Saturday, November 27, 2010


I don't know if these still exist, but photos do. These were at the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich. You can click on the images for a magnified view.

Inside of the legs. Note how the lower leg laces on the inside for a snug fit over the ankles.
Outside of the legs.

These resemble those worn by a 1490 St. Michael by Juan de la Abadia.

Also see the legs of the soldiers in the arrest of Christ from the Petites Heures of Jean de Berry, in that case worn with plate knees. A soldier bringing Christ before Caiaphas showes similar protection on his thighs.

And similar legs are shown on an emperor in the illumination in this thread, again with plate knees.

I originally read the Munich hose as hose to wear under plate legharness, but I no longer think that’s the case: instead I think they’re actually intended to serve as leg armor themselves.

The mail patches were not located at the back of the knee, where they would cover an inevitable gap in plate legharness, but with two strips of mail on each side and two in front of the knee. All but one of the strips in front are missing, but spotting, the remains of stitching, and the location of the remaining strip in front shows where they were sewn.

The illumination of an emperor shows him going into battle in similar hose, not preparing to arm.

I think the Munich hose was made of non-overlapping metal plates sewn between two layers of fabric, similar in general principal to the kikko used in Japanese armor. The brickwork-like pattern, like the hexagonal shape of the kikko plates, would mean that the gaps between the plates would not present a continuous straight line vulnerable to a horizontal slash.

The spotting of the Munich panzerhose inside and out is highly suggestive of rust from plates bleeding through the fabric.

If I’m correct, this would have been a defense somewhat vulnerable to a thrust because the plates did not overlap, but less bulky than overlapping brigandine and perhaps offering superior protection to mail against edge blows.

It would not have been flexible enough to bend easily at the knee, which would need either mail protection, as on the Munich panzerhose or the Abadia St. Michael, or plate poleyns as shown on the other illuminations above

We do know that hose with mail gussets or voyders was worn under plate harness in the 15th century.

I would have thought that patches of mail sewn down to fabric to cover areas uncovered by plate were a 15th century innovation. But look at these images from Lancelot du Lac ((BN Francais 343) 1380-85

I read these as showing most of the thigh protected by plate, with a narrow portion of the inner thigh showing only fabric beneath cuisse straps. Behind the knee itself, however, there seems to be a patch of mail. Look at these, and tell me what you think they show.


f. 13v Note how his helm hangs from a strap attached to the back of his body armor.

f. 11v

There's some interesting documentary evidence in this thread.

There were other ways to protect legs. Walter von Hohenklengin wore plate harness on his legs, and no mail to cover the gaps.

Sir Guy de Bryan (1391) wore full length mail chausses beneath broad plate splints. The splints on the effigy were probably originally connected by applied straps: there were iron pegs at the appropriate locations (six per splint). There is a similar row of holes for an applied upper arm defense.

The St. George from the Champmol Altarpiece, ca. 1390, has mail protecting his inner thigh, but the row of rivets on the adjacent edge of the cuisse and the lack of a cuisse strap suggest that the mail may have been attached to the cuisse.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010: Chaucer, the Aeneid, Zombies, and Fiore Banners on the March

Geoffrey Chaucer blogs about the Aeneid and Zombyes and other mashups.

For Ich have founde a newe maner of makynge the which deliteth me wyth greet delite. In thys newe kynde of booke, the writere taketh the weightie werke of an auncient auctor of much renowne (or paraventure a well-knowene romaunce) and mixeth yt wyth whimsical tales of the supernatural.

(Links added)

The Chicago Swordplay Guild marches in the 2010 Chicago Thanksgiving Day Parade, with banners displaying Fiore's animals.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

50 Best Blogs for Medieval History Geeks.

Sadly, this blog is not on this list of 50 Best Blogs for Medieval History Geeks. Sniff.

And now they've taken down that content, so I have disabled the link. Hah!

But here is another list of 25 or so best blogs for SCA history geeks.

Laurin Tournament 1398

An impressive European tournament recreation.

