Medieval weaponry spanned a range from simple tools and farm implements
to sophisticated siege engines.
Here are some of the main wepons used in the Middle Ages (described
in detail below).
|Modern Flanged Maces
|Sir T thomas Holmes Book. 15th-cent
A sword is a long, edged piece of forged metal, used in many civilizations
throughout the world, primarily as a cutting or thrusting weapon
and occasionally for clubbing.
The word sword comes from the Old English sweord, from a Proto-Indo-European
root *swer- "to wound, to cut".
A sword fundamentally consists of a blade and a hilt, typically
with one or two edges for striking and cutting, and a point for
thrusting. The basic intent and physics of swordsmanship have remained
fairly constant through the centuries, but the actual techniques
vary among cultures and periods as a result of the differences in
blade design and purpose. Unlike the bow or spear, the sword is
a purely military weapon, and this has made it symbolic of warfare
or naked state power in many cultures. The names given to many swords
in mythology, literature, and history reflect the high prestige
of the weapon.
Swords can be single or double-bladed edges. The blade can be straight
|Detail from the Morgan Bible f 29
The arming sword (also sometimes called a knight's or knightly
sword) is the single handed cruciform sword of the High Middle Ages,
in common use between ca. 1000 and 1350, remaining in rare use into
the 16th century.
Arming swords are generally considered to be descendant from the
swords of the migration period and Vikings
Typically used with a shield or buckler, the arming sword was the
standard military sword of the knight (merely called a "war
sword", an ambiguous title given to many types of swords carried
for battle) until technological changes led to the rise of the longsword
in the late 13th century. There are many texts and pictures depicting
effective arming sword combat without the benefit of a shield.
According to Medieval texts, in the absence of a shield the empty
(normally left) hand could be used for grabbing or grappling opponents.
The arming sword was overall a light, versatile weapon capable
of both cut and thrust combat; and normally boasts excellent balance.
Although a variety of designs fall under the heading of 'arming
sword', they are most commonly recognized as single-handed double-edged
swords that were designed more for cutting than thrusting. Most
12th-14th century blades seem to vary between 30 and 32 inch blades.
As a rule, arming swords began to polarize in design forms from
the late 12th century, becoming either increasingly squat and heavily
pointed, or longer and heavier in design. This would seem to reflect
two separate methods of adapting the arming sword to combat increasingly
tough armour; either to make the blade sufficiently heavy-duty to
inflict blunt trauma through the armour, or narrow-pointed enough
to pierce it with a thrust. Arguably these two forms of blade evolve
into the longsword, and the cinquedea.
It is a common weapon in period artwork, and there are many surviving
examples in museums. The arming sword was worn by a knight even
when not in armor, and he would be considered 'undressed' for public
if he were without it. The first longswords were actually little
more than two-handed arming swords, but the difference in length
grew substantially as time passed. Long after these larger weapons
came into use, the arming sword was retained as a common sidearm,
eventually evolving into the cut & thrust swords of the Renaissance.
Arming swords are sometimes incorrectly referred to as longswords
or broadswords (the former actually refers to a long-bladed two-handed
sword and the latter to a type of broad-bladed basket-hilted sword
popular in the 17th and 18th centuries).
The term Broadsword defines a sword with a usually substantial,
straight two-edged blade, and historically may refer to:
Basket-hilted sword, a family of Renaissance cavalry and military
swords. Such swords could have blades of broadsword form or backsword
(single cutting edge) form.
Broadswords were favored in the Elizabethan period of England.
In modern times, the term can also be used to refer to arming sword,
the single-handed cruciform sword of the High Middle Ages.
A falchion ( from Old French fauchon, ultimately from Latin falx
"sickle") is a one-handed, single-edged sword of European
origin, whose design is reminiscent of the Persian scimitar. The
weapon combined the weight and power of an axe with the versatility
of a sword.
Falchions are found in different forms from around the 11th century
up to and including the sixteenth century. In some versions the
falchion looks rather like the scramasax and later the sabre, and
in some versions the form is irregular or like a machete with a
crossguard. While some propose that encounters with the Islamic
shamshir inspired its creation, these "scimitars" of Persia
were not developed until long after the falchion. More likely, it
was developed from farmer's and butcher's knives of the seax type
or in the manner of the larger Messer. The shape concentrates more
weight near the end, thus making it more effective for chopping
strikes like an axe or cleaver.
The blade designs of falchions varied widely across the continent
and through the ages. They almost always included a single edge
with a slight curve on the blade towards the point on the end and
most were also affixed with a quilloned crossguard for the hilt
in the manner of the contemporary long-swords. Unlike the double-edged
swords of Europe, few actual swords of this type have survived to
the present day; fewer than a dozen specimens are currently known.
Two basic types can be identified
Cleaver falchions : shaped very much like a large meat cleaver,
or large bladed machete.
Cusped falchions : The majority of the depictions in art reflect
a design similar to that of the großes Messer. This blade
style may have been influenced by the Turko-Mongol sabres that had
reached the borders of Europe by the thirteenth century. This type
of sword continues in use into the 16th. century
It sometimes presumed that these swords had a lower-than-average
quality and status than the longer, more expensive swords. It is
also possible that some falchions were used as tools between wars
and fights, since they were very practical pieces of equipment.
It is commonly thought that falchions were primarily a peasant's
weapon[, but the weapon is commonly shown in illustrations of combat
between mounted knights.
Some later falchions were very ornate and used by the nobility.
In particular, there is a very elaborately engraved and gold plated
falchion from the 1560s in the Wallace Collection. This weapon is
engraved with the personal coat of arms of Cosimo de' Medici, Duke
A number of weapons superficially similar to the falchion existed
in Western Europe, including the Messer, hanger and the backsword.
The Longsword is a type of European sword used during the late
medieval period, approximately 1350 to 1550 (with early and late
use reaching into the 13th and 17th centuries, respectively). Longswords
have long cruciform hilts with grips over 10 to 15in length providing
room for two hands. Straight double-edged blades are often over
1 m to 1.2 m (40" to 48") length, and weigh typically
between 1.2 and 2.4 kg (2½ to 5 lb), with light specimens
just below 1 kg (2.2 lb), and heavy specimens just above 2 kg (4½
The longsword is commonly held in combat with both hands, though
some may be used single-handed. Longswords are used for hewing,
slicing, and stabbing. The specific offensive purpose of an individual
longsword is derived from its physical shape. All parts of the sword
are used for offensive purposes, including the pommel and crossguard.
The French épée bâtarde references the bastard
sword, a type of longsword. English Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts
refer to the longsword as the two hand sword. The terms "hand-and-a-half
sword", "greatsword", and "bastard sword"
are used colloquially to refer to longswords in general.
The longsword, with its longer grip and blade, appears to have
become popular during the 14th century and remained in common use,
as shown through period art and tale, from 1250 to 1550. The longsword
was a powerful and versatile weapon. For close personal infantry
combat, however, the longsword was prized for its versatility and
Hand and a half swords were so called because they could be ethier
a one or two handed sword.
While nearly every longsword is in some way different from one
another, most contain a few essential parts. The blade of the sword
forms the cutting portion of the weapon and is usually double-edged.
Blades came in a variety of shapes and sizes. Broad and thin blades
are more effective for cutting-oriented longswords while thick tapering
blades are found on varieties more effective at thrusting. However,
all longswords were effective at cutting, slicing and thrusting
and variations in form made only minor alterations in use. The hilt
comprises the portion of the sword that is not the blade. Like the
blade, hilts evolved and changed over time in response to fashion
and as the swords were designed for different specific purposes.
The blade of the medieval longsword is straight and predominantly
double edged. The construction of the blade is relatively thin,
with strength provided by careful blade geometry. Over time, the
blades of longswords become slightly longer, thicker in cross-section,
less wide, and considerably more pointed. This design change is
largely attributed to the use of plate armour as an effective defense,
more or less nullifying the ability of a sword cut to break through
the armour system. Instead of cutting, long swords were then used
more to thrust against opponents in plate armour, requiring a more
acute point and a more rigid blade. However, the cutting capability
of the longsword was never entirely removed, as in some later rapiers,
but was supplanted in importance by thrusting capability.
Blades differ considerably in cross-section, as well as in length
and width. The two most basic forms of blade cross-section are the
lenticular and diamond. Lenticular blades are shaped like thin doubly
convex lenses, providing adequate thickness for strength in the
center of the weapon while maintaining a thin enough edge geometry
to allow a proper cutting edge to be ground. The diamond shaped
blade slopes directly up from the edges, without the curved elements
of the lenticular blade. The central ridge produced by this angular
geometry is known as a riser, the thickest portion of the blade
that provides ample rigidity. These basic designs are supplemented
by additional forging techniques that incorporated slightly different
variations of these cross-sections.
The most common among these variations is the use of fullers and
hollow-ground blades. While both of these elements concern themselves
with the removal of material from the blade, they differ primarily
in location and final result. Fullers are grooves or channels that
are removed from the blade, in longswords, usually running along
the center of the blade and originating at or slightly before the
hilt. The removal of this material allows the smith to significantly
lighten the weapon without compromising the strength to the same
extent, much as in the engineering of steel I-beams.
Though colloquially called "blood-grooves", fullers were
not designed, nor do they function, to allow blood to flow out of
a wound more easily, nor to run off the sword. Fullers differ in
number and thickness on swords, with some incredibly broad fullers
spanning nearly the entire width of the weapon while smaller more
numerous fullers are usually thinner. The length of fullers also
displays variation - on some cutting blades the fuller may run nearly
the entire length of the weapon, while the fuller stops one-third
or half-way down other blades. Hollow-ground blades have concave
portions of steel removed from each side of the riser, thinning
the edge geometry while keeping a thickened area at the center to
provide strength for the blade.
A variety of hilt styles exist for longswords, with the style of
pommel and quillion (crossguard) changing over time to accommodate
different blade properties and to fit emerging stylistic trends.
Combat with the longsword was not so barbaric and crude as is often
portrayed. Codified systems of fighting existed, with a variety
of styles and teachers each providing a slightly different take
on the art. The longsword was a quick, effective, and versatile
weapon capable of deadly thrusts, slices, and cuts. The blade was
generally used with both hands on the hilt, one resting close to
or on the pommel. However, in some circumstances, the weapon may
be used only with one hand. In a depiction of a duel, individuals
may be seen wielding sharply pointed longswords in one hand, leaving
the other hand open to manipulate the large dueling shield. Another
variation of use comes from the use of armour. Half-swording was
a manner of using both hands, one on the hilt and one on the blade,
to better control the weapon in thrusts and jabs. This versatility
was unique, as multiple works hold that the longsword provided the
foundations for learning a variety of other weapons including spears,
staves, and polearms.] Use of the longsword in attack was not limited
only to use of the blade, however, as several Fechtbücher explain
and depict use of the pommel and cross as offensive weapons. The
cross has been shown to be used as a hook for tripping or knocking
an opponent off balance.
Daggers and Knives
A dagger is a double-edged blade used for stabbing or thrusting.
Daggers often fulfill the role of a secondary defence weapon in
close combat. In most cases, a tang extends into the handle along
the centreline of the blade.
Daggers may be differentiated from knives in that daggers are intended
primarily for stabbing whereas knives are usually single-edged and
intended mostly for cutting. This distinction is confused by the
fact that many knives and daggers are capable of either stabbing
Historically, knives and daggers were always considered secondary
or even tertiary weapons. Most cultures mainly fought with pole
weapons, swords, and axes at arm's length if not already utilizing
bows, spears, slings, or other long-range weapons.
From the year 1250 onward, gravestones and other contemporary images
show knights with a dagger or combat knife at their side. Hilt and
blade shapes began to resemble smaller versions of swords and led
to a fashion of ornamented sheaths and hilts in the late 15th century.
This is also a symbol of the church because the dagger look much
like a cross.
With the advent of protective plate armour during the Middle Ages,
the dagger became increasingly useful as a good close in weapon
for stabbing through the gaps in armour. Books offering instruction
on the use of weapons described the dagger being held in the hand
with the blade pointing from the heel of the hand and used to make
downward jabs. Straight jabs from a normal hammer grip were also
used, though icepick style jabs are more commonly depicted in manuals.
The dagger was a common murder weapon, used by commoners or vengeful
aristocrats who wished to remain anonymous.
With the development of firearms, the dagger lost more and more
of its usefulness in military combat; multipurpose knives and handguns
An anelace, also called an anlace, is a medieval long daggeror
a very short type of sword. An anelace was sharp on both sides and
could be carried at the small of the backor girdle. Two anelaces
could be used in a paired fighting style similar to using a sword
and parrying dagger.
A stiletto is a short knife or dagger with a long slender blade
of various designs primarily used as a stabbing weapon. Its narrow
shape, ending in a rigid pointed end, allows it to penetrate deeply.
Most stiletti are not suited for cutting, even with edged examples.
A typical early stiletto had a one-piece cast-metal handle. The
blade was hammer-forged in a triangular blade cross section without
any sharpened edges. Other examples have round, square, and diamond
The Italian word "stiletto" comes from the Latin stilus
meaning: "a stake; a pointed instrument".
The stiletto, also called a misericorde ("mercy"), began
to gain fame during the High Middle Ages, when it was the secondary
weapon of knights. It was used to finish off a fallen or severely
wounded heavily armored opponent. The pointed, stout blade could
easily pass through most mail or find its way through gaps in a
knight's plate armor. A severely wounded opponent, who was not expected
to survive, would be given a "mercy strike" (French coup
de grace), hence the name misericorde.
This weapon could also be used as a means of killing an active
adversary, as during a grappling struggle. The blade could be used
against an opponent's face, or thrust through holes or weak points
in armor, such as under the arm, with the aim of piercing the heart.
The weapon was known from the 12th century and has appeared in the
armaments of Germany and England.
Later the Gunner's Stiletto became a tool for clearing cannon-fuse
touch holes; used in the manner of an automotive oil dipstick, they
were often scribed with marks indicating levels of powder charges
for ranging distance.
A poignard, or poniard, originally a French word, is a lightweight
dagger employed in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It was primarily
used for stabbing in close quarters or in conjunction with a rapier.
A rondel dagger or roundel dagger was a type of stiff-bladed dagger
in Europe in the late Middle Ages (from the 14th century onwards),
used by a variety of people from merchants to knights. It was worn
at the waist and might be used as a utility tool, or worn into battle
or a jousting tournament as a side-arm.
The blade was typically long and slim, measuring 12 inches (30
cm) or more; the whole dagger might be as long as 20 inches (50
cm). Rondel means round or circular; the dagger gets its name from
its round (or similarly shaped, e.g. octagonal) hand guard and round
or spherical pommel (knob on the end of the grip).
The blade was stiff, made from steel, and the tang extended through
the handle, which was cylindrical, normally carved wood or bone.
In profile, the blade was usually diamond-shaped, lenticular, or
triangular. These blades would have a sharpened point, and either
one or both edges would also be sharpened. They were principally
designed for use with a stabbing action, either underarm, or over
arm with a reverse grip. They would also have been used for cutting.
The long straight blade would not have lent itself to a slashing
or sabre action.
Rondel daggers were ideal in battle for puncturing chain mail,
and although they would not have been able to punch through plate
armour, they could be forced between the joints in a suit of armour
and helmets. This was often the only way in which a heavily armoured
knight could be killed.
A few examples also exist of four-edged rondel daggers, the blade
having a cruciform profile. These blades would not have been suited
for cutting, or use as a general utility tool; they would have been
worn as a side-arm in battle. The rondel daggers which have survived
and found their way into museums and collections are usually those
with fine craftsmanship and often ornate decoration. The blades
may be engraved, the grips ornately carved, and the hand guards
and pommels highly decorated.
In a scene from a miniature by Girat de Roussillon depicting the
construction of twelve churches in France (c. 1448), merchants and
tradesmen can be seen wearing rondel daggers at their waists. Before
the 1400s, daggers were actually a peasant's weapon. However, in
the 15th century they became the standard side-arm for knights,
and would have been carried into battles such as the Battle of Agincourt
They were a knight's backup weapon to be used in hand to hand fighting,
and as such one of their last lines of defence. Since they were
able to penetrate a suit of armour (at the joints, or through the
visor of the helmet), rondel daggers could be used to force an unseated
or wounded knight to surrender, for a knight might fetch a good
ransom. Daggers may also have been thrown at unseated enemy knights
to force them to engage in battle, though a mace was perhaps better
suited to this task.
Blunt Hand Weapons;
Clubs and Maces
A mace is a simple weapon that uses a heavy head on the end of
a handle to deliver powerful blows.
A development of the club, a mace differs from a hammer in that
the head of a mace is radially symmetric so that a blow can be delivered
equally effectively with any side of the head. A mace consists of
a strong, heavy, wooden, metal-reinforced (or metal) shaft with
a head made of stone, copper, bronze, iron, or steel.
The head is normally about the same or slightly thicker than the
diameter of the shaft and can be shaped with flanges or knobs to
allow greater penetration of armour.
The length of maces can vary considerably. The maces of foot soldiers
were usually quite short (two or three feet, or 70 to 90 cm). The
maces of cavalrymen were longer and better designed for blows from
horseback. Two-handed maces could be even larger.
During the Middle Ages metal Armour and chain mail protected against
the blows of edged weapons and blocked arrows and other projectiles.
Solid metal maces and war hammers proved able to inflict damage
on well armoured knights, as the force of a blow from a mace is
large enough to cause damage without penetrating the armour.
One example of a mace capable of penetrating armour is the flanged
mace. What makes a flanged mace different from other maces is the
flanges, protruding edges of metal that allow it to dent or penetrate
even the thickest armour. This variation of the mace did not become
popular until significantly after knobbed maces. Although there
are some references to flanged maces (bardoukion) as early as the
Byzantine empire circa 900, it is commonly accepted that the flanged
mace did not become popular in Europe until the 12th century.
Maces, being simple to make, cheap and straightforward in application,
were common weapons. Peasant rebels and cheap conscript armies often
had little more than maces, axes and pole arms. Few of these simple
maces survive today. Most examples found in museums are of much
better quality and often highly decorated.
A mace type commonly used by the lower classes, called the Holy
Water Sprinkler, was basically a wooden handle with a wooden or
metal head and radiating spikes; the name most likely originates
from the similarity to the church object.
A plançon a picot is a heavy and thick two-handed mace
with an Armour-piercing spike on top.
The mace was the usual weapon of the cavalieri, essentially mercenary
armies of Northern Italy hired by Italian city-states and throughout
Europe starting in the 14th Century. The production of both body
armour and weaponry to support the cavalieri centered around Milan,
partially in support of the Milanese movement to remain separate
from Papal rule.
Maces were employed by the clergy in warfare to avoid shedding
blood (sine effusione sanguinis). Bishop Odo of Bayeux is shown
wielding a club-like mace at the Battle of Hastings in the Bayeux
Tapestry. Other Bishops were depicted bearing the arms of a knight
without comment, such as Archbishop Turpin who bears both a spear
and a sword named "Almace" in the The Song of Roland.
Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy, fought as a knight during the First Crusade.
Maces are rarely used today for actual combat, but government bodies,
universities and other institutions have ceremonial maces used as
symbols of authority, in rituals and processions, and for other
Like many medieval weaponsmaces have been used in blazons, either
as a charge on the shield or as external ornament.
|Pc a Plancon
The morningstar is a medieval weapon consisting of a spiked club
resembling a mace, usually with a long spike extending straight
from the top and many smaller spikes around the particle of the
The spikes distinguish it from a mace, which can have, at most,
flanges or small knobs. It was used by both infantry and cavalry;
the horseman's weapon had a shorter shaft. The mace, a traditional
knightly weapon, developed independently, became all-metal with
heads of various forms, while the morningstar retained its characteristic
spikes, with a usually wooden shaft, often found in longer two-handed
forms measuring up to six feet or more, was popular among troops.
The morningstar first came into widespread use around the beginning
of the fourteenth century, and the term is often applied to the
military flail which consists of a wooden shaft joined by a length
of chain to one or more iron balls or an iron shod wooden bar, in
either case with or without spikes (heavy sword pommels have also
been used as weights).
Although it is often assumed that the morningstar was a crude peasant
weapon, this is not entirely correct. There were three types in
existence, all differing in quality of workmanship. The first was
the well crafted military type used by professional soldiers, made
in series by expert weaponsmiths for stocking in town arsenals.
The second and much simpler type would have been hand cut by peasant
militiamen, rather than turned on a lathe, from wood they had gathered
themselves and fitted with nails and spikes by the local blacksmith.
The shaft and head were usually of one piece but sometimes reinforced
at the top with an iron band.
The third type was decorative in nature, usually short hafted and
made of metal, one sixteenth century example being of steel and
damascened with inlaid gold and silver, in the Wallace Collection
Holy Water Sprinklers
The holy water sprinkler (from its resemblance to the aspergillum
used in the Catholic Mass) was a morning star used by the English
army in the sixteenth century and made in series by professional
smiths. One such weapon can be found in the Royal Armouries and
has an all steel head with six flanges forming three spikes each,
reminiscent of a mace but with a short thick spike of square cross
section extending from the top. The wooden shaft is reinforced with
four langets and the overall length of the weapon is 74.5 inches
The term can also be used to describe a type of military flail,
this being the name for the weapon in French (goupillon)
The military flail or simply flail is a weapon commonly attributed
to the Middle-Ages but for which only a limited amount of historical
evidence currently exists for most of this era.
In spite of the lack of frequent historial reference to use of
flails, the weapon (sometimes called mace and chain or ball and
chain) was a stock figure in Victorian Era Medievalist literature
and thus has become entrenched in popular medieval fantasy and thus
the neomedievalist imagination.
Typically, the weapon is depicted as one (or more) weights attached
to a handle with a hinge or chain. Modern authors have used multiple
conflicting names for this weapon: the "mace and chain"
is the equivalent of the German "morningstar and chain"
referred to above, but the latter term is rarely used in English.
Additionally, the English terms "morning star" (a rigid
haft topped with a spiked ball), and even "mace" (a bludgeoning
weapon similar to a morning star), which properly refer to non-chained
weapons, have also been used to refer to the military flail. [citation
Throughout the Middle-Ages, agricultural flails were sometimes
employed as an improvised weapon by peasant armies conscripted into
military service or engaged in popular uprisings.
Another in the Royal Armouries collection has two spiked iron balls
attached by separate chains
A war hammer is a late medieval weapon of war intended for close
combat action, the design of which resembles the hammer.
The war hammer consists of a handle and a head. The handle may
be of different lengths, the longest being roughly equivalent to
the halberd, and the shortest about the same as a mace. Long war
hammers were pole weapons (polearms) meant for use against riders,
whereas short ones were used in closer quarters and from horseback.
Later war hammers often had a spike on one side of the head, thus
making it a more versatile weapon.
War hammers were developed as a consequence of the ever more prevalent
surface-hardened steel surfacing of wrought iron armours of the
late medieval battlefields during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
The surface of the armour was now as hard as the edge of a blade,
so a blade tended to ricochet. Swords, or the blade of a battleaxe,
were likely only to give a glancing blow, losing much of the impact,
especially on the high curvature of the helmet. The war hammer could
deliver the full force to the target.
War hammers, especially when mounted on a pole, could damage without
penetrating the armour. In particular, they transmitted the impact
through even the thickest helmet and caused concussions. A blade
or spike tended to be used against other parts of the body where
the armour was thinner, and penetration was easier, than through
the helmet. The spike end could be used for grappling the target's
armour, reins, or shield, or could be turned in the direction of
the blow to pierce even heavy armour. Against mounted opponents,
the weapon could also be directed at the legs of the horse, toppling
the armoured foe to the ground where he could be more easily attacked.
The horseman's pick was a weapon of Islamic origin used by cavalry
during the Middle Ages in Europe. This was a type of war hammer
that had a very long spike on the reverse of the hammer head. Usually
this spike was slightly curved downwards, much like a miner's pickaxe.
The term is sometimes used interchangeably with war hammer.
The horseman's pick was often used as a means to penetrate thick
armour or chain mail which the standard sword could not. However,
a number of drawbacks limited the weapon's effectiveness. Its relative
heaviness made it unwieldy and, thus, easily avoided.
The injury caused by the weapon was also small and rarely immediately
fatal. Additionally, if swung too hard the weapon often became embedded
in the victim or their armour making retrieval difficult. It also
could be used as a throwing weapon.
A pole weapon or polearm is a close combat weapon in which the
main fighting part of the weapon is placed on the end of a long
shaft, typically of wood. The purpose of using pole weapons is either
to extend reach or to increase angular momentum—and thus striking
power—when the weapon is swung. The idea of attaching a weapon
onto a long shaft is an old one, as the first spears date back to
the Stone Age.
Spears, glaives, poleaxes, halberds, and bardiches are all varieties
of polearm. Staff-weapons in Medieval or Renaissance England were
lumped together under the generic term "staves"
Pole weapons are relatively simple to make, and easy for most people
to use as they were often derived from hunting or agricultural tools.
Massed men carrying pole weapons with pointed tips (spears, pikes,
etc.) were recognized early in the history of organized warfare
as effective military units. On defence the men holding the polearms
were hard to reach; on the attack they were devastating to any units
that could not get out of the way.
With the advent of armored fighters, especially cavalry, pole weapons
frequently combined the spearpoint (for thrusting) with an axe or
hammerhead for a swinging strike which could pierce or break armor.
Today, the military use of pole weapons is restricted to ceremonial
guards, such as the Papal Swiss Guard or Yeomen of the Guard. They
also remain a common sight in many schools of martial arts that
study weapons. the bayonet of a modern rifle (especially sword bayonet
or knife bayonet), when attached, can still be regarded as a form
of pole weapon.
A quarterstaff is an English weapon that was used during the medieval
period and up to the 18th Century. The term refers to a shaft of
hardwood between five and seven feet in length, sometimes with metal
tips, ferules or spikes.
The origin of the weapon's name is uncertain. The name may come
from the way that the staff is held: one hand at the centre of the
staff, and one hand halfway between the centre and one end. However,
this grip is not prescribed in early sources. Another theory links
the word to its length being equal to the wielder's height plus
Swetnam writing in 1615 differentiates the quarterstaff of 6 or
7 feet in length from the long staff of 12 feet and the pike of
18 feet. Perhaps the most likely origin of the word is in its relationship
to the "great" staff or pike, that was used to fight cavalry.
Unlike its bigger cousin, a quarterstaff is literally one that is
held and used in "close quarters" for personal combat,
able to defend all four quarters of the body.
A simple weapon to manufacture, the quarter staff has a long history
of use, and a wide cultural dispersion. The quarterstaff proper
was a common weapon in England, where it is featured in the Robin
Hood legend as the favourite weapon of Little John.
During the 1500s quarterstaves were favoured as weapons by the
London Masters of Defence and by the 1700s the weapon was associated
with gladiatorial prize playing. English fencing authors of the
16th to 18th Centuries insist that the quarterstaff is the most
effective of all hand weapons and devote lengthy portions of their
works to its use.
the quarterstaff is held with the back hand at the butt end of
the staff and the other hand about a foot above it, as a two-handed
sword would be held. The body is turned so the forward hand and
forward foot are both facing the opponent, the feet taking the same
stance as is used in sword or rapier fighting. This basic position
is known as the low guard.
Assuming the butt is gripped with the left hand, moving the staff
slightly to the right to defend blows is called the outside guard.
Moving it slightly to the left is called the inside guard. Raising
the butt end up and pointing the point of the staff at the opponent's
face to parry a blow to the head is called the middle guard.
Raising the staff directly back over the head letting the tip point
back at the ground behind oneself and looking under the butt end
of the staff in front of oneself is called the open or hanging guard.
The George guard or St. George guard is formed by grasping the staff
at the thirds and raising it horizontally overhead to ward a direct
overhead downward blow.
Of these the low guard is considered the central guard. Blows were
primarily delivered downwards either directly or at angles. Parries
of blows to the legs were done either by lifting the leg away from
the line of attack or by thrusting one end of the staff into the
ground and releasing the foremost hand which was in danger of being
struck. Thrusts were often performed with the release of the forward
hand and a step with the forward leg like a fencing lunge, stretching
forward the back hand as far as possible. Longer thrusts were delivered
with a full step forward with the back leg accompanying the back
hand. It was recommended that when delivering a blow that at the
end of it the back leg and foot should be compassed about so as
to fall roughly into a line with the front foot and the point of
the weapon. The same circling round of the back leg was applied
to parries also. Singularly among the three authors, Swetnam recommends
preference of thrusting over striking. Silver and Wylde describe
striking and thrusting as equally valid attacks.
spear is a pole weapon consisting of a shaft, usually of wood, with
a sharpened head. The head may be simply the sharpened end of the
shaft, or it may be of another material fastened to the shaft, such
as obsidian, iron, or bronze. The most common design is of a metal
spearhead, shaped like a triangle or a leaf.
Spears were one of the most common personal weapons from the Stone
Age until the advent of firearms. They may be seen as the ancestor
of such weapons as the lance, the halberd, the bill and the pike.
One of the earliest weapons fashioned by human beings and their
ancestors, it is still used for hunting and fishing. Its influences
can still be seen in contemporary military arsenals as the rifle-mounted
Spears can be used as both ballistic and melee weapons. Spears
used primarily for thrusting may be used with either one or two
hands and tend to have heavier and sturdier designs than those intended
exclusively for throwing. Those designed for throwing, often referred
to as javelins, tend to be lighter and have a more streamlined head..
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the spear and shield continued
to be used by almost all Western European cultures. Since a medieval
spear required only a small amount of steel along the sharpened
edges (most of the spear-tip was wrought iron), it was an economical
weapon. Quick to manufacture, and needing less smithing skill than
a sword, it remained the main weapon of the common soldier. The
Vikings, for instance, though often portrayed with axe or sword
in hand, were armed mostly with spears, as were their Anglo-Saxon,
Irish, or continental contemporaries.
Spears were either designed to be kept in hand (thrusting spears),
or to be thrown (throwing spears). Within this simple classification,
there were a remarkable range of types.
Notable types of Early medieval spears include the Angon, a throwing
spear with a long head like a Roman pilum used by the Franks and
Anglo-Saxons and the winged (or lugged) spear, which had two prominent
wings at the base of the spearhead, either to prevent the spear
penetrating too far into an enemy or to aid in spear fencing . Originally
a Frankish weapon, the winged spear was also popular with the Vikings.
It would become the ancestor of later medieval polearms, such as
the partisan and spetum.
The thrusting spear also has the advantage of reach — being
considerably longer than other weapon types. Exact spear lengths
are hard to deduce as few spear shafts survive archaeologically
but 6 ft. - 8 ft. (1.8m - 2.5m) would seem to be the norm. Some
nations were noted for their long spears, including the Scots and
the Flemish. Spears were usually used in tightly ordered formations,
like the shieldwall or the schiltron To resist cavalry, spear shafts
could be planted against the ground. William Wallace drew up his
schiltrons in a circle at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298 to deter
charging cavalry, but it was a widespread tactic, sometimes known
as the "crown" formation
Throwing spears became rarer as the Middle Ages drew on but survived
in the hands of specialists such as the Catalan Almogavars. They
were commonly used in Ireland until the end of the 16th. century
Spears began to lose fashion among the infantry in the 14th. century,
being replaced by pole weapons which combined the thrusting properties
of the spear with the cutting properties of the axe, such as the
halberd Where spears were retained they grew in length, eventually
evolving into pikes which would be a dominant infantry weapon in
he 16th. and 17th. centuries
Cavalry spears were originally the same as infantry spears and
were often used with two hands or held with one hand overhead. In
the 11th. century, after the adoption of stirrups and a high-cantled
saddle, the spear became a more powerful weapon. A mounted knight
would secure the lance by holding with one hand and tucking it under
the armpit (the couched lance technique). This allowed all the momentum
of the horse and knight to be focused on the weapon's tip whilst
still retaining accuracy and control. This use of the spear spurred
the development of the lance as a distinct weapon which was perfected
in the medieval sport of jousting.
In the 14th century, tactical developments meant that knights and
men-at-arms often fought on foot. This led to the practice of shortening
the lance to about 5 ft. (1.5m.) to make it more manageable. As
dismounting became commonplace, specialist pole weapons such as
the pollaxe were adopted by knights and this practice ceased
The development of both the long, two handed pike and gunpowder
in renaissance Europe saw an ever increasing focus on integrated
infantry tactics. Infantry not armed with these weapons carried
variations on the pole-arm, including the halberd and the bill.
Ultimately, the spear proper was rendered obsolete on the battlefield.
Its last flowering was the half-pike or spontoon, a shortened version
of the pike carried by officers and NCOs. While originally a weapon,
this came to be seen more as a badge of office, or leading staff
by which troops were directed . The half-pike, also known as a boarding
pike, was also used as a weapon on board ships until the 19th. Century
At the start of the Renaissance, cavalry were still predominantly
lance armed; gendarmes with the heavy knightly lance and lighter
cavalry with a variety of lighter lances. By the 1540s, however,
pistol-armed cavalry called reiters were beginning to make their
mark. Cavalry armed with pistols and other lighter firearms, along
with a sword, had virtually replaced lance armed cavalry in Western
Europe by the beginning of the 17th. century, though the lance persisted
in Eastern Europe, from whence it was reintroduced into the European
mainstream in the 19th. century.
The winged (also lugged or barred) spear was a common type of thrusting
spear during the early Middle Ages. It consisted of a leaf or lozenge
shaped head, beneath which on the socket there were prominent wings.
The earliest use of barred spears for hunting is recorded by Xenophon
in the 4th. century BC and illustrations of Roman examples are known.
Its use in war, however, seems to relate to German tribes in the
Early Middle Ages, particularly the Franks[, and it was used by
the Vikings. The type is commonly illustrated in Early Medieval
Art, including the Bayeux Tapestry and the Golden Psalter of St.
The winged spear is shown used by both cavalry and infantry. Although
some authors claim the intention of the wings was to prevent the
weapon from penetrating too deeply into an enemy, others see them
as an aid to spear-fencing. In the later Middle Ages a number of
polearms derived from the winged spear evolve. Some, such as the
Bohemian ear spoon, differ little from the original. Weapons such
as the Spetum, Ranseur, Corseque and Partisan show a greater evolutionary
The word lance is a catchall term for a variety of different pole
weapons based on the spear. The name is derived from lancea, Roman
A lance in the original sense is a light throwing spear, or javelin.
The English verb to launch "fling, hurl, throw" is derived
from the term (via Old French lancier), as well as the rarer or
poetic to lance. The term from the 17th century came to refer specifically
to spears not thrown, used for thrusting by heavy cavalry, and especially
A thrusting spear which is used by infantry is usually referred
to as a pike.
The Roman cavalry long thrusting spear was not called lance, but
contus (from Greek language kontos, barge-pole). It was usually
3 to 4 m long, and grasped with both hands. It was used by equites
contariorum and equites catafractarii, fully armed and armoured
The use of the basic cavalry spear is so ancient, and warfare so
ubiquitous by the beginning of recorded history, that it is difficult
to determine which populations invented the lance and which learned
it from their enemies or allies.
The best known usage of military lances was that of the full-gallop
closed-ranks and usually wedge-shaped charge of a group of knights
with underarm-couched lances, against lines of infantry, archery
regiments, defensive embankments, and opposition cavalry.
It is commonly believed that this became the dominant European
cavalry tactic in the 11th century after the development of the
cantled saddle and stirrups and of rowel spurs which enabled better
control of the mount. Cavalry thus outfitted and deployed had a
tremendous collective force in their charge, and could shatter most
contemporary infantry lines.
While it could still be generally classified as a spear, the lance
tends to be larger - usually both longer and stouter and thus also
considerably heavier, and unsuited for throwing, or for the rapid
thrusting, as with an infantry spear. Lances did not have spear
tips that (intentionally) broke off or bent, unlike many throwing
weapons of the spear/javelin family, and were adapted for mounted
combat. They were often equipped with a vamplate, a small circular
plate to prevent the hand sliding up the shaft upon impact. Though
perhaps most known as one of the foremost military and sporting
weapons used by European knights, the use of lances was spread throughout
the Old World wherever mounts were available. As a secondary weapon,
lancers of the period also bore swords, maces or something else
suited to close quarter battle, since the lance was often a one-use-per-engagement
weapon; after the initial charge, the weapon was far too long, heavy
and slow to be effectively used against opponents in a melee.
Because of the stopping power of a thrusting spear, it quickly
became a popular weapon of footmen in the Late Middle Ages. These
eventually led to the rise of the longest type of spears ever, the
pike. Ironically, this adaptation of the cavalry lance to infantry
use was largely tasked with stopping lance-armed cavalry charges.
During the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, these weapons, both mounted
and unmounted, were so effective that lancers and pike men not only
became a staple of every Western army, but also became highly sought-after
In Europe, a jousting lance was a variation of the knight's lance
which was modified from its original war design. In jousting, the
lance tips would usually be blunt, often spread out like a cup or
furniture foot, to provide a wider impact surface designed to unseat
the opposing rider without spearing him through. The center of the
shaft of such lances could be designed to be hollow, in order for
it to break on impact, as a further safeguard against impalement.
They were often 4 m long or longer, and had special hand guards
built into the lance, often tapering for a considerable portion
of the weapon's length. These are the versions that can most often
be seen at medieval re-enactment festivals. In war, lances were
much more like stout spears, long and balanced for one handed use,
and with sharp tips.
The mounted lance saw a renaissance in the 18th century with the
demise of the pike; heavily armoured cuirassiers used 2 to 3 m lances
as their main weapons. They were usually used for the breakneck
charge against the enemy infantry.
