Windlass Steelcrafts Scottish Burgonet
A hands-on review by Sean A. Flynt
The burgonet appeared in Europe early in the 16th century and represents one of many Renaissance rediscoveries of classical armour forms. Many early burgonets make specific stylistic reference to classical Greek and Roman forms, with their simple, hemispherical bowls, short bills or peaks, collars, and hinged plates meant to protect the sides of the head and face.
The burgonet quickly supplanted the once-ubiquitous sallet for both infantry and cavalry use, although the type is most commonly associated with the latter. In fact, the legendary horsemen of the Anglo-Scottish borders, the Border Reivers, were sometimes known as the Steel Bonnets because they favored this helmet type.
The Scottish Burgonet, made by Windlass Steelcrafts and offered by Museum Replicas Limited, has been around for many years and recently was reduced to the low-risk price of $139 US. At that price, I assumed the piece would lack much in the way of historical accuracy, but make an attractive shelf display to compliment a replica arms collection focused on the 16th and 17th centuries. As usual, ordering from MRL was simple and pleasant, and the burgonet arrived at my door the next day via standard shipping.
MRL asserts that its helmet is based on an original in a private collection. Without any other information, we have no way to assess whether the replica is true to the original or even qualifies as a "Scottish" burgonet (the name seems intended to invoke the romance of the Reivers). German arms and armour seem to have been common on the Anglo-Scottish borders, so the type might actually be of German stylistic origin if not German manufacture. Otherwise, about all we can say for certain is that the replica does exhibit interesting features that could be found in an original burgonet of, say, the last half of the 16th century. Of particular stylistic interest are its detachable cheekpieces, faceted bowl, and fixed peak.
Like most original burgonets, the conical, eight-faceted bowl of the replica appears to have been raised from a single sheet of steel. Bowls of this form seem to have been less common than the more rounded, combed bowls. However, the bowls of many 16th century burgonets do feature four or six broad facets, and some early17th century examples feature many narrow facets more like fluting. A helmet dated to the second half of the 16th century and attributed to the German-influenced English armouring center of Greenwich features eight broad facets. So, there is a clear historical precedent for the MRL burgonet's form. Also like the Greenwich burgonet, the replica features a knob-shaped finial.
The replica's peak is a separate piece of steel riveted and/or welded to the outside of the bowl. The uppermost edge of the attached piece is scalloped. While attractive and solidly constructed, this method of creating a peak, if it is true to the original, seems to have been relatively uncommon. More often, the peak was either drawn from the steel of the bowl or created as a separate, pivoting piece. When the peak was attached as a separate, fixed, piece, it seems to have been more common to rivet it to the inside of the bowl.
The cheek pieces of this burgonet protect more of the face than many other contemporary burgonet designs, leaving only a T-shaped opening that provides excellent forward and peripheral vision and unhindered breathing. Extending the cheekpieces inward an inch or two and joining them would make this helmet a closed burgonet, which in some 17th century forms so resembled a skull that it was termed a todenkopf (Death's Head) burgonet.
The weight of the helmet is historically appropriate for the type. Adding almost five pounds to the top of one's head isn't exactly comfortable, but the weight doesn't register much in short-term wear. It would certainly be preferable to a head wound from a sword, lance, polearm, arrow, or pistol shot.
The helmet's weight helps keep it in place, but two leather laces that tie under the chin add stability. A separate, robust and historically accurate strap-and-buckle system is riveted to the exterior front of the cheekpieces. This allows for adjustment of these pieces to provide maximum protection and prevents them from flopping around.
All but five of the 25 rivets in the replica's bowl and around its collar are purely decorative. In original burgonets, these would have secured an extensive liner that served as a built-in arming cap. The only original burgonet lining I have seen in photographs is of padded cloth, and extends to the outer edge of the rear collar and the top halves of the cheekpieces. It is left open at the top to form a four-pointed crown. In use, a lace would be threaded through slits in the apex of these points and used as a drawstring to adjust the space between them. This method adjusts the height at which the helmet sits on the head, but doesn't adjust the actual circumference of the liner. In other words, it is a supplement to, rather than a substitute for, a properly fit helmet.
The MRL burgonet's liner also features the crown/drawstring design, but is of thin, stiff leather which nevertheless serves the intended purpose. This liner is confined to the bowl and secured by five flathead rivets (thus, the purely decorative nature of most of this helmet's rivets). This liner is fine for shelf display and adequate for occasional wear but probably not satisfactory for frequent wear. A liner of more historically accurate construction would be much more comfortable and effective, and could easily be constructed over the existing liner (Steven Sheldon of Forth Armoury offers step-by-step plans on his Web site).
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Windlass Steelcrafts of India.
Fit and Finish
This burgonet, apparently of stainless steel, is finished at least as well as many original helmets of this type. In fact, its high polish is much finer than the finish of many original helmets of this type, which sometimes were left black from the forge or painted to prevent corrosion. However, many fine burgonets were elaborately engraved and highly polished or finished in the distinctive German black and white fashion. So, the finish of this piece would be somewhere between the historical extremes.
I consider this Museum Replicas Limited Scottish Burgonet a bargain at closeout prices if intended primarily for display and occasional wear when absolute authenticity is not required. Those who like MRL's prices but require a custom fit and historically accurate materials and construction should investigate semi-custom pieces such as those offered by various armourers in the Czech Republic. Most everyone else will be pleased with the price, quality, and availability of the MRL helmet.
About the Author
Sean Flynt is a public relations professional in Birmingham, Alabama. He is interested in the martial culture of all periods and people but focuses on 1450-1650, with special interest in German and Austrian arms and armour.
Special thanks to Patrick Gaul and David Edge for providing historic liner references, and to Gordon Frye, Allan Senefelder, and Steven Sheldon for providing additional information.
Photographer: Sean Flynt