hawberk was sometimes reinforced at the breast probably by a small oblong plate fastened underneath. Its weight is shown in the scene where William’s men carry arms to the ships, each hawberk being borne between two men upon a pole thrust through the sleeves.
The helmet is a brimless and pointed cap, either all of metal or of leather or even wood framed and strengthened with metal. Its characteristic piece is the guard which protects the nose and brow from swinging cuts, so disguising the knight that William must needs take off his helmet to show his men that he had not fallen. Such a nasal appears in a 10th-century illumination; at the time of the Conquest it was all but universal. It grows rare and all but disappears in the 13th century, although examples are found to the end of the middle ages. The helmet is laced under the chin, and under it the knight often wore a hood of mail or quilting which covered the top of the head, the ears and neck, but left the chin free—in two or three cases he has this hood without the helmet. A close coif was probably worn beneath it when it was of ringed mail, to spare the fretting of the metal on the head.
The knights’ legs are shown in most cases as unprotected save by stout hose or leg-bands: only in two or three instances does the tapestry picture a warrior with armed legs, and it is perhaps significant of the rarity of this defence that the duke is so armed. The feet are covered only by the leather boot, the heels having prick spurs.
Broad-bladed swords with cross-hilts of straight or drooping quills are fastened with a strap and buckle girdle to the left side. They have a short grip, and the blade would seem to be from 2½ to 3 ft. in length. The chieftain unarmed in his house is often seen with unbuckled and sheathed sword sceptre-wise in his hands, carrying it as an Indian raja will nurse his sheathed tulwar. The ash spears brandished or couched by the knights as they charge seem from 7 to 8 or 9 ft. in length. In a few cases a three-forked pennon flutters at the end. The axe, a weapon which the Normans, in spite of their Norse ancestry, do not carry in the battle, is of the type called the Danish axe, long-shafted, the large blade boldly curved out. Maces, such as that with which the bishop of Bayeux rallies his young men, seem knotted clubs of simple form. Short and strong bows are drawn to the breast by the Norman archers.
Of the shields in the fight, four or five borne by the English are of the old English form—large, round bucklers of linden-wood, bossed and ribbed with iron. For the rest the horsemen bear the Norman shield, kite-shaped, with tapering foot, and long enough to carry a dead warrior from the field. On the inner side are straps for the hand to grip and a long strap allowed the knight to hang the shield from his neck. Let us note that although wyvern-like monsters, crosses, roundels and other devices appear on these shields, none of them has any indication of true armory, whose origins must be placed in the next century.
The 12th century, although an age of riding and warring, affects but little the fashion of armour. The picture of a king on his seal may well stand for the full-armed knight of his age, but Henry Beauclerc, Stephen and Henry II. are 12th Century. shown in harness not much unlike that of the Bayeux needlework. But the sleeve of the hawberk goes to the wrist, and the kite shield grows less, Stephen’s shield being 30 in. long at the most. On Stephen’s second seal the mail hood is drawn over the point of the chin, and Henry II.’s seals show the chin covered to the lips. At least one seal of this king has the legs and feet armed with hose of ringed mail, probably secured by lacing at the back of the leg as a modern boot is laced. The first seal of Richard Lionheart marks an important movement. His hawberk, hood and hose clothe him, like his father, from crown to toe, and to this equipment he adds gloves of mail. Under the hawberk flows out to the heels the skirt of a long gown slit in front. But helm and shield are the most remarkable points. The shield has become flatter at the top, and at last the shield of an English king bears those armorial devices whose beginnings are seen elsewhere a generation before. The earlier seal has the shield with a rampant lion ramping to the sinister side and closely resembling that on the shield of Philip of Alsace, long believed to be the earliest example of true armory. But the shield in the second seal bears the three leopards which have been ever since the arms of the kings of England, and from this time to the end of the middle ages armorial devices become the common decorations of the knight’s shield, coat, saddle and horse-trapper. The helmet of the first seal is a high thimble-topped cap, without a nasal guard, but the second has the king’s head covered with the great helm, barrel-shaped and reinforced in front with a flat ventaile pierced in slits for the sight. This helm is crested with a semicircular ridge from which spring two wings, or rows of feathers fan-wise. On its side the ridge bears a single leopard, the forerunner of the coming crests.
For 13th-century arms, although but poor scraps remain of original material, we have authority in plenty—pictures, seals and carving, and, above all, the effigies in stone or brass which give us each visible link, strap and ornament. 13th Century. All these have for a commentary chronicles, poems and account books, so that the history of armour may be followed in detail.
The long, sleeveless surcoat seen over King John’s mail on his broad seal goes through the century and is often embroidered with arms. The shield becomes flat-topped the better to receive armorial charges. The great helm is common, although many knights on the day of battle like better the freedom of the mail hood with a steel cap worn over or under its crown, keeping for the tourney-yard the great helm which towards the century-end begins to carry its towering crest. Great variety is seen in the forms of the flat or round-topped helm, some being in one piece, pierced for sight and air, others having hinged or movable ventailes. At the end of the century a sugar-loaf type is the established form. The knight’s hawberk is worn over a gambeson of linen, quilted linen or cotton, which lesser men wear with a steel cap for all defence. Breast and back plates also are sometimes borne under the hawberk, and the first plates in sight at last appear in those knee-cops which protect the joining of the upper and lower hose, and in a few examples of bainbergs or greaves of metal or leather. At the end of Henry III.’s reign we have the admirable illustrations of a manuscript of Matthew Paris’s Lives of the Offas, with many pictures of knights. (See fig 5.) Here we see knights with knee-cop and greave and a plenty of curious headpieces, the plain mail hood and mail hoods with a plate ventaile to cover the face, barrel-helms and round-topped helms and even round-topped helmets with the Norman nose-guard.
|From The Ancestor, by permission of A Constable & Co. Ltd.|
Fig. 5.—Knights’ Armour, c. 1250.
In the last half of the 13th century appears the curious defence known as alettes. This name is given to a pair of leather plates generally oblong in form and tagged to the back of the shoulder. As a rule they are borne to display the wearer’s arms, but being sometimes plain they may have had some slight defensive value, covering a weak spot at the armpit and turning a sweeping sword-cut at the neck. They disappear in the earlier years of Edward III.
Surcoat, shield and trapper have the arms of their owner. The rowel-spur makes a rare appearance. Weapons change little,