The Medieval Suit of Armor
Historically, armour has played a crucial role in warfare, serving as the primary form of protection for soldiers on the battlefield. The evolution of armour, in particular the transition from chainmaille to plate armour, is an interesting and significant aspect of medieval warfare.
During the 13th century, a shift began to take place in the use of armour. The emergence of plate armour had started as early as the 12th century, but it did not become the dominant form of armour until a century later. In fact, certain types of plated armour were not developed until the late 14th and 15th centuries. The shift from chainmaille to plate armour was not sudden; rather, it was a gradual process that occurred over several centuries.
Plate armour was highly effective in protecting soldiers from various weapons such as swords, arrows, and spears. It also provided more comprehensive protection than chainmaille armour due to its solid and thick construction. Additionally, plate armour offered a suprising amount of mobility to the soldiers, which was a significant advantage on the battlefield.
Despite the superiority of plate armour, chainmaille armour still had its uses. For instance, it was still used in areas where the production of plate armour was not feasible, too costly or in situations where mobility was more critical than comprehensive protection.
The transition from chainmaille to plate armour marked a significant change in medieval warfare, and it is fascinating to explore the reasons for this evolution. The development of plate armour is a testament to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of medieval people, and it remains an essential part of the history of warfare.
Medieval Armour Parts
1 -The Helmet or Helm
The medieval helmet has a long and varied history. Helmets were used in ancient times, but they were generally simple in design and made of materials such as leather or bronze. It was not until the Middle Ages that helmets became more advanced, with the development of the full-faced helmet.
The earliest medieval helmets were simple iron caps, worn by knights in the 9th and 10th centuries. These helmets provided some protection to the head, but did not cover the face. Early advancements would add a protective guard that extended over the nose on the Spangenhelm or Norman Helmet. As warfare evolved, so did the helmet. By the 12th century, helmets had evolved into more sophisticated designs, with some featuring visors that could be raised or lowered.
One of the most iconic medieval helmets is the Great Helm, which was in use from the 12th to the 14th centuries. The Great Helm covered the entire head and had only a small slit for the eyes. This helmet provided excellent protection against blows to the head, but limited visibility and air flow.
As the Middle Ages progressed, helmets continued to evolve. The Bascinet was a helmet that emerged in the 14th century, with a visor that could be raised or lowered. The Sallet was another popular helmet of the 15th century, with a visor that protected the face and a pointed tail that protected the neck.
2 -The Gorget
The medieval gorget was a piece of armor worn to protect the neck and throat. Its history can be traced back to the 14th century, when knights began wearing mail coifs to protect their heads and necks. The mail coif was eventually replaced by the gorget, which was a separate piece of armor worn over the mail.
The early gorgets were made of plate or mail and were worn under the breastplate. They covered the neck and sometimes extended to the upper chest. Over time, the gorget evolved into a more elaborate piece of armor, sometimes with additional plates that protected the shoulders and upper chest.
By the 15th century, the gorget had become an essential piece of armor for knights and men-at-arms. It was often decorated with etched designs or embossed patterns, making it not only functional but also a piece of art. The gorget was typically made of steel or iron, but some were made of brass or other metals.
The shape and design of the gorget continued to evolve in the 16th and 17th centuries, with some gorgets being made with a high collar that protected the chin and lower jaw. During this time, the gorget became less common as firearms became more prevalent on the battlefield, and armor became lighter and more flexible.
Medieval pouldrons, also known as pauldrons, were a type of armor worn to protect the shoulders. They were first used in the 14th century and continued to be popular throughout the medieval period.
Pouldrons were typically made of steel or iron and were designed to cover the shoulder joint and upper arm. They were often attached to other pieces of armor, such as a breastplate or gorget, and could be secured in place with leather straps or buckles.
Pouldrons were an important part of a knight's armor, as the shoulders were a vulnerable area in battle. The design of the pouldrons evolved over time, with some styles being more elaborate than others. Some pouldrons had multiple plates that articulated to allow for greater movement, while others were more simple and rigid.
In the late medieval period, pouldrons became more decorative and were often etched or engraved with intricate designs. They were also sometimes embellished with brass or other metals to create a more ornate appearance.
4 - Spaulders
Spaulders were a type of shoulder and upper arm protection that were designed to protect the upper arms and shoulders, which were vulnerable areas in battle.
Spaulders were typically made of steel or iron and were attached to other pieces of armor such as a breastplate or cuirass. They could be secured in place with leather straps or buckles, and were often worn in conjunction with other pieces of armor such as pauldrons and vambraces.
The main purpose of spaulders was to provide protection to the upper arms and shoulders from blows dealt with swords, maces, and other weapons. They were especially important for knights who engaged in hand-to-hand combat, as well as offer some protection from archers and crossbowmen's arrows and bolts.
