Object Title

Plate Armour

Between 1325 and 1340, a revolution happened in European armour technology. Mail armour (made of small interconnecting iron rings) was replaced or enhanced by stronger armour made of iron or steel plates.

Development

Plate armour emerged in the late-13th century. An early form of plate armour was the 'pair of plates', which was a body defence made of iron plates riveted inside fabric. Through the 14th century, plate defences for other parts of the body emerged and the complete suit, or 'harness', of plate armour was developed.

Much early plate armour was covered in fabric, and often had decorative patterns formed by the rivet heads of the armour.

Early plate defences were made by the guilds of helmet-makers, who were already familiar with working plates into helmets. In the 15th century, these would grow to become the guilds of armourers across Europe.

During the medieval period, many centres of manufacture of plate armour developed. Major armour centres were established in Austria, Flanders, France, Germany and Spain in the Middle Ages. Many of these were influenced by Italian craftsmen who exported their armours all over Europe.

Use and effect

Plate armour offered new options. The surfaces of the rigid steel plates ensured the armour could resist and deflect glancing blows. An incoming weapon could only penetrate plate armour if it struck directly and with great force.

Plate armour is often depicted as being dangerously heavy, and although it was heavy, a complete plate armour for a man weighed about 60-70lbs, it was not usually a problem. A soldier in plate armour was still remarkably agile because the weight was distributed over the entire body. Jean Boucicaut, a knight and marshal of France, described the agility of a man in plate armour in the early 1400s:

"clothed in complete armour, he could vault upon the back of a warhorse;... he ran or walked for a long time, in order to be able to endure fatigue without exhaustion. He could turn a somersault, wearing all his armour except the basinet; and danced..." [1]

However, plate armour did still present risks. Heat exhaustion through over-exertion was a problem.

Plate armour also brought new maintenance requirements. In addition to repairs, plate armour used in battle would also need to be cleaned. A recipe from 1402 recommended that to keep the plates bright one should:

"Cut off all the legs of a goat from the knee downwards, let them stay in the smoke for a day, then keep them for fifteen or twenty-five days. When you require them, break the legs and take out the marrow from the bones, and grease the arms with it and they will always keep bright even when wet." [2]

[1] Marshal of France, Le Livre des faits Jehan le Maingre, (1406/7-9)
[2] G. Temple-Leader and G. Marcotti, Sir John Hawkwood, (1889), p.41

Statistics

Complete suit average weight: 27-30 kg (60-70 lbs)

Author

Bob Woosnam-Savage