The Crimean War saw the most infamous use of the lance, the Charge
of the Light Brigade, though lances continued to be used into the
A pike is a pole weapon, a very long thrusting weapon used extensively
by infantry both for attacks on enemy foot soldiers and as a counter-measure
against cavalry assaults. Unlike many similar weapons, the pike
is not intended to be thrown. Pikes were used by European troops
from the early Middle Ages until around 1700, and wielded by foot
soldiers deployed in close order. While the soldiers using such
spears may not have called them "pikes", their tactical
employment of these weapons ran along broadly similar lines.
The pike was an extremely long weapon, varying considerably in
size, from 3 to 6 metres (10 to over 20 feet) long. It had a wooden
shaft with an iron or steel spearhead affixed. The shaft near the
head was often reinforced with metal strips called "cheeks"
or langets. When the troops of opposing armies both carried the
pike, it often grew in a sort of arms race, getting longer in both
shaft and head length to give one side's pikemen an edge in the
combat; the longest pikes could exceed 6 m (22 feet) in length.
The extreme length of such weapons required a strong wood such as
well-seasoned ash for the pole, which was tapered towards the point
to prevent the pike sagging on the ends, although this was always
a problem in pike handling.
The great length of the pikes allowed a great concentration of
spearheads to be presented to the enemy, with their wielders at
a greater distance, but also made pikes unwieldy in close combat.
This meant that pikemen had to be equipped with a shorter weapon
such as a sword, mace, or dagger in order to defend themselves should
the fighting degenerate into a melee. In general, however, pikemen
attempted to avoid such disorganized combat, at which they were
at a disadvantage. To compound their difficulties in a melee, the
pikeman often did not have a shield ..
On the battlefield pikes were often used in "hedgehog"
formations, particularly by troops such as rebel peasants and militias
who had not received a great deal of training in tactical manoeuvres
with the weapon. In these, the troops simply stood and held their
pikes out in the direction of the enemy, sometimes standing in great
circles or squares with the men facing out in all directions so
that the enemy was confronted by a forest of bristling pikeheads,
and could not attack the formation from the sides or rear.
Better-trained troops were capable of using the pike in an aggressive
attack, each rank of pikemen being trained to hold their pikes so
that they presented enemy infantry with four or five layers of spearheads
bristling from the front of the formation.
As long as it kept good order, such a formation could roll right
over enemy infantry, but had its own weaknesses – as the men
were all moving forward, they were all facing in a single direction
and could not easily turn to protect the vulnerable flanks or rear
of the formation, and the huge block of men carrying such unwieldy
spears could be difficult to manoeuvre, other than for straight-forward
As a result, such mobile pike formations sought to have supporting
troops protect their flanks, or would manoeuvre to smash the enemy
before they could themselves be outflanked. There was also the risk
that the formation would become disordered, leading to a confused
melee in which pikemen had the vulnerabilities mentioned above.
Though primarily a military weapon, the pike could be effective
in single combat, and a number of 16th-century sources explain how
it was to be used in a duelling situation; fencers of the time often
practiced with and competed against each other with long staves
in place of pikes.
In the Middle Ages, the principal users of the pike were urban
militia troops such as the Flemings or the peasant array of the
lowland Scots. For example, the Scots used a spear formation known
as the schiltron in several battles during the Wars of Scottish
Independence including the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, and the
Flemings used their geldon long spear to absorb the attack of French
knights at the Battle of the Golden Spurs in 1302, before other
troops in the Flemish formation counterattacked the stalled knights
with plancons. Both battles were seen by contemporaries as stunning
victories of commoners over superbly equipped, mounted, military
professionals, where victory was owed to the use of the pike and
the brave resistance of the commoners who wielded them.
These formations were essentially immune to the attacks of mounted
men-at-arms as long as the knights obligingly threw themselves on
the spear wall, but the closely-packed nature of pike formations
rendered them vulnerable to enemy archers and crossbowmen who could
shoot them down with impunity, especially when the pikemen did not
have adequate armour. Many defeats, such as at Roosebeke and Halidon
Hill, were suffered by the militia pike armies when faced by enemies
who employed their archers and crossbowmen to thin the ranks of
the pike blocks before charging in with their (often dismounted)
Medieval pike formations tended to have better success when they
operated in an aggressive fashion. The Scots at the Battle of Stirling
Bridge (1297), for example, utilized the momentum of their charge
to overrun an English army while the Englishmen were halfway through
the process of crossing a narrow bridge. And then, at the Battle
of Laupen (1339), Bernese pikemen overwhelmed the infantry forces
of the opposing Habsburg/Burgundian army with a massive charge before
wheeling over to strike and rout the Austro-Burgundian horsemen
as well. It was not uncommon for aggressive pike formations to be
composed of dismounted men-at-arms, as at the Battle of Sempach
(1389), where the dismounted Austrian vanguard, using their lances
as pikes, had some initial success against their predominantly halberd-equipped
Swiss adversaries. Dismounted Italian men-at-arms also used the
same method to defeat the Swiss at the Battle of Arbedo (1422).
The Swiss solved the pike's earlier problems and brought a renaissance
to pike warfare in the 15th century, establishing strong training
regimens to ensure they were masters of handling of the long pike
on manoeuvres and in combat, the Swiss having also introduced marching
to drums for this purpose. This meant that the pike blocks could
rise to the attack, making them less passive and more aggressive
formations, but sufficiently well trained that they could go on
the defensive when attacked by cavalry. German soldiers known as
Landsknechts later adopted Swiss methods of pike handling.
The Scots also still used pikes heavily by now, but were dropped
in masses after ineffective use after a humiliating defeat at the
Battle of Flodden.. Swiss and Landsknecht phalanxes also contained
men armed with two-handed swords, or Zweihänder, and halberdiers
for close action against both infantry and attacking cavalry.
The high military reputation of the Swiss and the Landsknecht again
led to the employment of mercenary units across Europe in order
to train other armies in their tactics. These two and others, who
had adopted their tactics, faced off in several wars leading to
a series of developments as a result of these confrontations.
These formations had great successes on the battlefield, starting
with the astonishing battlefield victories of the Swiss cantons
against Charles the Bold of Burgundy in the Burgundian Wars, in
which the Swiss participated in 1476 and 1477. In the battles of
Grandson, Morat and Nancy, the Swiss not only resisted the attacks
of knightly foes, as the relatively passive Scottish and Flemish
infantry squares had done in the earlier Middle Ages, but also marched
to the attack with great speed and in good formation, their attack
columns steamrolling the Burgundian forces.
The deep pike attack column remained the primary form of effective
infantry combat for the next forty years, and the Swabian War saw
the first conflict in which both sides had large formations of well-trained
pikemen. After that war, its combatants – the Swiss (thereafter
generally serving as mercenaries) and their Landsknecht imitators
– would often face each other again in the Italian Wars, which
would become in many ways the military proving ground of the Renaissance.
T the rise of firearms and artillery in the sixteenth century made
the big pike columns vulnerable to being shot down despite their
awesome close-combat power. The decline of the combat column of
pikemen was starkly displayed at the terrible Battle of Bicocca
in 1522, for instance, where arquebusiers contributed to the heavy
defeat of a force of Swiss pikemen.
|Pikemen exercising during the Battle for Groll.
|Swiss and Landsknecht pikemen fight at "push of pike"
during the Italian Wars.
|First rank with pikes defending upwards and second rank protects
the first with horizontal pikes
|Swiss guardsmen armed with pikes and halberds
A corseque has a three-bladed head on a 6-8ft. (1.8m-2.5m.) haft
which, like the partisan, evolved from the winged spear or spetum
in the later Middle Ages. It was popular in Europe in the 16th and
17th centuries. Surviving examples have a variety of head forms
but there are two main variants, one with the side blades (known
as flukes or wings) branching from the neck of the central blade
at 45 degrees, the other with hooked blades curving back towards
The corseque is usually associated with the rawcon, ranseur and
runka. Another possible association is with the "three-grayned
staff" listed as being in the armoury of Henry VIII in 1547
(though the same list also features 84 rawcons, suggesting the weapons
were not identical in 16th century English eyes). Another modern
term used for particularly ornate-bladed corseques is the chauve-souris.
A fauchard is a type of polearm used in medieval Europe from the
11th through the 14th centuries. The design consisted of a curved
blade on top of a 6–7-foot long pole. The blade bore a moderate
to strong curve along its length. Unlike a glaive the cutting edge
was only on the conc side. This made the fauchard blade resemble
that of a sickle or a scythe.
This was not a very efficient design for the purposes of war, and
was eventually modified to have one or more lance points attached
to the back or top of the blade. The modern name for this weapon
is a fauchard-fork, but is very often erroneously referred to as
a guisarme or bill-guisarme since it superficially appears to have
A glaive is a polearm consisting of a single-edged tapering blade
similar in shape to a modern kitchen knife on the end of a pole.
The blade is fixed in a socket-shaft configuration similar to an
axe head, both the blade and shaft varying in length.
Illustrations in the 13th century Maciejowski Bible show a short
staffed weapon with a long blade used by both infantry and cavalry.
Typically however, the blade was around 18 inches (55 cm) long,
on the end of a pole 6 or 7 feet (180–210 cm) long. Occasionally
glaive blades were created with a small hook or spike on the reverse
side. The modern term for these is glaive-guisarmes.
A guisarme (gisarme, giserne or bisarme) was a pole weapon used
in Europe between 1000–1400. It was used primarily to dismount
knights and horsemen. Like most polearms it was developed by peasants
by combining hand tools with long poles, in this case by putting
a pruning hook onto a spear shaft.
While hooks are effective for dismounting horsemen from mounts,
they lack the stopping power of a spear especially when dealing
with static opponents. Early designs were simply a hook on the end
of a long pole. Later designs implemented a small reverse spike
on the back of the blade.
Eventually weapon makers incorporated the usefulness of the hook
in a variety of different polearms and guisarme became a catch-all
for any weapon that included a hook on the blade.
A halberd (or Swiss voulge) is a two-handed pole weapon that came
to prominent use during the 14th and 15th centuries but has continued
in use as a ceremonial weapon to the present day. First recorded
as "hellembart" in 1279, the word halberd possibly comes
from the German words Halm (staff) or Helm (helmet), and Barte (axe).
The halberd consists of an axe blade topped with a spike mounted
on a long shaft. It always has a hook or thorn on the back side
of the axe blade for grappling mounted combatants.
Early forms are very similar in many ways to certain forms of voulge,
while 16th century and later forms are similar to the poleaxe. The
Swiss were famous users of the halberd in the medieval and renaissance
eras, with various cantons evolving regional variations of the basic
The word halberd is also used to translate the Chinese ji and also
a range of medieval Scandinavian weapons as described in sagas,
such as the atgeir.
The Danish Axe (also Broad Axe, Dane-axe) is a weapon with a heavy
crescent-shaped head mounted on a haft 4ft. to 6ft. (1.2-1.8 m.)
Originally a Viking weapon, it was adopted by the Anglo-Saxons
and Normans in the 11th century, spreading through Europe in the
12th and 13th centuries.].
Variants of this basic weapon continued in use in Scotland and
Ireland into the 16th century.
In the 13th century, variants on the Danish axe are seen. Described
in English as a sparth (from the Old Norse sparðr) or pale-axe],
the weapon featured a larger head with broader blade, the rearward
part of the crescent sweeping up to contact (or even be attached
to) the haft. Another development extended the forward part of the
In Ireland, this axe was known as a Sparr. Originating in either
Western Scotland or Ireland, the sparr was widely used by the galloglass.
Although sometimes said to derive from the Irish for a joist or
beam, a more likely definition is as a variant of sparth. Although
attempts have been made to suggest that the sparr had a distinctive
shaped head, illustrations and surviving weapons show there was
considerable variation and the distinctive feature of the weapon
was its long haft.
A bardiche (berdiche, or long poleaxe), is a type of polearm known
in medieval and renaissance Europe, especially in Eastern Europe
and Russia where it was used instead of halberd.
Occasionally the weapons of such form were made in Antiquity and
Early Middle Ages, but the regular and massive usage of bardiches
started in the late 14th century.
it was probably developed from the Scandinavian broad axe, but
in Scandinavia it appeared only in the late 15th century. In the
16th century bardiche became a weapon associated with streltsy,
Russian guardsmen armed with firearms.
In the 14th century, the basic long axe began to evolve, gaining
an armour piercing spike on the back and another on the end of the
haft for thrusting. This evolved into the pollaxe of the following
The pollaxe evolved to break through plate armour and featured
various combinations of an axe-blade, a back-spike and a hammer.
It was the favoured weapon for men-at-arms fighting on foot into
the sixteenth century[.
The maul is a long-handled hammer with a heavy metal head, either
of lead or iron. It is similar in appearance and function to a modern
sledgehammer but is sometimes shown as having a spear-like spike
on the fore-end of the haft.
The use of the maul as a weapon seems to date from the later 14th
century. In 1382, rebellious citizens of Paris seized 3,000 mauls
from the city armoury, Later in the same year, Froissart records
French men-at-arms using mauls at the Battle of Roosebeke, demonstrating
it was not only a weapon of the lower classes.
A particular use of the maul was by archers in the 15th and 16th
centuries. At Agincourt, English longbowmen are recorded as using
lead mauls, initially as a tool to drive in stakes but later as
an improvised weapon. Other references during the century suggest
continued use. They are recorded as a weapon of Tudor archers as
late as 1562.
Becs de Corbin
A bec de corbin is a type of pole weapon that was popular in medieval
Europe. The name is Old French for "crow's beak".
Similar to the Lucerne hammer, it consists of a modified hammer's
head and spike mounted atop a long pole. Unlike the Lucerne hammer,
the bec de corbin was used primarily with the 'beak' or fluke to
attack instead of the hammer head. The hammer face balancing the
beak was often blunt instead of the multi-pronged Lucerne, and the
beak tended to be stouter; better designed for tearing armour. Also,
the spike mounted on the top of head was not nearly as long and
thin as in the Lucerne. Bec de corbin occasionally becomes a catchall
for any type of warhammer, such as a maul or a horseman's pick.
A similar name bec de faucon (meaning 'falcon's beak') refers to
a related weapon called a poleaxe or, more specifically, to the
hook on its reverse side.
A ranged weapon is any a projectile or weapon that launches a projectile.
In contrast, a weapon intended to be used in man-to-man combat is
called a melee weapon.
Early ranged weapons include weapons such as javelins, throwing
axes the bow and arrow, and medieval siege engines like catapults,
ballistas and trebuchets.
Ranged weapons were effective in combat in comparison to melee
weapons, as they gave the wielder opportunity to launch multiple
projectiles before an enemy armed with melee weapons or shorter
ranged missile weapon posed a threat to him.
Siege engines were also used for passing or hitting obstacles like
After the invention of gunpowder and the development of firearms,
ranged weapons became the weapon of choice. Maximum effective range
of a weapon is the greatest distance fired and able to produce casualties
or damage consistently.
Throwing axes - Franciscas
The francisca (or francesca) is a throwing axe used as a weapon
during the Early Middle Ages by the Franks. It was a characteristic
Frankish national weapon at the time of the Merovingians from about
500 to 750 AD and is known to have been used during the reign of
Charlemagne (768 - 814). Although associated with the Franks, it
was also used by other Germanic peoples of the period including
the Anglo-Saxons. Examples have been found in England.
The term francisca first appeared in the book Ethymologiarum
sive originum, libri XVIII by Isidore of Seville (c. 560 -
636) as a name used among the Spanish to refer to these weapons
"because of their use by the Franks".
The francisca is characterized by its distinctly arch-shaped head,
widening toward the cutting edge and terminating in a prominent
point at both the upper and lower corners. The top of the head is
usually either S-shaped or convex with the lower portion curving
inward and forming an elbow with the short wooden haft. The upswept
point and downturned edge were both capable of penetrating chain
Sometimes the head is more upswept forming a wider angle with
the haft. Most franciscas have a round or teardrop-shaped eye designed
to fit the tapered haft, similar to Viking axes. Based on surviving
heads of franciscas recovered at Burgh Castle and Morning Thorpe
in county Norfolk, England the length of the head itself measured
14-15 cm (5-6 in) from the edge to the back of the socket.
The Roman historian Procopius (c. 500 - 565) described the Franks
and their use of throwing axes:
"...each man carried a sword and shield and an axe. Now
the iron head of this weapon was thick and exceedingly sharp on
both sides while the wooden handle was very short. And they are
accustomed always to throw these axes at one signal in the first
charge and thus shatter the shields of the enemy and kill the
The weight of the head and length of the haft would allow the axe
to be thrown with considerable momentum to an effective range of
about 12 m (40 ft). Even if the edge of the blade were not to strike
the target the weight of the iron head could cause injury.
Another feature of the francisca was its tendency to bounce unpredictably
upon hitting the ground due to its weight, shape, lack of balance
and curvature of the haft, making it difficult for defenders to
block. It could rebound up at the legs of opponents or against shields
and through the ranks. The Franks capitalized on this by throwing
the franciscas in a volley in order to confuse, intimidate and disorganize
enemy lines either before or during a charge to initiate close combat.
The régime of Vichy France used the image of a stylised
double-headed francisque as part of its iconography (compare fasces).
Today, the francisca remains in popular use as a throwing axe in
competitions and as a weapon for re-enactors of medieval warfare.
The javelin is a light spear designed primarily for casting as
a ranged weapon. The javelin is almost always thrown by hand (unlike
the arrow and slingshot which are projectiles shot from a mechanism).
it was used throughout medieval europe.
There is some literary and archeological evidence that the Norse
were familiar with and used the javelin for hunting and warfare,
but they commonly used a spear designed for both throwing and thrusting.
Viking grave excavations have revealed spears and spearheads among
the funerary offerings. They were one of the most common weapons
found.. These spears included throwing javelins, as well as pikes
for thrusting. The employment of javelins in battle by the Vikings
was documented in the Anglo-Saxon poem about the 991 AD Battle of
The Anglo-Saxon term for javelin was france. In Anglo-Saxon
warfare soldiers usually formed a shield wall and used heavy weapons
like Danish axes, swords and spears. Javelins, including barbed
angons, were used as an offensive weapon from behind the shield
wall or by warriors who left the protective formation and attacked
the enemy as skirmishers.
The Almogavars were a class of Aragonese infantrymen armed with
a short sword, a shield and two heavy javelins, known as assegai.
The equipment resembled that of a Roman legionary and the use of
the heavy javelins was much the same.
Jinetes were Spanish light horsemen armed with a javelin, sword
and a shield. This troop type developed in the Middle Ages in response
to the massed light cavalry of the Moors. Often fielded in significant
numbers by the Spanish, and at times the most numerous of the Spanish
mounted troops, they were proficient at skirmishing and rapid maneuver,
and played an important role in Spanish mounted warfare throughout
the Reconquista and up until the sixteenth century.
The Welsh, particularly the North Welsh, used the javelin as one
of their main weapons. During Norman and later English invasions,
the primary Welsh tactic was to rain javelins on the enemy troops
and then retreat into the mountains or woods before they could pursue
and attack them.
