View Full Version : The origin of the 21-gun salute

06-04-2012, 08:42 AM
The question

What is the origin of the 21-gun salute? asks John Yorke of New Glasgow, N.S.

The answer

Richard Gimblett, acting director of navy history and heritage for the Department of National Defence, suggested that we consult The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea. He didn’t steer us wrong.

Gun salutes, the book says, started as a naval tradition whereby one ship would pay its respects to another. These salutes “were fired on every possible occasion and were often unlimited in extent, largely due to a predilection of naval officers of all nations for loud and prolonged noise, and it was not until 1675 that regulations were introduced in Britain, quickly followed by all other maritime nations, limiting the number of guns to be fired,” it says.

It points out that the number of salutes was curtailed to stop a considerable waste of gunpowder.

“Samuel Pepys, secretary of the British Admiralty, worked out a scale based on a minimum salute of three guns up to 19 guns for the admiral of the fleet. Two more guns were added for a salute to the monarch, and a royal or presidential salute still remains at 21 guns.”

The odd numbers for salutes were chosen, it says, because even numbers were fired at naval funerals as a sign of mourning for the dead officer.


06-05-2012, 03:15 PM
Interesting tradition, thanks for posting.