The fourteenth century was the time in which gunpowder weapons first saw widespread use in Europe, beginning with cannon and simple explosives. By the seventeenth century things had progressed a considerable way from those early, dangerous weapons.
The matchlock was the oldest form of firearm still in use during this period. Prior to the matchlock weapons were fired by directly applying a match or burning taper to a powder-strewn hole atop a cannon or hand cannon – somewhat awkward and necessiting one-handed aiming of a rather cumbersome weapon. The matchlock held a burning taper or match within a mechanism which, when the trigger was pulled, touched it to a flash-pan of priming powder which would, in turn, ignite the charge. Matchlocks were susceptible to the weather, spilled powder from the flashpan, misfires and other issues but remained in use, in the form of muskets, right through the English Civil War and its aftermath.
The wheellock was a development from the matchlock, using a spring-loaded wheel, scraping against a fragment of pyrite (or similar material) to generate sparks, which would then ignite priming powder, and in turn the main charge of the firearm. The wheellock was rapidly replaced by the snaplock, snaphaunce, doglock, and finally the flintlock, all of which used flint and steel – and sometimes primer powder – to ignite the main charge.
The final evolution of this firing mechanism, and one that would be used for two whole centuries before being discarded, was the true flintlock, first developed in 1610 and used by the elite forces of the New Model Army, typically in the form of carbines and other cavalry use firearms, due to the relative simplicity and reliability of such a gun (many were water resistant and weren’t at risk of spilling their primer powder).
Because of the slowness of reloading weapons, even the more efficient flintlock, a number of innovations were made to compensate. Weapons with multiple barrels were constructed, which could be fired one shot after another, all at once, or even in a rapid volley, one shot after another. Barrels could be clustered together to fire a devastating volley, spread out to shoot in a broad spread or mixed with close-combat weapons such as hammers, axes, swords and knives. Some even had revolving barrels, able to fire multiple shots and even of having their revolving drum swapped in and out – an early version of a magazine. Some gunfighters would wear multiple, holstered pistols, drawing and discarding (or sheathing) the pistols as they were expended and reloading them all before the next battle…