Results 1 to 6 of 6

Thread: Armour FAQs

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Newcastle, NSW, Australia
    Posts
    1,980

    Armour FAQs

    This thread will eventually include a list of frequently asked questions followed by a brief outline of the relevant points from previous threads on this forum and others. This thread is locked and intended for referral purposes only, but if anyone wishes to expand upon anything discussed here, please feel free to create a new thread.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Newcastle, NSW, Australia
    Posts
    1,980

    Why was plate armour developed?

    Most believe that plate armour was developed to counter weapons such as the couched lance, crossbow, and longbow - that it evolved because of an "arms race" between weapons and armour. This is a very modern viewpoint heavily biased because of the rapid development and counter development of military technology during the 20th century. This rapid technological advancement is unprecedented in history and although it can be applied to the Middle Ages, it may not have been the main driving force for change. During these earlier times current scholarship suggests that warfare was driven by changes in society as much as technological advances.

    Some points to consider:

    * Smiths had been capable of manufacturing armour made from large plates of iron long before the emergence of plate armour in the 14th century. This is demonstrated by the existence of helmets that had been raised from single large plates of iron - not a simple task. The most famous example is the helm of St Wenceslaus dated to the 9th or 10th century. It would have been an easy matter to transfer these skills to the making of solid breastplates and it seems that it was done on rare occasions. One possible example is the "plate of worked iron" described by Guillaume le Breton and worn by Richard of Poitou (later King Richard I) under his hauberk during his joust with William de Barres. Some have proposed that plate armour was worn even earlier, during the Carolingian period.

    * The weapons that were considered capable of defeating mail (such as longbows, couched lances, and composite crossbows) had been used on the battlefield at least a century before the advent of plate armour, so these weapons cannot have been the impetus for developing this armour. As mentioned above, even though armourers were capable of fashioning plate armour during this time, they continued to make mail.

    * Water-powered hammer mills are evident at the end of the 12th century. Once this industry was established, it enabled iron plate to be produced in relative bulk quantities at a cheaper price. When labour costs dramatically increased after the Black Death (14th century) it would have cost as much to produce mail (which was highly labour-intensive) as all but the finest of plate armour. If plate armour cost the same or less to produce and offered better protection than mail, one could argue that it would have become popular even if weapons such as longbows, crossbows, and lances never existed.

    * Economic developments enabled the towns of Western and Central Europe to first become viable, and then, by the 13th century, powerful enough to rival and even challenge the power of their feudal overlords. These towns created a class of people who wished to break free of the feudal system. They had no desire to engage in warfare using the "old rules" to which the landed aristocracy adhered. These townsfolk fought to break the yoke of their feudal masters and had no qualms in regards to killing them. To this end they developed new battlefield tactics, and had the organisation and morale to effectively use them against the mounted knight. Examples include the famous Genoese crossbowmen and the Swiss halberdiers and Flemish pikemen.

    * During the Middle Ages until the end of the 13th century, the primary goal when fighting a knight was to capture him for ransom. It was rare for the nobility to deliberately attempt to kill one another. It was only the lower classes that the knight felt no compunctions about killing. One argument about the lack of plate armour during this time is that "armour piercing" weapons were generally not needed because the only targets the knight intended to kill were largely unarmoured. If knightly weapons were not intended to deliberately kill fellow knights, and the infantry of the time offered no real threat, then there is no need for heavier armour.

    * The replacement of feudal levies with scutage ("shield money") as payment in lieu of service enabled commanders to make much greater use of mercenaries and professional soldiers, who were generally better armed and armoured than earlier peasant levies, were more experienced and better disciplined, and did not have to be home in time for the harvest. The "armour industry" expanded because more men were willing and able to pay for better armour and a higher percentage of any host was likely to be wearing decent armour on the battlefield.

    * Consider the change in sword types during this time - from mainly slashing blades to heavier cut and thrust varieties. Medieval swordsmiths have always been capable of fashioning these types of blades but rarely did so. Most assume that the impetus for this change was the development of plate, but the stout points on these swords also make them more effective at penetrating mail. So why did they not see widespread use earlier? Especially since the earlier slashing blades were ineffective against mail. It is possible that the change in sword design was caused by the change in attitudes towards warfare. There came to be a distinguishment between "good war" (capturing for ransom) and "bad war" (fighting to the death). As mentioned above, there was also a greater percentage of the lower classes wearing armour. A knight's sword would therefore be more often required to kill armoured men rather than the unarmoured levies of previous centuries - hence the new sword designs.

