Monday, October 19, 2009

Research: 12th Century Armor

When I wrote Faery Much In Love, a short story in Faery Special Romances, I knew very little about 12th Century Europe, let alone about the specifics of armor. To lend authenticity, I had a lot of work to do. Here's what I learned about the nuances regarding armor and defense of this century.


When most of us think of armor, we think of the full plate armor of the 16th Century, which soon became obsolete with the introduction of firearms. But armor took many hundreds of years before it finally evolved into such finely tuned equipment. One of the first things I learned was that my knight needed a bit more armor than was actually used in 1199 A.D., so my 12th Century knight wears late-13th Century armor. So far, no one has noticed (and now you know my secret). :)

But back to the 12th Century . . .

Before we get into the specifics, we need to know the weapons in use. Swords were the weapon of choice but very expensive. A warrior carried his sword in a sword belt worn around his waist, and sported a diamond-shaped shield held by a shoulder strap on his back. Crossbows came into popularity along about this time, as well as the Welsh longbows. Infantrymen used spears and whatever else they could afford and/or carry; and the cavalry, which became vitally important in this century, carried heavy maces as well as swords, and sometime battleaxes.

Well, then, what did they wear?

So the armor had to defend primarily against swords, arrows, spears, and maces. Let's take a look at some of the individual pieces of equipment.


Warriors used mail since the 4th or 5th Century, so it was nothing new. Skilled armorers created complicated hauberks, chausses, and even gauntlets out of mail. Under the mail, they wore heavy quilted garments to protect their skin from the rough mail, and also to cushion the blows from their enemies' weapons. Mail protected against slashing, but not piercing, nor did it protect against bone-crushing strikes.

We'll talk a little about most of the parts of armor.


In the picture to the right, we see he's wearing a steel helm (or bascinet) with mail to protect his throat and neck, with no facial protection other than a bar over his nose.


A hauberk is a mail shirt, usually long-sleeved and knee-length, with a slit up the front and back so the warrior could ride a horse. It's made of iron wire, was very expensive, required a lot of maintenance, and was quite heavy. (Remember, your knight will be wearing a heavy quilted shirt underneath the mail hauberk.)


Gauntlets were worn over the hands. Gloves, if you will. They were sometimes made of mail but leather gauntlets were more common in the 12th Century.


Chausses were leg protection made of mail, and very similar, although more form-fitting, to cowboy's chaps of today.


To protect their feet, warriors wore sabatons. These chain mail foot coverings extended past the toes and ended in a point. This grew longer and longer over the years, and toward the end of the armor era, some classes could wear sabatons with toes two and a half feet long!

Plate armor

Nope, not in the 12th Century. Sometimes plates of heavy leather were sown together and worn over the mail hauberk, and in the 13th Century, they started wearing plates of steel armor attached in much the same way, but the mail hauberk was still the main piece of equipment.

Pros and Cons

The advantage of 12th Century armor over later armor is that these knights were much more agile and mobile. The disadvantage is that they weren't nearly as well protected as the 15th and 16th Century warriors. In any century up until modern times, warriors had to buy their own armor, and a good suit cost more money than most common men would see in a lifetime.

European Historical Overview by David Kuijt
12th Century Arms and Armour


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