Wearing a 14th c. Harness with Revival Clothing Arming Garments
by Greg Mele
Note: This article reappears here courtesy of Revival Clothing
For centuries, a knight's harness consisted primarily of mail, but during the 14th century, pieces of plate armour were progressively introduced, until, by the end of the century, he was the knight in shining armour, perhaps the most iconic symbol of the Middle Ages.
Articulated plate armour was a technological marvel, surprisingly maneuverable and comfortable, and capable of rendering the wearer impervious to all but the fiercest blows, thrusts through its gaps, or fearsome, anti-armour weapons such as the poleaxe (and later, firearms). In order for the entire harness to work properly, it had to be fitted to the wearer and the individual pieces properly suspended and hung. This was chiefly the role of the arming clothes, which served as both soft armour and suspension system. Without the correct arming clothes, the armour was prone to bite, slip and shift as it was worn.
Although there are a number of images of knights arming for battle, there is little in the way of actual description. One famous exception is a 15th century English treatise, How a man schall be armyd at his ese when he schal fighte on foote (c.1450), which describes how a knight should prepare himself for combat in the lists. The "lists" in question likely refer to the combat field for a judicial duel, as the manuscript's description of the martial equipment and other accoutrements closely matches those illustrated in 15th century martial arts texts.
Our arming clothes have been received with great success, but customers always want to know how to use them to mount their armour. Therefore, to help answer this question we have asked Christian Tobler of the Order of Selohaar to prepare a photo essay in conjunction with the text of the How a man schall be armyd, demonstrating how a man-at-arms, c.1390 would dress for battle. We hope you enjoy!
How a Man Shall be Armed at His Ease when
He Shall Fight on Foot
Hastings MS. [f.122b]
Modern English Spelling by Greg Mele
He shall have no shirt upon him but a doublet of fustian lined with satin, cut full of holes. The doublet must be strongly built and the points must be set about the bend of the arms. And the breast before and behind and the gussets of mail must be sown unto the doublet in the bend of the arm. And under the arm the arming points must be made of fine twine, such as men make for crossbow strings and they must be trussed small and pointed as points. And they must be waxed with cordweiners coode [?], and then they will neither stretch nor break. Also a pair hosen of worsted wool and pair of short bulwarks of thin blanket to put about his knees for the chafing of his leg-harness. Also a pair of shoes of thick cordwene and they must be fitted with small whipcords with three knots upon a cord and three cords must be sown fast onto the heel of the shoe and fine cords in the middle of the sole of the same shoe. And that there be between the frets of the heel and the frets of the middle of the shoe the space of three fingers.
To arm a man
First you must set the sabatons and tie them to the shoe with small points that will not break. And then the greaves and cuisses and the breeches of mail. And then the tonlets and the breastplate. And the vambraces, and then gloves [gauntlets]. And then hang his dagger upon his right side and then his short sword upon his left side in a round ring, all naked, and pull it out lightly. And then put his cotte upon his back. And then his bascinet pinned up on two great staples before the breast with a dowbill behind upon the back to make the bascinet sit just so. And then his long sword in his hand and then his pennant in his hand painted with Saint George or Our Lady to bless him with as he goeth towards the field and into the field.
The day that the appellant and defendant shall fight what they shall have with them in the field:
A tent must be put in the field.
Also a chair
Also a basin
Also vi loaves of bread
Also ii gallons of wine.
Also a mess of meaty flesh or fish
Also a board and a pair of trestles to set his meat and drink on.
And a board cloth
Also a knife for cutting his meat.
And a cup to drink of
Also a glass with a drink made
Also a dozen tresses of arming points.
Also a hammer and a nails and a bicorn
Also a dozen small nails
Also a spear a long sword, short sword and a dagger.
Also a kerchief to the visor of his bascinet.
Also a penant to bear in his hand of his avowed [patron saint].
Arming Clothes: The Foundation
"He shall have no shirt upon him but
a doublet of fustian lined with satin, cut full of holes. The doublet must
be strongly built and the points must be set about the bend of the arms.
Also a pair hosen of worsted wool and pair of short bulwarks of thin blanket to put about his knees for the chafing of his leg-harness. Also a pair of shoes of thick cordwene and they must be fitted with small whipcords with three knots upon a cord and three cords must be sown fast onto the heel of the shoe and fine cords in the middle of the sole of the same shoe. And that there be between the frets of the heel and the frets of the middle of the shoe the space of three fingers."
