Sunday, September 20, 2009

Blog tour - Jeri Westerson on It Ain't Heavy, It's My Armor

As part of my blog tour to promote my latest Crispin Guest Medieval Noir novel, SERPENT IN THE THORNS, I’ve been dispelling various medieval myths, those tired saws that people tend to believe about the Middle Ages. One of those myths is that armor was so heavy, the knight had to be lifted by crane onto his horse.

Well, not so much. A knight in full harness—all duded up in mail, plate, helm, and weapon—weighed anywhere from 28-80 lbs. A knight could maneuver pretty easily. If he couldn’t, then it would be near impossible for him to fight and to stay alive. In fact, a knight could jump, run, do summersaults—just about anything in his armor. About the only thing not recommended when wearing armor was swimming. Not a good idea.

According to R. Ewart Oakeshott in A Knight and his Armour, 1961 and A Knight and His Horse, 1962, “A full plate harness of about 1470 was no heavier—indeed, it was sometimes lighter—than the full marching kit of 1914-18 infantryman.” Perhaps lighter than our current forces in Iraq must bear (I have held a contemporary mail shirt (hauberk) and a flack vest. The flak vest was far heavier. And that was just the vest. It wasn’t the pack, the ammo, the weapons...)

Maneuverability was key. A broadsword fight was a wild and wooly affair. Your sword—a one-handed, double-edged weapon—weighed in at 3 lbs and was about 44 inches long, from pommel to tip. Fighting with a broadsword was not an elegant exchange, not like a fight with foils or rapiers. Though relatively light, a broadsword was not so much a stabbing weapon as a chopping one. It was slash, slash, step back. Slash, slash, step back. You could stab by holding the blade with one hand and shoving it into the eye holes of your opponent’s helm; you could use the heavy pommel for bashing into their face; you could knee them in the groin and punch them in the face. There was a lot going on. Not so much the bowing and staged footing of fencing with sixteenth century foils. One hand would be occupied with the sword, the other with a main gauche (dagger), or a shield. The smaller round shields were known as bucklers. The motion of the sword—the swash—and the parrying use of the buckler gave us the term “swash-buckling”.

Armor evolved as much as clothing did and of course was designed for maximum protection.

According to Charles J. FFoukes, former curator of the Tower Armouries in London, armor classification falls into four broad categories:

The Age of Maile (roughly 1000 to 1300 AD).

The Transition from Mail to Plate (1300 to 1400)

The Age of Plate Armor (1400 to 1600)

The Period of Decadence (everything thereafter).

And while I’ve got your attention, can we clear something up? "Chain Mail" is one of those terms that‘s a little redundant. Because “mail” means chain or ring. A more accurate name would be just “mail”. The name stems from maille, a Middle English word concerning the individual ring of the armor. Mail itself is older than plate armor. When we think of armor—as in a suit of armor—we are thinking of fifteenth century gear, with the body completely covered with plate. Armor styles were fairly similar up until the fourteenth century where they could begin to be distinguished by nationality.

Armor had to be custom made to the individual. There was no buying your suit of armor off the rack at Ye Olde Walmart. They were not cheap ventures. The cost of a full suit of armor in the fifteenth century might cost about £9, which roughly translates to an Armani suit today but with considerably more padding and protection (the average day laborer might make 1 1/2 pence a day at that time). Being a knight was a rather expensive affair, from the armor to the upkeep of several horses. Little wonder my protagonist Crispin Guest—an ex-knight turned detective—is so full of angst at his predicament. He can’t afford and is not allowed to return to his knighthood and so must satisfy his knightly vows by righting wrongs and solving murders on the mean streets of fourteenth century London.

Well, a knight’s gotta do what a knight’s gotta do.

Visit other stops on Jeri's blog tour at any of the blogs below:

Sept 8--

Sept 10--

Sept 13--

Sept 14-- (interview)

Sept 15--

Sept 16-- and

Sept 18--

Sept 20--

Sept 22--

Sept 24--

Sept 26--

Sept 25-- (Crispin's interview)

Sept 27--

Sep 28-- (interview)

Sept 29--

Oct 3--

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting post. I'll admit that I did believe that a knight's armor was obscenely heavy, so I am glad to be disabused of that notion!