Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Medieval Tank was called a Knight

As promised, this blog is going to deal with the armor knights wore during the middle ages. I have mentioned this before, but we must always remember you cannot classify a particular topic to an entire time frame. Knight’s armor evolved over the middle ages, and also were developed for a particular area or region. The conditions of an area a knight lived may determine the armor he wore; armor worn in hotter countries that were developed to provide more ventilation than those in the northern climates.

Before we get into armor, we must first know what a knight is. A knight is a person who is granted the title of knighthood by a monarch. This meant that the knight was to serve this monarch in a military capacity.

The word knight means servant. The knight is obligated to serve his monarch on the battle field. A code in later Middle Ages was established to how a knight should behave and conduct himself: Compare this to the Japanese samurai. The word samurai means one who serves, and they too followed the Bushido code that was similar to the knight’s code.

Hear the phrase a “knight in shining armor” and immediately you think of a man dressed in plate armor from his helmet to his feet. We must also remember that not all knights wore armor, or at least what we perceive as armor. Armor was very expensive, and many knights could not afford a full suit of armor, but these still needed to protect themselves in battle, so they used other forms of armor.

Let’s examine different types of armor the knight might have worn:

Haketon (or gambeson)- This was a padded tunic or shirt. It gave the wearer a minimum of protection and was often worn underneath other armor.

Chainmail- chainmail is created by taking metal and forming small circles and then combining them into a pattern. Chainmail is excellent at preventing the penetration from arrows, but give little protection from blunt blows. A jacket of chainmail is sometimes referred to as a hauberk. Chainmail can also be added to other forms of armor.

Plate Armor- This type of armor provides the most protection, but is also the most expensive and the heaviest to wear in combat. Plat armor is made from iron or steel sheets or plates. It may be sewn or tied into a haketon to give that more protection; this is similar to the brigandine. A series of plate armor combined encasing the wearer is the suit of armor. A full suit of armor was not available until near the end of the Middle Ages.

Leather- Although this may not seem to be very useful when compared with plate armor, leather does have good protection capabilities. Thick leather can prevent penetration from arrows shot from long distances. It is also light, compared with other armor, and can be worn for longer periods without tiring down its user.

The above is just the basic forms of armor; these were combined or designed to make specific sections of armor to wear on individual body parts.

Breast plate (or cuirass)- front section of armor protecting the chest and midsection.

Helmet- protection for the head. Numerous styles of helmet were developed during the middle ages this include morion, burgonet, or sallet styles.

Gauntlets-protection for the hands. Some gauntlets look like gloves for protection and also allows the wearer to use his fingers; other types resembled mittens and covered the entire finger area.

Faulds-this protects the front waist and hips.

Curissep protection of the thighs

Sabaton- protection for the foot.

And many more…(Actually at the height of armor development, a knight could be covered from his head to his feet and not even have a vulnerable spot)

Armor was not only used by the knights; a wealthy knight may also outfit his horse with similar protection. This allowed the knight to have some confidence that his horse would not fall or be killed during a battle.

In a medieval battle, specific roles were created for warfare. There was heavy cavalry, usually knights. Light calvary, consisted of lighter armored men. Infantry or un-mounted soldiers (this also included mercenaries and recruited peasants).

Besides having armor custom fitted, there were other ways to obtain this armor. Since armor was so expensive, these other forms of getting armor became popular.

When knights were dismounted, or injured in combat, many times they were not killed. Some of these knights were of royal birth, and these knights would be held hostage. The knight’s captors would get ransom money for the knight’s release, and then use the money to upgrade their armor.

If a knight, or others wearing armor, were killed, their armor would be removed from their body. This armor would then be modified, and custom fitted to the new user.

Munition Armor was developed when armies grew to substantial sizes. Munition armor was armor that was mass-produced and distributed out to each soldier in a battle. This is contrasted to custom made armor some knights used.

