Following last week’s post about medieval armour there were a few questions in the comments about the weight of the armour worn by the men in the video, so I thought it would be worthwhile doing some research to try to find out how much weight a medieval knight might be carrying when he went into battle.
Discovering the weight of the plate armour itself isn’t a problem. Enough of it has survived from the fifteenth century for us to know what it weighed. Similar sets of armour to those in the video weighed anything from 20 to 30 kilos. That’s just for the plate armour. Underneath a knight would have worn chain mail and padding of some sort.
The chain mail tunic (hauberk if it was long or habergeon if it was short) weighed about 10 kilos. Mail was made up of thousands of interlocking rings made from steel or iron riveted together. The way that the rings were linked made it a very flexible material. Hauberks would have lengths added or taken away depending on the size of the man who had inherited it or purchased it, which meant that the same hauberk could be used over several decades, or even centuries.
Apparently the easiest way to get out of a hauberk was to do a handstand and let it fall off, as illustrated by the picture at the top of the post. Mail could be pierced by arrows or crossbow bolts, so something more substantial was required as bows became more powerful.
Very few examples of fourteenth century armour have survived. Armour was refashioned and reused, so bits of it could still be in use centuries later, but in different forms. Most of what is known about armour from the period has been learned by studying pictures and tomb effigies. One of the difficulties of doing this is illustrated by the picture below. Just what is that knight below wearing under his surcoat (the flowing garment)?
It was difficult to make pieces of metal large enough for armour in the early part of the fourteenth century. Boiled leather (cuir-bouilli) was hard enough to provide some protection, but plate metal was preferred when even small pieces became available.
Eventually, pieces of plate metal could be made large enough to protect the extremities. These pieces of armour did not need to be particularly large. Brassarts covered the arms, poleyns covered the knees, and greaves protected the front of the shins or the whole lower leg. Some knights had a coat of plates, which was a piece of leather or thick cloth onto which iron plates had been riveted. Over all of this a knight wore a surcoat. It often displayed the knight’s arms. By the end of the century the surcoat was no longer worn and had been replaced by the jupon, a more fitted garment.
The Hundred Years’ War accelerated the development of plate armour and knights were soon wearing breastplates and backplates under their surcoats. A backplate was made up of two or more pieces of plate, as was the breastplate.
Going to war was not cheap and armour was often passed down from father to son, or sold. When an army was on campaign it members might be sporting the current fashions in armour, or those from 60 years before, or anything in between, or even a mixture of styles.
Some men wore padded armour (an aketon or a gambeson) under their plate armour. Others wore it over the armour. This gave additional protection against weapons which could pierce armour, but which would be slowed down by the padding.
By the end of the fourteenth century a knight could be almost completely encased in plate armour, with sabatons on his feet, greaves all around his lower leg, poleyns to protect his knees, and a single breastplate with a skirt made from several plates. The cuisses now covered the front and outside of the thighs. The arms were protected by rerebraces at the top and vambraces at the bottom. The hands were covered by gauntlets and the elbows by couters. The spaulder covered the shoulder. A basic bascinet (pictured above) covered the head and an avantail of mail protected the neck.
For those of you who, like me, are now addicted to videos of men in armour doing energetic things, here’s another one, made up of a number of clips. The men in the second clip are wearing armour that’s similar to what was worn in the fourteenth century.
Masterpieces of European Arms and Armour in the Wallace Collection – Tobias Capwell
Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages: The English Experience – Michael Prestwich
Knight: The Warrior and World of Chivalry – Robert Jones
Knight: The Unofficial Medieval Warrior’s Manual – Michael Prestwich