Origin of the term'secret'

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Origin of the term'secret'

Postby Jim Smith » Mon Aug 08, 2011 4:22 pm

I'm thinking of the round skull cap worn as a cheap/starter helmet by some re-enactors. Such helmets are often referred to as a 'secret' - is this actually a medieval term, or does it refer to something more C16/17 in origin?


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Re: Origin of the term'secret'

Postby Merlon. » Mon Aug 08, 2011 5:50 pm

Per the OED:-
first written reference for secret as a term for armour appears in 1578, but then refers to a coat of mail hidden under outer clothing
skull cap or skoll first turms up in the literature in 1522
Coif as a armour term for a rigid cap rather than mail turns up around 1390



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Re: Origin of the term'secret'

Postby Jim Smith » Mon Aug 08, 2011 8:17 pm

Merlon. wrote:Per the OED:-
first written reference for secret as a term for armour appears in 1578, but then refers to a coat of mail hidden under outer clothing
skull cap or skoll first turms up in the literature in 1522
Coif as a armour term for a rigid cap rather than mail turns up around 1390


Thank you for the info merlon. :) So, the term 'coif' can be applied to what many medieval re-enactors call a steel skull-cap?


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Re: Origin of the term'secret'

Postby Dave B » Mon Aug 08, 2011 9:28 pm

Coif is a verb as well as a noun, to Coif is to cover with a hat or hood. from ( I believe) the latin coifa, meaning Hood.

So I would say that potentialy the word Coif is any sort of under-hat, whether its a steel scullcap to be worn under a hat or hood, or the padded hat under a great bacinet, or the linen headgear worn under a hat, and that the meaning would extend to any close fitting headgear that looks like an under-hat, even if it is worn on its own.

Pure speculation though.


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Re: Origin of the term'secret'

Postby Fox » Tue Aug 09, 2011 12:02 pm

Merlon. wrote:Coif as a armour term for a rigid cap rather than mail turns up around 1390


The Middle English Dictionary's general description defines a coif is:
A close-fitting skullcap (of mail or leather) worn under the helmet, coif; ~ of maille, a hood of chain mail.


However, for instance, they quote Malory as writing
Hit wente thorow his helme and thorow the coyffe of steele

which is, at very least, ambiguous.



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Re: Origin of the term'secret'

Postby Dave B » Tue Aug 09, 2011 12:34 pm

I guess though that we are before any standardisation of the language, which I guess starts with Caxton and does not really complete till the 18thC? Chaucer jokes about it in the reeves tale, but I rember reading that this may have been based on a business trip he took to the north as a younger man, when he had to get by in french and bits of latin because no-one could understand his southern accent.

the word probably didn't mean the same thing in all parts of the country and for the whole of the medieval period?


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Re: Origin of the term'secret'

Postby Fox » Tue Aug 09, 2011 12:56 pm

Dave B wrote:the word probably didn't mean the same thing in all parts of the country and for the whole of the medieval period?

Certainly true.


But what I should have added is that the MED doesn't list "secret" as meaning anything other than it's usual moden meanings of a piece of hidden knowledge, or the act of hidding something.



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Re: Origin of the term'secret'

Postby Dave B » Tue Aug 09, 2011 12:58 pm

Indeed, I'm sure the word 'secret' has slipped into medieval reenactment from the english civil war - I blame the sealed knot. I do seem to remember a reference to 'hat of plate' or similar which sounded very much like the same animal


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Re: Origin of the term'secret'

Postby Fox » Tue Aug 09, 2011 1:14 pm

I don't think it matters that we use a later term, for clarity [although always worth knowing it isn't a medieval term].

For instance, we almost never use the word "breeches" as a medieval garment, presumably because it carries a similar but different meaning in later costume.



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Re: Origin of the term'secret'

Postby Alan E » Tue Aug 09, 2011 2:53 pm

Dave B wrote:the word probably didn't mean the same thing in all parts of the country and for the whole of the medieval period?

Oooh! Please can I nick this for my sig? Slightly altered if I may:

"A word probably didn't mean the same thing in all parts of the country at any time in the whole of the medieval period "
?


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Re: Origin of the term'secret'

Postby Phil the Grips » Tue Aug 09, 2011 3:26 pm

My understanding was that all concealed armour was deemed "secret" in the C16th but, as the last vestige of such privy armour, the skull/cap/pot retained the name.

