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Medieval armour

5 types of medieval armour


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The medieval period saw many bloody battles and the armies of Europe wanted to protect their soldiers as much as possible. Coats of armour evolved over the years and different countries had their own approach to the best style and type of armour to use.

Let’s explore five types of medieval armour worn by soldiers across Europe.

1. Gambeson

Imagining armour without the traditional metal plating on the outside may be difficult, but the gambeson is just that. The gambeson is a full-body, jacket-style armour made from quilted linen or wool. The armour was stuffed with cloth or horsehair and a typical type of medieval armour that most regular infantrymen could make themselves. It also allowed peasants to become part of the armed forces without too much trouble. Despite seeming quite simple and basic, it offered good defence against slash attacks.

However, it would not protect against thrusting or piercing so it soon became less popular as metal-based chainmail and plated armour were more readily available. The thick material and horsehair stuffing also made the gambeson a cumbersome and uncomfortable option, especially in warmer climates.

Soldiers would still wear the gambeson below chainmail for additional protection and to add a buffer between the armour and flesh.

2. Mail armour

Any armour made completely from iron was known as mail armour. This includes many different types including chainmail, coifs and greaves. Mail armour was most popular during the high Middle Ages and was used by the Templars when they invaded and conquered the Holy Land.

Mail armour was particularly difficult to pierce without quality weaponry and it offered a high level of protection against all kinds of attack, particularly arrows and bolts.

3. Milanese plate armour

Many different kinds of plate armour existed through medieval times. Milanese armour is held in high regard and considered one of the strongest. Milan was a recognised centre of armour production through the medieval period and into the Renaissance. It was home to many world-renowned craftsmen capable of creating high-quality, strong armour.

Milanese plate was in high demand in the 13th and 14th centuries. It was recognised for its strength due to its closeness to the human form as soldiers had their suits made to their measurements. Milanese armour featured simple, rounded shapes and provided full protection to the soldier. By the Renaissance period, it became more elaborate but the function remained just as effective.

4. Gothic plate armour

Gothic-style plate armour originated in the Holy Roman Empire, with the earliest styles dating back to around 1420. It featured fully protective plates and moveable joints, with Augsburg and Nuremberg in Germany at the heart of all armour production in the region.

Much of the style and function of Gothic plate armour was taken from Milanese armour, though some of their best techniques were also employed in Italy. Regional styles also began to gain popularity, such as white armour and the very popular Maximilian style.

Maximilian armour was named for Emperor Maximilian I. It was extremely strong and amongst the most effective armour ever created. A combination of rounded curves and fluting designs allowed for a fully customised fit and maximised protective capabilities. The beauty of the armour did not detract from its functionality and even seemingly ornate elements were only included if they provided extra protection and aided manoeuvrability. Gothic armourers did not underestimate the importance of speed and designed their armour with quick movement in mind.

5. Greenwich plate armour

As the name suggests, Greenwich Plate Armour was a British invention, named for the Royal Armoury at Greenwich in London. The armoury was established by King Henry VIII in 1511 and remained at the heart of English armour production until the 17th century.

Henry VIII recognised the talents of European armourers and hired German specialists to craft his one-of-a-kind suits fitted to his size and stature. Greenwich plate armour ensured English soldiers were fully protected and most Greenwich armour was fully customisable, making it suitable for a range of scenarios. Its garnitures included full cavalry sets with interchangeable pieces for light cavalry, infantry and jousting.

Henry VIII’s personal armour was known for its ornate features, with designers using intricate techniques including gilding and etching to give it a unique and regal finish. The king even hired the artist Hans Holbein to design decorative elements.

The Greenwich Armoury is also known for the production of Henry VIII’s unforgettable foot combat armour which covered the king from head to toe with no chink visible. Turning joints linked each plate together to create a functional and protective suit for the king to wear on foot.

Every armourer in medieval times worked to create the most protective yet functional pieces for their army. As weapons evolved so did the need for new and flexible forms of armour to bolster the forces and give them additional protection in battle.