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Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Wed Dec 21, 2011 1:24 pm
by r33nact0r
OK chaps - I need some informed opinion. Many years ago, when I first started reenacting, I was told that black armour was not worn generally because it denoted a "masterless man". Is this true? It doesn't really seem a good enough reason to not wear the stuff. Besides, a certain well informed (or know-it-all) reenactor I know says it's perfectly OK to wear it. What do you all think?

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Wed Dec 21, 2011 5:41 pm
by Friesian
Never heard that one before !

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Wed Dec 21, 2011 6:00 pm
by wulfenganck
Never heard the "masterless man"-thing before.
WIth all due respect and please believe me, I don't intend to be patronising or trying to put you down, BUT why not start searching for period/prime sources for the period and region of your interest?
Don't rely on informatioon solely given from fellow reenacters without specifying the evidence and sources they are basing their assumptions on.
I as well could be a jerk with nothing else but "Horrible Histories" as basis for my advises.....I'm not, actually I'm both brilliant and modest, but how are you supposed to know???

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Wed Dec 21, 2011 6:52 pm
by Phil the Grips
Walter Scott uses it as a literary device in "Ivanhoe" for the "disinherited" knight in the tournament at the start of the book.

It's the only thing I can even remotely link to the idea, so authentic if you are recreating the Eglinton Tourney of 1839 but not actual medieval history.

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Wed Dec 21, 2011 8:54 pm
Lord Essex turned up to a joust laid on by Liz 1 in 'armour sable black'. I can't say he fits to the image you have painted

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Wed Dec 21, 2011 11:13 pm
by acecat999
wasn't there a Black Prince too who wore .......................... Black?

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Thu Dec 22, 2011 11:50 am
by Chris T
Armour was subject to fashion just as everthing else: in some periods black was fashionable, in others it was seen as practical.........but seems to have no link with social status, except in so much as a basic forge black (rather than painted with dulux gloss, like so many re-enactors) was a practical antirusting finish, and as such probably popular with those who had to do their own armour cleaning, wheras high maintainance finishes such as bright polished metal was only really an option for those with others to do the work for them!

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Thu Dec 22, 2011 9:56 pm
So where does that leave you if you have a russetted suit or gilded lol

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Sat Dec 24, 2011 1:34 pm
by Friesian
STEENIE wrote:So where does that leave you if you have a russetted suit or gilded lol
Rich I would imagine :D

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Mon Dec 26, 2011 10:13 am
by gregory23b
"(rather than painted with dulux gloss, like so many re-enactors)"

What is wrong with that?

Oil varnish paints were the basic paints for armour, they are glossy by nature, rather than the reenactoristic matt <add any colour> thin acrylic paints, if you look at extant painted armour you will see the the paint is thick.

The landsknecht black and white harnesses used bitumen or other oil based black paints for the black parts, they would have been glossy when applied, having lost their lustre over time.

But as mentioned before, the (chemical or forge) blacking of armour is not the same as painting it.

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Tue Dec 27, 2011 1:50 am
by The_Kyle
Looking through a number of 15th century miniatures, most of the armour seems to be depicted as being black.


Just artistic style? Lack of silver paint?

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Tue Dec 27, 2011 5:14 pm
by Chris T
If you are russeted you are laughing, as your armour should need very little cleaning.

If guilded, you are laughing even more, as not only will your armour need very little cleaning, but you are filthy rich as well!