The poem describes a very interesting garment - apparently holed for ventilation - the exact like of which has never been illustrated to our knowledge. But its principle description of a closely fitted doublet to which the armour is attached, is supported elsewhere, and for the Revival arming clothes line, is represented by our pourpoint. Note that while the pourpoint is tightly fitted in the body, it is not laced shut. As the garment is worn, fought and sweated in it stretches and requires some play. The gapping is intentional, and while the garment should be tight it must have room to move; lacing it too tightly short can cause the lacing holes to rip out.
Dressed in shirt, doublet, braies, chausses and low boots, Christian is dressed little differently from normal 14th century daily wear. However, it is the pourpoint that replaces the cotte or cotehardie that will allow him to don his armour properly.
The Feet: Sabatons
"First you must set the sabatons and tie them to the shoe with small points that will not break."
Unlike dressing in modern clothing, in harness we begin with the shoes! Note that the light, tapered medieval shoe is what allows the sabatons to fit closely to the foot beneath.
The Legs: Greaves and Cuisses
"And then the greaves and cuisses and the breeches of mail."
We now begin working our way up the legs. The greaves are first closed around the lower legs.
The cuisses are next laced to the pourpoint. This arrangement allows the armour's weight to hang from the garment, and thus distribute to the entire torso, rather than just the hips. It also allows it to naturally move as the leg moves and bends at the hip. This is why the snug fit of the pourpoint, particularly in the hips, is critical.
"the arming points must be made of fine twine, such as men make for crossbow strings and they must be trussed small and pointed as points. And they must be waxed with cordweiners coode[?], and then they will neither stretch nor break."
A close-up of the cuisse once it is tied off to the pourpoint. Note the triangulation arrangement that makes the highest point of the leg harness sit in the natural hollow of the leg.
The Body: Gambeson and Cuirass
The gambeson is now added over the pourpoint. It provides several functions: a shock absorber beneath the mail (if worn) and breastplate, protection from chafing and pinching from the plate armour, and ablative armour in its own right. Finally, just as the pourpoint served with the legs armour, the gambeson is a method of attaching the arm harness, as the following photos show.
The gambeson is buttoned shut and belted with a heavy bronze or gold plaque belt. At this point, if Christian were going to wear mail, the haubergeon would be donned. As he has chosen to forego the mail, the cuirass comes next.
"And then the tonlets and the breastplate"
This is an early form of full cuirass, made famous by the surviving example in the famed Schloss Churburg Armoury. It is made in multiple segments that wrap around the body and fasten shut in the back. By the late 14th century, protection for the torso grew to include the full cuirass (a breast and backplate), and a plate fauld or "skirt."
The Arms: Vambraces, Rerebraces and Spaulders
"And the vambraces, and then gloves [gauntlets]."
A vambrace in period documents can refer to the entire arm harness, which in reality includes a vambrace, rerebrace and spaulders. As with the cuisses, attaching the arm harness with points allows the armour to stay in place, and uses the foundation garment to help support the weight. With the pointing, the straps on the elbow and rerebrace can be fairly loosely fastened, as their principle purpose is to keep the armour from gaping away from the elbow. This makes for greater comfort than constrictive strapping, which can also cut blood flow to the arm.
A close up of the arming points in the gambeson, with a leather tab, sewn to the sleeve, added as a reinforcement. The tab is centered in the upper arm.
Pointing the rerebrace to the gambeson. As with the leg harness and pourpoint, the weight of the arm harness is now suspended from the entire gambeson.
The attachment of the spaulders to arming points on the upper shoulder completes the arm harness.
Christian is now dressed in all of the principle elements of his harness except for helm and gauntlets.
The Finishing Touches: The Bascinet, Gauntlets and Weapons
"And then his bascinet pinned up on two great staples before the breast with a dowbill behind upon the back to make the bascinet sit just so."
The helmet is the final piece before the knight can take the field. While the poem refers to a later form of the helmet, with a plate neck defense that literally laced or strapped to the breast and back-plates, in the late 14th century the neck and throat were protected only by a simple mail aventail. The size of the aventail gives additional protection to the shoulders and gaps between spaulders and breastplate, while its mass helps prevent blows from sliding into the throat.
You can find all the clothes shown in this essay offered as separates, or as part of our Arming Clothes, or Arming Clothes with Underwear specials.
©2007 Revival Clothing and the Order of Selohaar