The minion (from the French word for cute) was a type of small cannon used during the Tudor period and into the late 17th century. It was of a small bore, typically 3-inch (76.2mm), and fired a 5-pound cannonball.
It saw action in the English Civil War as an antipersonnel weapon and was known as a Minion Drake, derived either from the Latin word for dragon or from the famous seafarer Sir Francis Drake.
The minion constituted the main armament of the faster and more maneuverable Elizabethan galleons, such as Drake's Golden Hind, along with the falconet. The supply ships that accompanied the Armada had similar guns, but the Spanish treasure fleet bringing gold back from the new world carried heavier armaments, such as the demi-culverin and demi-cannon, and relied on their size and weight in battle, as they were purpose-built warships rather than merchant ships pressed into service.
The Pilgrim Fathers brought a minion with them on the Mayflower, along with a saker and several smaller cannons. They later installed these in the fortified meeting-house that Myles Standish built to defend the town from the French and Spanish.
During the Age of Sail, minions were used to repel boarding parties, although larger caliber guns were becoming increasingly popular, such as the carronade, due to their ability to disable enemy vessels. Minions remained in service as man-of-war quarterdeck guns until 1716 when George I appointed Albert Borgard to redesign the Royal Navy's artillery.
Citations and notes
- Duff Hart-Davis, Spanish Armada p.199