A huge amount of re-enactment armour is painted black. Wheras I agree that in some periods painting was done for decoration /heraldic purposes, I cannot help feeling that the normal finish for common armour was forge black, not black paint. I would be very wary of assuming that the finish currently shown by a surviving suit is what was originally intended: it is well known that at least some Victorian (and later) museums scoured off damaged or supposedly "unauthentic" finishes such as painting, bluing, guilding, russeting and so on to make 'proper' polished armour. Others may well have gone the opposite way....however good a finish paint may be to preserve items in armouries or museum displays, it is actually quite bad for practical soldiering. Even assuming that your armour started with a nice smooth coat of spray paint how long would it actually have lasted: those who go for the look now have to paint their armour at least once a season, so if using it on a daily basis would probably have needed to paint it every few weeks, and that is simply not belivable. I simply do not see the accounts to supply, for example "Ye Army of My Lord Essexe, xxiiij grosse tins of blacke dooluxe, xxiiij grosse brushes" or " the armie marched notte this day, as all ye armoure, being new painted, hungge aboute ye trees and bushes"

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Thu Dec 29, 2011 12:45 am
by r33nact0r
An interesting thought from Wikipedia - forgot to include the author -

The name "Black Prince"

Although Edward has in later years often been referred to as the "Black Prince", there is no record of this name being used during his lifetime, or for more than 150 years after his death. He was instead known as Edward of Woodstock (after his place of birth), or by one of his titles. The "Black Prince" sobriquet is first found in writing in two manuscript notes made by the antiquary John Leland in the 1530s or early 1540s: in one, Leland refers in English to "the blake prince"; in the other, he refers in Latin to "Edwardi Principis cog: Nigri".[8] The name's earliest known appearance in print is in Richard Grafton's Chronicle at Large (1569): Grafton uses it on three occasions, saying that "some writers name him the black prince", and (elsewhere) that he was "commonly called the black Prince".[9] It is used by Shakespeare, in his plays Richard II (written c.1595) and Henry V (c.1599): see quotations below. It later appears prominently in the title of Joshua Barnes's The History of that Most Victorious Monarch, Edward IIId, King of England and France, and Lord of Ireland, and First Founder of the Most Noble Order of the Garter: Being a Full and Exact Account Of the Life and Death of the said King: Together with That of his Most Renowned Son, Edward, Prince of Wales and of Aquitain, Sirnamed the Black-Prince (1688).

The origins of the name are uncertain, though many theories have been proposed. These fall under two main heads:
that it is derived from Edward's black shield, and/or his black armour.
that it is derived from Edward's brutal reputation, particularly towards the French in Aquitaine.

The black field of his "shield for peace" is well documented (see Arms above). However, there is no sound evidence that Edward ever wore black armour, although Harvey (without citing a source) refers to "some rather shadowy evidence that he was described in French as clad at the battle of Crecy "en armure noire en fer bruni" - in black armour of burnished steel".[10] Richard Barber suggests that the name's origins may have lain in pageantry, in that a tradition may have grown up in the 15th century of representing the prince in black armour. He points out that several chronicles refer to him as Edward the Fourth (the title he would have taken as King had he outlived his father): this name would obviously have become confusing when the actual Edward IV succeeded in 1461, and this may have been the period when an alternative had to be found.[11]

Edward's brutality in France is also well documented, and David Green believes that this is where the title has its origins. The French soldier Philippe de Mézières refers to Edward as the greatest of the "black boars" - those aggressors who had done so much to disrupt relations within Christendom.[12] Other French writers made similar associations, and Peter Hoskins reports that an oral tradition of L'Homme Noir, who had passed by with an army, survived in southern France until recent years.[13] The King of France's reference in Henry V to "that black name, Edward, Black Prince of Wales" suggests that Shakespeare may have interpreted the name in this way. There remains, however, considerable doubt over how the name might have crossed from France to England.

So the name might be referring simply to his well documented brutality, and not the colour of his armour.

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Thu Dec 29, 2011 8:50 pm
Forge Black? bit like a gun barrel I suppose? seems fair assumption.

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Fri Dec 30, 2011 1:59 pm
by steve stanley
When I still wore Armour....I used black Ironwork paint............

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Fri Dec 30, 2011 3:16 pm
by Chris T
Forge Black:

When an object has been hand forged it normally emerges with a black(ish) colour, which is formed from the ferrous material reacting with the fuel. I believe it can be composed of various things, depending on the precise conditions, ammount of oxygen, type of fuel etcs etc, but in practice it is iron reacted with other things. Since the surface iron has allready reacted, it is much more resistant to rusting (the reaction between iron and oxygen) and so forms a protective coat.