Gussets were used to provide additional flexibility and reinforcement to areas of the armor that needed it. They were typically made of leather, canvas, or other durable materials and were sewn onto the armor using small metal rings or rivets.
Gussets were used in areas where the plate armor needed to be more flexible, such as the joints or other areas where there was a lot of movement. They were also used to reinforce areas that were more vulnerable to attack, such as the armpits or groin.
One common use of gussets on plate armor was in the armpit area, where the wearer needed a lot of mobility to move their arms but was also vulnerable to attacks. A gusset made of flexible material would be sewn onto the armor in this area, allowing the wearer to move their arms freely while still providing protection against attacks.
6 – Vambraces
Vambraces were often made of metal, such as steel, iron or heavy leather, and were designed to fit snugly around the forearm. They were often used in conjunction with other armor pieces such as gauntlets, which provided protection for the hands and fingers.
In addition to providing protection from attacks, vambraces also served other purposes. For archers, they could help prevent the bowstring from hitting the forearm during the draw. They could also be used to provide support for the wrist, making it easier to hold and use weapons such as swords and shields.
7 – Gauntlets
There were many different styles of medieval gauntlets, each designed for a specific purpose or period of history. Here are some of the most common styles:
- Early Gauntlets: The earliest gauntlets were simple leather gloves with minimal hand protection. They were often worn by knights and other warriors during the early medieval period.
- Hourglass Gauntlets: Hourglass gauntlets were popular during the 14th and 15th centuries. They were so named because they were shaped like an hourglass, with a wide cuff, a narrow waist, and a flared end to protect the fingers.
- Gothic Gauntlets: Gothic gauntlets were popular during the late medieval period, around the 15th and 16th centuries. They were characterized by a sharp, pointed cuff that extended up the arm and a flared end to protect the fingers.
- Mitten Gauntlets: Mitten gauntlets were designed to look like a mitten, with all the fingers enclosed in a single compartment. They were popular during the 16th and 17th centuries and were often used by cavalry soldiers.
- Lobster Gauntlets: Lobster gauntlets were similar to mitten gauntlets, but with two compartments - one for the index and middle fingers, and another for the ring and little fingers. They were popular during the 16th and 17th centuries and were often used by knights and soldiers
- Articulated Gauntlets: Articulated gauntlets were designed with hinged plates to provide greater flexibility and mobility for the fingers. They were popular during the late medieval period and were often used by knights and other warriors.
- Finger Gauntlets: Finger gauntlets were designed with individual plates to cover each finger. They were popular during the 14th and 15th centuries and were often used by knights and other warriors.
These are just a few examples of the many different styles of medieval gauntlets. Each style had its own unique characteristics and was designed for a specific purpose or period of history.
8 – The Breastplate
During the medieval period, breastplates were made of metal, typically steel or iron. They were designed to fit snugly around the chest and abdomen and were often decorated with engravings or other designs. The earliest medieval breastplates were simple and flat, but as armor technology advanced, they became more curved and shaped to better deflect attacks.
One of the most famous types of medieval breastplate was the Gothic breastplate, which was popular during the 15th century. This type of breastplate was characterized by its curved shape and its ridged, angular design. Gothic breastplates were often used in conjunction with other armor pieces such as pauldrons (shoulder armor) and tassets (thigh armor).
Another type of medieval breastplate was the cuirass, which consisted of a breastplate and a backplate that were fastened together. Cuirasses were often used by cavalry soldiers, who needed extra protection for their chests and backs while riding into battle.
9 -Tassets or Faulds
Tassets were a type of armor worn to protect the upper legs during the medieval period. They were typically made of metal, such as steel or iron, and were designed to hang from the lower edge of a breastplate or cuirass.
Tassets were usually worn in conjunction with other armor pieces such as a breastplate, backplate, pauldrons (shoulder armor), and greaves (leg armor). They provided additional protection to the upper legs while allowing for greater mobility than a full set of leg armor.
Tassets were popular during the 14th and 15th centuries and were often decorated with engravings or other designs. They could be made in a variety of shapes and sizes, depending on the wearer's preference or the style of armor being worn.
Tassets were especially popular among cavalry soldiers, who needed extra protection for their legs while riding into battle. They were also commonly used by knights and other warriors who fought on foot.
10 – Kneecups
The kneecup was a crucial part of a knight's armor, as the knees were vulnerable to attack during combat. Kneecups were often worn in conjunction with other leg armor pieces such as greaves, cuisses (thigh armor), and poleyns (knee protection that extended to the shins).
The design of kneecups varied over time and across different regions. Some kneecups were simple and flat, while others were more curved and shaped to fit the knee more closely. Some kneecups featured additional articulation, such as hinged plates, to allow for greater mobility and flexibility.
