First name

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Major William Douglas was a Scottish officer who brought, or attempted to bring, some military innovation to the Swedish theatre in the form of a firing system applicable to both artillery and muskets. In 1626 Douglas, while in the Scots-Dutch Brigade, applied for a patent for a gun with which it was claimed ‘one trooper will shoot as many times as six do now’. Douglas was granted a licence to both demonstrate it and produce it in the Dutch Republic, but in early 1630 rather cheekily he tried to sell his invention to Axel Oxenstierna.[2] Such innovations were numerous during this war, and indications are that his inventions were tested by a Swedish authority in the industry due to his financial claims made in the 1630s.

Notes and sources: The Dutch authorities granted a patent protecting the invention for 20 years and on 22 January 1628, ordered their first consignment. Douglas also developed a type of cannon which could fire between three and five times to one shot from a conventional cannon. The Dutch Council of State encouraged its production and ordered its demonstration in a test action by a private naval force commanded by Douglas and his two brothers. See Ferguson (ed.), Scots Brigade, vol. 1, pp. 358-68. This edition is word searchable:

Douglas's detailed description of his invention as offered to the Swedes can be found in Riksarkivet, Stockholm, Oxenstiernska samlingen, E588. Two letters of (Major) William Douglas to Axel Oxenstierna, undated, but the promotion indicates it was after his Dutch service as captain. In the second letter Douglas claims the Swedes owed him around 10,000 rixdaler (£2,500 sterling).


Transcriptions (by Dr Peter Maxwell Stuart):

Summary of the Military Proposals of William Douglas to Axel Oxenstierna (translation from Latin).

How the more usual types of weapons and military discipline can be brought back to better shape will be well known to anyone who gives a bit of careful thought to it. A change of weapons for use in military service on land as well as at sea is necessary.[1] But I have decided to propose a few things regarding the types of new mechanical weaponry and the appropriate military discipline for those new weapons; but most especially for those minds and intelligences which have been instructed by book-learning or experience, and know there are more things in a withdrawal than can easily be imagined.[2] [Here] are the types of weapons or new mechanical [weapons]:


1. The arquebus (in the vernacular) which a foot soldier or cavalryman uses. It is operated in a certain way, with the result that four shots can be fired in the time it has usually taken to fire only one round.

2. By the same ingenious device, it is possible to cause the functions of twelve arquebusiers to be discharged by the hand of a single man on fortresses or ships.

3. [There is] a device whereby, with the effort of five soldiers, a hundred arquebusiers can discharge their functions in fighting on open land, at sea, and on defence-works.

4. [One can] load larger ordinary guns in a most convenient fashion with powder and shot in such a way that three or four rounds can be discharged at the same time, and in this way the gun is usually loaded and discharged at the same time.

5. [There are] a few unusual kinds of gun in which four, eight, or twelve shots are discharged at the same time where usually only one [is fired].

6. [There is] a device whereby any number of ships in port can be burned or sunk while they are anchored in inlets.

7. [There is] a kind of defence-work whereby the enemy can always be enclosed by a ditch in such a way that places thus fortified can never pass into enemy control by force.


The uses [or 'advantages'] of weapons and war-machines.


First of all, their strength is doubled or perhaps trebled, as can easily be shown in practice. Arquebusiers discharge their functions continuously under [fire? See note at end]. Two ranks of arquebusiers at most are needed, and they discharge their functions not by [falling back?] to the left or right, but by [joining together?] alternately. There are very many rules relating specifically to these weapons which can be shown [

unknown word
] better by ocular demonstration. Incidentally, you should note that they actually cost as much as ordinary arquebuses and are lighter and more convenient for military use.


Secondly, their strength is tenfold greater on ships and wagons [?], likewise in fortified places, but the cost [is that] of two ordinary arquebusiers.


Thirdly, it is very useful in every offensive and defensive military function for whatever the type of weapon the enemy uses while they are making a very violent attack [??]. Under these [conditions], the soldiers can discharge their duties very efficiently and very safely; and they bring this to appropriate military discipline - that while they are on the march, setting up camp, [or] fighting, the ranks cannot be burst open by [pikemen? see note] or cavalry, and by these weapons [pikemen] and cavalry are rendered useless to the enemy. The cost of this device will be equal to that of 40 arquebuses. Consequently, in the usefulness of these weapons, the costs of 60 arquebuses against a hundred and the wages of 95 men against the use of this device can properly be compared.


Fourthly, [there is] a ship very well adapted to [its] use, from where and from both sides they can fire forwards and backwards at the same time, continuously, without stopping or changing, in order to destroy the larger enemy guns or battlements.


Fifthly, it will be useful in a naval battle especially, but also in a land battle, for the guns to be very light - 200, 300, or 400 lbs - so that they can be dragged here and there by the strength of a single horse or, if misfortune demands, by a few (i.e. two or three) men. They are also operated by the strength of two men in every operation at sea or on land.


Sixthly, It very easily renders every naval force ineffectual.


Seventhly, it renders every kind of battlement impregnable.


The consequences of what I am saying here can be stated very accurately.

One may presume that the largest army in the whole of Christendom, armed with ordinary weapons, can be conquered and stripped of its fortresses by 5, 6, 8, or at most 10,000 of our men armed with these weapons in a land battle, and that one can range over the whole of Germany with such a number of men - likewise France, Spain, and the other territories of the whole of Europe. This will be clear enough to anyone taking a good look at the character and force of the weapons.

But to arm 5,000 men this way, and procure them the appropriate number of field guns, demands that it be very easy to come to an agreement [concerning?] their particular price.

But the outstanding advantage of these weapons is such that those who use them before [anyone else] should take care to procure as large a number as possible very quickly and accustom the soldiers to these weapons and bring them without delay against an enemy armed with ordinary weapons. By wasting time, these devices can come to the knowledge of the enemy through the treachery of manufacturers and soldiers. Therefore the matter needs circumspect silence as well as speed.


As far as the naval situation is concerned, all the King of Spain's ships, not only [those] in the ports of Lisbon and San Lucar, but [those] in the rest of Spain's [ports], along with [those in the ports of] America, Africa, East India, and the islands of the eastern and western ocean, can be burned within a single year. This would impede trade to such an extent that that large body of the Spanish Crown, which consists of such scattered ships - they being the nerves and veins whereby riches or strength are poured through the whole of such a large body - would fall down under its own weight once they had been cut off. The result would be that that southern bulk, sustained by the riches of both Indias and the islands, will be able to be confined more easily within its own boundaries, once these [advantages] have been removed.


Translator’s Note.

Much of this is stilted and not at all clear. Some of it is down to Douglas whose Latin is awful, often ungrammatical, and frequently not clear at all.


Dr Peter Maxwell-Stuart

[1] [ translators note: I have omitted a couple of words because they don't seem to make sense].

[2] [translators note: Withdrawal? The word is recessus. His meaning is unclear]


Service record

Arrived 1626-01-01, as CAPTAIN
Departed 0000-00-00, as CAPTAIN
Capacity OFFICER, purpose MILITARY
Arrived 1630-01-01, as MAJOR
Departed 0000-01-01
Capacity OFFICER, purpose MILITARY