A bow is a weapon that projects arrows powered by its elasticity
.It is a form of spring. As the bow is drawn, energy is stored as
potential energy in the limbs of the bow and transformed into kinetic
energy as the string is released, the string transferring this energy
to the arrow
A longbow is a type of bow that is tall (roughly equal to the height
of the person who uses it). This allows its user a fairly long draw,
at least to the jaw. Tthe average length of arrowshafts recovered
from the 1545 sinking of the Mary Rose is 75 cm or 30 in). A longbow
is not significantly recurved. Its limbs are relatively narrow so
that they are circular or D-shaped in cross section.
Flatbows can be just as long; the difference is that, in cross-section,
a flatbow has limbs that are approximately rectangular.
Traditional longbows are made from a single natural piece of wood.
They have been used for thousands of years, for hunting and warfare.
. Worldwide the average power for bows of all designs is about 220
newtons (50 pounds) at 70 cm (28 inches) of draw which is suitable
for most hunting applications. Bows for warfare tend to be more
powerful, with the most powerful bows being the English longbow
which topped the 900 N (200-pound) at 80 cm (32 inches) mark.
Many men in later medieval England were capable of shooting bows
from 670–900 N (150–200 pounds) — skeletons of
archers reveal spur like projections on the bones where their over-developed
muscles pulled. These men trained daily from an early age and they
had the incentive og knowing that their lives would depend on being
able to use such powerful bows. There are modern day examples of
men who train similarly and are able to draw such powerful bows.
In the Middle Ages the Welsh and the English were famous for their
very powerful English longbows, used to great effect in the civil
wars of the period and against the French in the Hundred Years'
War, with notable success at the battles of Crécy (1346),
Poitiers (1356) and Agincourt (1415).
A typical military longbow archer would be provided with between
60 and 72 arrows at the time of battle. Most archers would not loose
arrows at maximum rate, as it would exhaust even the most experienced
man. A modern warbow archer does not like to try for more than six
a minute. Not only are the arms and shoulder muscles tired from
the exertion, but the fingers holding the bowstring become strained;
Ranged volleys at the beginning of the battle would differ markedly
from the closer, aimed shots as the battle progressed and the enemy
neared. Arrows were not unlimited, so archers and their commanders
took every effort to ration their use.
Resupply during battle was necessary. Boys were often employed
to run additional arrows to longbow archers while in their positions
on the battlefield. As ne commentator has put it "The longbow
was the machine gun of the Middle Ages: accurate, deadly, possessed
of a long range and rapid rate of fire, the flight of its missiles
was likened to a storm."
This rate of fire was much higher than that of its nearest rival
on the battlefield, the crossbow. It was also much higher than the
standard early firearms right up the nineteenth century although
the lower training requirements and greater penetration of firearms
eventually led to the longbow falling into disuse.
Because the longbow can be made from a single piece of wood, it
can be crafted relatively easily and quickly. Amateur bowyers today
can craft a longbow in about ten to twenty hours, while highly skilled
bowyers can craft wooden longbows in a few hours.
One of the simpler longbow designs is known as the self bow. By
definition, a self bow is made from a single piece of wood. Truly
traditional English longbows are self bows, made from yew wood.
The bowstave is cut from the radius of the tree so that the sapwood
(on the outside of the tree) becomes the back two thirds and the
belly, the remaining one third, is heartwood. Yew sapwood is good
only in tension, while the heartwood is good in compression. However,
one must make compromises when making a yew longbow, as it is difficult
to find perfect unblemished yew. The demand for yew bowstaves was
such that by the late 1500s, mature yew trees were almost extinct
in northern Europe. In other desirable woods such as Osage orange
and mulberry the sapwood is almost useless and is normally removed
Longbows, because of their narrow limbs and rounded cross-section
(which does not spread out stress within the wood as evenly as a
flatbow’s rectangular cross section), need to be either less
powerful, longer or of more elastic wood than an equivalent flatbow.
In Europe the last approach was used, with yew being the wood of
choice, because of its high compressive strength, light weight and
| Battle of Crécy between the English and French in
the Hundred Years' War. Detail from a 15th-century illuminated
manuscript of Jean Froissart's Chronicles (BNF, FR 2643, fol.
A crossbow is a range weapon that shoots projectiles (called bolts
or quarrels) consisting of a bow mounted on a stock. The medieval
crossbow was called by many names, most of which derived from the
word ballista, a Roman torsion engine resembling a crossbow in appearance.
Historically, crossbows played a significant role in the warfare
of Europe, and the Mediterranean.
A crossbow is a bow mounted on a stock (or tiller) with a mechanismthat
holds the drawn bow string. Early designs featured a slot in the
stock, into which the cocked string was placed. To fire this design,
a vertical rod is thrust up through a hole in the bottom of the
notch, forcing the string out. This rod is usually attached perpendicular
to a rear-facing firing lever called a trigger or 'tickler'.
A later design implemented a rolling cylindrical pawl called a
'nut' to retain the cocked string. This nut has a perpendicular
centre slot for the bolt, and an intersecting axial slot for the
string, along with a lower face or slot against which the internal
trigger sits. They often also have some form of strengthening internal
'sear' or trigger face, usually of metal. These 'roller nuts' were
either free-floating in their close-fitting hole across the stock,
tied in with a binding of sinew or other strong cording, or mounted
on a metal axle or pins.
Removable or integral plates of wood, ivory or metal on the sides
of the stock kept the nut in place laterally. Nuts were made of
antler, bone, ivory or metal, usually brass.
A trigger system, (usually made of iron or steel from medieval
times onwards), was used to retain the force of the cocked string
in the nut and then release the nut to spin and the string to shoot
the bolt. Complicated iron triggers that could be released with
little strength are known in Europe from the early 1400s. As a result
crossbows could be kept cocked and ready to shoot for some time
with little effort, allowing crossbowmen to aim better.
The bow (called the "prod" or "lath") of early
crossbows was made of a single piece of wood, usually ash or yew.
Composite bows are made from layers of different material—often
wood, horn and sinew—glued together and bound with animal
These composite bows, made of several layers, are much stronger
and more efficient in releasing energy than simple wooden bows.
As steel became more widely available in Europe around the 14th
century, steel prods came into use
The crossbow prod is very short compared to ordinary bows, resulting
in a short draw length. This leads to a higher draw weight in order
to store the same amount of energy. \thick prods are less efficient
at releasing energy, but more energy can be stored.
Traditionally the prod was often lashed to the stock with rope,
whipcord, or other strong cording. This cording is called the bridle.
The strings for a crossbow are typically made of strong fibres
that would not fray. Whipcord was very common. Linen, hemp, and
sinew were used as well. In wet conditions, twisted mulberry root
was occasionally used.
Very light crossbows can be drawn by hand, but heavier types need
the help of mechanical devices. The simplest version of mechanical
cocking device is a hook attached to a belt, drawing the bow by
straightening the legs. Other devices are hinged levers which either
pulled or pushed the string into place, cranked rack-and-pinion
devices called 'cranequins' and multiple cord-and-pulley cranked
devices called windlasses.
The Saracens called the crossbow qaws Ferengi, or "Frankish
bow," as the Crusaders used the crossbow against the Arab and
Turkoman horsemen with remarkable success. The adapted crossbow
was used by the Islamic armies in defence of their castles. Later
footstrapped version become very popular among the Muslim armies
in Iberia. During the Crusades, Europeans were exposed to Saracen
composite bows, made from layers of different material—often
wood, horn and sinew—glued together and bound with animal
tendon. These composite bows could be much more powerful than wooden
bows, and were adopted for crossbow prods across Europe.
The repeating crossbow automated the separate actions of stringing
the bow, placing the projectile and shooting. This way the task
can be accomplished with a simple one-handed movement, while keeping
the weapon stationary. As a result, it is possible to shoot at a
faster rate compared to unmodified version
The arrow-like projectiles of a crossbow are called bolts. These
are much shorter than arrows, but can be several times heavier.
There is an optimum weight for bolts to achieve maximum kinetic
energy, which varies depending on the strength and characteristics
of the crossbow, but most could pass through common chain mail.
Bolts typically have three fletches, commonly seen on arrows. Crossbow
bolts can be fitted with a variety of heads, some with sickle-shaped
heads to cut rope or rigging; but the most common today is a four-sided
point called a quarrel. A highly specialized type of bolt may be
employed today to collect blubber biopsy samples from marine mamals
to be used in biology research.
Crossbows can also be adapted to shoot lead bullets or stones,
in which case they are called stone-bows. Primarily used for hunting
wildfowl, these usually have a double string with a pouch between
the strings to hold the projectile.
A bullet crossbow is a type of handheld crossbow which rather than
arrows or bolts shoots spherical projectiles made of stone, clay
or lead. There are two variants, one has a double string with a
pocket for the projectile; the other has a barrel with a slot for
The use of crossbows in European warfare dates back to Roman times
and is evident from the Battle of Hastings until about 1500 AD.
They almost completely superseded hand bows in many European armies
in the twelfth century for a number of reasons. Although a longbow
achieves comparable accuracy and faster shooting rate than an average
crossbow, crossbows release more kinetic energy and can be used
effectively after a week of training, while a comparable single-shot
skill with a longbow takes years of practice.
In the armies of Europe, mounted and unmounted crossbowmen, often
mixed with javeliners and archers, occupied a central position in
battle formations. Usually they engaged the enemy in offensive skirmishes
before an assault of mounted knights. Crossbowmen were also valuable
in counterattacks to protect their infantry.
The rank of commanding officer of the crossbowmen corps was one
of the highest positions in any army of this time. Along with polearm
weapons made from farming equipment, the crossbow was also a weapon
of choice for insurgent peasants .
Mounted knights armed with lances proved ineffective against formations
of pikemen combined with crossbowmen whose weapons could penetrate
most knights' armour. The invention of pushlever and ratchet drawing
mechanisms enabled the use of crossbows on horseback, leading to
the development of new cavalry tactics. Knights and mercenaries
deployed in triangular formations, with the most heavily armoured
knights at the front. Some of these riders would carry small, powerful
all-metal crossbows of their own.
The smallest crossbows are pistol crossbows. Others are simple
long stocks with the crossbow mounted on them. These could be shot
from under the arm. The next step in development was rifle shaped
stocks that allowed better aiming.
Crossbows were eventually replaced in warfare by more powerful
gunpowder weapons, although early guns had slower rates of fire
and much worse accuracy than contemporary crossbows. Later, similar
competing tactics would feature harquebusiers or musketeers in formation
with pikemen, pitted against cavalry firing pistols or carbines.
With a crossbow, archers could release a draw force far in excess
of what they could have handled with a bow. Moreover, crossbows
could be kept cocked and ready to shoot for some time with little
effort, allowing crossbowmen to aim better. The disadvantage is
the greater weight and clumsiness compared to a bow, as well as
the slower rate of fire and the lower efficiency of the acceleration
system, but there would be reduced elastic hysteresis, making the
crossbow a more accurate weapon.
Crossbows have a much smaller draw length than bows. This means
that for the same energy to be imparted to the arrow (or bolt) the
crossbow has to have a much higher draw weight.
Cannon. 29 of the Second Lateran Council called by Pope Innocent
II in 1139 banned the use of crossbows against Christians.
|Crossbowmen at the Martyrdom of St Sebastian. Detail of a
painting from Upper Bavaria (Munich?), around 1475. Current
location: Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne, Germany
|Crossbowman cocking his weapon by means of a mechanical device.
Detail of an altarpiece of St Sebastian. Painted in Cologne,
Germany, around 1493-1494. Current location: Wallraf-Richartz-Museum,
The arbalest (also arblast) was a late variation of the medieval
European crossbow. A larger weapon, the arbalest had a steel prod
("bow"). Since an arbalest was much larger than earlier
crossbows, and because of the greater tensile strength of steel,
it had a greater force. The strongest windlass-pulled arbalests
could have up to 22 kN (5000 lbf) strength and be accurate up to
900 m. A skilled arbalestier (arblaster) could shoot two bolts per
minute. Arbalests were sometimes considered inhumane or unfair weapons,
since an inexperienced arbalestier could use one to kill a knight
who had a lifetime of training.
The arbalest required special systems for pulling the sinew via
windlasses. For siege warfare the size of crossbows was increased
to hurl large projectiles such as rocks at fortifications.
Such crossbows needed a massive base frame and powerful windlass
devices. Such devices include the oxybeles. The ballista has torsion
springs replacing the elastic prod of the oxybeles, but later also
developed into smaller versions. "Ballista" is still the
root word for crossbow in Romance languages such as Italian (balestra).
The term arbalest is sometimes used interchangeably with crossbow.
'Arbalest' is Medieval French corruption from the Roman name arcuballista
for crossbow; Modern French uses the word arbalète.. The
word applies for both crossbow and arbalest
A hand cannon (also called a gonne=gun) is an early form of firearm.
It is possibly the oldest type of portable firearm, as well as the
simplest type of early firearm, as most examples require direct
manual external ignition through a touch hole without any form of
firing mechanism. It may also be considered a forerunner of the
handgun. The hand cannon was widely used until at least the 1520s
in Europe and Asia, where it was mostly supplanted by matchlock
As with the origins of gunpowder, there controversy as to where
and when the hand cannon came into existence.
The earliest surviving documentary evidence for the use of hand
cannons are from several Arabic manuscripts dated to the 14th century.
It now generally accepted that firearms originated in China. Although
there is no solid evidence for firearms in Europe before the 1300s,
archeologists have discovered a gun in Manchuria dating from the
1200s, and a historian has identified a sculpture in Sichuan dating
from the 1100s that appears to represent a figure with a firearm.
Since all the other evidence points to Chinese origins, it is safe
to conclude that this was in fact the case.
Europeans certainly had firearms by the first half of the 1300s.
The Arabs obtained firearms in the 1300s too, and the Turks, Iranians,
and Indians all got them no later than the 1400s, in each case directly
or indirectly from the Europeans.
The hand cannon was a simple weapon, effectively consisting of
a barrel with some sort of handle, though it came in many different
shapes and sizes. Although surviving examples are all completely
constructed of metal, evidence suggests that many were attached
to some kind of stock, usually wooden. Other examples show a simple
metal extension from the barrel acting as the handle. In fact, not
all hand cannons used metal at all in their construction, as some
Chinese illustrations demonstrate bamboo tubes being used instead.
For firing, the hand cannon could be held in two hands while an
assistant applied the means of ignition. These could range from
smoldering wood or coal, red-hot iron rods, to slow-burning matches.
Alternately, the hand cannon could be placed on a rest and held
by one hand while the gunner applied the means of ignition himself.
Projectiles used in these weapons were varied, with many utilizing
a variety of different ammunition. Some fired pebbles found on the
ground, while others fired more sophisticated ammunition such as
shaped balls of stone or iron or arrows.
Later hand cannons were made with a flash pan attached to the barrel,
and a touch hole drilled through the side wall of the gun instead
of the top of the barrel. The flash pan had a leather cover, and
later on a hinged metal lid fitted, to keep the priming powder dry
until the moment of firing and to prevent premature firing. These
features were carried on over to subsequent firearms.
Due to the poor quality of powder that was often used in these
weapons and their crude construction, they were not effective missile
weapons, as early examples often lacked sufficient power to punch
through light armour. All were inaccurate, due to the awkward handling
as well as the aforementioned poor quality of the weapons. While
the noise and flash may have had some psychological effect on the
enemy, many early hand cannons were utilized in a minor capacity
and so lacked battlefield presence.
The invention of corned powder, the slow match, and the serpentine
around the mid-1400s led to much more effective firearms and eventually
to increased adoption. It also prompted the development of the first
matchlock firearms, which could be more effectively aimed and fired
than hand cannon. Gradually, hand cannon became obsolete, although
it found use in some locales up until the 20th century.
Firearms, of which the hand cannon was an early example, gradually
came to dominate European warfare, and the reasons are clear. The
hand cannon was inexpensive and easy to mass produce. At the same
time, the forging methods required meant that centralized governments
had a measure of control over their manufacture (and especially
the manufacture of ammunition—an important consideration in
a medieval Europe wracked by rebellion). They had superior armor-penetration
capability; the longbow was somewhat effective against mail armor,
and the crossbow slightly better, but the hand cannon could pierce
even plate armor. Furthermore, much like the crossbow, the weapon
could be employed by relatively poorly-trained troops.
The other hand-operated ranged weapons of the time had their own
drawbacks. Crossbows had superior accuracy and similar power as
compared to early hand cannons. However, they were expensive to
make, slow to reload and their performance was almost as severely
affected by wet weather as that of hand cannons. While the hand
cannon could not match the accuracy nor speed of fire of the longbow,
gunners did not require the special training and continuous practice
from childhood required of a good bowman.
Despite the hand cannon's serious drawbacks, especially early in
its development, its virtues outshone those of either the longbow
or the crossbow, and it grew and evolved to become the ubiquitous
firearm of later European wars.
The arquebus (or harkbus or hackbut), or "hook tube",
is an early muzzle-loaded firearm used in the 15th to 17th centuries.
The word was originally modelled on the German: Hakenbüchse,
this produced haquebute. It then copied the Italian word: archibugio;
which gave arquebuse (French), arcabuz (Spanish and Portuguese)
and arquebus (English). In distinction from its predecessor the
hand cannon, it has a matchlock. Like its successor the musket,
it is a smoothbore firearm, but it is lighter and easier to carry.
It is a forerunner of the rifle and other longarm firearms. An
improved version of the arquebus, the caliver, was introduced in
the early 1500s. The word is derived from the English corruption
of calibre as this gun was of standard bore, increasing combat effectiveness
as troops could load bullets that would fit their guns (before,
they would have to modify shot to fit, force it in or cast their
own before the battle).
Heavy arquebuses mounted on wagons were called arquebus à
croc. These carried a ball of about 3.5 ounces.
In the early 16th century, the term "arquebus" had a
confusing variety of meanings. Some writers used it to denote any
matchlock shoulder gun, referring to light versions as caliver and
heavier pieces fired from a fork rest as musket. Others treated
the arquebus and caliver synonymously, both referring to the lighter,
forkless shoulder-fired matchlock. As the 16th century progressed,
the term arquebus came to be clearly reserved for the lighter forkless
weapon. When the wheel lock was introduced, wheel-lock shoulder
arms came to be called arquebuses, while lighter, forkless matchlock
and flintlock shoulder weapons continued to be called calivers.
In the mid-17th century, the light flintlock versions came to be
called fusils or fuzees.
As low-velocity firearms, arquebuses was used against enemies who
were often partially or fully protected by steel-plate armour. Plate
armour was standard in European combat from about 1400 until the
middle of the 17th century. Good suits of plate would usually stop
an arquebus ball at long range. It was a common practice to "proof"
(test) armour by firing a pistol or arquebus at a new breastplate.
