Page name: Firing a Salute [Logged in view] [RSS]
2004-09-05 16:46:36
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Firing a Salute

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Being Harmless

The origin of firing a salute is making the ship unable to battle by firing all the cannons. The first ones to demand this were the English in the area known as English seas (or seas of English, I’m not sure) that reached out from Norway to Spain. It was an effective way. At sea cannons were usually loaded all the time, and after they had been fired, it took a long time to get them fireable again. During the 15th Century, when the cannons in ships were still being developed, three shots in one hour was considered a good average for a shipcannon. Besides, cannons had to be pulled back inside when they were getting loaded, which was very easy to see from outside the ship. So the ship was really helpless in case of a battle. The cannons were always emptied bow facing the ship being saluted so no harm would be done even by accident. In a couple of centuries time, the firing got a more tribute-like nature, but still the British expected the guest to fire all the shots before responding. It wasn’t until far later than the shots began to be fired one by one, but still the guest always starts. But the salutes weren’t always fired gladly: the King of Spain was forced to salute the British flag when he was visiting Queen Mary 1554 and a half a century later the King of Danmark had to fire salutes to an English ship when he was returning from an official meeting with the King. Many ambassadors and capatains of foreign ships have had to go to court for not firing salutes.

Always odd numbers

The number of salutes fired is always odd - it’s not clear why. Maube because numbers 7 and 3 were considered holy in old oriental cultures and Rome. From British Naval Records Society 1685, when a highly considered visitor leaves the ship: ”Give him as farewells as many shots as she can give, as long as the number is odd.” ”Why odd?” ”Odd numbers in salutings and seremonies are so remarkable, that if the shots are fired any other way, it is considered that captain or some other high in rank has died during the journey. And this seremony of firing shots is used every time when some important passanger or ship’s captain leaves the ship to go to shore.” There are descriptions from later times that there has been an even number of shots during funerals at sea. For long the number of shots to be fired was up to the person firing. Sir William Monson wrote before year 1600 that merchant ships seem to believe that the more shots fired, the more highly the firer thinks of the object of salutation. When 3, 5 or 7 would have been normal for a lord admiral and he would have replied with 1 or 3, the merchant ships emptied all their cannons. Monson recommended that even though the admirals couldn’t stop the merchant ships from firing so many, they themselves shouldn’t fire more than 1 or 3.

Loud feasts

It was also common that when drinking a toast to some high-in-rank officer a shot was fired. Monson saw this as great waste of gunpowder and the risk to the surroundings wasn’t that small either, for then people didn’t shoot blanks, but there was always a cannonball. Without the cannonball the bang wasn’t loud enough. Monson ordered in his own ship that instead of cannons, the toast.shots should be fired with a musket and into a target, so the crew also got practise then (I just wonder, didn’t the toasting got to this: *bang* ”Hah! I bet I can shoot better than you! Toast to captain Whoever!” *bang* and so on...? ah well) But obviously the salutes had caused a lot of damage near the Thames-river, where there was several warships at dock. So when Queen Elisabeth I got shot by a cannonball while standing by a window in Greenwich palace, the salute shots were banned above Graves End.

The settling of numbers

The waste of gunpowder was concerning the British, so in 1675 a ground rule was set. It was 7 shots to the kingdom, and a fortsess would reply with 3 shots to 1 by the ship. Because the natrium-nitrate(?) used as gunpowder was easier to keep at shore than it was at sea. And when kalium-nitrate came to use, the ships started to fire 21 shots too. It established to be the correct number for kingdoms. Republics weren’t equal at this. So when the flag of USA received its first salutes, there was only 9 shots. The first shots were received by an Americn vesselRanger from France. These shots are considered to be France recognizing USA. Novadays the shot are:
21 for nation and its leader.
19 for prime minister, foreign minister, ambassador and field marshal
17 for minister of defence, envoy, admiral and general
15 for vice-admiral(?), general-lieutenant,
13 for contra-admiral, general-major,
11 for commodore, main consul
9 for consul
7 for vice consul,

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