The medieval soldier had a number of different options when it came to armor. Each type of armor offered different levels of protection and different problems. The type of armor a soldier usually came down to how much money he had and what type of fighter he was.
Mail armor is often mistakenly called chain mail. This term was never used in the Middle Ages and was actually first used by scholars to differentiate between the different types of armor.
Although a soldier wearing mail armor was protected from cuts and punctures, he was still in danger from blunt impacts. The actual blow from an opponent’s weapon could bruise the soldier or result in fractured bones. Maces and war hammers were particularly effective in delivering blunt trauma wounds to people wearing mail armor.
When wearing mail armor, the soldier would typically start with a padded undergarment and add a mail shirt on top of this. The mail shirt (called a hauberk) would extend to the knees and usually had a split in the middle to let the soldier ride a horse. The mail shirt’s arms usually extended to the elbow but some covered the whole arm. Some soldiers also wore mail helmets which were called coifs but most soldiers also used stronger helmets to protect themselves from head trauma.
A soldier could also wear chausses, which are mail leggings, and mitons, which are mail gloves. A number of knights would wear surcoats over their mail armor. This was just a cloth that protected the mail from the weather and was usually decorated with the knight’s coat of arms.
Making Mail Armor
To make mail armor, an armorer first had to make the wire used to make the rings. The metal was hammered into plates and then cut into thin slices. The thin slices were then pulled through a draw plate to get the correct size. The armorer could also melt the iron down to make a rod and then pull the rod through the draw plate.
Once the armorer had the wire made, he would then wrap the wire around a rod to make rings. The size of the rod used to make the rings depended on the size of the rings the armorer wanted to make. The smaller the rings, the more protection they offered but smaller rings also used more metal and cost more money.
Once the metal wire was wrapped around the rods, they were cut into individual rings. The rings would then be heated and pressed together. The ends would overlap one another and a hole would be added to the overlapping ends. This hole would be used to rivet the rings together to form the armor.
Another method to make the rings was to have a sheet of metal and punch out the rings as one piece.
The rings were typically attached in a four to one pattern. This meant that each ring was attached to four others. How much protection the mail gave the soldier depended on the material used to make the rings (iron, bronze or steel), the thickness of the rings, and how close the rings were to each other. How the rings are attached (riveted, butted, or welded) also affected armor protection.
Full plate armor was expensive to make and typically only nobles had full suits of plate armor. A full plate of armor covered a knight’s whole body. The armor consisted of different parts, such as the cuirass to protect the chest, greaves to protect the legs, and gauntlets to protect the hands.
Many other soldiers would wear part plate armor and protect the rest of their bodies with different types of armor. For example, a soldier might wear a plate armor breastplate but wear leather greaves.
It was almost impossible to cut plate armor with a sword and it also provided good protection from spears or pikes. Although there was still some danger from blunt weapons (such as a mace or war hammer), plate armor still provided relatively good protection from these weapons.
A well-made suit of plate armor did not weigh that much and the wearer was still fairly mobile. A full suit of plate armor would weigh around twenty kilograms, which is less than what modern soldiers carry today. The weight of the armor was spread across the soldier’s body so he remained mobile and could even run or swim (with difficulty).
Making Plate Armor
Plate armor was much more difficult to make than mail armor and required a number of specialists. The iron would be heated up and then hammered into the correct shape. Molds or casts were used to hammer the iron into the correct shape. This hammering was usually done by an apprentice.
After the iron was shaped, the metal would be polished and dents removed. The metal would also be grinded down to the correct thickness. After this was completed, the pieces would be put together. Then padding and buckles would be added. This last step was the hardest and was typically done by the master armorer. Once the armor was assembled, it would be sent to an etcher, gilder, or painter if there were plans to decorate the armor.
Armor could be a medieval soldier’s best friend and the type of armor he had depended on a number of factors (such as money). Every soldier would want to wear as much protection as they could during a battle.