The small dent would be circled by engraving, to call attention
to it. However, at close range, it was possible to pierce even the
armor of knights and other heavy cavalry, depending highly on the
power of the arquebus and the quality of the armor. This led to
changes in armor usage, such as the three-quarter plate, and finally
the retirement of plate armor from most types of infantry.
The arquebus was fired by a matchlock mechanism. It had a larger
bore than its predecessors. From the middle of the 16th century,
newer wheellock mechanisms were used instead of older matchlocks.
The flared muzzle of some examples made it easier to load the weapon.
The name 'hook gun' is often claimed to be based on the bent shape
of the arquebus' butt. It might also be that some of the original
arquebuses had a metal hook near the muzzle that may have been used
for bracing against a solid object to absorb recoil. Since all the
arquebuses were handmade by various gunsmiths, there is no typical
The trigger mechanism of an early arquebus most often resembled
that of a crossbow: a gently curved lever pointing backward and
parallel to the stock (see illustration of Spanish arquebusier below).
Squeezing the lever against the stock depressed a sear which was
in turn linked to the base of the serpentine that held the match.
The serpentine then brought the match into the flash pan to ignite
the priming, firing the weapon. By the later 16th century, gunsmiths
in most countries had begun to introduce the short trigger perpendicular
to the stock that is familiar to modern shooters. However, the majority
of French matchlock arquebuses retained the crossbow-style trigger
throughout the 17th century.
The first European usage of the arquebus in large numbers was in
Hungary under king Matthias Corvinus (r. 1458-1490). Every third
soldier in the Black Army of Hungary had an arquebus. Arquebusiers
were effective against cavalry and other infantry, particularly
when placed with pikemen in the pike and shot formation, which revolutionised
the Spanish military. This formation was used and succeeded at the
Battle of Cerignola (1503), which was one of the first battles to
utilise this formation, and the first to be won through the use
of gunpowder-based small arms.
Arquebuses were used in the Italian Wars of the first half of the
1500s. Portuguese and Spanish conquerors also made use of the weapon.
Arquebuses were carried by some of the soldiers of Hernán
Cortés in his conquest of Mexico in the 1520s. Arquebuses
played an important role in the victories of Cristóvão
da Gama's small and outnumbered army in his 1541-42 campaign in
Ethiopia. Arquebuses were also used in the Moroccan victory over
the Songhai Empire at the Battle of Tondibi in 1590.
The arquebus was unable to match the accuracy of a bow in the hands
of a highly-skilled archer. The arquebus did, however, have a faster
rate of fire than the most powerful crossbow, a shorter learning
curve than a longbow, and was more powerful than either. An arquebusier
could carry more ammunition and powder than a crossbowman or longbowman
could with bolts or arrows. Once the methods were developed, powder
and shot were relatively easy to mass-produce, while arrow making
was a craft requiring highly skilled labor. The weapon also had
the advantage of frightening enemies (and horses) with the noise.
Wind can reduce the accuracy of archery, but has less of an effect
on an arquebusier.
Producing an effective arquebusier required much less training
than producing an effective bowman. During a siege it was also easier
to fire an arquebus out of loopholes than it was a bow and arrow.
It was also possible to load an arquebus (and indeed any smoothbore
gun) with small shot rather than a single ball. Small shot did not
pack the same punch as a single round ball but the shot could hit
and wound multiple enemies.
The arquebus was more sensitive to humid weather. At the Battle
of Villalar, rebel troops lost the battle badly partially due to
having a high proportion of arquebusiers combined with the battle
taking place in a rainstorm which rendered the weapons almost useless.
Gunpowder also ages much faster than a bolt or an arrow, particularly
if improperly stored. Also, the resources needed to make gunpowder
were less universally available than the resources needed to make
bolts and arrows. A bullet must fit a barrel much more precisely
than an arrow or bolt must fit a bow, so the arquebus required more
standardization and made it harder to resupply by looting bodies
of fallen soldiers. Gunpowder production was also far more dangerous
than arrow production.
arquebus was also significantly more dangerous to its user. The
arquebusier carries a lot of gunpowder on his person and has a lit
match in one hand. The same goes for the soldiers next to him. Amid
the confusion, stress and fumbling of a battle, arquebusiers are
potentially a danger to themselves. Early arquebuses tended to have
a drastic recoil. They took a long time to load unless using the
'continuous fire' strategy, where one line would shoot and reload
while the next line shot. They also tended to overheat. During repeated
firing, guns could become clogged and explode, causing pieces of
metal and wood to break off, which could be dangerous to the gunner
and even those around him. Reloading an arquebus requires finer
motor skills and movements than reloading a bow or crossbow. This
is a disadvantage in a combat situation where stress has a negative
impact on fine motor skills.
The amount of smoke produced by black powder weapons was considerable,
making it hard to see the enemy after a few salvos, unless there
was enough wind to disperse the smoke quickly. Conversely, this
cloud of smoke also served to make it difficult for any archers
to target soldiers with handguns.
Prior to the wheellock, the need for a lit match made stealth and
concealment nearly impossible, particularly at night. Even with
successful concealment, smoke emitted by a single arquebus shot
would make it obvious where a shot came from - at least in daylight.
While with a crossbow or bow a soldier could conceivably kill silently,
this was of course impossible with an explosion-driven projectile
weapon like the arquebus. The noise of arquebuses and the ringing
in the ears that it caused could also make it hard to hear shouted
commands. In the long run, the weapon could make the user permanently
hard of hearing.
Bows and crossbows could shoot over obstacles by firing with high-arcing
ballistic trajectories in order to reach the enemy when the person
or object had some frontal but no overhead cover (such as when troops
are in melee with the enemy) — albeit with much less accuracy.
Artillery - Stone Throwing Engines
The Word Pierrier denotes a stone throwing device and is used as
a general term to cover a number of different types of war engine.
Pierriers were employed either to smash masonry walls or to throw
projectiles over them.
All pierriers were made from wood. With the introduction of gunpowder,
the perrier ceded its place as the siege engine of choice to the
cannon. Specific types of pierrier are:
- Traction Trebuchets
- Counterwieght trebuchets
- Onagers and Mangonels
- Balistas and Springalds
The trebuchet derives from the ancient sling. A variation of the
sling contained a short piece of wood to extend the arm and provide
greater leverage. This was evolved into the traction trebuchet by
the Chinese, in which a number of people pull on ropes attached
to the short arm of a lever that has a sling on the long arm. This
type of trebuchet is smaller and has a shorter range but is a more
portable machine and has a faster rate of fire than a larger counterweight
powered one. The smallest traction trebuchets could be powered by
the weight and pulling strength of one person using a single rope;
but most were designed and sized to utilize from 15 to 45 men, generally
two per rope. These teams would sometimes be local citizens assisting
in the siege or in the defense of their town. Traction trebuchets
had a range of from 2000 to well over 3000 feet when casting weights
up to 750 pounds (60 kg). A traction trebuchet functions in the
same way as a counterweight trebuchet, except that instead of a
hoisted weight, the hurling arm is powered by a crew of men, pulling
on ropes attached to the short lever arm. A counterweight trebuchet
is powered by a very heavy counterweight, acting on a lever arm.
The fulcrum of the lever (usually an axle) is supported by a high
frame, and the counterweight is suspended from the short arm of
the lever. The sling is attached to the end of the long arm of the
One end of the sling is captive, while the other end is hooked
to the long arm in such a way as to release when the arm and sling
reach the optimal hurling angles. The trebuchet is energized by
lowering the long arm and raising the weighted short arm, usually
with a winch, and is locked into the charged state by a trigger
mechanism (cocked). With the long arm lowered near ground level,
the sling is loaded with the projectile, and laid out on the ground,
with the captive and hooked ends away from the target, and the load
and pouch laid on the ground toward the target, under the trebuchet.
When the trigger is released, the weighted short arm is driven by
gravity into an accelerating pendulum motion, causing the lighter,
long arm of the lever to revolve around the fulcrum at the opposite
arc, which in turn, pulls the sling and its contents into a whipping
motion at the end of the long arm. As the arm continues to swing
past the vertical position, the counterweight rises, causing the
lever motion to begin to slow down, while the sling continues to
whip forward around the end of the long arm. When the sling reaches
its launch angle, one end slips from its hook, releasing the projectile
toward the target.
It is believed that the first traction trebuchets were used in
China as early as in the 5th century BC, descriptions of which can
be found in the 5th century BC. The traction trebuchet next appears
in Byzantium. The Strategikon of Emperor Maurice, composed in 539,
calls for "ballistae revolving in both directions," ,
probably traction trebuchets. The Miracles of St. Demetrius, composed
by John I, archbishop of Thessalonike, describe traction trebuchets
in the Avaro-Slav artillery: "Hanging from the back sides of
these pieces of timber were slings and from the front strong ropes,
by which, pulling down and releasing the sling, they propel the
stones up high and with a loud noise."
|Detail from a bas relief in
the Basilica of St Nazaire in Carcassonne, believed to represent
the trebuchet that killed Simon IV de Montfort in 1218
counterweight trebuchet appeared in Christian and Muslim lands around
Sea in the twelfth century. It could fling three hundred pound
(140 kg) projectiles at high speeds, at times including corpses
infected with various diseases including the black plague, in an
attempt to infect the people under siege, as a medieval variant
of biological warfare. Trebuchets were far more accurate than other
forms of medieval catapults.
Our first clear written record of a counterweight trebuchet comes
from an Islamic scholar, Mardi al-Tarsusi, who wrote in 1187, "Trebuchets
are machines invented by unbelieving devils." (Al-Tarsusi,
Bodleian MS 264).
the Siege of Acre in 1191, Richard the Lionheart assembled two trebuchets
which he named "God's Own Catapult" and "Bad Neighbour".
During a siege of Stirling Castle in 1304, Edward Longshanks ordered
his engineers to make a giant trebuchet for the English army, named
"Warwolf". Range and size of the weapons varied. In 1421
the future Charles VII of France commissioned a trebuchet (coyllar)
that could shoot a stone of 800 kg, while in 1188 at Ashyun balls
up to 1,500 kg were used. Average weight of the projectiles was
probably around 50-100 kg, with a range of ca. 300 meters. Rate
of fire could be noteworthy: at the siege of Lisbon (1147), two
engines were capable of launching a stone every 15 seconds.
The largest trebuchets needed exceptional quantities of timber:
at the siege of Damietta, in 1249, Louis IX of France was able to
build a stockade for the whole Crusade camp with the wood from 24
captured Egyptian trebuchets.
lever must be as light as possible for maximum acceleration, yet
strong enough not to break under the stress. The ratio of the length
of the long to the short arms of the lever, and to the sling length,
are important factors in determining the range of the projectile.
The object of a good design is to transfer as much energy as possible
from the falling counterweight into the projectile. The maximum
range for a hypothetical 100% energy transfer, R, of the projectile
can be shown to be R = 2hM /m, where h is the distance the counterweight
falls, and M and m are the mass of the counterweight and projectile,
respectively. The efficiency of a real trebuchet is the ratio of
the actual range achieved to the calculated maximum range.
There are no really detailed descriptions of medieval or earlier
trebuchets that give the dimensions or shape of the beam, the ratio
of its long arm to its short arm, and so on. No specimens or models
from medieval times survive. The few extant contemporary drawings
of them are highly schematic and sometimes show physically impossible
proportions. Methods used for optimizing their performance and design
were apparently closely held military secrets.
Placing and aiming the trebuchet was also, no doubt, done by empirical
trials. Small adjustments could be made by changing the angle of
the hook holding the free end of the sling, a process which requires
a heated forge on a full-scale engine. For larger, quicker adjustments,
the length of the sling can be altered. Small adjustments from side-to-side
can also be made by moving the channel in which the missile and
sling slide in the base of the frame. The trebuchet itself could
be moved as well, but with larger trebuchets, this would have been
difficult; the largest trebuchets could weigh many tons.
of the time required to load the sling and to raise the counterweight,
a large trebuchet's rate of fire was slow, perhaps not more than
a couple of shots an hour. This was due both to their size and the
mass of their counterweights. Smaller trebuchets can fire a couple
of times a minute. The payload of a trebuchet was usually a large
rounded stone, although other projectiles were occasionally used
including dead animals, beehives, the severed heads of captured
enemies, small stones burned into clay balls which would explode
on impact like grapeshot, barrels of burning tar or oil, Greek fire,
pots of burning lime, unsuccessful ambassodors, prisoners of war,
hostages, and captured spies.
Trebuchets were powerful weapons, with a range of up to about 300
yards/ 270 m. Castle designers often built their fortifications
with trebuchets in mind; The range of many trebuchets was in fact
shorter than that of a longbow in skilled hands, making it dangerous
to be a trebuchet operator during a siege
A trebuchet can increase its efficiency by allowing the counterweight
to take the straightest possible downward path. This maximizes the
transfer of the counterweight's potential energy to the projectile
rather than to stressing the frame. Mounting the counterweight on
a pivot (below top) straightens the path of its fall, increasing
its effectiveness. A fixed counterweight trebuchet in particular
can therefore be made more efficient by the addition of wheels to
allow the frame to move freely back and forth (below bottom). This
also allowed the trebuchet to fire farther.
The addition of wheels also makes the trebuchet more stable as
part of the forward momentum of the falling counterweight is transferred
to the forward motion of the trebuchet instead of a tilting action
of the vertical frame, possibly tipping over of the machine or severely
damaging the structure. The velocity of the trebuchet frame is added
to that of the item being thrown, increasing its velocity and range
by up to 33 percent. The wheeled trebuchet can effectively employ
a fixed counterweight, mounted to the short end of the throwing
arm, rather than the pendulum weight described above. The weights
were usually stones and rubble, since lead was far too expensive
and could be used for better purposes in a siege.
that of dead, and often partially decomposed, carcasses of animals
or people. These were used to intimidate the defending force, lower
their morale, and often to spread disease amongst the besieged.
This tactic often proved effective as the short supply of food,
which was often of low quality or rotting, combined with the cramped
living space of the defenders, poor hygiene, and infestations of
vermin (which made convenient vectors for disease) made the ideal
scenario for the spread of disease. Burning sand also could have
been thrown at enemies. This has the effect of sand sticking in
armor holes, which leads to a most painful burning or death.
Despite its low accuracy, the versatility and maneuverability of
the mangonel ensured that it was the most popular siege catapult
used during the medieval period.
fanciful dea of Perriers at Jerusalem in 1099
In the forground is a bizarre sort of Mangonel that could
not possibly work
Behind it is a trebuchet that seems to have been both traction
Onagers and Mangonels
The onager was a post-classical Roman siege engine. Its name comes
from that of an onager (a wild jack ass), the similarity being its
violent kicking action. The onager was a type of catapult that used
torsional pressure, from twisted rope, to store energy for the shot.
It consisted of a frame placed on the ground to whose front end
a vertical frame of solid timber was rigidly fixed. Through the
vertical frame ran an axle, which had a single stout spoke, on the
extremity of which was a sling used to launch a projectile.
action the spoke was forced down, against the tension of twisted
ropes or other springs, by a windlass. It was then suddenly released.
The spoke kicked the crosspiece of the vertical frame, and the projectile
at its extreme end was shot forward. Onagers of the Roman Empire
were mainly used for sieging forts or settlements. They would often
be armed with huge stones or rocks that could be covered with a
flammable substance and set alight.The Romans greatly improved the
onager's maneuverability by adding wheels to its base. The wheels
and the onager's light weight made it easy to move.
In the Middle Ages (recorded from around 1200) a less powerful
version of the onager was used that held the projectile in a fixed
bowl instead of a sling. This was so that many small projectiles
could be thrown rather than one large one. This engine was sometimes
called the mangonel, although the same name may have been used for
a variety of siege engines.
A mangonel was a type of catapult or siege machine used in the
medieval period to throw projectiles at a castle's walls. The mangonel
did not have the accuracy or range of a trebuchet and threw projectiles
on a lower trajectory than the trebuchet.
The mangonel was a single-arm torsion catapult that held the projectile
in a sling. A similar and perhaps older device was nicknamed the
scorpion because of its resemblance to a scorpion's tail and sting.
The word mangonel is derived from the Greek word 'magganon' which
means "an engine of war", but was first used in medieval
accounts of sieges.
Mangonels shot heavy projectiles from a bowl-shaped bucket at the
end of the arm. The bucket was used to launch more rocks than a
sling could; this made it different from an onager. In combat, mangonels
hurled rocks, burning objects (or vessels filled with flammable
materials which created a fireball on impact; fire pots), or anything
else readily available to the attacking and defending forces. One
of the more unusual types of projectile was
Ballistas and Springalds
The balista seems to have died out with much other technical know-how
when the Roman Empire became Christian and learning was hevily discouraged
(Everything a good Christian needed to know was in the Bible).
The technology was rediscovered in the late middle ages when an
exception was made for military engineering.
A bombard is a large-caliber, muzzle-loading medieval cannon or
mortar, for throwing heavy stone balls.
The name bombarde was first noted and sketched in a French historical
text around 1380. The modern terms bomb and bombardment derives
Bombards were usually used during sieges to hurl various forms
of missile into enemy fortifications. Projectiles such as stone
or metal balls, burning materials and weighted cloth soaked in quicklime
or Greek fire are documented.
The name derives from medieval Latin and French forms from a Greek
word expressing the making of a humming noise.
A notable example of a bombard is the large Mons Meg weapon, built
around 1449 and used by King James II of Scotland. It was very powerful
used for bringing down castle walls. Mons Meg was capable of firing
180 kg (396 lb) shots and was one of the largest bombards in its
time. It is now housed on public display at Edinburgh Castle.
Other known 15th century superguns include the wrought-iron Pumhart
von Steyr and Dulle Griet as well as the cast-bronze Faule Mette,
Faule Grete, and Grose Bochse. The Tsar Cannon is a late 16th century
The Dardanelles Gun, built in the Ottoman Empire in 1464 by Munir
Ali, with a weight of 18.6 t and a length of 518 cm, was capable
of firing stone balls of up to 63 cm diameter.
Eventually bombards were superseded by weapons using smaller calibre
iron projectiles with more powerful gunpowder.
Bombard-Mortar of the Knights of Saint John
of Jerusalem, Rhodes, 1480–1500. Founded at the request
of Pierre d'Aubusson, the bombard was used for close defenseof
the walls (100–200 meters) at the Siege of Rhodes. It
fired 260 kg granite balls. The bombard weighs about 3,325
kg. Musée de l'Armée.
A petard was a small bomb used to blow up gates and walls when
breaching fortifications. The term has a French origin and dates
back to the sixteenth century. In a typical implementation, it was
commonly either a conical or rectangular metal object containing
5 or 6 pounds of gunpowder, activated with a slow match used as
word petard comes from the Middle French peter, to break wind, Petard
remains a French word meaning a firecracker today (in French slang,
it also means inter alia a handgun).
