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G. Ffitch




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PostPosted: Sun 15 Apr, 2012 4:04 am    Post subject: Great Helms         Reply with quote

Hi all, I have a question thats been niggling at me for a while on the subject of great helms. Now I've only ever fought in Bascinets so I have no personal experience of their comfort in combat, but I've read many places that during exercise they are stuffy, restrictive, and restrict peripheral vision (certainly understandable given their design). I've also read that historically, before melee combat they removed their great helms and relied on the cervelliere for head protection. Now this makes no sense to me, a soldier purchases a possibly quite expensive, heavy lump of metal, and removes it in battle before it even likely sees a blow. Was it to protect against arrow storms? A shield or cheaper helm would do just as well surely, a kettle hat would do the job and you wouldn't have to remove it before a melee.

Am I misunderstanding something? Were great helms only sometimes removed before a melee due to personal preference? Was the great helm used more in tournaments than warfare where peripheral vision would not be so much an issue?

Help me oh history gurus!
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Artis Aboltins




PostPosted: Sun 15 Apr, 2012 4:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Welcome to the forums! It is generally believed that great helms where primarily a horsemans's helmets - it would protect very well against lances, but wold be removed before fighting in close combat. So it would not be a footman who would generally employ such helmets.
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Dave Stephan




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PostPosted: Sun 15 Apr, 2012 3:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well bugger me then, I had no idea. You learn something new everyday don't you?

As for the heat, I don't find it very bad. I spent a weekend in my great helm at a fair not long ago and it was a pretty hot day. Of course I did have my mantle on to keep it cooler. The main issue comes from vision, for me atleast, not breath. The good thing is if I need to look down I just look through the breathing slits instead of moving my head to match it. Cool

I have no quarrel with you, good Sir Knight.
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Sun 15 Apr, 2012 4:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The great helm in its prime was primarily a horseman's helmet. In the late 13th/very early 14th century, there isn't always proof that the helm was worn over a cervelliere, so we can't assume the great helm was always taken off in favor of the smaller helm. As the 14th century progressed, it's more likely that there was a smaller helm underneath. Once past 1350, many people assume great helms were used only for the joust. By 1400, that's certainly likely. There's less certainty for me between 1350 and 1375.

Mounted combat was the predominant form of combat between 1250 and 1350 (very rough dates) for those wealthy enough to afford a quality great helm, the surcoat its anonymity necessitated, and other related paraphernalia. The lack of vision, hearing, etc. were better than taking a lance to the face. As mounted combat begins to wane (except in the tournament), we not surprisingly see other helms rise and supplant the great helm. The great helms to have been optimized for the couched lance tactics that rules the day. With the rise of effective foot soldiery and archery, we see its decline.

I would think a knight would keep their helm on until the battle was over. I've not seen evidence of a charge, followed by a removal of the helmet and re-engagement. If I saw someone stopping to remove their helm on the battlefield, I'd see that as a great opportunity to attack them while they're distracted. In the era between the full-head encompassing helm's rise (say 1250) until we're sure that a smaller helm is being worn underneath (1300 or so) we have no evidence of the smaller helm and it's safer to say that it was unlikely that the helm would be removed. After that time, we have to go on the evidence we have and I've not hear of the mid-battle-helm-removal scenario before.

Happy

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Mackenzie Cosens




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PostPosted: Sun 15 Apr, 2012 5:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The mural of the Battle of Sinalunga fought in 1363 has some interesting details, including lance using knight wearing great helms. http://www.greatestbattles.iblogger.org/Italy...eRight.htm

This is not a joust nor is it a depicting an ancient battle but depicts a battle likely fought in living memory of the people who commissioned and painted the image and in my opinion, that supports the theory that armour depicted in the mural either represents the armour worn at the time of its painting or at the time of the battle.

So this mural supports the idea of that heavily armoured knights on horse back armed with lace used great helm in war sometime between 1363 and 1375 in Siena Italy.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Sun 15 Apr, 2012 6:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I made my own great helm long ago, so it's hardly a work of master craftsmanship, but my peripheral vision while wearing it is close to 180 degrees. My vertical field of vision is pretty good, too--I can certainly see enough of anyone in front of me, but I can't see my own scabbard! Minor annoyance. It usually only gets worn for short indoor school demos, so I couldn't tell you about overheating or breathing problems. It doesn't *seem* stuffy. Hard to hear and be heard, though!

I have heard (also very long ago!) that the first thing one does upon accepting the surrender of another knight is to help him get his helm off. Probably got that from some deep and highly regarded source like "My Big Book of Knights", not exactly good documentation...

