Detail of mail armour

Medieval Warfare

The Medieval period was one in which the battlefield was dominated by the man-at-arms.

As a result of technological developments of infantry weapons and tactics, men were compelled to wear thicker and stronger armour, ranging from mail shirts to steel plate armour.

During the Middle Ages there were 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 points such as elbows and knees for extra protection. By 1400, knights were fully encased in ‘suits’, a harness of plate armour that covered most of the body.

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Did you know?

Palmerston's Follies

Fort Nelson is one of the ‘Palmerston Forts’, commissioned in the 1860s by Lord Palmerston, who feared a French attack. By the time they were completed, however, any threat from France disappeared. The forts gained the nickname ‘Palmerston’s follies’.