Monday, August 28, 2006

Belts Worn with Armor by a Late 14th-early 15th c. Man-at-Arms

You have several options: high, low, diagonal, none, none visible, and baldric. Often more than one belt is worn.

High: usually fairly narrow and worn just below the ribs and just below the breastplate if one is evident.

Low: worn very low on the hips. If a fauld is worn, the low belt should sit approximately on the bottom lame. Walter von Hohenklingen, 1386 wears both a high and low belt.

A horizontal belt worn low on the hips may not be a good way to hold up a heavy sword, so it's not uncommon to see a diagonal, often fairly narrow belt instead of or in addition to the low one. Sir Humphrey Littlebury wears both. (I suspect from his gauntlets that he may be somewhat earlier than 1365.) Lord John de Montacute also has a second belt, in this case neatly rolled around his scabbard.

Even when no diagonal belt is visible, it isn't safe to assume that a low belt is supporting the sword. Swords and daggers can be attached directly to body armor. In Altichiero's Execution of St. George the soldier directly behind the saint has both sword and dagger attached directly to his blue brigandine.

In some cases, a belt may be worn, but beneath the jupon or coat armor. Perhaps that's what's happening in this illumination of Richard II meeting Northumberland

Du Guesclin's effigy shows a baldric worn with a high belt. A baldric is also worn by one of the figures on the right side of a miniature of Siege of Melun

The belts of the knightly elite shown on effigies were often broad and almost always richly decorated: 1-2.25" or more wide, compared to diagonal belts that might be .75-1" wide. These low belts are usually made either of linked metal plaques, or of large mounts densely covering a leather or textile belt for a similar effect. Even when large, these mounts were not necessarily very massive. Many large mounts preserved in the Museum of London were stamped out of metal sheet. Three circular armorial mounts, about 2 3/8" in diameter, also in the Museum of London, of silvered copper alloy with armorial designs of enamel or niello weigh between 43.5 and 57.5 grams. Of composite construction, the central armorial rondel is made of engraved sheet, and surrounded by a ring that shows turning marks. For this class, high and diagonal belts as well as baldrics were often lavishly decorated with mounts.

During this period, most fully armored men-at-arms were not knights, but squires and gentlemen. While an ordinary squire was less wealthy than a knight, anyone that could afford full armor and a warhorse was not poor. Their belts were not as richly decorated as a knight's, but contemporary illuminations still show belts on most men-at-arms richly decorated with mounts. Men of this rank could afford mounts of copper alloy or better

Friday, August 25, 2006

Pluto Not a Planet

The International Animators Union voted on Thursday to declare that Pluto was not a planet but in fact a dog. "It was actually a fairly easy call" said one delegate "Pluto's long nose, tail, and quadrupedal gait made it a relatively easy decision". The upcoming vote on Goofy's status was expected to be more contentious.

"Yes, he has a long nose and floppy ears. And he slobbers. But he's also a biped with opposable thumbs" the delegate continued. The union is debating moving to a more nuanced classification system recognizing animals, funny animals, litigants, mascots and pathetic losers.

Funny animals would officially encompass bipedal anthropoidal animals with opposable thumbs. Litigants would be defined as funny animals sufficiently powerful to be orbited by their own copyright attorneys. An additional category was included, according to one source, because "just because you strap a racoon tail to your butt, that doesn't mean you're a funny animal"

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Harness 1385-1415

A period of particular interest to those attempting to recreate the visual effect of a medieval man at arms, since so much of the body can be covered by the jupon or coat armor if your hard kit isn’t 100% presentable. The illuminations show a wide range of sleeve designs: banana, bagpipe, angel-wing, elbow length and so on. The brasses show a much stronger bias towards sleeveless coat armors. I think there are several explanations. The brasses tend to show what I think is intended as jousting or tournament full dress: note the jousting or tournament helms used as pillows. While the illuminations show a full range of men-at-arms, the brasses show the elite subset that can afford expensive brasses. Also, a number of the sleeved designs aren’t as congenial to the display of arms on a coat armor, particularly on a two-dimensional brass, and that would be an understandable priority for the effigy buying upper crust.

Update: The British Library has made my links obsolete. For those images you can go to their search page and paste in the shelfmark or title.

