This concise ‘handbook’ provides an overview, supported by numerous illustrations and diagrams, of the development of arms and armour in Europe. The work is conveniently divided into sections, notably ‘The Age of Mail (1066-1277),’ ‘The Transition Period (1277-1410)’ and ‘Plate Armour (1410-1600).’ Focus is also given to the wearing of armour, its construction details, armour created for war-horses and the period of history during which armour reached its most decadent in appearance. This useful book concludes with an examination of the weapons employed to accompany the defensive armour worn in each period. It will be particularly useful to modellers, re-enactors and those creating theatrical performances and anyone interested in warfare in the medieval period and the history of costume.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
It is at this period of the history of defensive armour that we first find traces of that decadence which later on permeated every art and craft with its pernicious poison. It is to be found in the imitating of fabrics and also of the human face in metal. There exist suits of plate in many museums, both in England and on the Continent, in which the puffings and slashings of the civilian attire are closely copied in embossed metal, entirely destroying the important glancing surfaces on which we have laid such stress. It is alleged that this fashion in civilian dress was intended to suggest, by the cutting of the material to show an undergarment beneath, that the wearer was a fighting man who had seen rough service. If this be the case it is the more reprehensible that metal should be treated in a similar manner; for hard usage would dent, but it would not tear. A portion of one of these debased suits is drawn on Fig. 42.<br>
It must not be supposed that all armour at this period was fluted. There was still a good deal which had a plain surface, and this plain armour continued to be used after the Maximilian armour had been given up. It may have been that the evil genius of the Renaissance pointed to the plain surfaces as excellent fields for the skill of the decorator, a field which the strongly-marked flutings of the Maximilian armour could not offer. At first this decoration was confined to engraved borders, or, if the design covered the whole suit, it was so lightly engraved that the smooth surface was in no way impaired, though perhaps some of the dignified simplicity of the plain metal was lost.<br>
An instance of this proper application of ornament to armour is to be found in the ‘Seusenhofer’ suit in the Tower (Plate VI), made to the order of the Emperor Maximilian for Henry VIII. It is one of the finest suits of this period in existence. The ornament is lightly engraved all over it, and includes representations of the legends of St. George and St. Barbara. Instead of taces and tassets the lower part of the body and the thighs are protected by steel Bases made in folds to imitate the skirts worn in civilian dress. It will be remembered that in the preceding chapter a conversation between Seusenhofer and the young Maximilian was quoted, and when we study this suit carefully we feel that the young king did wisely in the choice of his master-armourer. The craftsman’s Poinçon or mark is to be found at the back of the helmet.<br>
If space but permitted we might devote many pages to the work of the great armour-smiths as exemplified in the armouries of Madrid and Vienna. It is difficult, at this period of history, to generalize at all satisfactorily. Each suit is, in many ways, distinct from its neighbour, just as the character and personality of the wearers differed. The young Maximilian’s words to Seusenhofer, ‘Arm me according to my own taste,’ is true of every suit that we examine, for it is evident that each man had his own favourite fashion or, from physical necessity, was provided with some special variation from the usual form. An instance of this may be noted in the Barendyne helm at Haseley Church, near Thame, in which an extra plate has been added at the lower edge of the helm to suit the length of neck of the last wearer.<br>
As the experience of the armourer increased, and as the science of war developed, the armed man trusted more to the fixed defences of his person than to the more primitive protection of the movable shield. In the tilt-yard and also in war the mounted man endeavoured to present his left side to his adversary. On consideration the reason for this will be plain, for the right arm was required to be free and, as far as possible, unhampered by heavy armour, but the left arm, held at rest at the bridle, could be covered with as heavy defences as the wearer might choose. This form of unequal arming is well shown on the frontispiece. The left shoulder wears a large pauldron with a high neck-guard, and the elbow wears the passe-guard which we have noticed in detail in the preceding chapter. The leg armour in this suit should be noticed, for it is extremely fine and graceful in line, and yet proclaims its material.<br>
The suit of Henry VIII (Plate VI) is a good specimen of armour of the Maximilian period, but without the flutings which generally distinguish this style of plate. The neck-guards are high and the large coudes show the glancing surface plainly. This detail also is shown on the fan plates at the genouillières, which in the Tower Inventories are called by the more English term ‘knee-cops’. The bridle-hand of the rider wears the manifer (main-de-fer). Those writers who still follow blindly the incorrect nomenclature of Meyrick give the name mainfaire or manefer to the crinet or neck defence of the horse. How this absurd play upon words can ever have been taken seriously passes understanding.<br>
The manifer is solely the rigid iron gauntlet for the bridle-hand, where no sudden or complicated movement of the wrist or fingers was needed; another instance of the difference in arming the two sides of the body. This difference of arming is more noticeable in the jousting armour, for in military sports, especially during the sixteenth century, the object of the contestants was to score points rather than to injure each other. We find, therefore, such pieces as the Grand-guard, and with it the volant piece, the passe-guard, the poldermitton—so called from its likeness to the ‘épaule de mouton’, and worn over the bend of the right arm—and the various reinforcing breastplates which were screwed on to the left side of the tilting suit to offer a more rigid defence and also to present additional glancing surface to the lance-point. In some varieties of joust a small wooden shield was fastened to the left breast, and when this was the case the heavy pauldron was dispensed with.<br>
The large vamplate (Plate XI) sufficiently protected the right arm from injury. The Nuremberg suit (Plate VII) shows this form of arming for the joust. The great helm is firmly screwed to the back and breast, the two holes on the left side of the breastplate are for the attachment of the shield, the rigid bridle-cuff, covers the left hand, and the curved elbow-guard—this is not the passe-guard—protects the bend of the left arm as the poldermitton protects the right. The large circular disc defends the vif de l’harnois, and is bouché or notched at its lower end to allow the lance to be couched, resting on the curved lance-rest in front and lodged under the queue at the back. The legs, in this variety of joust, were not armed; for the object of the jousters was to unhorse each other, and it was necessary to have perfect freedom in gripping the horse’s sides.