Ms. Schwoerer said firearms were around in England since the late 13th century, but didn't play an important role in society until the early 1500s, when Henry VIII ramped up production of guns with the hopes of proving his prowess on the battlefield by making war with France. He purchased artillery from elsewhere in Europe and encouraged gunmakers to set up shop in Britain. In addition to bolstering the military, the focus on production eventually put guns in the hands of people "up and down the social scale," she said.
Guns helped people hunt more effectively, putting more protein on the table. There was an early interest in hunting for sport and protection, but early on, increased access to game meat was a major factor, she said. In a less practical sense, the gun was a novelty and carried with it an aura of power and authority.