Matthew
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Sun 15 Apr, 2012 6:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

They may well have been used by horsemen but I do not know if we can say they were not used in the melee. In fact we have evidence to the contrary that this is not true. There are a number of illustrations of men fighting on foot in great helms

Royal MS F 13 f. 230 for example has a number of men on foot fighting in great helms.

There are also textual evidences of them being used on foot as well. One clear one is at the end of The Greater chronicle of Matthew Paris of an English knight fighting in the internal fighting there.

Truth is I think we can link them to mounted men easy enough but not per se to only mounted use. As mentioned earlier I am increasingly doubting there is evidence to say most great helms were used with skull caps and mail coifs. I doubt very much that the multi layered system was ever the most common but clearly done.

I do wonder about that work Mackenzie is referring to. I have seen little other such evidence of great helms used in war so late even elsehwere in Italy. Outside of this one example there is clear evidence it was losing ground fast by the 1340s. Inventories of men-at-arms are largely full of bascinets and the term bascinets often is used as another term for men-at-arms by some writers of the time. I have seen few Italian inventories of the time so not sure if this is just something that lingered there longer. That said it is likely poorer Men at arms used what they could.

having fought in a great helm was not bad for seeing to me but later in a fight breathing is somewhat less than desired than my visored bascinet. Lighter too.


RPM



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Artis Aboltins




PostPosted: Mon 16 Apr, 2012 1:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randall, when I made the comment about great helms being primarily used by horseman at the start of the thread, I must admit that I was thinking of the greathelms of Pembridge helm type - not the older ones, as seen on the image you posted and ones in Macijevsky bible. Those, certainly, are displayed used in close combat very often, and having used a replica of such a helmet myself I must say they are comfortable enough and certainly too close fitting to head to have more than mail hood and padding underneath.
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Mon 16 Apr, 2012 6:41 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Artis,

No problem. I agree that later helms like the pembridge likely were largely used for mounted use, though I am not sure how often helms like these were used in much of mainstream Europe by this point for warfare. That said I am still not sure that the great helm of 14th century use was taken off for melee. I figure it might have been after a time and perhaps the man was growing fatigued and decided he'd be better off with more breathing room than protection but that likely was a personal choice over charge to melee switch.

They just show up so little in accounts for military use that one has to assume they just were not popular.

There is an awesome article on great helms from the Royal Armouries that really goes into detail on this and I cannot recommend it high enough.

Chad,

I am really curious about your comment on the great helm being tied to the era of 'mounted dominance' on the field of battle. To me it is simply dropped because the bigger and better comes along. Bascinets deflect lances better than great helms when they have a visor because all the glancing surfaces. Instead of having to drop the helmet for better breathability (is this a word?) you simple raise the visor. It is also lighter, often by a pound or more. With such advances of better glancing faces, breathing-maybe vision options, and weight it just seems to best the great helm.

It is an interesting idea and I had never heard it before.

RPM
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Craig Shackleton




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PostPosted: Mon 16 Apr, 2012 6:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Largely speculation on my part, but is it possible that the knights wearing great helms in the mural of the battle of Sinalunga are doing so a) to show their status as knights, and/or b) to justify having their helmet crests which aids the viewer in identifying the combatants?

While it is clearly a battle image, it appears to me to have a lot pageantry tied up in it. This is not uncommon in artistic depictions of battles from any era, even when the art is contemporary with the events.

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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Mon 16 Apr, 2012 7:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randall Moffett wrote:
Chad,

I am really curious about your comment on the great helm being tied to the era of 'mounted dominance' on the field of battle. To me it is simply dropped because the bigger and better comes along. Bascinets deflect lances better than great helms when they have a visor because all the glancing surfaces. Instead of having to drop the helmet for better breathability (is this a word?) you simple raise the visor. It is also lighter, often by a pound or more. With such advances of better glancing faces, breathing-maybe vision options, and weight it just seems to best the great helm.

It is an interesting idea and I had never heard it before.

RPM


Randall,
It's a personal theory/opinion and perhaps circumstantial. Happy To me, it just seems that when a mounted knight expected to be facing other mounted knights in a couched lance charge, the great helm enjoyed its greatest popularity. Yes it was heavy and/or cumbersome but perhaps its suspension and its fit that was less form-fitting allowed more cushion in the kind of impact a lance would make. As has been pointed out, none of this means they were never used on foot, I just don't think a great helm was optimized for that.

I think some of the great helms of the 14th century had plenty of glancing surfaces to deal with a lance and with a coif underneath may have offered better protection for the neck than a bascinet/aventail combination.