Kneecups were typically attached to the rest of the leg armor using leather straps or metal buckles. They could also be attached to the wearer's clothing or cuisses using laces or cords.
Greaves were typically made of metal, such as steel or iron, and were designed to fit over the lower leg from the ankle to the knee. They provided protection from cuts, bruises, and other injuries that could be sustained in battle.
The design of greaves varied over time and across different regions. Some greaves were simple and flat, while others were more curved and shaped to fit the leg more closely. Some greaves featured additional articulation, such as hinged plates, to allow for greater mobility and flexibility.
Greaves were often worn in conjunction with other leg armor pieces such as cuisses (thigh armor), poleyns (knee protection that extended to the shins), and sabatons (foot armor). They were typically attached to the rest of the leg armor using leather straps or metal buckles.
Greaves were popular throughout the medieval period and were worn by knights, soldiers, and other warriors. They remained an important part of armor until the advent of firearms, which made traditional armor less effective against ranged attacks.
12 – Sabatons
Sabatons were a type of armor worn to protect the feet during the medieval period. The design of sabatons varied over time and across different regions. Here are a few examples.
- Pointed Sabatons: These were a type of sabaton that had a pointed toe, similar to the shape of a modern dress shoe. They were popular during the 14th and 15th centuries, and were often worn with Gothic-style armor.
- Rounded Sabatons: These were a type of sabaton that had a rounded or blunt toe. They were popular during the 13th and 14th centuries, and were often worn with transitional-style armor.
- Gothic Sabatons: These were a type of sabaton that featured elaborate, pointed designs inspired by Gothic architecture. They were popular during the 15th century and were often worn with full Gothic-style armor.
- Milanese Sabatons: These were a type of sabaton that originated in Milan, Italy, during the 15th century. They were known for their intricate, decorative designs and were often worn with Milanese-style armor.
- Maximilian Sabatons: These were a type of sabaton that were popular during the late 15th and early 16th centuries, during the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. They were known for their elaborate designs, including fluted edges and curved shapes, and were often worn with Maximilian-style armor.
13 – Chain Mail Coif
A chain mail coif, also known as a mail coif, was a type of headgear made from interlocking metal rings that was worn during the medieval period. It was typically worn as a form of protection for the head and neck.
The chain mail coif was made by linking thousands of small metal rings together, forming a mesh that covered the entire head and neck. The rings were often made of iron or steel and were carefully woven together to create a strong, flexible fabric that could withstand the impact of weapons.
14 - Arming Cap
An arming cap was a type of padded cap that was worn underneath a helmet or other type of headgear during the medieval period. It was typically made from layers of quilted fabric and was designed to provide additional comfort and protection to the wearer.
The arming cap was worn to cushion the head from the weight and pressure of the helmet, which could be uncomfortable and even painful to wear for long periods of time. The padding also helped to absorb and disperse the shock of any blows that were received to the head, reducing the risk of injury.
In addition to its protective function, the arming cap was also used to keep the head and hair clean and free from sweat and dirt. It was often worn by knights and other warriors during battle, as well as by jousters during tournaments and other competitions.
15 – The Gambeson
A gambeson was a type of padded jacket that was worn as a form of armor during the medieval period. It was typically made from layers of quilted fabric, such as linen or wool, and was designed to provide protection to the wearer from the impact of weapons.
The gambeson was worn as a standalone garment or as a layer of armor underneath other types of armor, such as chain mail or plate armor. It provided protection against cuts, slashes, and blunt force trauma, and was particularly effective against arrows and other projectiles.
The gambeson was also worn for comfort, as it provided an additional layer of padding and insulation against the elements. It was often worn by knights and other warriors during battle, as well as by jousters during tournaments and other competitions.
In addition to its use as a form of armor, the gambeson was also used as a fashion statement. It was often decorated with embroidery, quilting, or other embellishments, and was sometimes worn as a status symbol by wealthy individuals.
16 – Haubergeon
The haubergeon, also known as a chain mail shirt, was a type of armor worn during the medieval period. It was a smaller version of the hauberk, which was a full-length chain mail shirt that covered the entire body.
The haubergeon was first developed in the 12th century as a more flexible and lighter alternative to the hauberk. It was typically made from interlocking rings of metal, and was designed to be worn over a padded garment, such as a gambeson, for added protection.
The haubergeon was a popular form of armor among knights and other warriors during the medieval period. It provided excellent protection against slashes and piercing attacks, and was particularly effective against bladed weapons like swords and daggers.
As plate armor became more widespread during the late medieval period, the haubergeon became less common as a standalone form of armor. However, it continued to be used as a layer of protection underneath plate armor, as it was lightweight and flexible enough to allow for ease of movement.