(A) This illustration from the Bayeux Tapestry is clearly a much simplified symbolic rendering of a corpse being stripped, and should not be taken literally. Only a fool or a religious penitent would wear mail next to his naked skin.
(B) This more realistic image shows a garment worn under a mail shirt which is being pulled off over the head; the stance will be familiar to anyone who has worn the real thing. (English. Tickhill Psalter, c 1303-1314)
(C) Separate-leg hose are laced with points to a solid-looking garment, probably a doublet cut very low and open between the thighs; some 15th century fencing illustrations show similar arrangements. (French, Livre des Nobles Femmes, late 14th C)
(D) Mail shirt worn over a stiffened and dagged coat. (Song of Roland, 14th C)
(E) One important later 15th century illustrated text is headed 'How a man schall be armyd at his ese when he schal fighte on foote'. In modem spelling it reads, in part: 'He shall have no shirt upon him, but a doublet of fustian lined with satin, cut full of holes. The doublet must be strongly bound where the points are set about the great (part) of the arm, and the gussets of mail must be sewed to the doublet at the bend of the arm. The arming points must be made of fine twine such as men used to make strings for crossbows, and ... tied small and pointed as points. They must be waxed with shoemaker's wax ... He shall have a pair of hose of worsted cloth, and a pair of short pads of thin blanket to put about his knees to prevent chafing ...; also a pair of shoes of thick leather ... fastened with small whipcord ... and three cords must be fast sewed to the heel of the shoe, and fine cords in the middle of the sole ...'.
In 1434 John Hill, armourer to Henry VI of England, mentions 'hose of cord without vamps ... cut at the knees and lined with linen cloth on the bias'; and 'shoes of red leather thin laced and fretted underneath with whipcord ...'.
(F, J & K) Rare illustrations of garments worn under armour in the 16th century 'Illustrated Inventory' of the Royal Armoury, Madrid, look remarkably like their earlier counterparts.
(G) Juan de la Abadia's painting of St Michael may show the 'hose of cord' referred to under E. (Spanish, last quarter 15th C)
(H) Portrait of an Italian gentleman (by Moroni, cl550), showing exactly the same sort of components as earlier arming doublets, with leather- or fabric-edged mail panels tied on with metal-tipped points. Only the fashionable mid-16th century cut betrays the date.
(I) Braies d'acier often appear in 15th century manuscripts; and at least one document orders them to be worn - the Burgundian Ordinance of St Maximin de Trêves, October 1473. (L) The King of France's Scottish archer guard were painted by Jean Fouquet in 1458 wearing their grey arming doublets reinforced witèh black leather or webbing strips. (M) The same construction appears in a Burgundian tapestry (The Siege of Jerusalem, c 1460) and several other sources. (N) Hypothetical reconstruction of mid-15th century arming doublet; red and grey seem to have been favourite colours. It is made of several layers of sturdy linen but not excessively padded, cut to facilitate movement, tight-fitting to avoid uncomfortable wrinkles, and with all seams and edges reinforced with leather or webbing. It might be covered with fustian or some richer material. Contact with armour would soon wear into it a pattern of dirty oil stains, and sweat would stain it with salt 'tide marks'.
(O) A late 15th century German painting shows details of a reinforced doublet lined with black cloth, slipped back off the shoulders with the hanging sleeves turned inside out. (P) This early 16th century arming jacket (visible in a painting by Giorgione, cl515) follows contemporary fashion but earlier details of construction. Note the two rivets and washers to further strengthen the reinforcing strips. (Q & R) Padded helmet caps were worn to supplement the helmet lining. In the 1460s a padded and often decorated roll was worn encircling the head. There is no truth in the illogical suggestion that the 'bowl crop' hairstyle of the first half of the century was useful for 'padding' the head. At the end of the century the then fashionably long hair was caught up in a netted cap which fitted neatly inside a sallet, a fashion drawn by Diirer and Cranach among other early 16th century artists. (S) Several surviving adjustable 16th century arming caps in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, offer tantalising clues to the probably sophisticated construction of earlier examples.
(Left The 15th century description quoted under (E) mentions a fustian doublet lined with 'satene cutt full of hoolis' (holes) - i.e., worked all over with round holes bound with strong twine, like the eyelet holes in doublet and hose to take the points. This gives an extremely strong but well-ventilated foundation garment. There are occasional mentions of this technique in contemporary documents, and some surviving examples; one mid-15th century German example has a brass ring "miintme!«ih.h<ileic.