Four Galleries of Armor Photos

Roel Renmans' Photostream: a great collection of photos of surviving armor and armor in painting and sculture, arranged chronologically.
Dmitry Nelson's Photo Gallery: armor, weapons, doublets, arming and otherwise, with some reconstructions.
Effigies and Brasses
Manuscript Miniatures: a database of miniatures depicting armored figures

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

One Way to Attach a Scabbard to a Plaque Belt

Here the scabbard is attached to a plaque belt by at least one short strap, shown here in close-up. Here's another example.

I believe there was a second strap that attached to the plaque belt behind the body, where it would be hidden in these views. A second strap would allow the sword to hang at a convenient angle, and without it the sword would hang inconveniently far forward of the hips, and the tip of the scabbard would drag on the ground in both examples.

Monday, November 22, 2010

History for Music Lovers

Macedonia There's nothing like marching through Asia Minor with a sarissa to the beat of My Sharona.
Here Come the Huns Again
Beowulf.. save his people from destruction/ written in alliteration!
Thomas Aquinas
Canterbury Tales

Thermite Thanksgiving

No time to cook the thanksgiving turkey the conventional way?

Tintin Meets Lovecraft

By Murray Groat Nyctalops!, as Captain Haddock would say.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Gloves for Gauntlets

Gauntlet of the Black Prince
Churburg Gauntlets
A closer view
Yet another view
Gauntlets of the Black Prince
Another view
Civilian Gloves:
The gloves of Emperor Frederick II, worn at his coronation in 1220
A 15th century mitten in the Museum of London, showing the thumb inset, also here,, here, and here.
A 15th century glove
Medieval gloves and mittens from archaeological finds.
"Glove of Henry VI" However, Alison Weir believes the glove does not predate the 16th century.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Hammaborg Rain Guard Theory

The Hammaborg historic combat study group has proposed that what other historians call rain guards were not made for that purpose, but as a protective device for the hand.

I see three serious objections to the theory. The first is that they demonstrate the theory with blunt swords, showing how the leather could stop or deflect a blade sliding along your blade from the bind that would otherwise hit your thumb. A sharp sword in the same situation would meet the light leather edge on and probably cut through it to slice your thumb.

Secondly, some surviving rain guards don't extend very far beyond the cross, severely limiting their protective benefit.

Third, if the intent was to provide extra hand protection, there were better ways to do the job. A flap or plate that was concave towards the hand, as shown in this 1460 illumination, would provide better protection. So would side rings to the cross.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Scabbard Flaps and Rain Guards

Many 13th and 14th century sword scabbards had triangular flaps at the throat, extensions of the leather that wrapped the wooden core. Why?

If your scabbard has this a flap like this, you can tie a lace around the bottom of the hilt so the flaps are pressed tightly against the hilt, as shown with a modern scabbard reconstruction above. This would greatly reduce the risk of rain flowing over the hilt and down into the scabbard if you were had to wear the scabbard in bad weather.

The lace does not hinder drawing the sword if needed: the flaps slide easily from beneath the lace when the sword is drawn.

Rain leaking into a scabbard was apparently not a trivial issue, since we have considerable evidence for another independent solution to this problem: rain guards or chappes attached to the sword rather than the scabbard. These rain guards could be made of metal or leather.

Scabbard flaps have survived on medieval scabbards, and are frequently shown on effigies and brasses. I know of no evidence for a lace used to tie down the flaps, but if the lace was only used when the owner intended to ride out into bad weather, the lack of iconographic evidence is unsurprising.

I believe the scabbard flaps were supposed to serve a useful function. My current theory is that in bad weather they could be tied down with a lace to reduce the risk of rain leaking into the scabbard. I think that's pretty plausible, and I don't have a better explanation.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Plate Back Defenses in the Late 14th Century.

Iconographic evidence is spotty, since body armor is very often covered by a jupon or cote-armure. When it isn’t, rear views are frustratingly rare. Brasses and low relief effigies usually show only the front of the harness. Surviving plate body armor from the period is very rare.

That said, there is some visual evidence for plate back protection of small to medium size plates in the late 14th century.

One piece backplates, however, seem to have been a relatively late development. The earliest illustration of a one piece backplate that Claude Blair was able to trace was the brass of John Ruggewyn (d. 1412) in Standon, Hertfordshire. The effigy of John de Montacute, d. 1400, shows a row of hinges down the right side of his jupon, suggesting a backplate.