The word remains in modern usage in the phrase hoist with one's
own petard, which means "to be harmed by one's own plan to
harm someone else" or "to fall into one's own trap",
literally implying that one could be lifted up (hoist, or blown
upward) by one's own bomb.
were often placed either inside tunnels under walls, or directly
upon gates. When placed inside a tunnel under a wall and exploded,
large amounts of air would often be released from the tunnel, as
the tunnel collapsed. By securing the device firmly to the gate,
the shape of the device allows the concussive pressure of the blast
to be applied entirely towards the destruction of the gate. Depending
on design, a petard could be secured by propping it against the
gate using beams, or nailing it in place by way of a wooden board
fixed to the end of the petard in advance.
If a petard were to detonate prematurely due to a faulty or short
slow match, the engineer would be lifted or "hoist" by
the explosion. William Shakespeare used the now proverbial phrase
"hoist with his own petard" in Hamlet.
Mail, or chainmail, made of interlocking iron rings, which may
be riveted or welded shut is believed to have been invented in Eastern
Europe about 500 BC. Gradually, small additional plates or discs
of iron were added to the mail to protect vulnerable areas. Hardened
leather and splinted construction were used for arm and leg pieces.
A coat of plates was developed, an armour made of large plates sewn
inside a textile or leather coat.
Early plate in Italy, and elsewhere in the 13th15th century
were made of iron. Iron armour could be carburised or case hardened
to give a surface of harder steel. Plate armour became cheaper than
mail by the 15th century as it required less labour and labour had
become much more expensive after the Black Death, though it did
require larger furnaces to produce larger blooms. Mail continued
to be used to protect those joints which could not be adequately
protected by plate, such as the armpit, crook of the elbow and groin.
Another advantage of plate was that a lance rest could be fitted
to the breast plate.
The small skull cap evolved into a bigger true helmet, the bascinet,
as it was lengthened downward to protect the back of the neck and
the sides of the head. Additionally, several new forms of fully
enclosed helmets were introduced in the late 1300s.
Probably the most recognised style of armour in the World became
the plate armour associated with the knights of the European Late
Middle Ages, but continuing to the early 17th century Age of Enlightenment
in all European countries.
By about 1400 the full harness of plate armour had been developed
in armouries of Lombardy. Heavy cavalry dominated the battlefield
for centuries in part because of their armour.
In the early 15th century, advances in weaponry allowed infantry
to defeat armoured knights on the battlefield. The quality of the
metal used in armour deteriorated as armies became bigger and armour
was made thicker, necessitating breeding of larger cavalry horses.
If during the 1415th centuries armour seldom weighed more
than 15kgs, than by the late 16th century it weighed 25 kg. The
increasing weight and thickness of late 16th century armour therefore
gave substantial resistance.
In the early years of low velocity firearms, full suits of armour,
or breast plates stopped bullets fired from a modest distance. Crossbow
bolts would seldom penetrate good plate, nor would any bullet unless
fired from close range. In effect, rather than making plate armour
obsolete, the use of firearms stimulated the development of plate
armour into its later stages. For most of that period, it allowed
horsemen to fight while being the targets of defending arquebuseers
without being easily killed. Full suits of armour were worn by generals
and princely commanders right up to the second decade of the 18th
century. It was the only way they could be mounted and survey the
overall battlefield with safety from distant musket fire.
The horse was afforded protection from lances and infantry weapons
by steel plate barding. This gave the horse protection and enhanced
the visual impression of a mounted knight. Late in the era, elaborate
barding was used in parade armour.
Gradually starting in the mid 16th century, one plate element after
another was discarded to save weight for foot soldiers. Back and
breast plates continued to be used throughout the entire period
of the 18th century and through Napoleonic times, in many European
(heavy) cavalry units, until the early 20th century. From their
introduction, muskets could pierce plate armour, so cavalry had
to be far more mindful of the fire.
Though the age of the knight was over, armour continued to be used
in many capacities. Soldiers in the American Civil War bought iron
and steel vests from peddlers (both sides had considered but rejected
body armour for standard issue). The effectiveness of the vests
varied widely- some successfully deflected bullets and saved lives
but others were poorly made and resulted in tragedy for the soldiers.
In any case the vests were abandoned by many soldiers due to their
weight on long marches as well as the stigma they got for being
cowards from their fellow troops.
At the start of World War I, thousands of the French Cuirassiers
rode out to engage the German Cavalry who likewise used helmets
or chain mail is a type of armour consisting of small metal rings
linked together in a pattern to form a mesh.
The word chainmail is of relatively recent coinage, having been
in use only since the 1700s; prior to this it was referred to simply
The word itself refers to the armour material, not the garment
made from it. A shirt made from mail is a hauberk if knee-length,
haubergeon if mid-thigh length, and byrnie if waist-length. Mail
leggings are called chausses, mail hoods coif and mail mittens mitons.
A mail collar hanging from a helmet is camail or aventail. A mail
collar worn strapped around the neck was called a pixane or standard.
In the Dark Ages chain mail was often referred to as "ring
maille" to distinguish it from other types of mail, such as
lamellar and splinted mail. In the Middle Ages scale mail died out,
but chain mail remained, and people called it "maille"
or "mayle." As with heraldry, the language of armour is
French, and chain mail is no exception. The word maille comes from
the French, meaning mesh or net.
The use of mail was prominent throughout the Dark Ages, High Middle
Ages and Renaissance, and reached its apex in Europe, in terms of
coverage, during the 13th century, when mail covered the whole body.
By the 14th century, plate armour was commonly used to supplement
mail. Eventually mail was supplanted by plate for the most part.
However, mail was still widely used by many soldiers as well as
brigandines and padded jacks. These three types of armour made up
the bulk of the equipment used by soldiers with mail being the most
expensive. It was quite often more expensive than plate armour.
A mail shirt interwoven between two layers of fabric is called jazzeraint,
and can be worn as protective clothing.
Mail construction is mentioned in the Quran as knowledge that God
gave to David.
It was We Who taught him the making of coats of mail for your benefit,
to guard you from each other's violence: will ye then be grateful?
(Yusuf Ali's translation).
Mail armour provided an effective defence against slashing blows
by an edged weapon and penetration by thrusting and piercing weapons;
in fact The Royal Armoury at Leeds concluded that "... it is
almost impossible to penetrate using any conventional medieval weapon..."
Generally speaking, mail's resistance to weapons is determined by
four factors: linkage type (riveted, butted, or welded), material
used (iron versus bronze or steel), Weave density (a tighter weave
needs a thinner weapon to surpass), and ring thickness (generally
ranging from 16 to 12 gauge in most examples).
Mail, if a warrior could afford it, could provide a significant
advantage to him when combined with competent fighting techniques.
However, a good sword blow arriving in exactly perpendicular angle
to surface could cut through the links; when the mail was not riveted,
a well placed thrust from a spear or thin sword could penetrate,
and a poleaxe or halberd blow could break through the armour.
Special arrows, known as bodkins, were later made that were able
to penetrate light mail through the loops of the chain. Some evidence
indicates that during armored combat the intention was to actually
get around the armor rather than through it—according to a
study of skeletons found in Visby, Sweden, a majority of the skeletons
showed wounds on less well protected legs.
flexibility of mail meant that a blow would often injure the wearer,
potentially causing serious bruising or fractures, and it was a
poor defence against head trauma. Mail-clad warriors typically wore
separate rigid, helms over their mail coifs for head protection.
Likewise, blunt weapons such as maces and warhammers could harm
the wearer by their impact without penetrating the armour; usually
a soft armour, such as gambeson, was worn under the hauberk. Mail,
however, had importance in that it reduced the risk of cuts and
infection that could often be life threatening to a soldier.
Several patterns of linking the rings together have been known
since ancient times, with the most common being the 4-to-1 pattern
(where each ring is linked with four others). In Europe, the 4-to-1
pattern was completely dominant. Historically, in Europe, from the
pre-Roman period on, the rings composing a piece of mail would be
riveted closed to reduce the chance of the rings splitting open
when subjected to a thrusting attack or a hit by an arrow.
Up until the 14th century European mail was made of alternating
rows of both riveted rings and solid rings. After that it was almost
all made from riveted rings only. Both would have been made using
wrought iron. Some later pieces were made of wrought steel with
an appreciable carbon content that allowed the piece to be heat
treated. Wire for the riveted rings was formed by either of two
methods. One was to hammer out wrought iron into plates and cut
or slit the plates. These thin pieces were then pulled through a
draw-plate repeatedly until the desired diameter was achieved. Waterwheel
powered drawing mills are pictured in several period manuscripts.
Another method was to simply forge down an iron billet into a rod
and then proceed to draw it out into wire. The solid links would
have been made by punching from a sheet.
Mail is still used as protective clothing by butchers, woodcarvers,
police and Scuba divers and as decoration on some military uniforms.
|A Knight removing his mail hauberk. Detail from the MorganBible
Plate armor, which protected the chest and the lower limbs, was
used by the ancient Greeks and Romans, but it fell into disuse after
the collapse of the Roman Empire because of the cost and work involved
in producing a lorica segmentata or comparable plate armour.
Single plates of metal armour were again used from the late 13th
century on, to protect joints and shins, and these were worn over
a mail hauberk. By the end of the 14th century, larger and complete
full plates of armour had been developed. During the early 1500s
the helmet and neckguard design was reformed to produce the so-called
Nürnberg armour, many of them masterpieces of workmanship and
European leaders in armouring techniques were northern Italians
and southern Germans. This led to the styles of Milanese from Milan,
and Gothic from the Holy Roman Empire. England produced armour in
Greenwich and they both developed their own unique style. Maximilian
style armour immediately followed this, in the early 16th century.
Maximilian armour was typically denoted by fluting and decorative
etching, as opposed to the plainer finish on 15th century white
armour. This era also saw the use of Close helms, as opposed to
the 15th century style sallets and barbutes
Turkey also made wide use of plate armour but incorporated large
amounts of mail into their armour, which was widely used by shock
troops such as the Janissary Corps. In the rest of the world, though,
the general trend was torwards mail, scale, or lamellar armor.
Full plate armor was expensive to produce and remained therefore
restricted to the upper strata of society; lavishly decorated suits
of armour remained the fashion with 18th century nobles and generals
long after they had ceased to be militarily useful on the battlefield
due to the advent of powerful muskets.
Reduced plate armour, typically consisting of a breastplate, a
burgonet, morion or cabasset and gauntlets, however, also became
popular among 16th century mercenaries and there are many references
to so-called munition armour being ordered for infantrymen at a
fraction of the cost of full plate armour. This mass-produced armour
was often heavier and made of lower quality metal than knight armour.
From the 15th century on, armor specifically designed for jousting
(rather than for battle) and parade armour also became popular.
Many of the latter were decorated with biblical or mythological
Armour was not confined to the Middle Ages, and in fact was widely
used by most armies until the end of the 17th century for both foot
and mounted troops. It was only the development of powerful rifled
firearms which made all but the finest and heaviest armour obsolete.
The increasing power and availability of firearms and the nature
of large, state-supported infantry led to more portions of plate
armour being cast off in favour of cheaper, more mobile troops.
Leg protection was the first part to go, replaced by tall leather
boots. By the early part of the 18th century, only field marshals,
commanders and royalty remained in full armour on the battlefield
as they were tempting targets for musket fire.
Cavalry units, especially cuirassiers, continued to use front and
back plates that could protect them from distanced fire and either
helmets or "secrets", a steel protection they wore under
a floppy hat. Other armour was hidden under decorative uniforms.
The cavalry armour of Napoleon, and the French, German, and British
empires (heavy cavalry known as cuirassiers) were actively used
through the 19th century right up to the first year of World War
I, when French cuirassiers went to meet the enemy in armour outside
Plate armour could have consisted of a helmet, a gorget (or bevor),
pauldrons (or spaulders), couters, vambraces, gauntlets, a cuirass
(back and breastplate) with a fauld, tassets and a culet, a mail
skirt, cuisses, poleyns, greaves, and sabatons. While it looks heavy,
a full plate armour set could be as light as only 20 kg (45 pounds)
if well made of tempered steel. This is less than the weight of
modern combat gear of an infantry soldier (usually 25 to 35 kg),
and the weight is more evenly distributed. The weight was so well
spread over the body that a fit man could run, or jump into his
saddle. Modern re-enactment activity has proven it is even possible
to swim in armour, though it is difficult. It is possible for a
fit and trained man in armour to run after and catch an unarmoured
archer, as witnessed in re-enactment combat. The notion that it
was necessary to lift a fully armed knight onto his horse with the
help of pulleys is a myth originating in Victorian times. Even knights
in heavy jousting armour were not winched onto their horses. This
type of "sporting" armour was meant only for ceremonial
lancing matches and its design was deliberately made extremely thick
to protect the wearer from severe accidents, such as the one which
caused the death of King Henry II of France.
Tournament armour is always heavier, clumsier and more protective
than combat armour. Combat armour is a compromise between protection
and mobility, while tournament armour stresses protection on cost
Plate armor was virtually sword-proof. It also protects the wearer
well against spear or pike thrusts and provides decent defence against
blunt trauma. The evolution of plate armour also triggered developments
in the design of offensive weapons. While this armour was effective
against cuts or blows, their weak points could be exploited by long
tapered swords or other weapons designed for the purpose, such as
poleaxes and halberds.
The effect of arrows and bolts is still a point of contention in
regards to plate armour. Some argue that longbows and/or crossbows
could regularly pierce plate armour and some contend that they could
do so only rarely. Fluted plate was not only decorations, but also
reinforced the plate against bending under slashing or blunt impact.
This offsets against the fact that flutes could sometimes catch
piercing blows. In armored techniques taught in the German school
of swordsmanship, the attacker concentrates on these "weak
spots", resulting in a fighting style very different from unarmored
sword-fighting. Because of this weakness most warriors wore a mail
shirt (haubergeon or hauberk) beneath their plate armor (or coat-of-plates).
Later, full mail shirts were replaced with mail patches, called
goussets, sewn onto a gambeson or arming jacket. Further protection
for plate armour was the use of small round plates called besagews
that covered the armpit area and couters and poleyns with "wings"
to protect the inside of the joint.
The evolution of the 14th century plate armor also triggered the
development of various polearms. They were designed to deliver a
strong impact and concentrate energy on a small area and cause damage
through the plate. Maces, war hammers and the hammer-heads of pollaxes
(poleaxes) were used to inflict blunt trauma through armour.
|Tournament Helm made of steel, possibly English, c 1500, for
tournaments fought on foot.
|Tornament Helm, steel, posibly English, c 1500, This helm
was made for tournaments fought on foot.. It hung above the
tom of Sir Giles Capel (1485 - 1556) in Rayne Church, Essex.
Sir Giles was part of Henry VIII's retinue at the Field of The
Cloth of Gold in 1520.
Helmets, or helms, are one of the best known arefacts from the
They have never fallen out of use but have evolved not only for
military use, but for many other spheres of live where there is
a danger of head injury - mines, horse and motor cycle riding, building
sites and so on.
The medieval version - or rather upwards of a dozen medieval versions
- are also preseved in coats of arms where they form an essential
part of the crest. Indeed crests were originally bird-like crests
on the helmet.
or lambrequin is drapery tied to the helmet above the shield. It
forms a backdrop for the shield. It is a depiction of the protective
cloth covering (often of linen) worn by knights from their helmets
to stave off the elements, and, secondarily, to decrease the effects
of sword-blows against the helmet in battle, from which it is usually
shown tattered or cut to shreds as if damaged in combat, though
the edges of most are simply decorated at the emblazoner's discretion.
The nasal helmet is a type of combat helmet used from the Early
Middle Ages until the High Middle Ages.
The nasal helmet was a form of helmet with a domed or raised centre,
usually formed around a basic skull-cap design, with a single protruding
strip that extended down over the nose to provide additional facial
protection. The helmet appeared throughout Europe late in the 9th
century, and became the predominant form of head protection, replacing
the previous pudding-bowl design, and the Vendel-style spectical
helm. One of the earliest versions of the nasal helm is the Vasgaard
Helmet. The Bayeux Tapestry features many such helmets, it being
the most popular form of protection at the time. The helmet began
to lose popularity at the end of the 12th century to helmets that
provided more facial protection, and although the nasal helm lost
popularity amongst the higher classes of knights and men-at-arms,
they were still seen amongst archers to whom a wide field of vision
was crucial. The helmet can also be viewed throughout the Maciejowski
Bible as a minority item for cavalrymen, giving the impression that
it had become uncommon (though not unknown) by the mid-thirteenth
helmets have been found of both one-piece and Spangenhelm construction,
with the later period helmets being made of a single, smooth raised
dome to allow weapons to glance off with ease.
The Spangenhelm was a popular European war combat helmet design
of the Early Middle Ages. The name is of German origin. Spangen
refers to the metal strips that form the framework for the helmet
and could be translated as clips. The strips connect three to six
steel or bronze plates. The frame takes a conical design that curves
with the shape of the head and culminates in a point. The front
of the helmet may include a nose protector (a nasal). Older spangenhelms
often include cheek flaps made from metal or leather. Spangenhelms
may incorporate mail as neck protection, thus forming a partial
aventail. Some spangenhelms include eye protection in a shape that
resembles modern eyeglass frames. Other spangenhelms include a full
The spangenhelm originated in Central Asia and Ancient Persia,
arriving in Europe by way of what is now southern Russia and Ukraine,
spread by nomadic Iranian tribes such as the Scythians and Sarmatians
who lived among the the Eursian steppes. By the 6th century it was
the most common helmet design in Europe and in popular use throughout
the Middle East. It remained in use at least as late as the 9th
The spangenhelm was an effective protection that was relatively
easy to produce. Weakness of the design were its partial head protection
and its jointed construction. It was replaced by similarly shaped
helmets made with one-piece skulls (nasal helms), kettle hats and
eventually the Great helm or casque.
The great helm or heaume, also called pot helm, bucket helm and
barrel helm, of the High Middle Ages arose in the late twelfth century
in the context of the crusades and remained in use until the fourteenth
century. They were used by knights and heavy infantry in most European
armies between about 1220 to 1540 AD.
In its simplest form, the great helm was a flat-topped cylinder
of steel that completely covered the head and had only very small
openings for the eyes and mouth. Later designs gained more of a
curved design, particularly on the top, to deflect or lessen the
impact of blows.
style is sometimes referred to as a 'crusader helmet', but also
as a 'pot helm', and a later variant with a more conical top is
known as a 'sugarloaf helm'. In Spanish they are called yelmo de
Zaragoza, referring to Saragossa where they were introduced for
the first time in the Iberian peninsula.
Although the great helm offered greater protection than previous
helmets, such as the nasal helm and spangenhelm, it limited the
wearer's vision to some extent, and provided poor ventilation. A
knight might wear the close-fitting steel skull cap known as a cervelliere,
or its later development the bascinet beneath the great helm. A
great helm may have also an attached mail collar, or camail, to
protect the wearer's neck, throat, and shoulders.
The bascinet evolved from its early skull cap form to supersede
the great helm for combat. The great helm fell into disuse during
the 15th century, however it was used commonly in tournaments where
a version of the great helm, the a frog-mouthed tilting helm, evolved.