There's some leads here-http://www.myarmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=23587


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Re: Origin of the term'secret'

Postby Cap-a-pie » Tue Aug 09, 2011 5:39 pm

Out of interest, has anyone come across any info on the the use of maille secrets, I spotted a couple examples at the Wallace Collection a while ago and am currently trying to look for other examples. dates etc.

I had a discussion recently at Kelmarsh and then at Berkeley with a couple of groups, who were interested in this idea for "water carriers" in the group. I have a few coif tops which I had planned to sell as Coif Kits but also thought a maille secret would be an interesting idea.

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Re: Origin of the term'secret'

Postby X » Tue Aug 09, 2011 6:09 pm

Cap-a-pie wrote:Out of interest, has anyone come across any info on the the use of maille secrets, I spotted a couple examples at the Wallace Collection a while ago and am currently trying to look for other examples. dates etc.

I had a discussion recently at Kelmarsh and then at Berkeley with a couple of groups, who were interested in this idea for "water carriers" in the group. I have a few coif tops which I had planned to sell as Coif Kits but also thought a maille secret would be an interesting idea.

Mark


I personally wouldn't rely on only maille as head protection on the field because it's great for protecting against slashes with sharp weapons (of which there should be none on the re-enactment battlefield) but it will not protect against a solid whack with a blunt object, which is pretty much what you want it for.

A maille-only head-protector (whatever we're going to call it) would be a good example of something that would work to some extent in a 'real life' situation (sharp weapons) and would have the advantage of not making you look as if you have a funny-shaped head, but would not do the only thing we want it to do on the re-enactment field: protect against blunt trauma.

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Re: Origin of the term'secret'

Postby Cap-a-pie » Wed Aug 10, 2011 9:38 am

oh yeah appreciate that, although this would not be maille only, we were talking of mixture of good solid padding along with this also. General feeling was that the head would look rather on the large side but it was an interesting thought. What sort of gauge secrets are folk using for this purpose, 16-14? Depending on the size of ring you can get quite a dense structure with maille. as i said it was just a thought, would certainly want to do some serious testing on this. Personally i always favour 14gauge on my head.


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Re: Origin of the term'secret'

Postby X » Wed Aug 10, 2011 10:02 pm

14 gauge plate with some kind of shock-absorber under it. After all, if you break the head you were issued with, nobody is going to give you a new one.

Anything you wear on your head on the re-enactment battlefield needs to be something that will stand up to having something big and heavy dropped on it - of course nobody should be hitting people over the head (especially not non-combatants) but we all know that accidents happen. And when they do, clang is the noise you need to hear, not crunch-splat. Presumably this is why you see pictures of big tough Norman knights with maille everywhere else, but with a nice plate helmet on their heads.

Which brings us nicely back to the original topic, which was whether there was any evidence for a simple skullcap-type helmet being called a 'secret' during the fifteenth century.

I confess, I would like to know too.



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Re: Origin of the term'secret'

Postby Fox » Thu Aug 11, 2011 9:22 am

X wrote:Which brings us nicely back to the original topic, which was whether there was any evidence for a simple skullcap-type helmet being called a 'secret' during the fifteenth century.

Unless someone comes along with some new evidence [always possible]; I think we've covered that already.

X wrote:I confess, I would like to know too.

It's is an interesting linguistic curiostity.

X wrote:14 gauge plate with some kind of shock-absorber under it. After all, if you break the head you were issued with, nobody is going to give you a new one.

Anything you wear on your head on the re-enactment battlefield needs to be something that will stand up to having something big and heavy dropped on it - of course nobody should be hitting people over the head (especially not non-combatants) but we all know that accidents happen. And when they do, clang is the noise you need to hear, not crunch-splat.

Broadly all very sound; although I'm interested in why you appear to be implying that the minimum protective requirement for all people on a battle field is a 14 gauge helmet.
I would suggest that is not always appropriate and does adequately assess the level of risk for the different roles; specifically that the protection required to successfully fend off a single accidental blow is significantly different to that required to protect from repeated, deliberate impacts.



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Re: Origin of the term'secret'

Postby Biro » Thu Aug 11, 2011 10:31 am

Imho, helmet guage should depend on a number of things..

1) Quality of steel.. Is it simple, mild steel or case-hardened
2) As Fox mentioned - how often does it get hit (ie do you do headshots? Are you even a combatant?)
3) Period covered (ie what weapons will be hitting it)
4) Style of helmet.