    There were many reasons for the development of plate armour during the time period in question. It is evident that the so called "arms race" between weaponsmith and armourer was unlikely to have been the dominant reason and to say that it was the only one is simplistic at best. It is unclear which of the above-mentioned factors had the most influence and the researcher needs to keep the context as a whole in mind when examining this subject. Only when technology is placed within its social, economic and symbolic context can this subject be explored properly.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Newcastle, NSW, Australia
    Posts
    1,980

    What is the difference between chain mail and ring mail?

    There are several issues involved here, all of which can be traced back to Victorian scholars. Today we define mail as it was defined in the Middle Ages. It consists of a "fabric" of interlocked metal rings which form a strong, flexible mesh armour. Each ring is linked through four others, two in the row above it and two below. Although there are variations, this "4-in-1" pattern is by far the most prevalent. The word "mail" is derived through the Old English mayle, French mailles, and Italian maglia, from the Latin macula meaning the mesh of a net. Roman mail is known as lorica hamata.

    The above definition of mail was not the one used by Victorian scholars though. They used the word "mail" to describe any sort of metallic body armour. It is common to see the word "mail" in translations of early texts in instances where it is clear that the subjects cannot have been wearing mail. One example is the biblical description of Goliath wearing a coat of bronze mail [Samuel 17.5]. The use of the word "mail" in this instance was not meant to be specifically referring to 4-in-1 mail, but as a general term to describe body armour - in this case, bronze scale armour. Other examples of the misuse of this word include using "plate mail" and "scale mail" instead of plate armour and scale armour. Because of this overly-generic use of the term "mail" they needed a word to differentiate 4-in-1 mail from other types of body armour - hence the term "chain mail." If the word "mail" is used in its correct context then "chain mail" is superfluous and does not need to be used at all.

    Scholars such as Meyrick attempted a very "literal" interpretation of the armour depicted in contemporary illustrations (e.g. the Bayeux Tapestry) and invented a variety of constructions to closely resemble them. These constructions included banded, tegulated, mascled, and trelliced mail. It has since been demonstrated that Meyrick's proposals were either impractical or could not be physically reconstructed to resemble the illustrations. The general consensus today is that the difficulties involved in realistically illustrating medieval mail led to a variety of conventions and shortcuts and that all of the contemporary illustrations are depicting nothing more elaborate than standard 4-in-1 mail [see Claude Blaire, European Armour (1958), p.35-36]

    One of the types of armour interpreted from contemporary illustrations was given the term "ring mail." The Victorian definition of ring mail consists of a foundation garment upon which non-interlocking metal rings were attached. Today this would be more accurately called "ring armour" not "ring mail", since it does not form an interlinked mesh. As has already been said, the illustrations of armour in items such as the Bayeux Tapestry are all likely to be different methods of rendering the same construction, i.e. 4-in-1 mail, and that the proposed "ring armour" is unlikely to have existed in Europe at the time. However, ring armour does seem to have been utilised in different periods and places, albeit rarely. Stone's Glossary (p.22) has a photo and a description of ring armour which apparently came from north-eastern Asia. In Europe there was a type of armour called an "eyelet doublet" which might be classified as a type of ring armour. However the eyelet doublet dates to the 16th-17th centuries - much later than the illustrations in question.

    The final problem is that writers today use the terms mail, chain mail, ring mail, and ring armour interchangeably and it is often impossible to determine exactly what they mean to be talking about. It would be more accurate and less likely to cause confusion if the terms chain mail and ring mail were never used. Use mail and ring armour instead.

    For more detail on this subject see the following essay:
    http://www.knightsofveritas.org/mate...ndringmail.pdf

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Newcastle, NSW, Australia
    Posts
    1,980

    How effective were arrows against mail?

    A common misconception is that mail was highly susceptible to arrows – particularly the bodkin arrowhead. Recent scholarship suggests that this may not have been the case though. The vast majority of experiments that have involved the testing of arrows against mail were done using mail that was not representative of that worn by contemporaries. Rivets were poorly set (or the links were merely “butted” together without riveting), inadequate padding was used (if employed at all), the links were generally too large, and the metallurgy was incorrect (steel links - even mild steel - are more susceptible to snapping or shattering while soft wrought iron will twist and deform rather than break) – all factors leading to a severe reduction in the armour’s protective capability. Recent experiments performed against more accurate mail reconstructions indicate that contemporary mail and padding provided excellent defence against all types of arrows under battlefield conditions. Nielson was one of the first to conclude this in 1991. An experiment conducted by the Royal Armouries concluded that a padded jack worn over a mail haubergeon (a common combination during the 15th century) was proof against Mary Rose longbows. Another conducted by Alan Williams concluded that mail worn over quilted padding could resist longbow arrows but not crossbow bolts.