The earliest versions of the bascinet, at the beginning of the
14th century, had no visors, and were worn underneath larger "great
helms." After the initial clash of lances, the great helm was
often discarded during fierce hand-to-hand combat, as it impeded
breathing and vision. Thus, having a smaller helmet underneath was
a real advantage.
Small "nasals" were developed to protect the nose and
part of the face after the great helm was discarded. By the middle
of the 14th century, most knights discarded the great helm altogether
in favor of a fully visored bascinet. The visor was often conical,
giving the appearance of a muzzle or a beak. They were sometimes
called "dog faced" (medievally known as a hounskull) or
"pig faced" (a common modern term). The early versions
sometimes had a neck defence of mail called a camail or aventail,
while later versions (at the end of the 14th century) often protected
the neck with a separate but attached plate assembly, the gorget.
The aventail was attached to a leather band, which was in turn attached
to the lower border of the bascinet by a series of staples called
vervelles. Holes in the leather band were passed over the vervelles,
and a waxed cord was passed through the holes in the vervelles to
The helmet also had a series of small holes around the bottom edge
of the helmet and the face hole. These holes were used to sew a
padded liner inside the helmet. The liner was made of linen or a
linen blend cloth stuffed with wool or horsehair. The top of the
liner was a series of lobes which were gathered by a cord to adjust
how high the helmet rode on the wearer's head. While no known chin
straps were used, the bascinet was often prevented from being lifted
off the wearer's head by tying or strapping the camail to the surcoat
The bascinet, both with and without a visor (visors were often
removable for better visibility and ventilation), was the most common
helmet worn in Europe during the latter portions of the 14th and
early 15th century, including during the Hundred Years' War. Contemporary
illustrations show nearly every knight and man-at-arms wearing one
of a few variants of the basic hounskull helmet. The basic design
was intended to direct blows from weapons downward and away from
the skull and face of the wearer.
Over the course of the late 1300s to early 1400s, the bascinet
evolved from a shorter form with a shorter point (or no point at
all) to its more pointed formsome so severe as to have a vertical
back. In Germany a more bulbous version also appeared in the beginning
of the 15th century. During the first half of the 15th century,
more plates were added to protect the throat better, producing a
form called the "great bascinet". Both the portion covering
the skull and the hinged visor over the face became less angular
and more rounded, until by the mid- to late 1400s, the great bascinet
had evolved into the armet.
Two styles of attaching the visor existed. The "klappvisor"
was a single hinge at the front of the forehead that was commonly
seen in Germany. The side-pivot mount used two pivots on the side
of the helmet, which connected to the visor with hinges to compensate
for the lack of parallelism in the pivots. The side-pivot system
was commonly seen in Italian armours. Some seasoned knights often
wore their bascinets without visors for better visibility and breathing
during hand-to-hand combat, and to avoid heat exhaustion.
aventail or camail is a flexible curtain of chainmail on a helmet,
that extends to cover the neck and shoulders. The mail could be
attached to the helm by threading a leather cord through brass rings
at the edge of the helm. Aventails were most commonly seen on bascinets
in the 14th century and served as a replacement for a chainmail
coif. Some aventails were decorated with edging in brass or bronze
links, or dagged edges. By the late 15th century, the Aventail had
replaced the chainmail coif completely. Only those who were poor
or who were collectors of the sort had a chainmail coif. Aventails
were typically attached to the helmet via small staples known as
|Pig Faced Bascinet
|An aventail or camail is a flexible curtain of chainmail that
covers the neck and shoulders.
A bowl helmet that encloses the entire head with the use of hinged
cheek plates that fold backwards. A gorget was attached and a comb
may be present.
It m ay also have a rondel at the rear. Later armets have a visor.
A stereotypical knight's helm. Favoured in Italy.
The sallet (also called salade and schaller) was a war helmet that
replaced the bascinet in northern Europe and Hungary during the
mid-15th century. Some sallets were close fitting except at the
back of the head where they extended and formed a pointed tail.
Some Italian ones followed the shape of the neck, and had an additional
plate riveted on. Many sallets were worn with an extended, padded,
gorget called a bevor that protected the wearer's jaw. Some sallet
versions have occularia in the form of a slit in a visor, some have
this slit in the front of the helm, or even in the brim. Most sallets
needed no breathing holes, as there was a natural gap where it overlapped
the bevor near the wearer's mouth. Some Italian sallets had a "bellows
visor" with breaths cut into the visor.
This helmet design contrasted with the barbute which was popular
in Italy at the same time. Unlike the sallet, the barbute itself
protected the jaw and neck. So whereas the gorget or bevor were
important counterparts to the sallet, they were usually absent in
barbutes. Barbutes did not pivot. Sallets did not share the barbute's
resemblance to classical Greek or Roman artifacts.
One characteristic that distinguishes early sallets from late sallets
is the length of the helmet tail, which became more pronounced toward
the end of the century. Some helmets are of intermediate design,
incorporating elements of both the barbute and the sallet. In the
early 16th century this evolved into the burgonet.
A bevor is a piece of plate armour designed to protect the neck.
A bevor can be made of a single solid piece or multiple articulated
lamés around the neck and chin. The bevor was typically worn
in conjunction with a sallet, and later with a burgonet, in a form
known as a falling buffe. In both cases the two pieces of armour
combined to provide protection for the whole of the head and neck.
A gorget was a steel or leather collar also designed to protect
the throat. It was a feature of older types of armour and intended
to protect against swords and other non-projectile weapons. Later,
particularly from the 18th century onwards, the gorget became primarily
ornamental, serving only as a symbolic accessory on military uniforms.
A barbute is a visorless war helmet of fifteenth century Italian
design, often with distinctive "T" shaped or "Y"
shaped opening for the eyes and mouth. The barbute resembles classical
Greek helmets and may have been influenced by a renewed interest
in ancient artifacts.
The close helm was a military helmet worn by knights and other
combatants in the late medieval and early renaissance era. It carried
a visor that pivoted up and fully enclosed the head and neck area,
unlike earlier helms such as the Sallet and Barbute, which sometimes
may have left the wearer more exposed, or needed a bevor to be added
to protect the chin and neck.
The close helm is a helm which is very similar to an armet, but
has a different method of opening. While an armet has two cheekpieces,
a close helm instead has a kind of bevor, which is attached in the
same way to pivots as its visor.
The close helmet most probably evolved from a number of different
helmets, from the armet, the Italian bellows-visored sallets and
possibly hinged Great Bascinets. As a type of helm, they largely
appeared in the later 15th century, though there are earlier examples.
The close helm was used in battle, but was also popular in tournaments,
where sometimes the visor would be less solid, and instead have
bars which would still offer protection but allow more visibility.
Close helms for jousting were heavier, weighing up to 12 pounds,
while the helms for normal combat were lighter, often around 8 pounds.
The bevor/visor of an armet is split in the middle, with the two
halves hinged at the cheek, opening outwards to expose the face
of the wearer. The bevor of a 'true' close helm opens by swinging
upwards; it is in one piece and shares the pivot point with the
visor. The close helm often had a catch to hold the visor down.
Both forms of helm may have had a round plate at the back of the
helm, a protective rondel, the purpose of which is not truly known,
but it is suspected that it protected strapping.
Early 16th C.
Open face bowl shaped helmet with a neck collar, a peak, a very
characteristic comb, sometimes with cheek pieces. Sometimes has
a buffe (a visor that is raised, rather than lowered).
Morion 16th C.
Steel skullcap with a brim and crest, sometimes with cheek lames.
Detachable mail hung from a helmet to protect the neck and shoulders,
often worn with bassinets.
Worn with a sallet to cover the jaw and throat (extending somewhat
down the sternum). May also cover the back of the neck if worn with
a bassinet rather than a sallet. May be solid or made of lamés.
Sometimes worn with a gorget.
Steel collar to protect the neck and cover the neck opening in a
complete cuirass. Quite unlike a modern shirt collar in that as
well as covering the front and back of the neck it also covers part
of the clavicles and sternum and a like area on the back.
Brigandine 12th to 16th C.
A brigandine, a form of body armour, is a cloth garment, generally
canvas or leather, lined with small oblong steel plates riveted
to the fabric. The form of the brigandine is essentially the same
as the civilian doublet, though it is commonly sleeveless. Depictions
of brigandine armour with sleeves are known. Many brigandines appear
to have had larger, 'L-shaped' plates over the lungs.Rivets, or
nails, attaching the plates to the fabric are often decorated, being
gilt or of latten and often embossed with a design.
The brigandine was commonly worn over a gambeson and mail shirt
and it was not long before this form of protection was commonly
used by soldiers ranging in rank from archers to knights. It was
most commonly used by Men-at-arms. Men-at-arms wore a brigandine,
along with plate arm and leg protection, as well as a helmet.
Even with the gambeson and the mail shirt, a wearer was not as
protected as when wearing plate, which was typically more expensive.
The brigandine filled this gap well. The Brigandine was simple enough
in design for a soldier to make and repair his own armor without
needing the high skill of an armorer. Originally the term "brigand"
referred to a foot soldier. A brigandine was simply a type of armour
worn by a foot soldier. It had nothing to do with its alleged ability
to be concealed by bandits. In fact, brigandines were highly fashionable
and were ostentatiously displayed by wealthy aristocrats both in
European and in Asian courts.
Hauberk or Haubergeon ? to 14th C.
The hauberk is typically a type of mail armour constructed of loops
of metal woven into a tunic or shirt. The sleeves sometimes only
went to the elbow, but often were full arm length, with some covering
the hands with a supple glove leather face on the palm of the hand,
or even full mail gloves. It was usually thigh or knee length, with
a split in the front and back to the crotch so the wearer could
ride a horse. It sometimes incorporated a hood, or coif.
The term Haubergeon ("little hauberk") refers to a shorter
variant with partial sleeves, but the terms are often used interchangeably.
Slits to accommodate horseback-riding are often incorporated below
the waist. Most are put on over the head. Hauberk can also refer
to a similar garment of scale armour.
The earliest extant example was found in Ciumeşti in modern
Romania and is dated to the 4th-5th centuries BC. Roman armies adopted
similar technology after encountering it. Mail armour spread throughout
the Mediterranean Basin with the expansion of the Romans. It was
quickly adopted by virtually every iron-using culture in the world,
with the exception of the Chinese. The Chinese used it rarely, despite
being heavily exposed to it from other cultures.
The short-hemmed, short-sleeved hauberk may have originated from
the medieval Islamic world.
The Bayeux Tapestry illustrates Norman soldiers wearing a knee-length
version of the hauberk, with three-quarter length sleeves and a
split from hem to crotch.
Such armor was expensive — both in materials (iron wire)
and time/skill required to manufacture it — so common foot
soldiers rarely were so equipped.
In Europe, use of mail hauberks continued up through the 14th century,
when plate armor began to supplant it.
Cuirass 14th C.
cuirass (French cuirasse) is a piece of armour formed of a single
or multiple pieces of metal or other rigid material, which covers
the front of the wearer's torso. In a suit of armour this piece
was generally connected to a back piece and cuirass could refer
to the complete torso protecting armour.
The muscularity of the ideal male torso was standardized in Hellenistic
and Roman times, and ossified as the heroic cuirass (in French the
cuirass esthétique). Sometimes further embellished with symbolic
representation in relief.. As parts of the military equipment of
classic antiquity, cuirasses and corslets of bronze, and at later
periods also of iron or some other rigid substance, were habitually
While some special kind of secondary protection for the breast
had been worn in earlier times by the men-at-arms in addition to
their mail hauberks and their cotes armed with splints and studs,
it was not till the 14th century that a regular body-defence of
plate can be said to have become an established component of medieval
As the fourteenth century advanced, the cuirass came into general
use, in connection with plate defences for the limbs, until, at
the close of the century, the long familiar inter-linked mail is
no longer visible in knightly figures, except in the camail of the
bascinet and at the edge of the hauberk.
The almost universal usage throughout this century was that the
cuirass was worn covered. Thus, the globose form of the breast-armour
of the Black Prince, in his effigy in Canterbury Cathedral, 1376,
intimates that a cuirass as well as a hauberk is to be considered
to have been covered by the royalty-emblazoned jupon of the prince.
The cuirass worn in the 14th century was always made of sufficient
length to rest on the hips; otherwise, if not thus supported, it
must have been suspended from the shoulders, in which case it would
have effectually interfered with the action of the wearer.
in the 15th century, the panoply of plate, including the cuirass,
began to be worn without any surcoat; but in the concluding quarter
of the century the short surcoat, with full short sleeves, known
as the tabard, was in general use over the armour. At the same time
as the surcoat fellinto disuse, small plates of various forms and
sizes were attached to the armour in front of the shoulders, to
defend the otherwise vulnerable points where the plate defences
of the upper-arms and the cuirass left a gap on each side. Limb
armour was not always made in symmetrical pairs, the plate for the
right or sword-arm often being smaller and lighter than its companion.
About the middle of the century, instead of being formed of a single
plate, the breast-plate of the cuirass was made in two parts, the
lower adjusted to overlap the upper, and contrived by means of a
strap or sliding rivet to give flexibility to this defence.
In the second half of the 15th century the cuirass occasionally
was superseded by the brigandine jacket, a defence formed of textile
fabric, generally of rich material, lined throughout with overlapping
scales (resembling the earlier imbricated form) of metal, which
were attached to the jacket by rivets, having their heads, like
studs, visible on the outside.
In the 16th century, when occasionally, and by personages of exalted
rank, splendid surcoats were worn over the armour, the cuirassits
breastpiece during the first half of the century, globular in form
was constantly reinforced by strong additional plates attached to
it by rivets or screws.
About 1550 the breast-piece of the cuirass was characterized by
a vertical central ridge, called the tapul, having near its centre
a projecting point; this projection, somewhat later, was brought
lower down, and eventually the profile of the plate, the projection
having been carried to its base, assumed the singular form which
led to this fashion of the cuirass being distinguished as the peascod
Corslets provided with both breast and back pieces were worn by
foot-soldiers in the 17th century, while mounted soldiers were equipped
in heavier and stronger cuirasses; and these defences continued
in use after the other pieces of armour, one by one, had gradually
been laid aside. Their use, however, never altogether ceased, and
in modern armies mounted cuirassiers, armed as in earlier days with
breast and back plates, have in some degree emulated the martial
splendour of the body armour of the era of medieval chivalry.
A mail collar. In common with a gorget, it is not like a modern
shirt collar. Rather, it is a circle with a hole for the neck to
fit through. It covers the shoulders, breast and upper back, perhaps
like an extremely small poncho.
Extra layer of armour to cover the belly.
Faulds are a piece of plate armour worn below a breastplate to protect
the waist and hips. They take the form of bands of metal surrounding
both legs, potentially surrounding the entire hips in a form similar
to a skirt.
Small, horizontal lamés that protect the small of the back
or the buttocks, attached to a backplate or cuirass.
|Cuirass and Faulds
The couter is the defense for the elbow in a piece of plate armour.
Initially just a curved piece of metal, as plate armor progressed
the couter became an articulated joint.
Spaulders are armored plates worn on the upper arms and shoulders
in a suit of plate armour. Developed during the Middle Ages, the
use of spaulders declined during the Renaissance along with the
use of plate armour.
Unlike pauldrons, spaulders do not cover the arm holes when worn
with a cuirass. Instead, the gaps may be covered by besagews or
simply left bare, exposing the mail beneath.
Pauldron 15th C.
A pauldron (sometimes spelled pouldron or powldron) is a component
of plate armour, which evolved from spaulders in the 15th century.
like spaulders, pauldrons cover the shoulder area.
Pauldrons tend to be larger than spaulders, covering the armpit,
and sometimes parts of the back and chest. A pauldron typically
consists of a single large dome-shaped piece to cover the shoulder
(the "cop") with multiple lamés attached to it
to defend the arm and upper shoulder. On armour designed for mounted
combat, whether in the tournament or the field, the pauldrons would
usually be asymmetrical, with one pauldron sporting a cut-away to
make room for a lance rest.
Extra plate that covers the front of the shoulder, worn over top
of a pauldron.
Rerebrace or Brassart or Upper Cannon (of Vambrace)
Plate that covers the section of upper arm from elbow to area covered
by shoulder armour.
Circular plate that covers the armpit, typically worn with spaulders.
Vambrace or Lower Cannon (of Vambrace) 14th C.
Forearm guard. May be solid metal or splints of metal attached to
a leather backing. Developed in antiquity but named in the 14th
C. Vambrace may also sometimes refer to parts of armour that together
cover the lower and upper arms.
Gloves that cover from the fingers to the forearms, made from many
Guard of vambrace
An additional layer of armour that goes over cowter, in which case
it is proper to speak of the lower cannon of the vambrace which
is the forearm guard, and the upper cannon of vambrace which is
Mail hose, either knee-high or cover the whole leg.
Poleyn 13th C.
Plate that covers the knee, appeared early in the transition from
mail to plate, later articulated to connect with the cuisses and
schynbald or greave. Often with fins or rondel to cover gaps.
Antiquity, lost but later reintroduced in 13th C. used till 15th
C. Plate that covered only the shins, not the whole lower leg..
Covers the lower leg, front and back, made from a variety of materials,
but later most often plate.
Plate that cover the thighs, made of various materials depending
Sabaton or Solleret
Covers the foot, often mail or plate.
Tasset or Tuille
Bands hanging from faulds or breastplate to protect the upper legs.
Gousset 14th C.
Mail that protects areas not covered by plate.
Band of steel plate, put together severally so that several bands
can articulate on various areas like around the thighs, shoulders
or waist. Such pieces are named for the number of bands, for instance,
a fauld of four lamé.
Doublet or Arming Doublet
Padded cloth worn under a harness.
Any circular plate. Roundels protecting various areas may have particular
names, such as a besagew protecting the shoulder joint.
Horses in the Middle Ages were rarely differentiated by breed,
but rather by use. This led them to be described, for example, as
"chargers" (war horses), "palfreys" (riding
horses), cart horses or packhorses. Reference is also given to their
place of origin, such as "Spanish horses," but whether
this referred to one breed or several is unknown.
Significant technological advances in equestrian equipment, often
introduced from other cultures, allowed for significant changes
in both warfare and agriculture. In particular, improved designs
for the solid-treed saddle as well as the arrival of the stirrup,
horseshoe and horse collar were significant advances in medieval
During the decline of the Roman Empire and the Early Middle Ages,
much of the quality breeding stock developed during the classical
period was lost due to uncontrolled breeding and had to be built
up again over the following centuries. In the west, this may have
been due in part to the reliance of the British and Scandinavians
on infantry-based warfare, where horses were only used for riding
The Spanish also retained many quality horses, in part due to the
historic reputation of the region as a horse-breeding land, and
partially due to the cultural influences related to the Islamic
conquest of the Iberian peninsula between the 8th and 15th centuries.
The origins of the medieval war horse are obscure, although it
is believed they had some Barb and Arabian blood, through the Spanish
Jennet, a forerunner to the modern Friesian and Andalusian horse.
