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Joseph Jennings





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PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec, 2011 10:08 am    Post subject: The elusive cuir bouilli breastplate.         Reply with quote

Greetings all, I am hoping you could give an amateur historian a little insight into light armor in the high middle ages. Specifically I am trying to find information on the historicity of using cuir bouilli on primary armor pieces, particularly chest protection. For period I am particularly interested in the age of transitional armor in the 13th and 14th centuries, but information for anything medieval as a point of reference would be welcome.

What I have been able to establish so far:

Cuir bouilli was a well known technology for the middle ages, used for a wide range of both civilian and military items. Bottles, boxes, drinking vessels, etc, were made with cuir bouilli.

From the anglo-saxon period wooden shields were covered with cuir bouilli.

In the period I am focusing on there was some armor piece work done in cuir bouilli. There is an extant rerebrace in the Royal Armory made of cuir bouilli, and there is artistic and documentary evidence for the use of cuir bouilli in greaves.

There are numerous forms of leather/metal hybrid armors from my period of interest and later, such as the coat of plates, the later brigandine, the jack of plate of the 16th and 17th century, etc, I find differing opinion as to if the leather in these items was cuir bouilli or supple leather.

I found references to leather jerkins being worn by soldiers of the Tudor period, but again have had difficulty determining if they were cuir bouilli or supple leather. The later buff coat seems to be somewhere in between armor and rugged clothing, and also seems to likely be supple leather rather than stiff.

13th century English statues concerning the requirements for Englishmen to posses arms and armor require certain individuals who can not afford mail to posses as "doublet", a frustratingly vague alternative to heavy armor. Many interpret this to be a heavy aketon or gamebeson.

So, basically I feel like I am peppering the target but just missing the bullseye each time. Cuir bouilli was used in armor, and there are forms of chest protection that involved leather/metal hybrids or soft leather, but I can't seem to hit the nail on the head of find good evidence for a cuir bouilli breastplate/cuirass/jack without the addition of metal elements. In Mythbusters terms, I think I am in "plausible" category, but I can't quite get over the line into "confirmed".

Anyone have any insights here?

Thanks for any feedback.
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Thomas R.




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PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec, 2011 10:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

May I point out to you this topic, just a few days old: http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=24855

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Joseph Jennings





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PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec, 2011 10:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the link. Mr. Robson's notes on the middle english text on making a doublet are particularly interesting, as this certainly seems to to indicate that the doublet of the 13th century assize of arms might indeed be something other than a cloth aketon.
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Joseph Jennings





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PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec, 2011 11:22 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote



Now this is very interesting. I found it on a Russian Language message board via a link in the thread mentioned above. I am filtering it all through google translate, but from what I gather the image is being attributed to a 13th century french manuscript. To me this looks like a soldier wearing an aketon, topped with a leather cuirie, and a basic skullcap helmet. The lack of a sword, and the fact that he is armed with either a spear or guisarme (the tip is obscured) seems to indicate this is a common soldier and not a knight.

Thanks much, this was exactly the type of information I was looking for.

Edited for spelling.


Last edited by Joseph Jennings on Mon 26 Dec, 2011 11:55 am; edited 2 times in total
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec, 2011 11:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There must be some ink between torso armour generally and leather in particular. The term "cuirass" has as its root "cuir," the French word for leather. I can't give you any specifics, but there's a clear etymological connection. Happy
Happy

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Gleb B.





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PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec, 2011 11:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
I am filtering it all through google translate, but from what I gather the image is being attributed to a 13th century french manuscript.


I am russian, you can send me a link, so I could translate the needed text to English.
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Joseph Jennings





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PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec, 2011 12:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gleb B. wrote:
Quote:
I am filtering it all through google translate, but from what I gather the image is being attributed to a 13th century french manuscript.


I am russian, you can send me a link, so I could translate the needed text to English.


Thanks so much! The original image I found at http://www.tforum.info/forum/index.php?showtopic=11700&st=20

I ran it through a google image search, which turned up three other message boards, all russian, where it crops up. I went back to try to find the exact post where I got the 13th century attestation from, and unfortunately I can't seem to track down the exact post now Sad.

If I can find the exact source again I will let you know.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec, 2011 12:49 pm    Post subject: Re: The elusive cuir bouilli breastplate.         Reply with quote

Joseph Jennings wrote:
From the anglo-saxon period wooden shields were covered with cuir bouilli.