    Here is one of the few online tests that actually involves a reasonable facsimile of contemporary riveted mail. http://www.cotasdemalla.com/test2.htm

    There are many contemporary accounts that demonstrate the effectiveness of mail against arrows. Anna Comnena wrote that during the Battle of Duazzo (1108), the Byzantines resorted to shooting the Frankish horses because their arrows were ineffective against the Frankish armour. Joinville describes his servants donning him in his jousting hauberk as he lay ill on the deck of a ship to protect him from incoming Saracen arrows. On another occasion Joinville recounts how he was wounded five times through his hauberk by Saracen fire darts, but they did not penetrate far enough to prevent him from fighting. Odo of Douil wrote about king Louis VII, in an engagement during the 2nd Crusade, losing his bodyguard and forced to flee the enemy by scaling a rock face. As he climbed the enemy fired arrows but, "by the will of God his armour protected him from the arrows."

    Baha ’al-Din, Saladin’s biographer, wrote that the crusaders were protected by,
    very heavy felt and so stout a coat of mail that our arrows did no harm…I saw foot-soldiers with as many as ten arrows in their backs, who marched on as usual without breaking ranks.
    The above passage demonstrates the increased effectiveness of mail when worn in conjunction with a padded defence. The arrows of the Saracens often managed to penetrate the mail only to be thwarted by the padding underneath. During the Battle of Liegniz, Jan Dlugosz implied that those who were protected by mail were able to retreat from the engagement while those who were not, succumbed to arrow-fire:
    These then waver and finally fall beneath the hail of arrows…for many of them are wearing no armour, and the survivors retreat.
    During the Battles of Dupplin Moor (1332) and Hallidon Hill (1333) the English infantry was greatly aided by their longbowmen who, although inflicting few casualties because of Scottish armour, caused great disorder by attacking the faces and heads of their foes, many of whom were not wearing helmets. Geoffory Le Baker described the role of the French cavalry during the Battle of Poitiers (1356) and their apparent imperviousness to English arrows,
    For the horsemen, as has been said, had the special purpose of overrunning the archers, and of protecting their army from the arrows. Standing near their own men they faced the archers with their chests so solidly protected with plate and mail and leather shields, that the arrows were either fended off directly or broken in pieces by the hard objects or were diverted upwards...
    Finally, the following passage written by Galbert of Bruges describes a formidable warrior named Benkin and demonstrates that while mail might protect the wearer from being pierced with arrows, it didn’t necessarily save him from blunt trauma:
    And when he [Benkin] was aiming at the besiegers, his drawing on the bow was identified by everyone because he would either cause grave injury to the unarmed or put to flight those who were armed, whom his shots stupefied and stunned, even if they did not wound.
    It can be seen from the above passages that mail provided a good defence against arrows. Although there were occasions when arrows penetrated the mail itself, the arrow was usually halted by the padding underneath. In the case of Joinville, both his mail and padding were compromised but none of the five arrows wounded him severely enough to take him out of the fight. One should also note the effects of blunt trauma – even if an arrow failed to compromise the mail it was still possible to cause discomfort or even incapacitate the wearer underneath.

    Contemporary sources note that there were different types of mail and some were considered more protective than others. In the sources there are references to "haubert de joute" and "haubert de guerre," as well as "double mail," "haute cloueur," "demi-clouer," "botte," and "botte cassee." To this day nobody has conclusively demonstrated the kinds of mail to which these terms are referring. Ffoulkes believed that the phrase, "de toute botte," referred to mail that was proof against all blows – from projectiles, lances, swords, and axes. If this is true then one can infer that some other types of mail were not proof against all these weapons. Another source is the Chronicon Colmariense (1398), in which the author states that men at arms wore, "…an iron shirt, woven from iron rings, through which no arrow fired from a bow could cause injury." The very need to make this distinction implies that some other types of mail were not as capable at resisting arrows. The Franciscan friar, John of Plano-Carpini (who was an envoy to the Mongols) described the Mongols making armour-piercing arrows by heating the heads red-hot, then quenching them in salt-water. He then recommended that "doubled mail" be issued to knights to protect them from these arrows. One can infer several things from this passage. Firstly, that it wasn’t normal practice in Europe during this time to harden arrowheads. Secondly, it was believed that hardened arrowheads stood a greater chance of penetrating mail. Thirdly, a type of mail known as “doubled mail” was considered arrow-proof, even against arrows specifically designed to be armour-piercers.

