Sunday, April 08, 2007

Metallurgy of Noble 14th c. Harness

Earlier, I discussed the metallurgy of 48 pieces of 14th c. armor analyzed by Alan Williams in The Knight and the Blast Furnace. These included both elite armors and more ordinary pieces. I wondered if looking only at elite components would show a higher average level of metallurgy. I considered fourteen pieces that could not have belonged to common soldiers: either they had provenance linking them to specific noble or gentle families, or they were pieces not used by common soldiers, such as great helms or a shaffron, or they featured the rich decoration typical of higher quality harnesses.

Two were iron (14%), six low carbon steel (43%), five were medium carbon steel without full heat treatment (37%) and only one (7%) was fully hardened medium carbon steel. This is a somewhat lower proportion of iron than in the full group of 48 pieces examined by Williams (29%). The proportion of full heat treatment is actually lower in the explicitly elite group, but given the small sample size and the relative rarity of fully hardened steel in armor of the period the difference is probably not significant.

Judging from form and finish the 48 pieces examined by Williams are heavily biased towards the sort of harness that would have been owned by a gentleman or noble. This is plausible since more mundane pieces were more likely to be scrapped over the years. The relatively small margin of metallurgical superiority in the explicitly elite subgroup supports the impression that the 48 pieces were mostly made for gentlemen of nobles.

I also looked at the pieces least unlikely to have been owned by common soldiers: nine bascinets without visors and three lamellae from the Wisby battlefield. The lamellae were almost certainly part of the equipment of common soldiers, the bascinets might have been worn by commoners but they could also have been owned by simpler men-at-arms. Three of the bascinets and two of the lamellae were iron, or 42%.

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