Beheading of St. George, Altichiero 1385

Livy, Histoire Romaine Paris; c. 1380-1390
The Hague, KB, 71 A 16
(The link will take you to a search page, and you can enter the shelfmark, which follows "KB" above, to reach the particular manuscript."Images and Text" will then give you both thumbnail images from the MS and text describing their context)

Hohenklingen, 1386
Another View

Cotton Nero D. VI 1386-1399
Richard II appoints Earl Marshal

Churburg 1390

St. George, Champmol Altarpiece 1390

Calveley, ca. 1394

Hartneid von Pettau, ca. 1395

Bardolf 1395

Bettesthorne 1398

Life of Du Guesclin, ca. 1400
Capture of Don Pedro
Taking of Pestien
Siege of Melun
Battle of Auray

Chroniques de France ou de St. Denis
Royal 20 C. VII ca. 1400
John Baliol before Edward I
Passage of the Seine
Sea fight off La Rochelle
Death of King of Aragon
Battle of the Spurs
English landing in Normandy
Battle in Picardy
Scenes in Hundred Years' War
Austrians and Saracens defeated
Battle on bridge over Seine
Fight outside Meaux
English army with banner
King of Navarre and his army
French destroy Genoa

Histoire du Roy d'Angleterre Richard II
Harley 1319 1401-1405
Henry of Monmouth knighted
Richard II meets Northumberland
Richard II renounces the throne

Russel 1405

Vincent of Beauvais, Le Miroir Historial (Vol. IV) Paris, Master of the Cité des Dames (illuminator); c. 1400- 1410
The Hague, KB, 72 A 24
(The link will take you to a search page, and you can enter the shelfmark, which follows "KB" above, to reach the particular manuscript."Images and Text" will then give you both thumbnail images from the MS and text describing their context)

Jean Froissart, Chroniques (Vol. 1) Paris, Virgil Master (illuminator); c. 1400-1410
The Hague, KB, 72 A 25
(The link will take you to a search page, and you can enter the shelfmark, which follows "KB" above, to reach the particular manuscript."Images and Text" will then give you both thumbnail images from the MS and text describing their context)

Bagot 1407

Burton, c. 1410

L'Epitre d'Othea
Harley 4431 1410-1411
Memnon and Achilles
Hector prepares for battle
Siege of Babylon
Telamon's army enters Troy
Pyrrhus fights the Trojans
Minerva and Pallas Athene

Peryent 1415

Grandes Chroniques de France
Cotton Nero E. II pt.2 ca. 1415
Charlemagne finds Roland slain
Louis VII fights beside his father
England and France at war
Battle of Crécy
Battle of Poitiers
Louis VII fights beside his father
Guesclin appointed constable

Also see:

Gothic Eye
Monumental Brass Society

Serpentes on a Shippe

Geoffrey Chaucer writes about the new drama Serpentes on a Shippe. Where else can you hear dialog like "Aaargh! There is an adder in my costrel!" and "This amphisbena shall notte comme to the fore-castle, maugre my head"?

Already there is talk of sequels: Beehives in a Siege-Tower and Scorpions on a Haywain. Time will tell if the genre of "dramas with refreshingly direct titles" has legs. If so, look forward to titles like Thwacking on a Grail-Quest and Fart Jokes on a Pilgrimage

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Armor Pitfalls: Breastplate Length

In shopping for (or building) a reproduction of a 14th c. breastplate, look for one that's the correct length. Don't expect the breastplate to cover more than the bottom of your ribs or your navel. If the bottom edge is much lower than your elbows it's probably too long.

Some modern armorers sell longer breastplates, perhaps because their customers want more coverage. Avoid these. They won't look right, and they'll hinder your movement. If you want to protect more of our torso with plate, add an apron of lames, or concealed protection beneath your gypon or gambeson.

Armor Pitfalls: the ca. 1400 Italian Harness in the Met

This one.

Beautiful, isn't it? There are so few harnesses surviving from the period that it's important to know that this one was Frankensteined together by Bashford Dean in the 1920s from bits and pieces of several different harnesses, and not all the bits ended up in their original position or shape. The velvet covering, in spite of its worn appearance, is modern.

Imagine him working away in an underground lab, retorts bubbling and sparks climbing the Jacob's Ladder.

"But Mathter, won't future armor hithtorians want that backplate preserved in itth original form?"

"Silence, Igor. Sacrifices must be made. Hand me those shears. Am I not the preeminent armor historian-icthyologist in the world?"

(pause). "But Mathter. You're the only...."

"Enough insolence! Give me the Whitney-Roper punch! And that file! Bwahahaha!"

In particular, the body armor below the waist is reconstructed in a way that gives very little freedom of motion, unlike real armor.

