Suit of Armor

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History of Suit of Armor and Plate Armour

Suit of ArmorThe suit of armour came into use at the beginning of the 15th Century. The suit of armour was worn over regular underclothes and was attached to the wearer using leather straps and buckles. Chainmail was used to protect areas that could not be protected with plate armor. Suit of armor usually consists of the helm, breastplate and backplate (cuirass with often attached faulds and tassets), gauntlets, pauldrons (or spaulders), vambraces, couters, sabatons (foot armor), greaves (to protect shins) and gorget, sometimes called a neckguard. The cost of the suit of armour varied by the historical periods, coverage it provided and articulation. It was usually afforded only by the nobility or professional soldiers as one full suit of armour’s cost could equal to cost of a small farm. Soldiers of lower rank usually wore less plate armor and more chainmail. A good suit of armour was comparable to today’s tank. A knight wearing a suit of armour was practically resistant to sword attack, arrows and other weapons. Swords could not penetrate even a thin suit of armor. Only arrows or bolts from bows or crossbows were able to penetrate plates of suit of armours sometimes and only if fired at very close range. Later, advancement in suit of armour production made even that feat very difficult. The only way to defeat a knight was to use weapons such as halberds or polearms. Weapons such as war hammers or maces were also used against knights in suits of armour as those weapons could transfer force through suit of armour and cause various injuries such as broken bones, internal organ bleeding or concussions and other head injuries. The other way to attack a knight in suit of armour was to aim at the weak points, especially at joints and any other small armor openings.

Suits of armour had various uses. They were used in battle, on parades and during tournaments. Suits of armour used in battle were the real deal whereas suits of armour used in parades were lighter and were adorned with ornaments. Tournament (or sporting armor) suits of armor differed in their shape (especially breastplates and helmets) to deflect lances, pikes and polearms. They were also a lot thicker and heavier. Knights wearing suits of armour were training in them since their teens to develop techniques and endurance. The weight of suit of armour was comparable to the weight of gear carried by today’s soldiers. While a suit of armour looks heavy, knights wearing suits of armor were able to easily mount or dismount a horse, run, jump and crawl. A well-made suit of armour crafted from tempered steel could weigh only 45 lbs.

Suits of armour were real masterpieces. The most famous designs came from Germany, Italy, England and Serbia and each design had its own style that varied from others. In the 15th Century most of the suits of armor were plain; however, by 16th Century with the introduction of the Maximilian style, suit of armour became more articulated and decorated with fluting and etching. In the same period the use of closed helmets was more prevalent compared to earlier open designs such as barbutes and sallets.

With the development of firearms usage of suit of armour became diminished as it was not as useful against bullets, especially if fired at close range. Later only heavier cuirass, helmets and gauntlets were still in use. Some infantrymen and mercenaries used so called munition armor that consisted of layers of tempered steel to protect against bullets.

A suit of armor is composed of the following parts:

  • The cuirass, covering the whole figure, chest and back.
  • The epaulieres, guards for the shoulders.
  • The brassarts, or arm-guards.
  • The coudieres, elbow-guards, and coverings for the inside of the elbow joints.
  • The avant-bras, guards for the lower arms.
  • The faudes, or taces, with the tuilles, which protected the front of the thigh.
  • The haubergeon, (chainmail) worn under the cuirass to protect the torso.
  • The cuissarts, thigh-pieces
  • The genouilieres, knee-guards.
  • The grevieres, leg-pieces
  • The sollerets, or soulieres (with the spurs), laminated coverings for the feet.
  • The gauntlets, to protects the hands.


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History of Arms and Armor | Arms and Armor Glossary

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