In tournaments during the Middle Ages, knights were given prize money. The victorious knight may also claim (although rarely did) his opponent’s armor. The knight had an assistance called a kipper, whose responsibility was to collect that armor from his defeated opponent. Since armor was expensive, a defeated knight could be reluctant to give up his armor, so the kipper was armed with clubs and other weapons to knock that knight unconscious to collect the armor.

We will discuss more the specific roles of a medieval battle field at a later blog.

Next time: Weapons


  1. I was totally unaware of the fact that there are so many different types of Armor.
    We see knights and armor now only in movies or come to know through stories.
    These were used when there was war on horses etc.
    But ransom money for knight release ... I think in battles , mostly opponents will be trying to get hold of knight to get some money and as you have mentioned that armor was expensive in many cases may be someone may have fought to get someone else armor...
    I will check the images of all the types of armors on google as it seem very interesting.
    Interesting facts about history of knights and their armors.

  2. Medieval armor is a very interesting subject. I had the very good fortune of visiting museums in both England and France that showcased the various forms of armor you talked about. All I could think about was WOW, that must have been really hot to wear. The other thought was how in the heck did they move with all that weight. The reuse part was interesting and made me think about how we repurpose stuff today but not quite for the same reason... LOL.

  3. Holy moly! Who knew there was so much detail in a knight's armor! Really interesting. I've never heard or read (in literature) the terms Faulds, Curissep or Sabatons! Thanks for a very informative post.

  4. Hello William,

    I very much enjoyed this post. As a young boy I revered stories of knights and damsels in distress. I had a plastic model of a knight from Vienna, Austria.

    As soon as I read the word samurai, I thought about the book I'm currently reading... The Compassionate Samurai by the late Brian Klemmer. You may find it a fascinating read.

    An acquaintance of mine ran a Celtic artisan shop and custom made chainmail, and having seen it helps me relate to your story even more.

    Kind Regards,

  5. Doesn't sound like the best of jobs to be a kipper. Kind of like a modern day Repo Man. I can't even fathom trying to battle an adversary while wearing a suit of armor. Seems like a good jab of a sword inbetween the plate joins would render the impenetrable, very much penetrable.

  6. Thanks everyone for leaving a comment. It is funny that you mention about being a kipper.
    It would have been unheard of for a kipper, who is a commoner to kill a knight. At one time there were even laws dictating who was or was not allowed to kill a knight on the combat field.
    In my next blog, about weapons, you will see how people got around the laws when in battle, even monks and bishops.

  7. Interesting summary of armor, William. The designers of the new space suits faced some similar challenges

  8. What a cool topic. Thanks for the detailed descriptions. I was at a museum with my daughter the other day where they had a (replica) chain mail shirt for the kids to touch. It weighed 40 pounds! That made a big impression on them, and me.

  9. You post reminds me of the Heath Ledger movie "A Knight's Tale". Even though somewhat a romantic comedy/musical, the movie surprisingly gave great detail about armor and how expensive it was. Excellent historical piece William!

  10. Thanks everyone for leaving comments. That is funny you mentioned “A Knight’s Tale”, because I am doing a blog later about how knights really acted in that time. In the movie, you noticed how they scrapped together money just to pay for the armor to be fixed. I think you will be shocked or surprised why there were jousting tournaments held in those days. So keep an eye on my blog about that.

  11. Interesting synthesis regarding armor, William. Not so far from where I live there's a shop entirely dedicated to Medieval armoury.. you would love it for sure!

  12. Will you be writing about medieval warfare in a book? This post seems like an excellent research piece on that subject. I am also thinking of bookmarking it for assistance in doing crossword puzzles. Crossword puzzle creators seem to be partial to obscure armor references.

  13. Long before I even started writing, I was collecting medieval weapons. My hallway in my house looks like a museum with all the weapons displayed there.
    There is a lot of medieval warfare in my novel; this includes battles against dragoons, other knights and even a jousting tournament.