All the maritime nations of Europe drew an ever greater distinction between warships and merchant ships. An English invention accelerated this process, namely wheeled carriages for naval cannons, which made it possible to reload easily and greatly increased the number of shots that could be fired in battle. The previous century's galleons armed for war were replaced by vessels specifically designed for combat. They were better able to resist cannon fire, carried many cannons on board, and could sail more rapidly. Vessels carrying more than 50 cannons were known as ships of the line. They were supported by frigates, which were smaller, faster ships with less artillery on board.

The revolution in naval technology was felt as well in the merchant marine. The cargo capacity of merchant ships was increased, making it easier for them to conduct very long voyages. Sailing to China was still an adventure, but no longer an exploit. The Dutch replaced the Portuguese as the leading trading power with the Orient, due to their energetic economic policies and a large merchant fleet.

On land, the art of warfare was also evolving quickly. The century between the beginning of the Wars of Religion around 1550 and the end of the Thirty Years' War in 1648 witnessed very rapid technical and tactical progress. In Cartier's time, battlefields were dominated by weapons for hand-to-hand combat, especially swords and spears. A century later, portable firearms dominated: harquebuses and muskets. Artillery also made considerable progress. The calibres were rationalized, and cannons grew lighter, so that fewer men and horses were required to move them. Mortars, which were very useful in sieges for shooting explosives over walls and fortifications, carved out a place for themselves in the array of artillery, although they were particularly dangerous to use.