It is also possible that other sources of oriental bloodstock
came from what was called the Nisaean breed (possibly akin to the
Turkoman horse) from Iran and Anatolia, another type of oriental
horse brought back from the Crusades.
"Spanish" horses, whatever their breeding, were the
It is also hard to trace what happened to the bloodlines of destriers
when this type seems to disappear from record during the seventeenth
century. Many modern draft breeds claim some link to the medieval
"great horse," with some historians considering breeds
such as the Percheron, Belgian and Suffolk Punch likely descendants
of the destrier. Other historians discount this theory, since the
historical record suggests the medieval warhorse was quite a different
'type' to the modern draught horse Such a theory would suggest the
war horses were crossed once again with "cold blooded"
work horses, since war horses, and the destrier in particular, were
renowned for their hot-blooded nature.
One of the best-known of the medieval horses was the destrier,
renowned and admired for its capabilities in war. It was well trained,
and was required to be strong, fast and agile. A fourteenth century
writer described them as "tall and majestic and with great
strength". In contemporary sources, the destrier was frequently
referred to as the "great horse" because of its size and
reputation. Being a subjective term, it gives no firm information
about its actual height or weight, but since the average horse of
the time was 12 to 14 hands (48 to 56 inches (120 to 140 cm)),
thus a "great horse" by medieval standards might appear
small to our modern eyes. The destrier was highly prized by knights
and men-at-arms, but was actually not very common, and appears to
have been most suited to the joust.
Coursers were generally preferred for hard battle as they were
light, fast and strong. They were valuable, but not as costly as
the destrier. They were also used frequently for hunting.
A more general-purpose horse was the rouncey (also rounsey), which
could be kept as a riding horse or trained for war. It was commonly
used by squires, men-at-arms or poorer knights. A wealthy knight
would keep rounceys for his retinue. Sometimes the expected nature
of warfare dictated the choice of horse; when a summons to war was
sent out in England, in 1327, it expressly requested rounceys, for
swift pursuit, rather than destriers. Rounceys were sometimes used
as pack horses.
The well-bred palfrey, which could equal a destrier in price, was
popular with nobles and highly-ranked knights for riding, hunting
and ceremonial use. Ambling was a desirable trait in a palfrey,
as the smooth gait allowed the rider to cover long distances quickly
in relative comfort. Other horse types included the jennet, a small
horse first bred in Spain from Barb and Arabian bloodstock Their
quiet and dependable nature, as well as size, made them popular
as riding horses for ladies; however, they were also used as cavalry
horses by the Spanish.
The hobby was a lightweight horse, about 13 to 14 hands (52 to
56 inches (130 to 140 cm)), developed in Ireland from Spanish or
Libyan (Barb) bloodstock. This type of quick and agile horse was
popular for skirmishing, and was often ridden by light cavalry known
as Hobelars. Hobbies were used successfully by both sides during
the Wars of Scottish Independence, with Edward I of England trying
to gain advantage by preventing Irish exports of the horses to Scotland.
Robert Bruce employed the hobby for his guerilla warfare and mounted
raids, covering 60 to 70 miles (97 to 110 km) a day.
While light cavalry had been used in warfare for many centuries,
the medieval era saw the rise of heavy cavalry, particularly the
European knight. Historians are uncertain when the use of heavy
cavalry in the form of mounted shock troops first occurred, but
the technique had become widespread by the mid 12th Century. The
heavy cavalry charge itself was not a common occurrence in warfare.
Pitched battles were avoided, if at all possible, with most offensive
warfare in the early Middle Ages taking the form of sieges, or swift
mounted raids called chevauchées, with the warriors lightly
armed on swift horses and their heavy war horses safely in the stable.
Pitched battles were sometimes unavoidable, but were rarely fought
on land suitable for heavy cavalry. While mounted riders remained
effective for initial attacks, by the fourteenth century, it was
common for knights to dismount to fight. Horses were sent to the
rear, and kept ready for pursuit. By the Late Middle Ages (approx
1300-1550), large battles became more common, probably because of
the success of infantry tactics and changes in weaponry. Because
such tactics left the knight unmounted, the role of the war horse
By the 17th century, the medieval charger had become a thing of
the past, replaced by lighter, unarmoured horses. Throughout the
period, light horse, or prickers, were used for scouting and reconnaissance;
they also provided a defensive screen for marching armies. Large
teams of draught horses, or oxen, were used for pulling the heavy
early cannon. Other horses pulled wagons and carried supplies for
Tournaments and hastiludes began in the eleventh century as both
a sport and to provide training for battle. Usually taking the form
of a melee, the participants used the horses, armour and weapons
of war. The sport of jousting grew out of the tournament and, by
the fifteenth century, the art of tilting became quite sophisticated.
In the process, the pageantry and specialization became less war-like,
perhaps because of the knight's changing role in war.
Horses were specially bred for the joust, and heavier armour developed.
This did not necessarily lead to significantly larger horses. Interpreters
at the Royal Armouries, Leeds, have re-created the joust, using
specially bred horses and replica armour. Their horses are 15-16
hands high (60 to 64 inches (150 to 160 cm)), and approximately
1,100 pounds (500 kg), and perform well in the joust.
The most well known horse of the medieval era of Europe is the
destrier, known for carrying knights into war. However, most knights
and mounted men-at-arms rode smaller horses known as coursers and
rounceys. (A generic name often used to describe medieval war horses
is charger, which appears interchangeable with the other terms).
In Spain, the jennet was used as a light cavalry horse.
Stallions were often used as war horses in Europe due to their
natural aggression and hot-blooded tendencies. A thirteenth century
work describes destriers "biting and kicking" on the battlefield,
and, in the heat of battle, war horses were often seen fighting
each other. However, the use of mares by European warriors cannot
be discounted from literary references. Mares were the preferred
war horse of the Moors, the Islamic invaders who attacked various
European nations from A.D. 700 through the 15th Century.
War horses were more expensive than normal riding horses, and destriers
the most prized, but figures vary greatly from source to source.
Destriers are given a values ranging from seven times the price
of an ordinary horse to 700 times. The Bohemian king Wenzel II rode
a horse "valued at one thousand marks" in 1298. At the
other extreme, a 1265 French ordinance ruled that a squire could
not spend more than twenty marks on a rouncey. Knights were expected
to have at least one war horse (as well as riding horses and packhorses),
with some records from the later Middle Ages showing knights bringing
twenty-four horses on campaign. Five horses was perhaps the standard.
There is dispute in medievalist circles over the size of the war
horse, with some notable historians claiming a size of 17 to 18
hands (68 to 72 inches (170 to 180 cm)), as large as a modern Shire
horse. However, there are practical reasons for dispute over size.
Analysis of existing horse armour located in the Royal Armouries
indicates the equipment was originally worn by horses of 15 to 16
hands (60 to 64 inches (150 to 160 cm)), or about the size and build
of a modern field hunter or ordinary riding horse.
Research undertaken at the Museum of London, using literary, pictorial
and archaeological sources, supports military horses of 14-15 hands
(56 to 60 inches (140 to 150 cm)), distinguished from a riding horse
by its strength and skill, rather than its size. This average does
not seem to vary greatly across the medieval period. Horses appear
to have been selectively bred for increased size from the ninth
and tenth centuries, and by the eleventh century the average warhorse
was probably 14.2 to 15 hh (58 to 60 inches (150 to 150 cm)), a
size verified by studies of Norman horseshoes as well as the depictions
of horses on the Bayeux Tapestry.
Analysis of horse transports suggests thirteenth century destriers
were a stocky build, and no more than 15-15.2 hands (60 to 62 inches
(150 to 160 cm)).Three centuries later, warhorses were not significantly
bigger; the Royal Armouries used a 15.2 hand (62 inches (160 cm))
Lithuanian Heavy Draught mare as a model for the statues displaying
various fifteenth-sixteenth century horse armours, as her body shape
was an excellent fit.
Perhaps one reason for the pervasive belief that the medieval war
horse had to be of draught horse type is the assumption, still held
by many, that medieval armour was heavy. In fact, even the heaviest
tournament armour (for knights) weighed little more than 90 pounds
(41 kg), and field (war) armour 40 to 70 pounds (18 to 32 kg); barding,
or horse armour, more common in tournaments than war, rarely weighed
more than 70 pounds (32 kg).
For horses, Cuir bouilli (a type of hardened leather), and padded
caparisons would have been more common, and probably as effective.
Allowing for the weight of the rider and other equipment, horses
can carry approximately 30% of their weight; thus such loads could
certainly be carried by a heavy riding horse in the 1,200 to 1,300
pounds (540 to 590 kg) range, and a draught horse was not needed.
Although a large horse is not required to carry an armoured knight,
it is held by some historians that a large horse was desirable to
increase the power of a lance strike. Practical experiments by re-enactors
have suggested that the rider's weight and strength is of more relevance
than the size of the mount, and that little of the horse's weight
is translated to the lance.
Further evidence for a 14-16 hand (56 to 64 inches (140 to 160
cm)) war horse is that it was a matter of pride to a knight to be
able to vault onto his horse in full armour, without touching the
stirrup. This arose not from vanity, but necessity: if unhorsed
during battle, a knight would remain vulnerable if unable to mount
by himself. In reality a wounded or weary knight might find it difficult,
and rely on a vigilant squire to assist him. Incidentally, a knight's
armour served in his favour in any fall. With his long hair twisted
on his head to form a springy padding under his padded-linen hood,
and his helm placed on top, he had head protection not dissimilar
to a modern bicycle or equestrian helmet.
Because of the necessity to ride long distances over uncertain
roads, smooth-gaited horses were preferred, and most ordinary riding
horses were of greater value if they could do one of the smooth
but ground-covering four-beat gaits collectively known as an amble
rather than the more jarring trot.
The speed of travel varied greatly. Large retinues could be slowed
by the presence of slow-paced carts and litters, or by servants
and attendants on foot, and could rarely cover more than fifteen
to twenty miles a day. Small mounted companies might travel 30 miles
a day. However, there were exceptions: stopping only for a change
of horses midway, Richard II of England once managed the 70 miles
between Daventry and Westminster in a night.
The development of equestrian technology proceeded at a similar
pace as the development of horse breeding and utilisation. The changes
in warfare during the Early Middle Ages to heavy cavalry both precipitated
and relied on the arrival of the stirrup, solid-treed saddle, and
horseshoe from other cultures.
The development of the nailed horseshoe enabled longer, faster
journeys on horseback, particularly in the wetter lands in northern
Europe, and were useful for campaigns on varied terrains. By providing
protection and support, nailed horse shoes also improved the efficiency
of draught horse teams. Though the Romans had developed an iron
"hipposandal" that resembled a hoof boot, there is much
debate over the actual origins of the nailed horseshoe, though it
does appear to be of European origin. There is little evidence of
nailed-on shoes prior to AD 500 or 600, though there is speculation
that the Celtic Gauls were the first to nail on metal horseshoes.
The earliest clear written record of iron horseshoes is a reference
to "crescent figured irons and their nails" in a list
of cavalry equipment from AD 910. Additional archaeological evidence
suggests they were used in Siberia during the 9th and 10th centuries,
and had spread to Byzantium soon afterward; by the 11th century,
horseshoes were commonly used in Europe. By the time the Crusades
began in 1096, horseshoes were widespread and frequently mentioned
in various written sources.
The saddle with a solid tree provided a bearing surface to protect
the horse from the weight of the rider. The Romans are credited
with the invention of the solid-treed saddle, possibly as early
as the first century BC, and it was widespread by the 2nd century
A.D. Early medieval saddles resembled the Roman "four-horn"
saddle, and were used without stirrups. The development of the solid
saddle tree was significant; it raised the rider above the horse's
back, and distributed the rider's weight, reducing the pounds per
square inch carried on any one part of the horse's back, thus greatly
increasing the comfort of the horse and prolonging its useful life.
Horses could carry more weight when distributed across a solid saddle
tree. It also allowed a more built up seat to give the rider greater
security in the saddle. From the twelfth century, on the high war-saddle
became more common, providing protection as well as added security.
The built up cantle of a solid-treed saddle enabled horsemen to
use lance more effectively.
Beneath the saddle, caparisons or saddle cloths were sometimes
worn; these could be decorated or embroidered with heraldic colours
and arms. War horses could be equipped with additional covers, blankets
and armour collectively referred to as barding; this could be for
decorative or protective purposes. Early forms of horse armour,
usually restricted to tournaments, comprised padded leather pieces,
covered by a trapper (a decorated cloth), which was not particularly
heavy. Mail and plate armour was also occasionally used; there are
literary references to horse armour (an "iron blanket")
starting in the late twelfth century.
The solid tree allowed for effective use of the stirrup. The stirrup
was developed in China and in widespread use there by 477 AD. By
the 7th century, primarily due to invaders from Central Asia, such
as the Avars, stirrups arrived in Europe, and European riders had
adopted them by the 8th century. Among other advantages, stirrups
provided greater balance and support to the rider, which allowed
the knight to use a sword more efficiently without falling, especially
The increased use of the stirrup from the eighth century on aided
the warrior's stability and security in the saddle when fighting.
A theory known as The Great Stirrup Controversy argues that the
advantages in warfare that stemmed from use of the stirrup led to
the birth of feudalism itself. Other scholars, however, dispute
this assertion, suggesting that stirrups provided little advantage
in shock warfare, being useful primarily for allowing a rider to
lean farther to the left and right on the saddle while fighting,
and simply reduce the risk of falling off. Therefore, it is argued,
they are not the reason for the switch from infantry to cavalry
in Medieval militaries, nor the reason for the emergence of Feudalism.
There was a variety of headgear used to control horses, predominantly
bridles with assorted designs of bits. Many of the bits used during
the Middle Ages resemble the bradoon, snaffle bit and curb bit that
are still in common use today. However, they often were decorated
to a greater degree: the bit rings or shanks were frequently covered
with large, ornamental "bosses" Some designs were also
more extreme and severe than those used today. The curb bit was
known during the classical period, but was not generally used during
the Middle Ages until the mid-14th century. Some styles of snaffle
bit used during the Middle Ages had the lower cheek extended, in
the manner of the modern half-cheek or full cheek snaffle. Until
the late 13th century, bridles generally had a single pair of reins;
after this period it became more common for knights to use two sets
of reins, similar to that of the modern double bridle, and often
at least one set was decorated.
Spurs were commonly used throughout the period, especially by knights,
with whom they were regularly associated. A young man was said to
have "won his spurs" when he achieved knighthood. Wealthy
knights and riders frequently wore decorated and filigreed spurs.
Attached to the rider's heel by straps, spurs could be used both
to encourage horses to quickly move forward or to direct lateral
movement. Early spurs had a short shanks or "neck", placing
the rowel relatively close to the rider's heel; further developments
in the spur shape lengthened the neck, making it easier to touch
the horse with less leg movement on the part of the rider.
A significant development which increased the importance and use
of horses in harness, particularly for ploughing and other farm
work, was the horse collar. The horse collar was invented in China
during the 5th century, arrived in Europe during the 9th century,
and became widespread throughout Europe by the 12th century.
It allowed horses to pull greater weight than they could when hitched
to a vehicle by means of yokes or breastcollars used in earlier
times. The yoke was designed for oxen and not suited to the
anatomy of horses, it required horses to pull with their shoulders
rather than using the power of their hindquarters. Harnessed
in such a manner, horse teams could pull no more than 500 kg.
The breastplate-style harness that had flat straps across the neck
and chest of the animal, while useful for pulling light vehicles,
was of little use for heavy work. These straps pressed against the
horse's sterno-cephalicus muscle and trachea, which restricted breathing
and reduced the pulling power of the horse. Two horses harnessed
with a breastcollar harness were limited to pulling a combined total
of about 1,100 pounds (500 kg). In contrast, the horse collar
rested on horses' shoulders and did not impede breathing. It
allowed a horse to use its full strength, by pushing forward with
its hindquarters into the collar rather than to pull with its shoulders.
With the horse collar, a horse could provide a work effort of 50%
more foot-pounds per second than an ox, because it could move at
a greater speed, as well as having generally greater endurance and
the ability to work more hours in a day. A single horse with
a more efficient collar harness could draw a weight of about 1,500
pounds (680 kg).
A further improvement was managed by altering the arrangement of
the teams; by hitching horses one behind the other, rather than
side by side, weight could be distributed more evenly, and pulling
power increased. This increase in horse power is demonstrated
in the building accounts of Troyes, which show carters hauling stone
from quarries 50 miles (80 km) distant; the carts weighed, on average,
5,500 pounds (2,500 kg), on which 5,500 pounds (2,500 kg) of stone
was regularly loaded, sometimes increasing to 8,600 pounds (3,900
kg) – a significant increase from Roman-era loads.
The elite horseman of the Middle Ages was the knight. Generally
raised from the middle and upper classes, the knight was trained
from childhood in the arts of war and management of the horse. In
most languages, the term for knight reflects his status as a horseman:
the French chevalier, Spanish caballero and German Ritter. The French
word for horse-mastery – chevalerie – gave its name
to the highest concept of knighthood: chivalry.
A large number of trades and positions arose to ensure the appropriate
management and care of horses. In great households, the marshal
was responsible for all aspects relating to horses: the care and
management of all horses from the chargers to the pack horses, as
well as all travel logistics. The position of marshal (literally
"horse servant") was a high one in court circles and the
king's marshal (such as the Earl Marshal in England) was also responsible
for managing many military matters. Also present within the great
households was the constable (or "count of the stable"),
who was responsible for protection and the maintenance of order
within the household and commanding the military component and,
with marshals, might organise hastiludes and other chivalrous events.
Within lower social groupings, the 'marshal' acted as a farrier.
The highly-skilled marshal made and fitted horseshoes, cared for
the hoof, and provided general veterinary care for horses; throughout
the Middle Ages, a distinction was drawn between the marshal and
the blacksmith, whose work was more limited.
Most medieval women rode astride. While an early chair-like sidesaddle
with handles and a footrest was available by the 13th century and
allowed women of the nobility to ride while wearing elaborate gowns,
they were not universally adopted during the Middle Ages. This was
largely due to the insecure seat they offered, which necessitated
a smooth-gaited horse being led by another handler. The sidesaddle
did not become practical for everyday riding until the 16th century
development of the pommel horn that allowed a woman to hook her
leg around the saddle and hence use the reins to control her own
horse. Even then, sidesaddle riding remained a precarious activity
until the invention of the second, "leaping horn" in the
It was not unknown for women to ride war horses, and take their
part in warfare. Joan of Arc is probably the most famous female
warrior of the medieval period, but there were others, including
the Empress Matilda who, armoured and mounted, led an army against
her cousin Stephen of Blois, and Stephen's wife Matilda of Boulogne
in the 12th Century. The fifteenth-century writer Christine de Pizan
advised aristocratic ladies that they must "know the laws of
arms and all things pertaining to warfare, ever prepared to command
her men if there is need of it."