Light rain, damp air, even the wearer's perspiration - and by evening bright iron armour has a red bloom of rust. If it takes a grip the armour will cease to function properly. Armour was valuable, and its appearance a matter of prestige; there are many references to its being cleaned - with pumice and olive oil - and polished to a glorious shine. The author has twice been privileged to see the original surface of plate armour, in tiny sections hidden under other parts and so protected for centuries from the ferocious cleaning which has altered the surface of nearly all museum armours; it was exactly like an immensely hard modern steel mirror. For protection armour was sometimes tinned (a Dover inventory of 1361 mentions tinned bascinets), blued, browned, left blackened from the forge, or painted.
Mail is difficult to keep clean; if too lightly oiled it rusts in storage, if too heavily it collects dust and smothers the clothing in greasy dirt. Mail shirts were rolled around in a sack of sand and vinegar (1296), or simply in a barrel of sand.
(Below) Although those liable to be called for military service were responsible for equipping themselves, large scale commercial production was well established by the 13th century; one example will suffice. To equip Philip IV of France's fleet in 1295 an agent purchased at an annual fair 6,309 shields, 2.853 helmets, 4,511 padded jackets, 751 pairs of gauntlets, 1.374 gorgerins and arm braces, 5,067 'iron plates'; 1,885 crossbows and 666,258 quarrels, 13,495 lances or spearheads, 1,989 axes and 14.599 swords and daggers. By the 15th century production flourished on an industrial scale - e.g., in 1427 Milanese armourers equipped 4,000 cavalry and 2,000 infantry in a few days. (Photo David Lazenby. Middelaldercentret)
(Opposite) Plate 3: Head and Neck Defences, cl250 to cl370
(A) The earliest mention of plate neck defences dates from the end of the 13th century; and this effigy of Don Alvero de Cabrera, el314, is the earliest representation. The collar fits snugly around the neck and chin; together with his padded mail coif it would have provided a solid support for a 'great helm'. (Pamplona Cathedral)
(B) The steel collar would also protect the throat and lower part of the face if worn with a kettle hat, a popular style in Spain.
(C) This French knight of c 1333 clearly shows a heavily padded mail coif and a small steel cap to form a foundation for the helm. The buttoned sleeves of a finely padded aketon are visible beneath a mail shirt; the plate rondels must be laced to the mail at the elbows.
(D) The funerary brass of the chevalier Mahiu dc Montmorency, cl360, shows a very substantial mail collar. Like the steel collar, it would serve to keep the helm away from the face. (Tavergny, France)
(E) The brass of Sir Miles Stapleton, cl364, shows an aventail - a curtain of mail suspended from the helmet rim and fitting around the face. Its form here suggests a rigidly padded mail collar beneath; this 'bullet-shaped' profile, common at this time, is not consistent with wearing a loose, unlined, hanging mail aventail. (Formerly at Ingham, Sussex)
(F) The brass of Sir Hugh Hastyngs, c 1347, shows very solid neck defences. Note also that D, E & F have body and thigh defences of fabric or leather with rivets, indicating plates beneath. These sort of constructions lasted in use well into the 15th century. (Elsing, Norfolk)
(G) Some padded body defences worn by common soldiers in sources of this time show the same kind of 'free-standing' protective collars. (Maciejowski Bible, French, cl 250)
(H) Bascinet with movable 'nasal visor', cl350 - a transitional style between the classic nasal helmet and the visored helmet. Double locking pins kept the nasal in place; nevertheless, the padding and firm seating of helmet and aventail must have been crucial -a blow across the nasal would surely smash it into the wearer's teeth. (Extant example, Schweizerisches Landesmuseum, Zurich)
(I) A wall painting commemorating the f uneral of Bernabo Visconti, Milan, cl370, shows a quilted jack or arming doublet, to be worn alone or beneath a mail shirt, and a klappvisier worn with an obviously padded aventail.
(J) The padded aventail was fastened to the helmet by a cord, running through short tubes which were fixed to the helmet and passed through slots in the aventail's leather border.
(K) The effigy of Albrecht von Hohcnlohe at Sconthal Church, cl319, closely associates the images of his bascinet and helm.
(L) German or north Italian visored bascinet, c 1370; this was a popular and relatively practical war helmet.
(M) Klappvisier, cl370, now in the Musée Valaria, Sitten/Sion, Switzerland.
(Opposite) Two fashionable knights of the latter half of the 14th century wear helms decorated for the tournament, and virtually complete plate armour -some hidden beneath rich fabric, some supplemented with mail (see Plate 4, page 27). The small bascinel was worn either beneath the 'great helm' or alone - note that (he left hand example has fittings for a removable visor.
Decoration and military display were vitally important, not only to identify the individual and attract attention to his valorous deeds, but also to advertise his success in a harshly competitive world. Display meant wealth: wealth meant power; power attracted new allies and protégés, and deterred potential enemies and rebels. Household account books list very large sums spent on decoration - for banners, tents, pennons, even for the sails of ships. A mixture of embroidery, painting and appliqué was frequently used on heraldic devices.
In 1352 some 330 standards were painted and appliquéd for Edward III of England; 250 of them, each requiring 2'A yards of worsted and I 'A yards of linen.
were painted vermilion and azur, and 80 of yellow and blue worsted were painted with leopards and fleurs-de-lys. Eighteen painters worked for 12 days, and 50 other workers for nearly a month, sewing and treating them with candle wax. The king's surcoat in 1345-49 was made of 114 yards each of blue and red cloth and 1 'A yards of yellow for lions rampant and fleurs-de-lys. In 1351-52, 150 of King Edward's archers were supplied with courtepys, a task which employed 15 men for 12 days at a cost of 4'A pence each per day.