Of course, fine armour would have this removed, but most munition grade armour would probably retain it, as not only did it protect the metal, but also saved the (very labour intensive) process of cleaning it off. Blueing is a broadly similar process, but controlled to produce a finer and more decorative effect. Most modern blueing is too fine and even for historical equipment (except for the absolute finest grade historical equipment), as the use of thermostatically controlled electric ovens with controlled gas atmospheres makes it too easy, and modern polishing gives too high a quality substrate.

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Fri Dec 30, 2011 5:21 pm
by gregory23b
'....however good a finish paint may be to preserve items in armouries or museum displays, it is actually quite bad for practical soldiering.'

I wonder how that works with painted soldier hats, seems to have been very popular at least the 2nd world war. Maybe all those tommies and GIs were fussing when a bit of paint chipped off their tin hats, or maybe they didn't.

Paint is very much cheaper than polishing, so is leaving an item forge black, however, it is documented that varnish can be used to preserve metal from rusting, a late medieval recipe talks about cooking the metal item and painting it with the varnish and it cooks on.

'If guilded, you are laughing even more, as not only will your armour need very little cleaning, but you are filthy rich as well!'

If the gilding comes off, then you have a risk of rust, gold is softer than steel or iron, it needs maintaining.

' "Ye Army of My Lord Essexe, xxiiij grosse tins of blacke dooluxe, xxiiij grosse brushes" or " the armie marched notte this day, as all ye armoure, being new painted, hungge aboute ye trees and bushes"'

presumably neither would they be waiting for armour to be polished or gilded, oh wait, they spent a lot of money and time on making decorating armour for war, you have contradicted yourself.

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Fri Dec 30, 2011 5:47 pm
by Chris T
I dont think I have contradicted myself:

There was a SMALL amount of really high status armour in any period, which was highly decorated at vast expense by skilled craftsmen, and maintained by teams of people employed specifically for the purpose. Depending on the period it was guilded, etched, embossed or whatever, but I see little or no evidence (my point in the main) of it being painted with dulux.
This group of armours probably consisted of only in the order of (let us say) 100 suits in a country at any one time, some owned by those not fit or willing to fight, or who owned more than one suit, and could only wear one at a at a battle there may only be 10 or 20 of this status.

There was a reasonable amount of well made, reasonably modern armour, but still the preserve of the upper crust, with some degree of decoration above the minimum, and with people tasked to maintain it: maybe thousands of suits, and so reasonably common in action.....but again where is the Dulux?

The armour for the common soldier (if he had any)....either cheap, mass produced and simply (un) finished, so forge black, or given some sort of other protective treatment, such as russeting, oil blueing or the (mentioned above) heat varnishing. It is possible that painting was included, but if it was it would likely be a much cruder product than modern paint, and certainly not applied from a spray can.
I just cannot see rank after rank of common soldiers in freshly sprayed black armour, or with machine bright polished finishes: even if there was the will and technology to do either of these, it would not have lasted .....

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Sat Dec 31, 2011 7:13 pm
by gregory23b
You did when you mentioned waiting for paint to dry but forgetting that armour making and embellishing took months, ie no one waited for anything to dry as it was made up well in advance of potential use. Likewise paint is a handy finish for soldiering as many armies can attest to, at least from the preservation and colouring of tin hats, let alone some 18th c grenadier caps that were sometimes painted, see Delft museum. Wooden artillery carriages were often painted, and possibly hand gun stocks.

You are arguing for prevalence over presence, no one in their right mind would be suggesting that all men wore the same type of armour, let's face it, reenactors are not the bench mark for measuring prevalence other than as a measure of what reenactors do. There was some painted armour, some forge blackened and some polished, no one is disputing that, the fact that examples of them survive is enough proof, as to prevalence, that is another kettle of fish, see previously.

