Leather armour in the middle ages.

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Zachos
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Leather armour in the middle ages.

Postby Zachos » Mon Sep 11, 2006 9:00 pm

With metal armour expensive, heavy and hot to wear I've been thinking about the possibilities that its leather cousin presents, not just for myself, but also for my friends who are interested in re-enactments but unable to afford the more specialist armour.

The question is, what are peoples opinions on said armour. The group I fight with try to do so authentically and do living history where possible, and so the main question is does it work historically, as far as the 14th and 15th centuries go.

I have heard from some that leather armour would of been used but hasn't been found due to its biodegradable nature. I have also heard it said there are no contemporary sources for leather armour being used in these periods. Opinions tend to vary and so if anyone can point me in the way of a definitive source one way or the other it would be appreciated.

Also, for those of you that have used such armour in the past, how much protection does it afford? Is it only fit for battlefield rules, or does it stand up to harder combat conditions? How much upkeep does it need?

Finally if anyone has had a go at making it themselves, how easy is it?



Thanks for getting this far, I look forward to reading your replys.


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Postby zauberdachs » Mon Sep 11, 2006 9:06 pm

there have been fairly extensive posts on this already, try doing a search?


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Postby craig1459 » Mon Sep 11, 2006 9:23 pm

The discussion on the Old-style forum about "Herluf Larsen's" kit is very interesting, going into the (in)authenticity of said kit and protective capabilities. A link can be found within the thread that Vicky's linked to


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Postby Ben_Fletcher » Mon Sep 11, 2006 11:09 pm

theres a very good example of leather armour in the church at Berlkey...

Its very sutible, but can only be leather.

If anyones interested I'll dig out some pics!


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Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Tue Sep 12, 2006 9:37 am

I have read about leather armour being worn in Italy during the 15th century which kinda makes sense when you think that a lot of naval actions went on in that area and Italy is even hotter than the average Berkley event, but I can't see that it would be a good idea as most of the weopons of this period were designed to penetrate harness. I mean what is the point of wearing armour that will keep you cool but does sweet f.a. to protect you. then again the Italian bill was proved to be not much cop at penetrating plate so maybe that is an indication that leather armour was worn. My feeling is you either went the route of mobility and didn't bother with any armour save perhaps a helmet (which is what most crossbowmen, handgunners and archers seem to have done in paintings of the time) or you went and aquired the very best and heaviest armour you could to give maximum protection (which is what most crossbowmen... hmm ). Why do you need to get covered in harness? A good jack will provide just as much protection, is cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter and was likely to be much more common. i know its not sexy and shiny but in time you could do what i have done and add other bits of armour, over the next year or two i will add jack chains for instance. besides wearing a smelly, mucky jack that's still damp with cold sweat is character building.


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Postby Simon Atford » Tue Sep 12, 2006 10:01 am

I have read about leather armour being worn in Italy during the 15th century which kinda makes sense when you think that a lot of naval actions went on in that area and Italy is even hotter than the average Berkley event


Wouldn't leather armour be be nearly as sweaty and uncomfortable as harness in a hot climate :?:

The climate in Italy (I speak as someone who's done several re-enactment events over there) is like that in Britain but more so. Its a humid heat rather than the dry heat of the Holy land.

For this reason the mercenary companies did most of their campaigning in the winter months.



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Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Tue Sep 12, 2006 10:07 am

And so there is another reason not to wear leather armour.


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Postby Skevmeister » Tue Sep 12, 2006 10:10 am

Zachos,

I would say that leather armour IMHO opinion is nearly as expensive to purchase as metal as it is just as labour intensive to make as metal and teh people that do it (and there is a guy that does Tewks and NHLF) is superb quality but you pay for it. I may be wrong but that's what I have noticed when looking around.


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Postby Colin Middleton » Tue Sep 12, 2006 12:52 pm

My understanding on leather armour is that it was found in the later 13th C and early 14th C and usually represented a fore runner to steel platesd in a given area as it is easier to shape than steel. However it is still difficult to harden properly and does not give as good protection (and may shatter!). As far as I'm aware, it fell out of use on the battlefield when metal armour became easier to make as there wasn't enough cost reduction to make it worth while.

The only source's I've seen for these are "Arms & Armour of the Medieval Knight" and "Osprey: Knights at the Tourney".

I would generally say that people would spend their money on a very little metal armour, rather than a lot of leather armour and use a jack to fill the gaps. A well padded jack gives perfectly adequate protection for our purposes.

If anyone can provide any evidence to the contrary on this, I would be very interested in seeing it.


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Postby Jim Smith » Tue Sep 12, 2006 5:53 pm

That's pretty much as I understood it Colin. If leather armour was used, it was more typically done as part of other (metal or padding) defences. Would it be safe to say that a complete leather harness has nothing to do with any sort of historical reality and everything to do with Conan or Xena?


