Monday, 20 July 2015

Armour Through the Ages: Plate Armour

Last week I looked at chain mail, and shared some colour plates from the book Knights by Andrea Hopkins. This week I’m moving on.

Sir John Chandos, Knight of the Garter c.1350
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Sir John's armour is interesting since it is somewhere between full mail and plate armour; at this point a suit of mail is worn beneath supplementary pieces of plate armour. His pointed bascinet for instance is attached to a mail aventail by thongs. Over his mail hauberk and breastplate, the surcoat has now become a closely tailored jupon which displays Sir John's arms – argent a pile gules – as do his shield and horse's caparison. Beneath the edge of the jupon the bottom of his short mail skirt can be seen. Plate armour protects his limbs; cuisses on his thighs, poleyns on the knees, greaves on the shins, hinged vambraces on upper and lower arms, with couters at the elbows. The squire carries his great helm which bears his crest.

Swiss Knight 1476
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This knight is wearing a German harness, in characteristically angular style. His helmet, known as a sallet has a long tail behind to cover his neck; its hinged visor, now raised, protects only the upper part of his face. The chin and throat are protected by a separate piece of armour called a bevor. His breastplate is in two parts, the lower overlapping the upper. His "hand-and-a-half" sword, so-called because the lengthened grip meant that it could be grasped with both hands, has a long blade with a sharp point for thrusting and stabbing as well as cutting. The surfaces of the armour, as here on the cuisses, have fan-like flutings. The feet are armoured in flexible pointed sabatons, with rowel spurs. He has no shield; full plate armour has made them obsolete.

A Knight of Emperor Maximilian on Triumph Parade 1518
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The knight wears a magnificently decorated harness with a close-helmet, crested with coloured plumes. His shoulders are now protected by heavy pauldrons with a raised collar to ward off blows at the neck. His gauntlets are of a mitten form. For the purposes of the parade, the knight has put on a velvet, fluted skirt typical of this period. His sabatons are now square-shaped at the toe rather than pointed. His horse too is armoured; he wears a decorated chanfron to protect his face, and a mail crinet over his neck. The caparison is now shorter, and beautifully worked with gold wire brocade. Under it the horse might also be carrying further armour plates – a peytral for his breast, flanchards for his flanks and a crupper for his hindquarters.

Modern Day

Armour is still worn today by soldiers, body guards and similar. Metal plates are still used, inserted into padded fabric, but ceramic and Kevlar are used too.

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