You need to step away from the 'dulux' idea, the bottom line is that metal paint in the medieval period (when it was used) was invariably thick and oil varnish based and shiny, that was a desired effect, not a by-product. What you will not get from MSS is necessarily a description to the nth degree of the finish, do you always see descriptions of brigandine plates to be tinned? Lots of brigandines in the record, but how often does their metal finish come up? Granted the 'quality' of painted sallets varies, the German ones in the tower compare differently to the Venetian one in the Wallace. They have different origins and time frames, showing a wider use over time than might be appreciated due to reasons that you mention; zealous Victorians etc.

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Sun Jan 01, 2012 11:42 am
by Chris T
When I talked about waiting for paint to dry I was talking about the implausibility of troops ( the rank and file) repainting their armour on campaign.

The only way for a soldier (not a lord with a retinue of armour maintainers) to maintain the well finished painted (or indeed polished) look of too much re-enactment armour would be to paint it on a regular basis, and I was making the point that there is no evidence of this being done, all be it in a rather lighthearted way.

The habits /equipment of the top 1% of society is really irrelevant to re-enactment: unless you are a multimillionare you cannot hope to portray a rich man from history: a bit of nylon gold braid or some rabbit fur trim does not do the what we are really portraying should be dregs to middle class, as there is some hope that we can do this with some degree of plausibility.
Having a convincing finish for armour is a major factor in the 'look': few would accept synthetic materials for outer clothing these days, so why should we accept spray painted and machine polished armour as 'right'?

The suggestion that because C20th/21st helmets are painted that it would be an ideal finish for earlier periods is flawed to saty the least, as technology has changed greatly. Using the same logic we may as well chrome plate our period helmets, or make them of kevlar.

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 11:07 am
by Zachos
I have a painted helmet. The finish on it has lasted 3 seasons of quite heavy use. In the period I represent, most conflicts were over in about a month. Enough time to worry about rust if not painted, but in my experience not enough to worry about chipping. When I carry it instead of wear it I take a minimum amount of care, putting it in a linen bag. This stops chipping.

I don't see how you can argue against painted armour. Last time g23 and I went to the Wallace, the whole trip was taken up looking at painted armour, and that's a small sample. I suggest you put down your logic and preconceptions about what they would have done, and go look in a museum at all of the painted armour you can see.

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 12:28 pm
by Chris T
Having visited the Wallace on numerous occasions, it has a great collection of arms and armour..........

but, and this is a big but, the collection was made from a 'fine art' perspective. As such, it contains even less 'ordinary' arms and armour than the average collection, and they often contain very little of such material. To use such a collection as the arbiter of what should be worn at a re-enactment event is like equipping an ECWS foot regiment using only the paintings of Van Dyke as an equipment guide. You regiment would have plenty of sashes, velvet and huge lace colars (remind anybody of anything ?) but no pikes or matchlock muskets........

On another note, I admit that I was not looking at the collection with this in mind, nor have I visited for a number of years, but I do remember a lot of coloured armour: but actually how much paint is there, as opposed to metal colouring, gilding, silvering, tinning and so on?

I think if there are 'preconceptions' to be challenged it is actually the assumption that the vast majority of armour throughout the history of plate was either machine poliched or spray painted....

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 4:33 pm
by gregory23b
Paint technology, at least in terms of varnish, ie oil based paints remianed much the same for hundreds of years, the principle is the same for your dulux gloss paints, you have the medium - varnish base, plus the pigments. The key differences are the compositions of the varnish, now they are synthetic oil based products, but do the same job, why do you think gloss paint looks the way it does? because it has a long history.

As for machine spray painting, quite, who wants to see that?

As for what the reenactors 'should' be portraying, then that is a tall order considering the disparate nature of the groups that people are in, each with their own group and individual agenda.