We do headshots, in a pre-polearm period (90% of the weapons doing headshots are 1-handed swords). So our rules are for a minimum of 16guage, 14guage recommened (but it depends on the perticular helm). For example, I'm happy with a flat-topped great-helm being 16-guage mild steel - since all the shots will be on the top 'corner' where there is an overlap. But my 'Secret' is 14 guage, has a spider(providing a gap between helm + head) and is worn over mail and a padded arming cap (so not very secret at all!).

Experience shows that 16guage mild-steel is fine (with a conical, glancing shape) - but it does take dents and so at some point will need to be retired. It just won't last as long as 14guage - which very, very rarely dents.

I'd love to be able to wear one under the mail coif instead, as many period illustrations show for early 13c (along with the big-heads to boot!) - but doing headshots and all, I don't really want my nice, flat-ring, rivited mail (Thank Mark) to take a hammering.
Period illustrations do show them being worn both over and under the coif - but the vast majority appear to be under.



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Re: Origin of the term'secret'

Postby X » Thu Aug 11, 2011 6:34 pm

X wrote:14 gauge plate with some kind of shock-absorber under it. After all, if you break the head you were issued with, nobody is going to give you a new one.

Anything you wear on your head on the re-enactment battlefield needs to be something that will stand up to having something big and heavy dropped on it - of course nobody should be hitting people over the head (especially not non-combatants) but we all know that accidents happen. And when they do, clang is the noise you need to hear, not crunch-splat.

Broadly all very sound; although I'm interested in why you appear to be implying that the minimum protective requirement for all people on a battle field is a 14 gauge helmet.
I would suggest that is not always appropriate and does adequately assess the level of risk for the different roles; specifically that the protection required to successfully fend off a single accidental blow is significantly different to that required to protect from repeated, deliberate impacts.[/quote]

16 gauge is OK, but the thought of someone going onto the field with just maille and padding is... disturbing. As for 'accidental' blows - these can be just as hard as intentional ones. And besides, what about the "I know she's 5 foot nothing and wearing a pink kirtle, but she looked like a big bloke in full plate to me!" sort of situation? Or someone's foot slides sideways on a cowpat and their flailing/falling pollaxe blade comes into contact with some inoffensive marshal's head? Nobody means to hit non-combatants, but it can happen anyway. When it does, you need decent protection.

And from a legalistic point of view, in this age of suing everyone, I would not want to be the group leader who told a non-combatant "It's OK, you only need a bit of maille and padding; the worst you'll get is a glancing blow..." And then something dreadful happens and they end up in hospital. Head trauma can be very complicated; with most injuries, once you're healed up you're mostly as good as new - with head inuries, you can be left with all sorts of deficits if you're unlucky. I'd far rather know that my people are as safe as they can be (without relying on luck), for their health, mine, and the group's.

The thing about safety equipment is that it's very easy to downgrade it because 'it'll never happen' - and then suddenly when 'it' does, you're in a whole world of hurt. I remember a guy at Tewkesbury who thought one of those fake brigs held together with press-studs, with a bit of padding underneath, was sufficient. He probably changed his mind later though, because a depressed fracture of the ribs does make you re-evaluate some of your assumptions.



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Re: Origin of the term'secret'

Postby Fox » Thu Aug 11, 2011 8:11 pm

I understand the cautious approach, but again I'd question whether it's a sensible measure of the risk.

Let's take a different view; blows to the face can and do happen, accidentally and even if someone is not the target of an attack. I'm sure that you are not suggesting that all water carriers wear a bevoir and visored helmet.

In addition I think your estimate of the protection provided by a helm may also be over cautious.
Many, many years ago I was wearing a helmet which was approx. 18 or 20 gauge. I took four or five full on, deliberately aimed head shots. The dents in the helmet went down to my head, but there was not so much as a bruise or scratch on me.
I may have got a little lucky, but I'd be moderately confident of that type of helmet providing protection for a non-combatant against even a very heavy accidental blow.

Now I don't know what level of protection maille and padding might give your head; but I might be interested to at least test it. Maille does have some interersting properties in redistributing the energy.



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Re: Origin of the term'secret'

Postby Cap-a-pie » Fri Aug 12, 2011 10:19 am

Fox wrote:Now I don't know what level of protection maille and padding might give your head; but I might be interested to at least test it. Maille does have some interersting properties in redistributing the energy.


My thoughts exactly :) - always interests me that these properties often get overlooked, especially given the time span maille has had as a defensive armour.


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