The Medieval period was one in which the battlefield was dominated by the man-at-arms who was compelled by technological developments of infantry weapons and tactics to wear thicker and stronger armour, from mail shirts to his being fully encased in steel plate armour by around 1400.
During the Middle Ages there was no standing armies in Europe. Men of fighting age were obliged to answer the call of their feudal lord to serve in support of his lord, usually the king. Many were responsible for training and equipping themselves.
The early Middle Ages (11th-13th century) was the ‘age of mail’. Mail was made of small riveted iron rings which interlocked with each other. This made for strong and flexible protection, but it was heavy and the weight was carried on the shoulders and the belt around the waist.
Mail was not very effective against puncturing weapons such as bodkin arrows and hardened armour piercing arrows. It gave better protection against cutting weapons like swords but these could still inflict heavy bruising and broken bones.
In the 13th century, metal plates were riveted to cloth forming a coat or ‘jack’ of plate. Later during the 14th century plates of iron could be made larger and were fixed over vulnerable point such as elbows and knees for extra protection, and by 1400 knights were fully encased in ‘suits’ or harness of plate armour that covered most of the body.
Armour for man and horse in the German ‘Gothic’ style of the late 15th century.
Dates from 1480 | Object number: II.3
The great helm covered the whole head and neck. It was pierced with sights for vision and breaths for air.
Dates from 1370 | Object number: IV.600
The finest surviving 14th century basinet in the world.
Dates from 1370 | Object number: IV.470
A 15th century rowel spur, probably from Bohemia.
Dates from 1470 | Object number: VI.371
The Warwick shaffron is a very rare European armour for a horse dating from around 1400.
Dates from 1400 | Object number: VI.446
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