The Wallace was merely there as an example for the technical application of paint to metal. How about the Tower collection of 'ordinary' harnesses, including painted sallets? Neither I nor Zac are saying they are for benchmarking, but the items are in existence as are the recipes for varnish based paints.

As paint is very easy to remove, one could just as easily argue that more might have been painted and was susequently cleaned off. The Victorians had their own idea of the middle ages, a little known example is the widespread removal of colour from woodcuts because they wanted to see the clear black lines, many survive a shadow of their former selves and are used as reference points for reenactors.

So what do you suggest as rust protection for someone who only possesses a sallet, someone of limited means? Your options will be limited to a surface covering; varnish (documented), chicken fat (documented), anything else?

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 6:14 pm
by Chris T
Other options are the original forge black....(in my view any reference to black or blackened armour for 'ordinary' troops should be taken as this finish unless specified otherwise) or a not dissimilar finish produced by heat retreatment such as oil bluing / blackening.
The great thing about this finish is that it occurs naturally during production, and can easily be topped up without extra tools, substances or equipment.
Having cleaned up metalwork by hand it takes a long time: why put in extra work to clean off a natural protective finish from ordinary armour, and then go to more work to put back an inferior protection?

The 'chicken fat' option would include train oil (assorted fish /marine mammals), lard, tallow etc, which can be applied as above, and beeswax.

Russeting, (deliberate and controlled rusting)

Polishing by abrasion, (although not so much of modern machine polish)...I would expect an effect more like modern 'brushed' metal, in that any polishing by non specialists or in the field would have resulted in a surface made of multiple scratches of a fairly course nature.


I think all these are documented, for various periods.

If and when 'painting' occured it could include varnish you mention, which could be composed of various things and even colourants, and would not have been limited to oil colours. It could also include pitch /tar etc.

Modern paint technology is simply too good to mimic earlier paint styles. The fine even machine grinding of pigments now standard did not and could not occur: even expensive (and I mean expensive) artists pigments were usually reground by the artists to get a better effect.

Inexpensive paint would have been (by modern standards) very crude and normally homemade: you could just not buy it in tins in the local shop, nor could you buy reasonable quality brushes cheap as you can now.
A homemade paint applied with a homemade brush will produce a very different effect........

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Tue Jan 03, 2012 8:10 pm
by gregory23b
I prepare almost all of my own pigments and have made my own varnish media, not hard to do at all and you can get a fine grind depending on the pigment itself. As for consitent grinding, I have often had to regrind pigments supplied by well known colourmen, especially the yellow ochre I used last year for some reason ;-)

The particle size is not a significant factor in the finish of oil varnish media given the glutinous nature of it, medieval pigments are rarely gritty, save for the azurites and malachites, but they are exceptions. Other pigments are easily prepared in a workshop using a muller and slab. Filtering and levigation were common practices in pigment preparation.

Paint was readily available, pigments in raw or semi or prepared form were common fare, suiting all price ranges, more exotic pigments subject to availability, plenty of documentation for that, Cennini (Italy), Strasbourg Manuscript (Germany), Howard - pigments of English Wall Painting (excellent book) (England) etc.

My major gripe with painted reenactment harness is colour. Due to the cheapness of modern paints, people rarely appreciate that their medieval counterparts were often expensive; azurite and ultramarine, so we see a lot of bright blues when the paint would have been more expensive than the sallet. That is a far bigger issue than particle size to be honest, a bright sky blue sallet worn by a scuzz bag. The Tower sallets (plus the simpler bohemian pavises for that matter) use what appear to be red leads or vermillion plus balck and whites, notably much cheaper than the aforementioned bright blues. In the main pigments; earth and the cheaper synthetics were pretty cheap and used all over the place; furniture, wall hangings, wood, doors, artillery etc. Howard's book has some data on prices in Medieval England.