Not to be dragging the thread off-topic, but do you have documentation for this? As I understand it, there is indeed solid evidence for the use of some sort of leather and/or hide, but little is known beyond that. None of the lengthy discussions about possible leather armor use in the Saxon/Viking era has come up with any evidence for the use of hardened leather, that I recall. So anything you have would be valuable!

17th century buff coats were certainly supple, and everything I've seen about Tudor "jerkins" says that they were simply soft leather clothing.

I know the word "cuirass" is generally assumed to derive from the word for "leather", but I'm wondering how certain that is? Is it possible it actually comes from a word for "heart"? Pretty sure I've asked this before, but honestly don't remember if there was a detailed etymological analysis or what.

Matthew
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Bartek Strojek




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PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec, 2011 1:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This "13th century manuscript" is good ol' Maciejowski Bible guys...

Here's the link to full scene:

http://www.medievaltymes.com/courtyard/images...&b.gif

Appearance of this particular character had been discussed worldwide quite a lot in topics like that, but it's obviously hard to really tell much from it.
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Joseph Jennings





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PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec, 2011 1:37 pm    Post subject: Re: The elusive cuir bouilli breastplate.         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
Joseph Jennings wrote:
From the anglo-saxon period wooden shields were covered with cuir bouilli.


Not to be dragging the thread off-topic, but do you have documentation for this? As I understand it, there is indeed solid evidence for the use of some sort of leather and/or hide, but little is known beyond that. None of the lengthy discussions about possible leather armor use in the Saxon/Viking era has come up with any evidence for the use of hardened leather, that I recall. So anything you have would be valuable!

17th century buff coats were certainly supple, and everything I've seen about Tudor "jerkins" says that they were simply soft leather clothing.

I know the word "cuirass" is generally assumed to derive from the word for "leather", but I'm wondering how certain that is? Is it possible it actually comes from a word for "heart"? Pretty sure I've asked this before, but honestly don't remember if there was a detailed etymological analysis or what.

Matthew


I have found a number of claims that anglo-saxon shields used leather covering, including articles on this site, at

http://www.regia.org/shields.htm
and
http://www.millennia.f2s.com/reconstruction.htm

This is based partially on written descriptions from the period.

Considering that typically only the boss of the shield survives in archaeological sites it is extraordinarily hard to document if this covering was of supple or hardened leather. However, considering (a) the anglo saxons had cuir bouilli technology, and (b) there would have been virtually no reason to leave leather on a shield supple, and considerable advantage to hardening it, it seems reasonable that the leather was hardened.

But that is something of a sideline. The best supporting information for leather armor as a chest piece I have come across was actually linked to in the link above to the previous thread. I will reprint it here:

Index of Middle English Prose
Handlist IX
ASHMOLE 1389 p36
For to make a dowblet of fenste.

Take lether that ys hallf tannyd and dry hym and shaue the flesshe syde and take glue with water and set hyt ower the fyer and melte yt with water and then all hote ly yt apon the lether on the flesshe syde and strawe theron the powder of glaste
bete yn a brasene morter wt fylyne of yrene y mellyd to geder; and then laye a nother pece of the same lether
flesshe syde to flesshe syde and nayle hym to the scyllde and lete hym drye and there nother sper nother e3e tole enter theryn.

This can be interpreted as:

Take two half-tanned hides (Half tanned is generally thinner than normal hides and has an untanned - ie rawhide core), scrape off any loose bits on the flesh side. Mix hot hide-glue with water, crushed glass and iron filings, and glue the hides together, flesh-side to flesh-side. Then nail it to a former to dry. Then sharp stuff won't go through it.
It's thought that the powdered glass and iron filings in the glue will either give a hard, fibre-glass-like layer, or chemically alter the glue to bond better, or the filings will dig into the leather to give a better bond (or possibly all three)

(The above translation and commentary was not mine, but from the original thread).

This seems pretty clear that the English were making armor doublets of laminated leather with an intermediary layer of adhesive, iron filing, and glass particles. While these may have been worn over a hauberk as a sort of proto-cuirass, I think it is likely they may have also been worn in place of more substantial armor by those who would not afford mail. Arms ordinances from 13th century England specifically mention "doublets" for men of an income level below that which could afford mail.