I can understand why the Met has left it as is. It does convey a good general impression of the harness of the period, and if they took it down to the few unaltered bits according to current standards of conservation that would be lost.

But the details are a snare for the unwary. You have been warned.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Team Liveries and Badges for Deeds of Arms

Teams of jousters wearing a common livery were a fairly common feature of festive jousts in the 14th and 15th century, particularly when the team was fielded by a king or great noble. Royal jousts in 1389 and 1399 provide examples. In a 1390 joust, ladies also processed in matching livery.

For group combats on foot during the same period, the picture was somewhat different. Accounts of combats proposed or fought in 1406 and 1449 specify that each of the fighters wore their coat of arms rather than a group livery. In a 1415 combat both sides wore coats of arms, but the Portuguese team also wore a red cross on their coats of arms, which was the national badge of their English allies. These group combats on foot were particularly risky and prestigious, and a gentleman that might be willing to submerge his individual renown in a team livery for a festive joust might not be willing to do so for a higher stakes combat.

Devices were associated with such combats, or at least were worn beforehand by those offering to accept them. However, they differed from the badges usually associated with liveries. Such devices included diamonds and gold rods, plates and bracelets, all forms that were more suitable to portable, valuable and fungible ransoms than to easily recognizable badges. Unlike badges that might also be worn by servants and supporters, the devices seem only to have been worn by the champions themselves.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


I'll be near Slippery Rock, PA and away from the blog for about a week. More bloggy goodness when I return.

Friday, August 11, 2006


Around the beginning of the 15th c. there was a fashion particularly associated with deeds of arms to the outrance. Gentlemen who wished to undertake such a deed of arms would wear a conspicuous, distinctive and precious device. The Duke of Bourbon's Enterprise was an explicit example. Challengers who defeated the gentlemen of the enterprise could win the device. If they lost, they paid a similar stake as a ransom. A 1406 challenge and Gerard de Herbaumes' challenge c. 1414 seem to be variants of the same idea. Other devices included diamonds and gold rods.*

Think of it as wearing a gilded chip on your shoulder.

I think it's interesting and significant that none of the elaborately advertised displays of martial ferocity above seem to have resulted in an actual combat. They did, however, enhance the reputation of the gentleman undertaking the enterprise.

*Juliet Barker, The Tournament in England 1100-1400, Woodbridge,1986, pp. 157-158 citing BL MS Additional 21357 fos. 1r.,2r.,3r.

Memo from Usāmah

Dear Martyrs:

You may have experienced some disruption in communications due to recent Western security efforts. Fortunately, the same accursed technology that corrupts our youth with online images of tawdry sleepy-eyed minxes when they should be working on the latest al-Qaeda press release (yes, that means you, Abu) allows updated accurate information like this to reach you with a simple Google search on Homemade Nitro Explosives Jihad. How much more wonderful is Allah than the ungodly’s conception of him!

A key technical update: previously distributed recipes for the above have omitted an important quality control step. If this procedure is neglected, the explosive may fail to explode when required, with the result that the planeload of vacationing families is not sent screaming to their deaths, Allah forbid. After you have completed a test batch, it is quite important to strike the container of explosive vigorously against a hard surface to “settle” the mixture properly. Completing the procedure correctly will result in a subtle but clearly visible change in color for the mixture. Repeat if necessary until the change is observed.

My technical people tell me that the color change is very pleasing to observe, so you may wish to gather your team in a tight circle around the test batch for a good view of the process.

Don’t delay. Eternity waits for you.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Gerard Herbaumes Issues a Challenge, ca. 1413 whom the right name is Sir Gerard Herbaumes. A seemly man, and one of the best jousters of France accounted and is one of the fifteen Frenchmen that have now late challenged fifteen Englishmen to the outrance they bearing a plate of gold for their device till their arms be done.

Landsdowne MS. No. 285 in Cripps-Day, F.H. The Tournament in France and England. London, 1918, Reprinted AMS Press, NY, 1982.

Orleans vs. Burgundy: an Aborted Outrance Combat of Seven vs. Seven, 1406

March, 1406

Pages 66-68 in the PDF document.

In 1406 a Burgundian knight wore “the White Lady embroidered on his apparel, and a golden bracelet, to despite the knights of my lord the duke of Orleans”. He said he was willing to defend the device in the lists, seven against seven, to fight “to the very uttermost.” The six surviving members of the 1402 combat against the English accepted, and "challenged the devices" of their rivals. As Guillaume du Chastel had been killed in battle, Pero Nino agreed to be the seventh, to fight as they had “done once already”.