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Wed Jan 04, 2012 2:21 pm
by Zachos ... s/painted/

http://wallacelive.wallacecollection.or ... ctId=60573 ... C05689.JPG ... ea39_o.jpg
If and when 'painting' occured
The links above are come to you courtesy of a very quick google search. All are munitions quality. All are painted. I suppose they could have been photoshopped, because no-one in their right mind would paint armour. It's just not logical!

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Fri Jan 06, 2012 1:08 pm
by Chris T
If you would at least do me the favour of reading my posts, I do not deny, and have never denied, that some armour was painted, especially in some specific periods.

Looking at your illustrations a number of things strike me:
How many re-enactors wear things that look like these examples?
The style /design of painting is totally unlike the plain, even coat of (usually black) paint applied by most re-enactors.....
I would not really describe any of these items as 'munition' ...several actually look high status, and even if some examples are fairly basic, they become less so after detailed and careful painting.

It is also the case that none of these look as if whole units would have taken the field wearing them: they look like individual works executed for individuals who have enough money to wear fancy kit.

The second example even states that much armour was forge black......I see the reason to paint forge black armour in heraldic colours for reasons of individual display: but actually only an idiot would go to the trouble of painting naturally black armour with black paint........

I await the proof of whole units of c15th billmen or c17th pikemen all in freshly spray painted armour!

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Fri Jan 06, 2012 1:56 pm
by Alan E
I await the proof of whole units of c15th billmen too.

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Sat Jan 07, 2012 5:12 pm
by gregory23b
The German sallets are not high end armour, they are bog standard.

"I await the proof of whole units of c15th billmen or c17th pikemen all in freshly spray painted armour!"

Yet no one, apart from you has suggested such a thing. I do not see whole units of 15thc reenactors in painted armour, it is poorly done if done at all.

" applied by most re-enactors..."

really? what period are you talking about, having been at Bosworth and Kelmarsh doing 15thc, there was a dearth of such stuff, save for the very odd painted decor on some bloke's kit that looked like it came from a bad fantasy comic. 'Most' is a big word.

Where are the swathes of men in paint?

Oh, and, again, no one here is saying there should be, because that would be equally daft. The argument from me; finish and texture and colour, not prevalence. You tried arguing against it saying medieval paint does not come up to modern norms so the latter can't be used, I defy you to spot with your bare eyes the difference in particle size from modern paints and medieval ones when set in a medium, notwithstanding the extremely fine particles used in manuscripts, a red herring methinks.

Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Posted: Mon Jan 09, 2012 12:55 pm
by Chris T
The subject of black armour came up........I did not raise it!

The assumption seemed to be made that black armour was painted......I chalenged that, as I believe (and it would seem that there is at least some agreement with me,) that black armour was normally 'forge black'. I think this is a valuable point, as many re-enactors seem to assume that any colour was applied with paint.

I do not, and have never, denied that painted armour exists: I stand by my comments that the sort of painted armour often seen at re-enactment events does not look much like the sort of painted armour seen in museums......this is actually painted in patterns, colours etc for heraldic or decoration, not as a plain protective colour.

I am not a C15th re-enactor, and am prepared to stand corrected on detail, but I have certainly seen units of armoured footsoldiers from this sort of period in large quantities of plain painted armour: although I will admit that these days large quantities of Indian machine bright polished is more probable: an equally bad look in my eyes. I have certainly seen C17th units where every pikeman wears a black painted back, brest and helmet, normally spray painted: and whatever anybody says about pigment grain or whaterever, a modern spray paint is not the same as a real oil paint applied with a brush.

For much too long the whole re-enactment world has been plagued by thinks that "everybody knows"....the majority of these are at best misleading, if not downright wrong. Most groups would recoil in shock at modern boots or nylon clothes, so why accept things like this.

I still await evidence of the mass painting of armour in plain colours: the fact that nobody seems to have posted any, despite producing much evidence of all sorts of other things suggests that they cannot find any. I would be the first to admit that lack of evidence is just that, lack of evidence, but it does at least cast doubt that it was the norm......