Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Arms and armour: who wore what?

(From my class online with University of Leicester)

The popular image of knights engaged in combat on horseback offers a highly misleading perspective of medieval warfare. The great majority of combatants fought on foot. A range of weapons were used, the most strategically important of which was still the longbow, in use since before the Battle of Hastings.

Aristocrats and knights would indeed have been mounted, in full body armour. This was expensive, and also quite heavy, but it offered good protection against assault in the field. Foot soldiers were as well armed as they could afford to be; minimum body protection involved a helmet of a type known as a sallet; and a padded coat, or jack. A more substantial kind of body protection was provided by the brigandine, which consisted of a padded, quilted doublet, the cells of which were filled with iron plates. Circular shields known as bucklers were also carried for self defence.

More advanced technologies were available. Gunpowder, shot and cannons were introduced into medieval warfare in the course of the 14th century, but were usually still quite a small part of the battle agenda. They were heavy to move around and hard to control accurately; they played an increasingly significant part in siege warfare, however, and many castle and town defences were re-organised to cope with cannon bombardment in the later middle ages.

Effigies and brasses of 15th century knights provide important information about 15th century weapons and armour, as not many actual pieces survive. The illustrations of combat scenes in a manuscript of about 1483 known as the Beauchamp Pageant are another important source. We know about how the foot soldiers were equipped through muster rolls and records of levies. These men would have brought their own weapons, which they had used for local training – mostly longbows, but also billhooks, used in a military rather than an agricultural context. Other weapons in general use include staff weapons such as lances, poleaxes and spears, and swords and daggers, used in close combat. The use of maces seems more confined to the knightly class.

No comments:

Post a Comment