When there is a back defense, the body armor can open in several ways. It can open in front, as shown in Altichiero’s Execution of St. George and Battle of Clavijo. These, however, are all infantry armor. Armor that opens in front is easy to put on without assistance, but creates a point of weakness that is exposed to the enemy.

Men at arms, who could afford servants to assist them, seem to have preferred armor that did not open in the front, although a Spanish St. Michael from 1400-25 shows the angel in the leg harness of a man-at-arms and front-opening body armor. One of the front-opening breastplates from Chalcis was equipped with staples for the lance rest of a man at arms. Another originally had holes where a lance rest would have been attached.

A simpler body armor from Chalcis, made of rectangular plates is also preserved at the Met. Aside from using larger plates it closely resembles a similar tubular, front opening body armor buried after the battle of Wisby in 1361. Since even infantry armor was typically shown with a distinct waist in artwork from around 1380 on, I suspect this armor was either made before 1360 or represented a very cheap and low grade product. Note that the lower plates of the line drawing are a speculative reconstruction: see the photo in the same thread for what actually remains.

I should mention that the velvet covered body armor prominently displayed in the Met is an unreliable reconstruction.

An opening at the center back is much less vulnerable, and the Prague St. George is a good example of this sort of design.

The Lincoln misericord shows another approach. One plausible reconstruction is that the main body armor wraps ¾ of the way around the body, overlapping a back defense of smaller plates.

Churburg #13 wraps ¾ of the way around the body.

Finally, the body armor can open at the sides. The Munich fabric covered breastplate probably once had a back defense that attached to hinge plates at the shoulders, one of which survives. A waist belt may have kept the front and back together as on the Churburg #18 cuirass from around 1420.

Or both sides could have been closed with laces, as on many later brigandines. Here is a group of photos of the Munich harness. Note the excess fabric on the wearer's right. There might originally have been eyelets or rings for lacing the sides closed that have not survived.

Alternatively, it may have opened only on one side. The side opening coats of plates from Wisby all open on one side: two on the left and one on the right.

For a body armor with a close neck and plates lining the upper shoulder straps, at least one opening at the shoulder is essential for side-opening armor and highly desirable for center openings. My first coat of plates for this period opened at center front but not the shoulders, and over time several of the rivets at the shoulders tore through the leather covering from the stresses of putting it on and off. Being able to unfasten both shoulders simplifies storage considerably, particularly for side-opening armor.

A body armor at the Castello Sforzesco in Milan, dated by the museum to 1380-1410, laces at both sides and shoulders. The museum calls it a corazzina, but an Englishman might well have called it a pair of plates. Here is more on the construction details.

While this armor and many later brigandines lace at the shoulders,  hinges with removable pins as on the Munich covered breastplate might be less vulnerable to penetration and damage.

While the Milan armor is somewhat unusual in combining plates and mail beneath a fabric covering, it is not unique. A late 16th century brigandine in Philadelphia similarly has mail at the shoulders, skirt and sides. The first two would provide flexibility for shoulder movement and sitting, and the mail at the sides would help keep the plates of the front and back from fouling each other.

Dmitry Nelson has posted several pictures of surviving plates that may be from this period or somewhat later. The asymmetrical plates protect the right or left side of the chest, and I believe the others were all part of back defenses. The plates from Paris are inverted.

Here are two dorsal plates from Chalcis in the Met. One of them was also shown in an earlier plate Dmitry Nelson reproduced above, from when it was in Athens.

Here is more detail on the finds at Otepaa castle in Estonia. Note that what the article labels as small breastplates are almost certainly dorsal plates shown upside down. Also, more recent scholarship has cast doubts on the 1396 date for the destruction of the castle, suggesting that it might have been destroyed some time later but before 1420.

Guiron le Courtoise 1370-1380 Body armors with regular horizontal rows of rivets front and back, combined with a tailored outline, rounded breast and narrow waist.

Speculum Humanae Salvationis 1370-1380 Body armor closed with a row of buckles at center back.

This 1387 illumination shows men at arms wearing body armor, and the backs that are visible show a regular pattern of rivets.

Spinello Aretino's 1407-08 fresco depicting a 12th century naval battle shows back views of a variety of body armors.

