Charles Oakley, Esq.
Good Lords and Ladies of Illiton, Greetings:
Our good Chronicler, the Lady Rhiannon, has asked me to do an article about the shield that I have started using in tournaments. The shield, which is pictured on this page is my "SCA legal" version of a Medieval shield and, although it has some adaptations which our forefathers would not have understood, it is none the less a reasonably close approximation of what they might have used in tourneys.I have just finished many hours of trying to figure out how to begin writing this article. The problem is, I can’t just find a good way to separate the building of the shield that I now use in tournaments and the reasons why I built the shield. For me they are inseparable.
My involvement in the SCA is an exercise in understanding the 14th century tournament and the thoughts, ideas and ideals that were brought to the list during that time period. Although much can be learned by reading and discussion, I find the greatest reward in the experiences that are gained by taking my "bookish studies" and applying them to my activities within the SCA.
Some time ago I purchased a copy of Chronique; The Journal of Chivalry, Volume 8. One of the articles it contained was "Construction of the Knightly Shield" by Theodore F. Monnich. The author had done extensive research into the construction of medieval shields and had included as a part of his article two drawings on this subject. To my mind, to construct and use a shield that was a very close approximation to what my period counterpart might have used in a tournament would provide experiences that couldn’t be gained any other way.
Building the Shield:
"Through comparison of surviving examples, most medieval shields are found to be constructed of a half-inch thick wood base. Through microscopic analysis it has been found that shields were made from various woods including beech, birch, fir, pine and poplar... "
I also used a ˝" wood base for my shield... except I used a formed heater blank made from plywood by Sir Kaydian of Loch Morrow. For SCA purposes this provides a similar weight and feel to what a medieval knight might have used while reducing the possibility of equipment failure because of a good blow that falls along the grain of the wood and splits it...
"After being molded, carved and cut to shape, the wood was coated overall with size or glue and covered on both sides with canvas, pigskin or other leather."
Because this shield is to be used in SCA tournaments and must meet SCA armor requirements, I first fastened the required heater hose around the rim of the shield. This is 1 1/4" hose that can be bought at most automotive stores... and for those who may be reading this and do not understand its purpose, it is to pad the edges of the shield to a diameter that will not fit through the grill on a helm where it might harm your opponent.
The hose is split and laced onto the shield rim. Care should be taken at this point to make sure that the corner points of the shield are well covered by the hose... this is not only for protection of your opponent, but for the protection of the shield as well. The corners of a heater should be what takes the most abuse during a tournament. Good construction at these corners will help to make your shield last for more than one tournament .
After securing the heater hose, I used a heavy Irish linen and Elmer’s hide glue. I first applied the treatment to the front of the shield by applying a liberal coating of glue to the front of the shield (including the hose...) and then applying a piece of linen such that about 2" of material came around the back of the shield all the way around. A separate piece of linen was cut to size for the back of the shield. Glue was again liberally applied and then the fabric smoothed on to the back. The back piece should cover the overlap from the front piece by an inch or so. I found that it helps if the linen is slightly damp when you apply it. Take your time and smooth out the fabric as you apply it and work it around the hose...
Now... here is where we depart from the script... according to Mr. Monnich during the medieval period the next step would have been;
"If first covered with canvas, the shield would again be covered with glue and then a covering of leather.... The leather acted as a shock-absorber, preventing the wood’s splitting apart under a heavy blow. After permitting the glue to dry, the leather was covered by a layer of gesso... The gesso served as a ground, or base, for the painted heraldic design."
On this particular shield I have omitted these last steps for the following reasons:
That much leather is expensive... particularly when you’re not sure how the whole thing is going to work... and;
The gesso (a mixture of paint/plaster or paint/chalk) could chip off under combat conditions and become a kind of shrapnel flying around the list during tournaments thereby presenting a possible safety hazard to combatants and spectators alike.
However... as the shield is an on going experiment for me the following is planned....
At some time during its life, the shield will become scared and damaged sufficiently that it will need to be "cleaned up"... When this occurs I will cut pieces of leather to form "oak leaf appliques" which I will glue to the shield front and then recover the whole with another layer of linen before repainting it.
The shield is borne into combat attached to my left arm by a series of leather straps and includes a guige, a long strap attached at both ends to the back of the shield and hung around the neck to prevent loss during battle. While this works somewhat well in tournament play, I would hesitate to make use of this during melee combat... particularly where there are pole arms attempting grab your shield and pull it away from you!
I used 7/8" and 1" copper rivets to attach the straps. To do this, a hole is drilled through the face of the shield and the rivet placed through the hole with the head on the face of the shield... the heads of the rivets are not painted...
Again from Mr. Monnich, "The heads were visible as ‘the four nails’, the target of the expert jouster. The rivet heads were often reinforced with decorative rosette-shaped washers, or completely covered by metal or leather bosses secured by nails to the front of the shield..."
Again... for safety reasons.. I just left the heads plain.
The painting is done with simple acrylic latex paint and the elements employed are as follows... In the center of the shield is my arms. For heraldic purposes I want them prominently displayed as a tourney knight of the 14th century might... In addition, I have included my personal motto, "L’honneur avant des honneurs", or "Honor before Honors" Above the device are two peacocks... a reference to my affiliation to the Grand Company of the Peacock and to each side of my device is an acorn... an element that I use frequently in conjunction with the oak leaves of my device to symbolize the old saying, "Mighty oaks from little acorns grow." or, "Great deeds from small acts."
Does the shield help my fighting? I’m not sure. But what I am sure of is that many who have seen it have remarked on it... It has been inspected, photographed and ‘tried on’ by any number of people... it has been fun.
From the ‘medieval experience’ point of view, I feel more like a tourney knight of the middle ages when I step onto the list with it...
Are there better shield constructions? YOU BET!! The leather straps aren’t the easiest things to hang on to... and lack of any other protection behind the shield requires me to wear a full gauntlet whenever I use it. It is fairly heavy and maintenance intensive... but... well.....
General Notes on Medieval Shields...
One last quote from Mr. Monnich: "The 14th century von Raron shield, in Sion, measured 29.5 inches high by 22.625 inches wide, now weighs 6.06 lb. It may be loosely assumed that a shield of this size weighted seven to ten pounds during its working life."
My shield is 31" high by 25" wide and weights about 9.5 lbs... Hummmm...
Your obdn’t servant -
In the back of the Chronique #8 is the following biography of Mr. Monnich:
Theodore F. Monnich interned in 1984 at the Royal Armouries, H.M. Tower of London after serving apprenticeships in France and the United States. He has recently served as Assistant Armorer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1988-1991) and Conservator to the Higgins Armory Museum (1989-1992). He is currently Chief Conservator at the South Carolina State Museum.