Of course, if we want to really derail things we can debate if the above process constitutes cuir bouillie, or is just a technique of laminating leather. But is seems pretty clear that there were chest pieces in the transitional armor period that were primarily leather.
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Joseph Jennings





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PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec, 2011 1:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bartek Strojek wrote:
This "13th century manuscript" is good ol' Maciejowski Bible guys...

Here's the link to full scene:

http://www.medievaltymes.com/courtyard/images...&b.gif

Appearance of this particular character had been discussed worldwide quite a lot in topics like that, but it's obviously hard to really tell much from it.


Woo ho! Thanks for the link.
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec, 2011 2:01 pm    Post subject: Re: The elusive cuir bouilli breastplate.         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
I know the word "cuirass" is generally assumed to derive from the word for "leather", but I'm wondering how certain that is? Is it possible it actually comes from a word for "heart"? Pretty sure I've asked this before, but honestly don't remember if there was a detailed etymological analysis or what.


Since spelling was pretty fluid and loosey-goosey until a couple hundred years ago, it's possible "coeur" became "cuir" at some point prior to that. Most books on armour I've read gravitate to the leather theory and don't mention the heart at all.

Happy

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Joseph Jennings





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PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec, 2011 2:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Having looked at the larger image, and the other forms of armor present, I think my interpretation still holds. The figure to the left is in mail, which our fellow is clearly not wearing. To me this still looks like a chest protector over an aketon. The fact that he is, to my eye, the most simply dressed and armored (the skullcap helmet, a seeming lack of bracers or grieves) suggest he is of the lowest status, arguing against a metal breastplate. Certainly other interpretations are possible, but combined with the documentary evidence for the existence of leather defensive doublets my money is on a leather chest piece.

Edit: It may be excessive to say he is the "lowest status", as there is a figure in the group to the left that seems to have only an aketon, or perhaps a simple tunic, and a helmet. But he is clearly of a lesser status than the figure to the immediate left in the set of mail, and what looks to me to be grieves as well.
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec, 2011 3:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Joseph, above you mentioned that Anglo Saxons may have used cuir boilli to face their shields, you then added that you believe that this hardened leather would have been superior to supple leather for this purpose. Now I have to ask, a) are you sure that the Anglo Saxons were using cuir boilli, is there any evidence or documentation of this, and b) in my opinion a supple leather cover would have been superior, this is speculation on my part, but the combination of a rigid material (wood) and a flexible material (leather) would be better able to absorb an impact than a shield which is made of two rigid materials. As for the figure in this possibly leather cuirass in the image you attached, I dont believe that he is wearing an aketon/gambesson under his cuirass. Elsewhere in this bible we have many clear images of aketons/gambessons, and they do not look like what this man is wearing, so I think that instead of wearing a cuirass over an aketon/gambesson he is wearing one as an alternative to the other.
Éirinn go Brách
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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec, 2011 3:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That guy from Mac Bible may as well wear either a leather cuirass or a multi layered linen armor which would also be relatively stiff because of many layers.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec, 2011 5:18 pm    Post subject: Re: The elusive cuir bouilli breastplate.         Reply with quote

Joseph Jennings wrote:
I have found a number of claims that anglo-saxon shields used leather covering, including articles on this site, at

http://www.regia.org/shields.htm
and
http://www.millennia.f2s.com/reconstruction.htm

This is based partially on written descriptions from the period.


Hmm, yeah, neither of those really cites a source. The one mentions accounts that speak of "leather covered shields", then goes off talking about the removable marching covers used by Romans! I know that traces of leather have been found under Saxon bosses, but in at least one case there was linen. Shields from Danish bogs are sometimes just painted wood. Roman shields used felt, parchment, linen, glue, and sometimes just paint! So I don't think it's safe to assume that any leather on a shield was hardened.

Quote:
But that is something of a sideline.


Agreed!

Quote:
The best supporting information for leather armor as a chest piece I have come across was actually linked to in the link above to the previous thread. I will reprint it here:

Index of Middle English Prose
Handlist IX
ASHMOLE 1389 p36
For to make a dowblet of fenste...


Oh, yes, I remember that one. It's very interesting!

Quote:
Arms ordinances from 13th century England specifically mention "doublets" for men of an income level below that which could afford mail.


Ah, now that I had NOT heard! Fascinating! Though it occurs to me that seeing the original text would be helpful, since I'm wondering if "doublet" is simply a word used for "gambeson" or "jack", the usual quilted defense.