(Photo Gerry Embleton)
Where has all the armour gone? Medieval armour is rare today; not one clearly identifiable English-made armour survives from before the reign of Henry Vm (1509-1547). Most of what does survive is the armour of kings and lords, kept for its historical or aesthetic value. What happened to all the rest? Armours were, after all, produced on an industrial scale for many generations, and tens of thousands of 'harnesses' must have been exported all over the Continent from the great factories of Germany and Italy, even if we discount production for the home market in other countries.
It has been lost in war and shipwreck. Obsolete, it has rusted away in forgotten stacks in arsenals or attics. Deemed useless, it has been used to corduroy paths, make cooking pots and door fittings, or chopped into small plates for brigandines and jacks.
In 1575 Sir George Howard, Master of the Armouries in the Tower of London, was ordered to convert old armours into 1,500 jacks for sea service. In 1635 Charles I retained armour for 10.(KK) men at the Tower, but ordered the rest sold to people who had none: we can only guess at what pieces, which would today be regarded as treasures, ended up on the heads of militiamen. Collections began early - in the Royal Armouries, in arsenals, and later, when armour was going out of fashion, as curiosities. With a few notable exceptions, most of the great stocks of 'ammunition' armour simply went into the melting pot. What we have left is a very uneven collection, with many fine 15th century German and Italian armours but no recognisable English examples.
(Left) We have space to present here just one superb medieval example of the armourer's art, made in Milan cl450 and now in the Burrell Collection. Armour was beaten out, hammered and hardened. Water-powered hammers were widely used for the very rough work. Then the plates were beaten and expertly shaped by hand - thinned where one plate passed over another, left thick where blows might fall. Generations of apprentices strove to become masters in an immensely demanding profession. Today's smiths simply cannot compete.
This was the sort of armour worn by knight and captain, the 'top of the market'. Armour was available in different qualities right down to surprisingly cheap, second-hand, and refurbished. But it was never crudely formed; men's lives depended upon the exact interplay of the different plates. It was produced by a well-established industry for a professional and demanding international clientele. (Photo Glasgow Museums / The Burrell Collection)
(Below) Three different examples of riveted mail, probably 15th -16th centuries, one piece (bottom right) edged with brass rings. Mail was made in many different grades, sizes and weights and is almost impossible to date accurately. Since it is made from iron wire it is very vulnerable to rusting; it is hardly surprising that most surviving medieval examples are fragmentary and of uncertain provenance. However, if carefully cleaned and oiled - as at least some mail must have been, throughout the ages when it was a valuable commodity - it lasts almost indefinitely. Not all of the mail used by the common soldiers was brand new and in good repair; in fact, it is perfectly plausible to suppose that some very ancient mail may still have been in use at the end of the Middle Ages. (Photo Gerry Embleton)
Of the hundreds of thousands of helmets made during the 'Middle Ages' only a handful have come down to us. From these we tend to draw sweeping conclusions, attempting to chart a system of types and their development. Illustrations show many helmets in common use of which no example survives. The commonest types were a range of shallow visorless sallets, from skullcaps with almost no neck guard to those with a deep neck guard (above left). Sallets with visors (above), or made without a movable visor but deep-fronted with eyeslits (left), were popular in the 15th century. Most helmets were polished bright, but some were left black from the forge, blued, browned or - (left) -painted with designs and mottoes. Kettle hats and bowl-shaped helmets, ranging from something like US and British World War II shapes to splendid deep-brimmed affairs with twisted, fluted crowns, were also very popular.
(Photos: above John Howe, left Gerry Embleton)
This Landsknecht hand-gunner of cl515 is still wearing his finery at the start of a campaign, and shows many of the characteristic details outlined on Plates 10 and 11 (pages 89-91). Over a white coif he wears an extravagantly plumed hat tied firmly beneath his chin. Unusually, his doublet buttons down the front; more common was a plastron front fastened by hooks and eyes or points at the left of the chest. His tight hose are made of fine woollen cloth and reach far enough up the waist to be self-supporting. Between them and his doublet his ample shirt bulges out. Around his neck hangs a brass powder flask; and his typical short sword is tied around his waist in a nearly horizontal position.
His main armament is a heavily stocked brass-barrelled matchlock, little more sophisticated than those introduced in the 1470s. Modern tests show these to be no slower to reload, nor dramatically less accurate - against a massed target - than flintlock muskets. (Photos John Howe)
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