Although separated by several decades in manufacture, this bacinet and piece of mail are displayed together. Given the high cost of armour, older (usually inherited) items would often be worn with newer ones, provided they fitted well enough. The bacinet comes from about 1430, while the mail comes from the last quarter of the fourteenth century.
The bacinet might be Italian. Originally there would have been a visor to protect the eyes. There is also a slot in the top of the helmet where a crest would have been worn. It was a very popular style of helmet in England during the Hundred Years War.
This one was found in Kordofan, Sudan. It probably got there because French traders sold arms illegally to the Khalif of Egypt around the middle of the fifteenth century.
As you can probably tell from the photograph, I was more interested in the chain mail than in the helmet. Chain mail was, as its name suggests, made up of chains of iron or steel rings linked together. They’re linked by flattening and riveting the ends. The protection they offered varied according to the diameter of the links. This piece of mail is made up of rings approximately 1 cm in diameter.
Mail was an old form of protection by the fourteenth century and was worn over padded clothing. The padding protected the wearer’s skin from the metal rings, as well as from the enemy’s weapons.
In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries even horses wore mail. By the fourteenth century the technology to make plate armour (large bits of metal which could be shaped to protect various parts of the body) was being developed. This meant that there was less need for those who could afford plate armour to cover themselves completely in mail.
Mail could be made into almost any shape and it was very flexible. The most common items were the habergeon and hauberk: the short and long mail shirt. The shirt could be made with or without sleeves. Head protection in the form of a mail coif was also used. When an item of mail was damaged it was easy to repair and, if necessary, the rings could be taken apart and reused. For this reason, very few pieces of mail survive in their original form.
Masterpieces of Medieval Art – James M Robinson
Masterpieces of European Arms and Armour – Tobias Capwell