Quote:
But is seems pretty clear that there were chest pieces in the transitional armor period that were primarily leather.


Oh, I'm not dead-set against the concept! Mostly poking holes just from habit. I think one of the most compelling bits of evidence is the oft-cited funerary effigy that shows something under the surcoat and over the hauberk, buckled at the side. Obviously, it *could* be metal, but it could be leather!


Chad Arnow wrote:
Since spelling was pretty fluid and loosey-goosey until a couple hundred years ago, it's possible "coeur" became "cuir" at some point prior to that. Most books on armour I've read gravitate to the leather theory and don't mention the heart at all.


Yes, "fluid" spelling is exactly what I was thinking. Somewhere out there is an expert in medieval French who will tell me that's just too much of a stretch, which is fine, I'd just like some cogent analysis either way. Most modern books are just going by "parrot syndrome"--I know they do that with stuff that is blatantly wrong! Obviously I don't want to be TOO paranoid and untrusting, or I'd have to give up on believing in history altogether, ha!

Thanks,

Matthew
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James Barker




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PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec, 2011 6:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Little more fuel to the fire; a 13th century effigy with a side buckling item under his surcote that looks much like the Maj bible image:


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Joseph Jennings





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PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec, 2011 7:20 pm    Post subject: Re: The elusive cuir bouilli breastplate.         Reply with quote

[quote="Matthew Amt"]
Joseph Jennings wrote:

Quote:
Arms ordinances from 13th century England specifically mention "doublets" for men of an income level below that which could afford mail.


Ah, now that I had NOT heard! Fascinating! Though it occurs to me that seeing the original text would be helpful, since I'm wondering if "doublet" is simply a word used for "gambeson" or "jack", the usual quilted defense.



Matthew


It is from the Assize of arms of 1252. Its hard to find the text online. There is a link here to a Google books page that gives it in translation in (somewhat) modern English.

http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=hdh4Elj-3W...mp;f=false

The original text is latin, which I have lack the skill to decode even if I had it at hand. But the point is that a man with 10 pounds value in land was expected to have a hauberk, and a man with more than 100 shillings but less than the 10 pounds was expected to have this "doublet". From 40-100 shillings of land armor is not specified but a bow, sword, arrows, and dagger are called for.

My original thought when I read the Assize of Arms was that this doublet was indeed probably a cloth armor like a gambeson, but the text we have been looking at for the instructions to make a "defensive doublet" from laminated leather kind of throws a wrench in things. In all probability, based of the majority of the graphic evidence, this likely was a gambeson/aketon type of garment, but I think at least some of the time it may have also been this laminated leather jack. In essence, I think the Assize is saying "ok, if you are in this wealth range, we don't expect you to show up with mail, but you are expected to turn up in some kind of defensive kit if we call out the militia". I think this may have at least occasionally been a leather garment rather than a cloth one.
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Jean-Carle Hudon




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PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec, 2011 7:45 pm    Post subject: coeur & cuir         Reply with quote

I don't know how the word cuirasse came into existence, but it surely doesn't come from '' coeur''. The oeu sound in french is way too removed from the ui sound. Think of how the words break down : cuir will come out in two distinct sounds whereas coeur is indivisible. Cu - ir versus Keur. Not even close.
Bon coeur et bon bras
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Joseph Jennings





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PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec, 2011 7:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

James Barker wrote:
Little more fuel to the fire; a 13th century effigy with a side buckling item under his surcote that looks much like the Maj bible image:



(Image deleted to save space, see above for reference).

Well, he is certainly wearing something over the mail and under the jupon. That is what is what I find interesting about transitional armor, there were all these attempts to improve on the basic mail coat which eventually lead all the way to full plate armor.

The big question is what? Is it a metal cuirass? Is it a coat of plate? If its mid 13th century I think that is a touch early for brigandine.

Or. . .just to be a bit of a rabble raiser, what if its a leather breastplate? We know cuir bouilli was used for some armor pieces(see my original post), we know from the Ashmole manuscript that at least the English on occasion made armored leather doublets. It seems reasonable that a knight on a budget (and some were) that was trying to improve his kit beyond just an aketon and a hauberk might add a leather doublet (be it laminated, or cuir bouilli, or some other techinque). I fully acknowledge that "reasonable" is not the same as "proven", but I think that its at least plausible that leather was being used as such.
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