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Postby Alan_F » Tue Sep 12, 2006 6:08 pm

Jim Smith wrote:That's pretty much as I understood it Colin. If leather armour was used, it was more typically done as part of other (metal or padding) defences. Would it be safe to say that a complete leather harness has nothing to do with any sort of historical reality and everything to do with Conan or Xena?


Jim, as I remember from the previous discussion, the full leather harness may have happened, but not in this country. But a lot of it does seemto be fantasy.


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Postby gregory23b » Wed Sep 13, 2006 10:44 am

So what is the jury's verdict re the wars of the roses and leather armour? did we have any firm conclusions?


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Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Wed Sep 13, 2006 10:57 am

Leather armour sucks get a Jack.


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Postby Colin Middleton » Wed Sep 13, 2006 12:36 pm

For WotR, pretty much as Marcus said, get a jack.

Leather is found securing armour, re-inforcing fabric and occasionally re-enforcing jacks (30 layers of linnen and a buckskin, or hardened plates in a linnen jack, etc).

Avoid it, go for a jack.


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Postby gregory23b » Wed Sep 13, 2006 1:37 pm

I was not asking for me, I am a dyed in the wool (linen) jack fan, just that I remember the original topic.


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Postby Colin MacDonald » Wed Sep 13, 2006 2:13 pm

I have a wax hardened leather back-and-breast made from a single piece of thick hide, which offers outstanding protection against blunt reenactment weapons. However, that's for circa 1300, not circa 1400, and I would never claim that it's provenancable even then; it's a strictly conjectural and experimental interpretation of the rigid or semi-rigid defence being worn over mail and under the surcoat at that period, which we can see examples of but for which we have no conclusive details.

For circa 1400, however, I don't think there's much wiggle room between a padded jack, and proper steel harness.



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Postby zauberdachs » Wed Sep 13, 2006 6:17 pm

30 seconds later after typing "leather armour" into the search engine:

http://www.livinghistory.co.uk/forums/v ... mor+armour

the entire last leather armour debate with links to previous leather armour debates :)

Could be good if anyones found any new evidence otherwise we'll just be rehashing stuff in here.


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Postby gregory23b » Wed Sep 13, 2006 7:48 pm

ah, so this is grandson of leather armour debate.

So, what about real leather armour, ie based on extant stuff, only interested as it seemed unresolved in respects to WOTR era.

Given the material costs of leather and energy pyramid to make hide compared with say jacks as has bene mentioned, in pure terms of economics over efficacy it doesn't seem to work. Must be less complicated to make a sleeved jack in the long run.


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Postby craig1459 » Wed Oct 15, 2008 7:21 am

Sir Topaz in the Canterbury Tales is described as wearing leather greaves


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Postby Fox » Wed Oct 15, 2008 10:14 am

Someone suggested to me recently that there is, still in existance, a suit of tudor armour, at first glance steel, but on proper examination actually leather.

I'm am going to try and find it. If it really exists then it would indeed cast an interesting light on this discussion.



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Re: Leather armour in the middle ages.

Postby George P. » Wed Oct 15, 2008 10:27 am

Zachos wrote:With metal armour expensive, heavy and hot to wear I've been thinking about the possibilities that its leather cousin presents, not just for myself, but also for my friends who are interested in re-enactments but unable to afford the more specialist armour.

The question is, what are peoples opinions on said armour. The group I fight with try to do so authentically and do living history where possible, and so the main question is does it work historically, as far as the 14th and 15th centuries go.

I have heard from some that leather armour would of been used but hasn't been found due to its biodegradable nature. I have also heard it said there are no contemporary sources for leather armour being used in these periods. Opinions tend to vary and so if anyone can point me in the way of a definitive source one way or the other it would be appreciated.

Also, for those of you that have used such armour in the past, how much protection does it afford? Is it only fit for battlefield rules, or does it stand up to harder combat conditions? How much upkeep does it need?

Finally if anyone has had a go at making it themselves, how easy is it?



Thanks for getting this far, I look forward to reading your replys.


off the top of my head, a source i read (some guy was writing during his travels), he mentioned cuirboeli gauntlets,the type worn in germany.
Then you have rene de anjous tournament book, the british museum rerebrace...



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Postby Jim » Wed Oct 15, 2008 12:49 pm

Well now, that takes me back a bit.

I still have my leather harness, but it has been replaced on the field by my Gothic Plate and sometimes my maille hauberk over a jack.

The leather comes out to play at earlier shows such as Templecombe and Tintagel where leather is more prevalent, and I might possibly use it under a long tabard at other shows if it is very wet and I don't fancy my plate being turned to a pile of ginger dust.

But that's pretty much it really.


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Postby Colin Middleton » Thu Oct 16, 2008 1:15 pm

Jim Smith wrote:Would it be safe to say that a complete leather harness has nothing to do with any sort of historical reality and everything to do with Conan or Xena?


Fox's comment reminds me of something to kind of shoot down Jim's question.

While I can't provenence it, I strongly suspect that the 16th Century (and possibly late 15th C) sees the creation of many full harnesses of ornate and richly decorated armour made of hardened leather. These would be much lighter to wear than steel, if for example, you wanted a very pretty armour, but didn't care how much protection it gave. Such as on parade. As armour in the 16th C was becomming more about show and less about protection, I suspect that this happened.

