Saltpeter: The Mother of Gunpowder

Hardcover | January 29, 2013

byDavid Cressy

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This is the story of saltpeter, the vital but mysterious substance craved by governments from the Tudors to the Victorians as an "inestimable treasure."National security depended on control of this organic material - that had both mystical and mineral properties. Derived from soil enriched with dung and urine, it provided the heart or "mother" of gunpowder, without which no musket or cannon could be fired. Its acquisition involved alchemicalknowledge, exotic technology, intrusions into people's lives, and eventual dominance of the world's oceans. The quest for saltpeter caused widespread "vexation" in Tudor and Stuart England, as crown agents dug in homes and barns and even churches. Governments hungry for it purchased supplies from overseas merchants, transferred skills from foreign experts, and extended patronage to ingenious schemers,while the hated 'saltpetermen' intruded on private ground. Eventually, huge saltpeter imports from India relieved this social pressure, and by the eighteenth century positioned Britain as a global imperial power; the governments of revolutionary America and ancien regime France, on the other hand, were forced to find alternative sources of this treasuredsubstance. In the end, it was only with the development of chemical explosives in the late Victorian period that dependency on saltpeter finally declined. Saltpeter, the Mother of Gunpowder tells this fascinating story for the first time. Lively and entertaining in its own right, it is also a tale with far-reaching implications. As David Cressy's engaging narrative makes clear, the story of saltpeter is vital not only in explaining the inter-connectedmilitary, scientific, and political "revolutions" of the seventeenth century; it also played a key role in the formation of the centralized British nation state - and that state's subsequent dominance of the waves in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

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This is the story of saltpeter, the vital but mysterious substance craved by governments from the Tudors to the Victorians as an "inestimable treasure."National security depended on control of this organic material - that had both mystical and mineral properties. Derived from soil enriched with dung and urine, it provided the heart or ...

Born in England and educated at Cambridge, David Cressy has made his career in the United States, where he is George III Professor of British History and Humanities Distinguished Professor at Ohio State University. A social and cultural historian of early modern England, concerned with the intersections of elite and popular culture, ce...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:256 pages, 8.5 × 5.31 × 0.79 inPublished:January 29, 2013Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:019969575X

ISBN - 13:9780199695751

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Table of Contents

PrefaceIntroduction1. Mysterious Saltpeter2. The Gunpowder Kingship of Henry VIII3. The Elizabethan Quest for Infinity Security4. Saltpeter for a Peaceable Kingdom5. The Inestimable Treasure of Charles I6. Saltpeter Revolution7. Saltpeter for a Global Empire8. The New World and the Ancien RegimeConclusionBibliographyIndex

Editorial Reviews

"An important and convincing story, and David Cressy makes many useful reflections along the way upon the nature of early modern popular culture. In all respects this is another solid achievement from a reliably good historian." --Ronald Hutton, History