In 1352 a tent of deep blue was ordered for Edward, ornamented with stars and crowns in yellow worsted, and another of green lined red, powdered with yellow worsted eagles. In 1386, during Franco-Burgundian preparations for an invasion of England, the ducal painter Melchior Brocderlam decorated banners with the duke's coat of arms, and the sail of his ship with his motto in letters of gold. (Photo David Lazenby, Middelaldercentret)
(Above) A 14th century gun crew fire their bombard under the protection of a mantlet, covered with wet hides to protect it from fire-arrows. The kettle hats of the crew were very practical during siege warfare, allowing clear all-round vision and good protection against the plunging flight of arrow and bolt.
The echoing thunder of guns and the bitter smell of powder smoke were doing more than just frightening horses - castle walls were cracking under their bombardment. Modern experiments have proved that the old siege engines such as trebuchets were more accurate and destructive than has sometimes been assumed; but this new weapon would decisively tilt the balance of advantage against the defenders of fortified towns and castles. In open field battles massed archers were already challenging the dominance of the mounted knight; over the next century other types of disciplined infantry, manoeuvring and fighting en masse, would change the necessary composition of armies and alter the relative fortunes of the military classes. (Photo David Lazenby, Middelaldercentret)
(Opposite) Plate 4: 14th Century Gambesons, Pourpoints, Jupons & Coat Armour
(Above) Who was the common soldier? He was one of hundreds of thousands of individuals each with a life of his own to lead. He might come from a village, a town, or - less often - from a city. He might be a rootless traveller, a hardened criminal, a bored craftsman or small tradesman seeking adventure, a runaway apprentice, or a dutiful servant of his local lord or his king. He might be fulfilling his legal obligations alongside his neighbours, fleeing the plough to seek glory, or following dark dreams of loot and rape. He might be a professional, a well-paid veteran of several campaigns with money already clinking in his purse; or a bewildered peasant levy, left behind sick and starving in a ditch during a hard retreat.
For some it was a career with promise. Sir Robert Knollys from Cheshire may originally have been a common archer, as perhaps was Sir Hugh Calverly. Rough-and-ready Robert Lewer started as a common soldier, and rose in service under
Edward II to be constable of Oldham Castle. In a time of frequent wars a man's fortunes rose and fell; Lewer died an executed rebel in 1323. We know that one Colpin - 'a very valiant man although from humble stock' - rose to command 300 Englishmen in the Burgundian army, and prospered until killed by a cannon shot at Nancy in 1477.
Other than the weapons and armour he was supposed to bring to war, and perhaps the coat or suit of clothes issued by his town or master, the soldier's 'equipment' did not extend much beyond those personal possessions which he could carry on the march: a purse, an eating knife, spoon, bowl, clothes, underwear and shoes, cloak and bedding brought from home. Normally travelling in small groups to an army's rendezvous, soldiers might share cooking pots, rations and a few tools - and perhaps even a cart or packhorse for the lucky. (Photo David Lazenby, Middelaldercentret)
These 14th-century terms for the defensive fabric garments worn with some types of armour cannot be clearly defined. Medieval man's free, apparently interchangeable and contradictory use of such words defeats our modern passion for assigning everything to exact categories.
(A) St George, from a late 14th century manuscript. He wears a quilted gambeson, perhaps over plate defences which give him the typical 'hourglass' silhouette of the knight of this period. Note the sloping line of his aventail from helmet to shoulder. Without a padded lining the mail would hang vertically from the base of the neck, providing little protection.
(B) Tomb effigy of Walter von Hohenklingen, killed by the Swiss at Sempach, 1386. His pointed bascinet has the visor removed. The quilted fabric- or leather-covered aventail is probably interlined with mail, of which the 'dagged' edge is visible. He wears a breastplate, with lance rest on the right side, over a full-sleeved padded gambeson, which follows fashionable form and is probably worn over a mail shirt. Note the large tailored sleeves, and the 'hourglass' plate gauntlets. Many combinations of padded defence, plate armour and mail were worn at this time by both knights and their followers.
In the Historical Museum in Lucerne, Switzerland, is a mail shirt worn by Duke Leopold III of Austria captured at Sempach. It is an amazing piece of tailoring in iron, which follows the fashionable lines of Hohenklingen's gambeson; three different sizes of rings are used in its construction.
(C) This figure of St George is a perfect example of the appearance of the knight at the end of the 14th century. He wears the very widely used Hundsgugel or 'dog-faced' bascinet, its aventail tied down to shoulders and breast with 'points' - laces. This must have been a normal practice, and since mail is extremely flexible it would not restrict movement unduly.
One surviving Hundsgugel bascinet at Churburg in the Tyrol bears a splendid Latin quotation from St Luke: 'But he walked straight through them all and went away...'
(D) Reconstruction of the heavily padded interior of the aventail, a detail clearly visible on the tomb effigy of Duke Philip the Bold of Burgundy, now in the Musee des Beaux-Arts, Dijon.
(E, F & G) The pourpoint of Charles de Blois, pretender to the duchy of Brittany, killed at Avray in 1364. Its once beautifully patterned fabric is now faded: but note that its silhouette follows that of figure C. The buttons are probably of wood covered with silk.
(H) The coat armour (or jupon, or pourpoint, or doublet?) of King Charles VI of France, dating from the end of the 14th century and now preserved in Chartres Cathedral. It is of quilted white linen stuffed with cotton wool and covered with crimson silk damask. In the left side are two slits for the suspension straps of a sword scabbard.
Both of these garments have domed buttons above the waist line, and flat ones below. There is some disagreement among historians as to whether they should be regarded as 'civilian' or 'military' garments.
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