The challenge was a symptom of the increasingly bitter rivalry between the dukes of Orleans and Burgundy, which would lead to the murder of the duke of Orleans in 1407 and open civil war by 1411. The king of France had no desire for a combat that could only inflame “the discord which was already beginning; he had all the knights engaged in the affair brought before him, and took away their devices, and reconciled the dukes and knights” Later that day all the parties ate together. “This peace between the dukes was but feigned, as was manifest thereafter…”

Friday, August 04, 2006

Armor terminology Updated

I've updated 14th Century English Armor Terminology to include more of the cloth components

Calamarrrri, Me Mateys

Trice the puddings athwart the trysail. Unlace the haltertop. Arrrrr.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is jolly fun, but not quite as jolly as the first movie. It’s important to remember the Five Habits of Highly Effective Pirate Movies

1) In a movie with Johny Depp and Kiera Knightley, every second in which a CGI Giant Squid takes center stage is one second less of Johny Depp and/or Kiera Knightly. This is generally a poor trade. Both of them are a lot more interesting to watch than a CGI Giant Squid. Even Orlando Bloom is generally more interesting to watch than a CGI Giant Squid. There’s a reason why the ads for Fellowship of the Ring did not say: “Starring Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, a CGI Giant Squid and Orlando Bloom”. And it’s not that Orlando Bloom had a better agent. When a CGI Giant Squid is not only chewing the scenery, but swallowing and digesting it, it’s hard for the human actors to get a word in edgewise.

2) In a jolly pirate comedy adventure, brutal murders need to be dealt with using a certain amount of tact and restraint. Homicide is not jolly, and undermines a tone of lighthearted screwball pirate comedy. Excessively realistic hurling of screaming crewmen against bulkheads by CGI Giant Squid tentacles is neither tactful nor restrained, and the same general principal applies to most atrocities committed by other partly squamous partly rugose denizens of the deep.

3) If you are running a sinister prison island, dumping coffins into the sea is a ridiculous way to dispose of corpses. First of all, coffins are expensive. Secondly, the inevitable result is pileup of coffins full of decaying bodies at the high tide mark five miles down the beach. The approved traditional method is a burlap sack. Doesn’t anyone read the Count of Monte Christo anymore?

4) The East India Company operated in the East Indies. The Caribbean is in the West Indies. Get it right, OK? These lapses add up, and the goal is to suspend disbelief, not hang it from a yardarm until its boots stop twitching.

5) The genre of “Movies Based on Theme Park Rides” is not so robust that you can afford to ignore items 1-4

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Deed of Arms at Noseroy, 1519

Proclamation of the Deed of Arms

Six gentlemen make known to all noble men the following matters:

Know that the said gentlemen have taken up an enterprise, for the glory of God and the blessed Virgin, his mother, and my lord Saint George, that good knight.

That is, the day after Christmas, on St. Stephen’s day, the said gentlemen will be found in the lists, armed at all points in harness of war, guarding a barrier with lance in hand to fight against all comers with lance strokes, and afterwards turning to the large end of the spear to fight as well as they can. And afterwards, taking up the single handed sword, they will fight as long as my lords the judges wish them to.

Furthermore, the said gentlemen make known that on the day of St. John the Evangelist they will be found in the lists, guarding the said barrier against all comers who wish to throw the partisan, and afterwards take up the two handed sword, and fight as long as the judges wish them to.

The third day, the day of the holy Innocents, the said gentlemen will, for the honor and reverence of those saints, cease their arms for the day .

The fourth day, the day of St. Thomas, the said gentlemen will be found in the lists, armed at all points, with axe in hand to fight against all comers as long as my lords the judges require…

Account of the Deed of Arms

The said day of my lord St. John the Evangelist, at one in the afternoon, six noble men of the enterprise were in arms, lance in hand, sword by their side, richly accoutered and all in one livery presented themselves before my lords the judges, to provide and accomplish their arms, according the content of the said chapters, offering to perform it. And successively they drew to the barrier, to guard and defend it from the encounter of all comers. And later, were found on the other side of said barrier the twenty-six noblemen named earlier armed at all points, lance in hand and sword by their side; which all together presented themselves before my lords the judges and offered to do their true duty, according to the content of the chapters aforesaid. And the judges sent them to their side and place. Who were all to fight, two against two, with strokes of the lance, turning the large end of the said lance; and afterwards they were to fight with sword in one hand, as long as my lords the judges ordered them to.