So Jim, if my conjecture is correct, leather armour has very much to do with historical reality, but filling the same roll as Conan and Xena do today, entertainment! :lol:


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Postby John Waller » Thu Oct 16, 2008 1:44 pm

I've recently been looking for info on the use of and techniques for cuir bouilli and found the following list of references which may indicate use of hardened leather armour (or at least helmet decoration?).

1375 Barbour Bruce xii. 22 On his basnet hye he bar Ane hat off qwyrbolle.
1386 Chaucer Sir Thopas 164 Hise Iambeux were of quyrboilly [v.r. quereboly].
1400 Mandeville (Roxb.) xxvi. 123 ai hafe platez made of coerbuille.
1413 Lydg. Pilgr. Sowle iv. xxx. (1483) 80 A feyned hede formed of playstred clothe other of coerboyle.
1513 Douglas ?neis v. vii. 77 Thair harnes thaim semyt for to be Of curbule corvyne sevin gret oxin hydis.

My first experiment at making a cuir boulli archer's bracer amazed me - the oval of 3-4mm veg tan leather virtually doubled in thickness and shrank by about a third on each axis when immersed in boiling water and is now absolutely rock hard. I can't bend it and it has survived repeated blows from a hammer. I don't doubt that such leather could be used as defensive armour. Think on the etemology of the word cuirass.


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Postby Fox » Thu Oct 16, 2008 1:59 pm

Colin Middleton wrote:While I can't provenence it, I strongly suspect that the 16th Century (and possibly late 15th C) sees the creation of many full harnesses of ornate and richly decorated armour made of hardened leather. These would be much lighter to wear than steel, if for example, you wanted a very pretty armour, but didn't care how much protection it gave. Such as on parade. As armour in the 16th C was becomming more about show and less about protection, I suspect that this happened.


How speculative do you think that is, based, perhaps, on your assumptions of the protective ability of leather?

It is the retreat of any interpretation to explain things we haven't got our head round by saying cermonial/ritual



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Postby Fox » Thu Oct 16, 2008 2:03 pm

John Waller wrote:Think on the etemology of the word cuirass.


Interesting.

Somewhere I've an illustration that I think I recall is Bohemian, early 15thC. The man appears to wearing a cuirass that appears to be laced up the front; often wondered if it represent leather armour or something else.

It never occured to me that there might be a clue in the word.



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Postby George P. » Thu Oct 16, 2008 5:30 pm

John Waller wrote:I've recently been looking for info on the use of and techniques for cuir bouilli and found the following list of references which may indicate use of hardened leather armour (or at least helmet decoration?).

1375 Barbour Bruce xii. 22 On his basnet hye he bar Ane hat off qwyrbolle.
1386 Chaucer Sir Thopas 164 Hise Iambeux were of quyrboilly [v.r. quereboly].
1400 Mandeville (Roxb.) xxvi. 123 ai hafe platez made of coerbuille.
1413 Lydg. Pilgr. Sowle iv. xxx. (1483) 80 A feyned hede formed of playstred clothe other of coerboyle.
1513 Douglas ?neis v. vii. 77 Thair harnes thaim semyt for to be Of curbule corvyne sevin gret oxin hydis.

My first experiment at making a cuir boulli archer's bracer amazed me - the oval of 3-4mm veg tan leather virtually doubled in thickness and shrank by about a third on each axis when immersed in boiling water and is now absolutely rock hard. I can't bend it and it has survived repeated blows from a hammer. I don't doubt that such leather could be used as defensive armour. Think on the etemology of the word cuirass.


Don't bother boiling it (too brittle). Soak then bake it at a low temperature. Hard and flexible. Somepeople treat it with pitch as well, I use hide glue.



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Postby Colin Middleton » Fri Oct 17, 2008 1:38 pm

I'm guessing that the name cuirass comes along with the development of the armour itself from a hardened leather re-inforcement for the chest and stomarch to a steel version (during the 13th C) to the first breastplates, to full cuirass (end of the 14th C).

Fox, I'm not certain what you're getting at.

My statement is 100% speculative because I don't KNOW of any leather harness. I've read about leather peices re-inforcing armour and being used to decorate it, I've read about all sorts of strange items used in tournaments and I've read about excessivly decorated tournament and parade armour appearing in the 16th C. I put all those togeather and threw the idea into the melting pot.


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Postby Fox » Fri Oct 17, 2008 2:56 pm

Colin Middleton wrote:I'm guessing that the name cuirass comes along with the development of the armour itself from a hardened leather re-inforcement for the chest and stomarch to a steel version (during the 13th C) to the first breastplates, to full cuirass (end of the 14th C).

Fox, I'm not certain what you're getting at.


That it shouldn't be entirely shocking if there did turn out to be a provinence for a 15thC leather breast plate; the etymology of cuirass reminding of the their leather origin.




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