    There are a few sources, however, indicating that arrows could, on occasion, penetrate mail far enough to kill the wearer. At the Battle of Nicaea (1097), Albert of Aix wrote that, "Walter the Penniless fell, pierced by seven arrows which had penetrated his coat of mail." In another account Saxo wrote that the Gotlanders strung their bows so hard that their arrows could penetrate shield, hauberk, and helmet. Gerald of Wales recounted an anecdote in which a Norman was hit at close range by a Welsh arrow that penetrated his mailed leg, through his saddle, and far enough into his horse to kill it. During the Battle of Acre (1291), William de Beaujeu, Master of the Temple, was accused of cowardice when he retreated from the fighting. He lifted up his arm and replied, "Seigneurs, I can do no more, for I am dead; see the wound." An arrow had pierced him through the mail beneath his armpit – only the fletches were visible.

    Based on modern experimental results and contemporary accounts one must conclude that, while not impervious, mail and its associated padding offered good protection against arrows. It is evident, though, that some types of mail offered better protection than others. Even the much-vaunted bodkin didn’t guarantee penetration. Bodkin-type arrowheads have been used since the Bronze Age, and were common during the Roman period and right through the so-called "Age of Mail." If mail was highly susceptible to these arrows then it would not have remained the preferred type of body armour for so long, and one might argue that a type of armour more resistant to arrows would have become more widespread during this time.


    Append: This poster summarises Dr Williams' thoughts on the subject.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Newcastle, NSW, Australia
    Posts
    1,980

    Why is modern mail unsuitable for weapons tests?

    The following is mainly applicable to Indian imported mail (the vast majority of commercial mail on the market) but virtually all modern reconstructions have some of the problems on this list. The only commercial supplier who attempts to replicate historical mail is Erik D Schmid. There are a few others who can make decent historical replicas but their work is not commercially available.

    * The thickness of the wire is generally too light for the diameter of the link, making it lighter but less capable of resisting a weapon.
    * Holes are made with a punch rather than a drift. This leaves a lot less metal around the rivet to help secure it.
    * Rivet holes are either too large or not centred. Both will leave too little material on one or both sides and the link will tear too easily.
    * The links are hammered way too thin (probably to make them easier to punch), but this greatly reduces the strength of the link
    * Rivets are incorrectly set. If a rivet is not peened tightly, the link will pull apart too easily
    * There isn't enough overlap in the lapped section of the link to create a decent join
    * Wrong shape rivet hole. Indian mail has rectangular holes. Historical wedge-riveted mail has ovoid holes. Rectangular holes tear very easily at the corners. Circular or ovoid holes are much stronger
    * Incorrect metallurgy. Mild steel (or even so-called modern "iron") is not as ductile as bloomery iron and it is more likely to snap upon impact instead of stretching/bending
    Last edited by Dan Howard; 04-28-2010 at 06:44 AM.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Newcastle, NSW, Australia
    Posts
    1,980
    Why were English longbowmen so successful?

    IMO the main point of using heavy warbows was to cast a heavy war arrow further than had ever been possible before. The idea was to shoot as many arrows as possible as far as possible as quickly as possible. This enabled a host of tactical possibilities to be available to the English commander. Note that being able to punch through armour is not in the list.

    1. The main reason for widespread deployment of the warbow was to counter the English deficiency in cavalry. The warbow forced English opponents to dismount and advance on foot. The majority of English victories with this weapon were caused by their opponent attempting to charge their horses through a hail of arrows. It was the horse that was vulnerable to the arrow, not the well-armoured man-at-arms.

    2. The whole point of any battle is to take out enemy soldiers. This does not mean that they have to be killed. An arrow through the foot will incapacitate a soldier just as surely as an arrow through the heart. The vast majority of arrow casualties were caused by non-fatal injuries as it has always been since the bow was first used in battle thousands of years ago.

    3. There are plenty of soldiers in any army who are not covered head to foot in solid plate. Even the best armour has gaps that can be exploited. If you are hit with enough arrows then some of those are going to find places where the body is not so well protected.

    4. By using volleyed arrows to create a "beaten ground" a commander could use archers to direct an advancing enemy into a prearranged location.

    5. English archers were experienced fighters and hard men, serving a dual role in an English army. They did not drop out of the battle when they ran out of arrows. They drew hand weapons and waded into the melee like the rest of the infantry.

    6. Arrows have a demoralising effect on the enemy. Most battles are won by causing the enemy to rout, not by winning through attrition.

    7. Ever since the bow was first used in battle, its principal role was to disrupt an enemy formation so that other units such as cavalry and infantry could exploit gaps in the line. Combined arms and disciplined troops were the key to English success, not a magical superweapon.


    Most of the accounts that people dredge up to support their armour-piercing claim fall into either point 2 or 3.

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •