Here’s a bit of competitive shooting history that you probably weren’t aware of. Did you know that the earliest pistol match recorded was in Great Britain back in 1642? During the English Civil War, the Royal Army was halted. During the lull, the Royalist favorite—Prince Rupert, fired a horse-pistol at a rotating weathervane on top of St. Mary’s Church in Stafford. Located some 60 yards away, Rupert hit the mark twice and won. What’s even more impressive is the fact that Rupert was using another pistol for the second shot.
The 1961 American Society of Arms Collectors Bulletin 4:3-9 includes the following account of the “match,” courtesy of the late English antique firearms collector, William Keith Neal.
“Prince Rupert himself was a very fine shot and it is recorded that on the occasion of the Royal Army halting at Stafford during the Civil War on Sept. 13th, 1642 he showed his skill as a marksman by firing with a screwed horseman’s pistol and a single bullet at the weathercock on the steeple of St. Mary’s Church while standing in a garden some sixty paces from the foot of the church tower. His first shot pierced the tail of the weathercock, and upon his uncle, King Charles declaring that such a shot could only be achieved by a lucky chance, he immediately repeated it with his second pistol.”
So what kind of pistol was Prince Rupert using, and how could it achieve such accuracy nearly 400 years ago? According to Neal, there’s a good chance that it was made by Harman Barne, a noted Dutch gunsmith of the era who learned the art of gunmaking outside of Great Britain. At the time, elite Londoners coveted guns that were built to continental standards. For example, Prince Rupert’s relatives, Charles I and Charles II, both owned guns made by Barne. Prince Rupert himself was a great admirer of the gunmaker. With the patronage of the English Royal Family, it’s more than likely that Barne was the maker of the rifled pistols that Rupert used to hit that weathervane in Stafford back in 1642.