Jack, pourpoint, heuk, brigandine, haubergeon, gambeson, hacketon and arming coal were terms used freely by medieval writers to decribe a range of garments, mostly defensive. Different words are sometimes used in the same document to describe the same thing; at other times the same words refer to different things, whose distinctions were obviously clear to the writer -though not to us. Today we generally refer to padded fabric defences as jacks - although we also read of 'jakkes stufyd (lined) with horn' and of 'black lynen stuffyd with mail'. Those consisting of small plates riveted between layers of cloth are termed brigandines. Pourpoints, arming doublets and arming coats might be jackets displaying heraldic charges, or padded protective or foundation garments worn beneath armour or to support the hose. Wealthy men sometimes combined such protection with fine fabrics, embroidery, jewels and fur.
In 1444 we read of 'a pourpoint of leather with 6 layers of cloth'; and of another of black fustian with sleeves, to wear under armour. Sir John Paston wrote home on 3 June 1473 for 'a new vestment of wyght damaske for a dekyn (deacon) which is among myn other geer at Norwich. I will make an armying doublet of it.'
(A) The footsoldier's padded gambeson shown in the Maciejowski Bible, cl250, changed little over 250 years. Men's lives depended on how evenly such garments were padded and how little they restricted movement. Making them was skilled work, and strict regulations attempted to control their quality. Among many examples, regulations from Paris in 1296 laid down the required materials and construction. In
1322 Edward II ordered the Armourers' Company of London to ensure that 'Akton and Gabezon' were made of good quality materials, and that 'ye wyite acketonnes be stuffed of old (soft) lynnen and of cottone and of new cloth wyth in and wyth out'.
(B) 15th century writers mention the characteristic thigh-length 'soft' jacks of English troops. In 1483 the Duke of Gloucester's men were described as wearing jacks 'stuffed with tow ... The softer the tunics the better do they withstand the blows of arrows and swords'. Fouquet portrayed footsoldiers in long padded garments, sometimes worn under mail shirts, presenting a similar silhouette. The later Flemish artist Mcmling shows close-fitting, fashionably-waisted jacks.
(C) A breastplate, or simply the lower half (a plackarl) fitted comfortably on the stiff, tailored jack. Braies d'acier - mail shorts tied to a doublet - were often worn beneath. (Memling, Reliquary of St Ursula, cl489)
(D) Jack worn under mail shoulder pieces but over a mail skirt or braies d'acier. (Memling, The Passion, c 1480s)
(F.) Beautiful rendering of a well-fitted jack. Tied to the arms are chain-like metal defences which may perhaps be the 'splints' often mentioned in contemporary documents. (Memling, Reliquary of St Ursula, c 1489) (F) Note the flared skirt and deep cut-outs to give maximum freedom of movement. Thick, protective shoulder fringes of cord or leather appear in several 15th century sources. (Memling, The Passion, c 1480s) (G) Another example of tied-on defences made of bars, rings and small plates. (Burgundian tapestry, Siege of Jerusalem by Titus, c 1460)
(H & I) The Schilling Chronicles often show short jacks with high collars and short, padded sleeves worn by archers, probably English, in Burgundian service. Their very thick bows, small helmets, large arrow bags and high collars are exaggerated, as if the artist had seen these distinctive features. (J) Typical late 15th century velvet-covered brigandine. The nails are tinned against rust and set in threes. The edges of the plates forming the right side are left uncovered so that they slide easily under the left side and are overlapped when the brigandine is buckled. It is rigid enough to stand up by itself, but flexible enough to be put on like a jacket. (K) The same construction was used for more complex defences with short sleeves, flared skirts and tassets. This example is worn over plate arm defences, tied to an arming doublet of which the collar is visible. The hose with points will support thigh-length boots, a typical 'half-armed' dress when on campaign. (L) Many rigid, cloth-covered defences are illustrated; they are studded with fewer rivets than the brigandines often shown alongside them, suggesting fewer, larger plates. (M) Attached shoulder defences are not uncommon. (French MS, c1450-1470)
(N) These shoulder pieces may be part of a full brigandine worn beneath a livery jacket and over plate arm defences. (Fouquet, Heures d'Etienne Chevalier) (O) Construction of a brigandine, showing how the slightly curved, overlapping plates were riveted to the fabric jacket. (P) Towards the end of the 15th century brigandines made of many small plates showing large numbers of rivets became fashionable, like this Italian example. It has tasset extensions tied to the skirl, and is worn over a mail shirt with three-quarter sleeves. (Carpaccio. Arrival of St Ursula in Cologne, cl490)
(Below) Among Burgundian troops besieging Velexon castle in 1409-10 were 30 'armed men' and 15 crossbowmen sent from Dijon for one month's service, 'dressed and ready to go'. Vermilion cloth was supplied 'from which were cut the letters Dijon put on the sleeve of each jack', backed with white cloth 'in the form of a scroll'. There are many other examples of lettering being used as badges. In 1464 a contingent sent north from Nottingham were issued with red 'jakettes and a yard of white fustian was used to cut out letters and set them on the jackettes'. (Photos Gerry Embleton)
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