History of Medieval Armor – Protection Was Everything
In a world where small battles and full-scale wars were a part of everyday life, it should come as no surprise that the history of medieval armor is rich.
Protecting oneself in battle was an absolute must, especially for the knight classes who could be called upon at a moment’s notice to rally behind their liege.
The history of medieval armor truly begins with chain, but this was a luxury reserved for the wealthy. Other forms of armor, less effective of course, were worn on the field of battle by warriors and peasants alike prior to its rise in popularity and even long after.
For those who could not afford chain, leather and cloth padded armor was often the only means of protection available. The history of medieval armor is marred by the simple fact that finding high quality metals to make effective armor and weapons was sometimes difficult due to low quality iron reserves. Bog iron, found in parts of Europe, was not as strong and supple as more pure reserves in other parts of the world. Since the metals used in chain were often substandard, and were always expensive to have worked, leather and cloth do hold their place in the history of medieval armor.
Despite its drawbacks, chain armor entered the history of medieval armor with a bang. This type of armor involved thousands of interlocking rings woven together to form pieces of a suit such as the tunic or headpiece.
Chain worked well to deflect slicing blows, such as those from the edge of a sword and thus earned its place in the history of medieval armor. Chain also earned its place in the history of medieval armor for its ability to move with its wearer. Though difficult to make and hard to don and remove, the heavy links and separate pieces worked well together with leather or cloth armor to provide adequate protection to the knight classes.
The history of medieval armor does show, however, that chain had some serious weaknesses. Arrows could sometimes make the mark and pierce through the layers of protection by finding just the right angle. Also shown in the history of medieval armor was the fact there were weak spots in between the pieces of chain. If a sword, axe or even arrow found the gap between the armor, the wearer would rue the day his opponent practiced aim.
As chain made its mark on the history of medieval armor, so too did plate. Plate began to make its appearance around the 13th and 14th centuries. This armor was at first used to protect vital areas such as the chest. Eventually the use of plate evolved into complete suits, perhaps the most famous image from the history of medieval armor. Plate was used in the history of medieval armor in conjunction with chain oftentimes, since as with its woven counterpart, plate was very expensive. The two combined protected a knight well, but with the advent of gunpowder in the next centuries, it too became ineffective.
It was a time of battle and warfare on many fronts, from the crusades to infighting among nobles. Inasmuch as the history of the Middle Ages is rich and wondrous, so too is the history of medieval armor.