Brown Bess
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In the days of lace-ruffles, perukes, and brocade
Brown Bess was a partner whom none could despise -
An out-spoken, flinty-lipped, brazen-faced jade,
With a habit of looking men straight in the eyes -
At Blenheim and Ramillies, fops would confess
They were pierced to the heart by the charms of Brown Bess.

— Rudyard Kipling, "Brown Bess" 1911

Basic Information

"Brown Bess" was a nickname given to the Land Pattern Musket used by the British Army during the 18th and early 19th Centuries. The origin of the name is obscure. One theory holds that it is a reference to Queen Elizabeth; not very likely since Elizabeth died over a century before the Brown Bess came into use. Another theory suggests that the name was derived from the German "Brawn Buss" or "Strong Gun," or that "Brown" was just a reference to the color of the musket's wooden stock and the name "Bess" was just chosen for alliteration, or that "brown Bess" was pretty much a contemporary version of "basic Becky", the sort of "no better than she ought to be" woman that might be expected to be found hanging off a soldier's arm.

The Land Pattern Muskets were all .75 caliber flintlocks and were the standard long arms used by the British Army from 1722 to 1838; and were used by both sides during the American Revolution. There were several variations of the Land Pattern during this period, including the Long Land Pattern, the Short Land Pattern and the Indian Pattern. In the late 1830s, the Brown Bess was superseded by a new type of smoothbore musket using a percussion cap system.

Although the British Army had replaced Bess, she still found a home in other armies. The Land Pattern Musket was used by Maori warriors during the Musket Wars of the 1820s and 1830s; during the Sepoy Mutiny, and during the Mexican-American War of 1846.

Like most muskets, the Brown Bess could be fitted with a bayonet. It had an effective range of 175 yards (160 m), but in battle was usually used fired en masse at 50 yards (46 m). It was loaded using prepared paper cartridges containing a ball and pre-measured quantity of gunpowder. The soldier would rip open the cartridge with his teeth, pour a little of the powder to the pan of the firing mechanism to prime it and then the rest of the powder down the muzzle. He'd then drop the ball down the muzzle and pack it all down with the musket's ramrod, using the paper of the cartridge as wadding. Estimated rate of fire ranged from four to two and a half shots per minute, depending on how well-trained the soldier firing it.


Game and Story Use

  • In a campaign set Revolutionary or Colonial Era America, or during the Napoleonic Wars, your characters will probably be armed with a Brown Bess
  • The enemy are likely to be using a French Charleville musket, which is pretty similar for most purposes.
  • For quite a long time after they are discarded by the military these muskets will be cropping up in the hands of bandits, peasants and tribesmen all over the world, despite the fact that rifling and breech loading have rendered them hopelessly obsolete.
  • If your group's gun enthusiast gives his rifle a name and refers to it as "she", he has ample historical precedent. If he whispers sweet nothings to it when he takes it to bed, he might get some weird reactions.
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