The British Museum in Thirteen Objects – Bacinet and Mail

Bacinet and mail

Bacinet and Mail, British Museum

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.

A better photograph of the bacinet cand be found here and there’s a slightly better photograph of the mail here.

Sources:

Masterpieces of Medieval Art – James M Robinson

Masterpieces of European Arms and Armour – Tobias Capwell

14 Comments

Filed under Fourteenth Century, Hundred Years War, Medieval Warfare

14 responses to “The British Museum in Thirteen Objects – Bacinet and Mail

  1. Illegal arms dealing! Of course it would have a long history…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. That struck me too! Nothing new in this world! Nice post April, I love photographing chain mail when I come across it.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m always struck by the sheer weight that had to be carried when I see solid armour. Presumably mail was a way of countering that.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. It’s sobering to realize how much of our history (and our present day) is associated with battle.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Amazing story and I love the illegal arms trading. We haven’t progressed very far have we?

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Interesting how the bacinet goes down the spine a bit. Makes me wonder how the rest of the armor fit.

    Wasn’t mail used well after the introduction of plate armor, to protect the joint areas, as gussets? Articulated armor took a while to develop, and even with it, mail might still be used to here & there.

    Can’t imagine how hot it must have been to wear the bacinet in Middle Eastern warm seasons! Bad enough in European summers of the Middle Ages! Could explain the missing visor.

    Sure wish I lived where I could see these myself, Been a long time since I was in Europe & armor wasn’t a hi-pri interest then. Wish I’d done my travels later.

    Count this a “like”! Still won’t let me like the main article.:-(

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mail was used with plate armour. I think I read somewhere that it was still being used in the seventeenth century.

      Heat was a big problem with helmets. Apparently they fought a lot of the time with the visor up or off altogether.

      In my book about armour there are only three or four pieces from the fourteenth century. Not very much has survived.

      Liked by 1 person

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