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ARMS AND ARMOUR

although the sword is often longer and heavier. Richard I. had favoured the cross-bow, in spite of papal denunciations of that weapon hateful to God, and its use is common through all the 13th century, after which it makes way for the national weapon of the long-bow.

In the 14th century, the high-day of chivalry, the age of Creçy and Poitiers, of the Black Prince and Chandos, the age which saw enrolled the noble company of the Garter, the art of the armourer and weapon-smith strides forward. At its 14th century. beginning we see many knights still clad in chain mail with no visible plate. At its end the knight is often locked in plates from head to foot, no chainwork showing save the camail edge under the helm and the fringe of the mail skirt or hawberk.

1911 Britannica - Arms-John de Creke.png
Fig. 6.—Brass of
Sir John de Creke.
From Waller’s
Monumental Brasses.

Before the first quarter of the 14th century is past many of these plates are in common use. Sir John de Creke’s brass, about 1325-1330, is a fair example (fig. 6). His helmet is a basinet, pointed at the top, probably worn over a complete hood of mail flowing to the mid-breast. This hood was soon to lose its crown, the later basinets having the camail, a defence of mail covering neck, cheeks and chin and secured to the basinet with eyelet holes and loops through which a lace was passed. A rerebrace of plate defends the outer side of the upper arm, plain elbow-cops the elbow, and round bosses in the form of leopard heads guard the shoulder and the crook of the elbow. The fore-arm is covered with the plates of a vambrace which appears from under the hawberk sleeve. Large and decorated knee-cops cover the knees, ridged greaves the shins, and the upper part of the foot from pointed toe to ankle is fenced with those articulated and overlapping plates the perfection of which in the next century enabled the full-harnessed knight to move his body as freely as might an unarmed man. Under the plates the mail hose show themselves and the heels have rowelled spurs. He has a hawberk of mail whose front skirt ends in a point between the knees, the loose sleeves between wrist and elbow. Under this is a haketon of some soft material whose folds fall to a line above the height of the knee. Over the hawberk is a garment, perhaps of leather with a dagged skirt-edge, and over this again is a sleeveless gambeson or pourpoint of leather or quilted work, studded and enriched. Over all is the sleeveless surcoat, the skirt before cut squarely off at the height of the fork of the leg, the skirt behind falling to below the knee. The loose folds of this surcoat are gathered at the waist by a narrow belt, the sword hanging from a broader belt carried across the hip. Before 1350 the long surcoat of the 13th century was still further shortened, the tails being cut off squarely with the front. The fate of Sir John Chandos, who in 1369 stumbled on a slippery road, his long coat “armed with his arms” becoming tangled with his legs, points to the fact that an old soldier might cling to an old fashion.

The desire for a better defence than a steel cap and camail and a less cumbrous one than the great helm, in which the knight rode half stifled and half blind, brought in as a fighting headpiece the basinet with a movable viser. This is found throughout this century, disappearing in the next when the salet and its varieties displaced it. But there were many knights who still fought with the great helm covering basinet and camail, a fact which speaks eloquently of the mighty blows given in this warlike age. The many monumental brasses of the last half of the 14th century show us for the most part knights in basinet and camail with the face exposed, but their heads are commonly pillowed on the great helm and in any case the viser would hinder the artist’s desire to show the knight’s features.

1911 Britannica - Arms-John de Foxley.png
Fig. 7.—Brass of Sir
John de Foxley.
From Waller’s Monumental
Brasses
.

The fully-armed man of the latter half of the 14th century seems to have worn a rounded breastplate and a back-plate over his chain hawberk. Chaucer’s Sir Thopas must always be cited for the defences of this age, the hero wearing the quilted haketon next his shirt, and over that the habergeon, a lesser hawberk of chain mail. His last defence is a fine hawberk “full strong of plate” showing that “hawberk” sometimes served as a word for the body plates. Over all this is the “cote-armure” or surcoat. Many passages from the chroniclers show that the three coats of fence one over the other were in common use in the field, and Froissart tells a tale of a knight struck by a dart in such wise that the head pierced through his plates, his coat of mail and his haketon stuffed with twisted silk. The surcoat in the age of Edward III. became a scanty garment sitting tightly to the body, laced up the back or sides, the close skirts ending at the fork of the leg with a dagged or slittered edge. The waistbelt is rarely in sight, but the broad belt across the hips, on which the dagger comes to hang as a balance to the sword, grows richer and heavier, the best work of the goldsmith or silversmith being spent upon it. Arms and legs and feet become cased in plate of steel or studded leather, and before the mid-century the shoulder-plates, like the steel shoes, are of overlapping pieces and the elbow also moves easily under the same defence. (See fig. 7.)

1911 Britannica - Arms-John Lisle.png
Fig. 8.—Brass of Sir
John Lisle at Thruxton.

Such harness, ever growing more beautiful in its rich details, serves our champions until the beginning of the 15th century, when the fashion begins to turn. The scanty surcoat tends to disappear. It may be that during the bitter 15th century. feuds and fierce slaughters of the Wars of the Roses men were unwilling to display on their breasts the bearings by which their mortal foe might know them afar. The horseman’s shield went with the surcoat, its disuse hastened by the perfection of armour, and the banners of leaders remained as the only armorial signs commonly seen in war. But at jousts and tourneys, where personal distinction was eagerly sought, the loose tabard, which, after the middle of the century, bore the arms of the wearer on back, front and both sleeves, was still to be seen, with the crest of parchment or leather towering above a helm whose mantle, from the ribbon-like strip of the early 13th century, had grown into a fluttering cloak with wildly slittered edge streaming out behind the charging knight.

When a score of years of this 15th century had run we find the knight closed in with plates, no edge of chain mail remaining in sight. The surcoat being gone we see him armed in breast and back plate, his loins covered by a skirt of “tonlets,” as the defence of overlapping horizontal bands comes to be named (fig. 8). The chain camail has gone out of fashion, the basinet continuing itself with a chin and cheek plate which joins a gorget of plate covering the collar-bone, a movable viser shutting in the whole head with steel. The gussets of chain mail sewn into the leathern or fustian doublet worn below the body armour are unseen even at the gap at the hollow of the arm where the plates must be allowed to move freely, for a little plate, round, oval or oblong, is tagged to each side to fence the weak point. These plates often differ in size and shape one from the other, the sword-arm side carrying the smaller one.