That day the following were wounded to the effusion of blood by strokes of the sword: Claude de Vienne in the head, and Claude d’Anglure in the arm. Likewise one of the men of arms of the sustainers, named Jean de Chantrans was carried to the ground by a stroke of the large end of the lance, by Claude de Bussy, lord de Vescles. And beyond that there was given a stroke of the sword on the crest of an armet that opened it to daylight. And also there were ten swords broken. And that was all achieved for that day as I said above.

The following day, the twenty-eighth of the said month, the day of the Innocents, to honor them the said gentlemen of the enterprise ceased their arms for that day…..

The twenty-ninth day of the said month, which was the feast of my lord St. Thomas, the said lord prince of Oranges, together with his companions, armed at all points, with a partisan in hand and in the other a two handed sword, presented themselves before my lords the judges, richly accoutered in one livery offering to accomplish their arms and enterprises as contained in that chapters written earlier.

My lords the judges sent them again to the barrier to guard and defend it from the encounter of all comers, to accomplish their said enterprises, according to the content of their chapters.

And successively, shortly afterwards, twenty-four noble men armed at all points, having a partisan in one hand and the two handed sword as described earlier, presented themselves before the said lords, the judges, in offering to fight the noble men of the enterprise guarding the said barrier, according to the said content of their chapters. Immediately my lords the judges sent them again to the other side of said barrier, commanding them to fight in order, two against two of the enterprise, until everything was achieved for the day. To open the pas two of the enterprise presented themselves: the said lord prince of Oranges, and Jean du Vernoy, having a partisan in one hand and in the other, a two handed sword.

On the other side of the barrier two of the assailants presented themselves: the Lord de Montferrant and Messire Louis de Sugny having likewise a partisan in one hand and the two handed sword as described and at the first sound of the trumpet, they marched each against the other and each one threw a stroke of the partisan and afterwards they fought with the two handed sword as long as it pleased my lords the judges.

Jean Genevois and Jean de Chantrans of the enterprise likewise were found at the barrier to provide and fight against two other assailants having partisan in hand and the two handed sword. And on the other side appeared two other noblemen named Claude de Bussy and Messire Hugues Proudon, having a partisan in hand and in the other a two handed sword as aforesaid and they both fought for as long as the judges commanded.

And afterwards two others of the enterprise, named Jean de Falletans, and in the absence of Claude de Visemau, the lord of Ville-le-Pot, as sustainer for the said Visemau, appeared at the barrier as before. And on the other side, Claude de Bussy and Simon de Champaigne who fought as before. Nor to omit that the said de Falletans of the enterprise fought against the said lord count de Bussy, who was one of those without. And after they had thrown the partisan, they fought with a two handed sword; with which the said count gave such a stroke to de Falletans, on the armet, that he kneeled in the sand.

The said lord prince of Oranges on that day fought personally eight men at arms. And I will not omit that he gave a stroke of the sword on the crest of the armet of Phillipe de Falletans so that he had to take three steps back from the barrier and was unable to fight any more that day. Jean du Vernoy one of the sustainers, fought on that day seven men at arms of the assailants breaking with good strokes one sword at the cross another at the grip and another at the pommel bending its cross.

Jean de Falletans, sustainer on that day, fought five men at arms of the assailants, and broke the pommel of a sword.

And afterwards, Messire de Ville-le-Pot sustainer, for Claude de Visemau fought four men at arms
Jean de Chantrans of the enterprise fought two and did not fight any more, because he was wounded in the hand.

Jean Genevois of the enterprise fought on the said day six men at arms of the assailants.

The said lord de Montferrant, as first of the assailants fought against the said lord prince of Oranges, and gave him a stroke of the partisan in the guard of the knee.

To make a long story short all of the comers fought with the partisan and the two handed sword so that there were many swords broken, and many basinets and armets driven in, guardbraces brought down (avalez*), gauntlets cut and many wounded in the hands to the effusion of blood.

And all was done and accomplished for that day.

* The same word is used in other medieval texts to describe hose rolled down below the knee. If the lace or strap that supported the top of a guardbrace was cut or broken, it would tend to slide down onto the rest of the armharness, and “avalez” would be an apt term for such a failure.

Traicte de la Forme et Devis Comme On Faict les Tourneys, par Olivier de la Marche, Hardouin de la Jaille, Anthoine de la Sale, etc. Bernard Prost, ed. Paris 1878 pp. 244-8