The knight’s armor
The medieval knight’s armor was expensive to make and had to fit the knight perfectly. Anything less than exact and it would seriously impact the knight’s chances in the battlefield. It was also a status symbol – knights higher up the social ladder invariably wore the best armor. The armor had to be formidable enough to withstand enemy battle tools – and these were dangerous and varied – and at the same time light enough to allow the knight to move swiftly. It comprised garments, chain mail and iron plate, and was meant to protect the legs, feet, arms, head, neck and body of the knight.
Parts of a medieval armor
•Sabatons (comprised riveted iron plates): feet
•Greaves: calves and ankles
•Besagues (small roundish shields): armpit
•Vambraces: lower arm
•Rerebrace: upper arm
•Gauntlets (ringed metal plates): hand and fingers
•Breast plate: chest
•Faulds (rings of armor and attached to the breast plate): hips, stomach and lower back
A full armor did not mean invincibility
While there is no doubt that killing a knight in full armor was a most difficult task, it was not out of the question. For all its benefits, medieval armor had some drawbacks. In unfavorable weather, especially on muddy ground, the knight was at a vast disadvantage. Also, full body armor required flexible and consequently “vulnerable” areas so that knights could move. If you could get a knight on the ground then you were in with a chance. Furthermore, there were advanced crossbows that could penetrate a knight’s armor. (Some knights wore lesser quality armor than others.) But why kill a knight? People preferred capturing one which often meant a substantial ransom.
Medieval helmets, horse armor
There were several types of medieval helmet to do the most important job of all armor parts – protect the head. Most of these helmets typically included a detachable visor that protected the face and the eyes. The 13th-century Bascinet featured a skirt of mail called aventail to guard the neck.
However, it was not just the knight who wore sparkling protection. His horse also received the most royal treatment at times and was adorned with armor. For good reason, though. The Medieval Warhorse was one magnificent specimen – dense bones, strong muscular back, formidable hind-quarters and legs. Its armor called “barding” comprised rigid pieces of plate armor fashioned of leather and steel. A Medieval Warhorse wore armor to protect the head, neck, chest, and body. The rear was covered with padded cloth. Sometimes, spiked horns decorated the mask armor giving the horse a “unicorn” look.
Medieval armor-making centers
The most popular armor making centers during the Middle Ages were the north of Italy and the south of Germany. The Italian style of armor was called the Milanese Armor due to the makers’ proximity to Milan. These were lighter than German armor, extremely popular with the elite, and inlaid with personalized engravings. The armor made in Germany was rougher and more Gothic in appearance. In England, armor was produced in Greenwich.
Did gunpowder lead to the end of medieval armor?
Armor made it out of the Middle Ages and was used till the end of the 17th century. However, as firearms developed, only the best armor survived. Gunpowder became widely available increasing the need for more mobile troops. The armor inevitably suffered. However, this wonderful piece of medieval invention was not cast away at one go, but rather piece by piece. Leg protection, for instance, was first replaced by tall leather boots. By the early 18th century, only the military elite and royalty wore full armor, as they were easy targets for muskets. Cavalry units continued to use plates to protect their body from musket fire.