I think there's some deliberate archaicism in the fresco: some of the combatants are wearing great helms, which I have not seen in contemporary depictions of more recent battles.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Love of Gears II

I have not yet read much of Neal Stephenson's Anathem, although it has insistently dragged itself close to the top of my "read me" list, with only two half-read books ahead of it. I have dipped into it, and can see how the machines in my previous post might, as Steve Muhlberger suggests, evoke the gigantic Great Clocks of the novel, designed to keep time over millennia.

The Long Now Foundation is one of the inspirations for the clocks in the novel, and has produced a prototype for the clock, an orerry and chimes. The foundation hopes to build their clocks on a monumental scale with the works buried underground.

Beautiful machines, but not, I think, as charming as what I think of as Millennium Clock 1.0, the Prague Astronomical Clock or Prague Orloj. It recently celebrated its 600th anniversary, and is more than halfway through its first millennium.

The 600 Years from the macula on Vimeo.

The Orloj has stopped several times since it was made, and each time, it has been repaired. Most recently it succumbed to German shelling during the Prague Uprising of 1945. They fixed it afterward, because it was so wonderful. It has outlived several states that claimed Prague as their capital.

If you want to build for the Long Now, then build something awesome, build something beautiful. Later generations will fix it when it breaks.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Love of Gears

Clayton Boyer Clock Designs

Sweet. I am reminded of Froissart's Horloge Amoureuse, which I commented on earlier.

On a related note, Babbage and Lovelace continues.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Living in the Future. With Talking Giant Pandas.

One of the things I like about about living living in the future is access to CGI giant pandas that mock the odious "Chinese Professor" political ad. These are from Next Media Animation, first noticed for their CGI reenactments of recent news events like the Tiger Woods car crash. New technology lets people tell stories in ways that were not possible earlier. In this case, the result is both entertaining and a sharp critique of their target

And, incidentally, provides an example of how other countries becoming rich enriches us.

The original is eminently worthy of mockery.
Why do great nations fail? The ancient Greeks, the Roman Empire, the British Empire, and the United States of America. They all make the same mistakes, turning their back on the principles that made them great.

Evidently, in 2030, Chinese history professors will be incompetent. OK, one theory is that the Romans turned their back on their former civic virtue. I don't buy it as sufficient explanation. I prefer the theory that as they expanded they found it increasingly difficult to keep powerful generals from seizing power. Also, they eventually reached the limits of what they could effectively administer and defend with contemporary technology, and their later foreign wars were no longer profitable wars of conquest but unprofitable and exhausting defensive campaigns. But some historians believe the decline of civic virtue theory, so it's not absurd.

But the Greeks? They had the misfortune to run into a ruthless enemy with superior tactical doctrine who had already conquered most of the western Mediterranean.

The British? They built an empire by having the best navy in Europe and being located where anyone in Europe that wanted to sail to places beyond the Mediterranean had to get past them. Inconveniently, someone invented a practical submarine, aircraft were developed that could threaten ships far out at sea, and Japan developed a formidable modern navy. Having a better navy than any combination of European nations was no longer enough. Defeating the Axis under those changed circumstances took Britain to the edge of bankruptcy.

Another principle that made the British Empire great was allowing its colonies a relatively high level of freedom and self-government. Its greatest failure was not giving enough freedom to the 13 colonies to keep them in the empire. Ruling in this way made the British Empire far more durable and prosperous than the Spanish.

It did mean that as the colonies developed the capacity to survive as independent states and the capacity to govern themselves, they would eventually seek and obtain independence. By letting the former colonies become allies rather than slaves, Britain did not turn her back on her principles, but followed them. That was not failure, but greatness.

This is why history matters. I want my fellow citizens to know enough about history to recognize nonsense like this when they see it.

Here the same artists have fun with Christine O'Donnell

CGI giant pandas mocking the mockworthy. It's a wonderful life.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Caterpillar Automaton from 1820

The Ethiopian Caterpillar, an amazing little automaton from 1820. 1820!

It's attributed to Henri Maillardet, who created the astounding Draughtsman-Writer automaton now at the Franklin Institute.

Sotheby's catalogue shows the machine in gaudy close-up.

Hat tip to the fascinating Automata/Automaton Blog.