For me, the increasing number of defeats of mounted knights by foot soldiers and archers (Courtrai, Bannockburn, Halidon Hill, etc.) signals the end of the dominance of the couched lance charge and the armour it begat. We still see great helms in the tournament. Why? The couched lance charge was still used. In battlefield combat that could be mounted or afoot and where you were increasingly less likely to take a lance to the head, more flexible and lighter helms made sense and supplanted the great helm.

But perhaps my timing is out of sequence. As you say, bascinets were beginning to outnumber great helms in inventories prior to Crecy, but at least 3 significant battles happened prior to Crecy where knights proved vulnerable and where foot soldiers, archers, or both carried the day.

To me there seems to be at least a correlation (not necessarily causation) between a change in battlefield tactics and the decline of the great helm on the battlefield. That's all just my opinion, though, and I'm happy to be proven wrong, since it would give me a chance to learn something new. Happy

Happy

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Roberto Banfi




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PostPosted: Mon 16 Apr, 2012 7:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Chad Arnow wrote:
As has been pointed out, none of this means they were never used on foot, I just don't think a great helm was optimized for that.


+1

it is actually possibile, very stamina consuming though

I use a transitional helm, somewhat in the middle from mask helm to great (pot-shaped) and vision is not that bad, it's a matter of preference for finding the fitting piece for your head
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Mackenzie Cosens




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PostPosted: Mon 16 Apr, 2012 10:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig Shackleton wrote:
Largely speculation on my part, but is it possible that the knights wearing great helms in the mural of the battle of Sinalunga are doing so a) to show their status as knights, and/or b) to justify having their helmet crests which aids the viewer in identifying the combatants?

While it is clearly a battle image, it appears to me to have a lot pageantry tied up in it. This is not uncommon in artistic depictions of battles from any era, even when the art is contemporary with the events.


The crests could be to identify the knights, possibly the patrons of the mural, I think that is a reasonable argument. Isn't it possible that they would be worn in battle to identify themselves as well (a practice that would need supporting evidence)? Also some of the knight wearing great helms do not appear to have crests or much other heraldry at all and that argues against the great helmet being just an artistic device to mount heraldry and for them to be combat kit. Of course I could argue that artist forgot to add or was not paid to add the heraldry to the un-crested knights, but that an argument, especially the unpaid part, that I would like to see evidence for before I made it. Happy

Honestly I don't see that much unnecessary pageantry in the mural, yes there are some drummer, trumpeters and flags but mostly it is armed men nor does the press to battle does not look too pre-arranged to me.

(sorry about the poor image quality)



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Augusto Boer Bront
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PostPosted: Mon 16 Apr, 2012 10:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I was about to post that fresco too Big Grin
Here a better pic.
North Italian, dated 1363
http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/85/27290562.png/

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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Mon 16 Apr, 2012 2:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Chad,

I can see what you are saying. I had never heard that theory before so I wanted to make sure I was properly getting my head around it.

Some quick possible items to consider perhaps. By 1330s we see the increased use of bascinets over great helms has largely won out in much of western Europe in text. England for example in military requirements do not even mention helms anymore in the 1320s and on for men at arms. If you look at art in many cases this is earlier, 1320s. This brings the halidon battle closer to crecy than bannockburn in this respect. That said charges do not seem to have been done by the Scots here so it may have been irrelevant to what we are looking at.

There may be another thought though.If you go to Ralph de Nesle's inventory you will see as well this transition may already be moving. Bascinets seem to be the preferred helmet of the man-at-arms, perhaps even at 1302 where the bascinet is by far more common- though I should mention we cannot be sure of their use and numbers as there are a number of mentions of bascinets in groupings with numbers but the helm is lumped with other helmets, such as chap de fers. If this is indication of the transition that it was happening or happened around 1302 then Courtrai and Bannockburn also may have seen this transition. But that brings us to another issue. Are these helms actually what every one thinks of as great helms or like the mix great helm- bascinet which is often called a sugar loaf. I am increasingly thinking these 'sugar loafs' were called helms in this period but they could just have easily been called bascinets. The fact I have never seen any other word they might be makes me very interested in this possibility.

The types of great helms like the Pembridge show up much less than most 14th century helmets in art as well so how common were these.

I did indeed think of the Jousting use of great helms. Since many seem fairly large considered aside great helms used for war it is a hard one to explain. That said toward the end of the 14th we see other helmets moving in to replace great helms dominance so perhaps it just took more time to push this traditional use out for newer ones. Truth is I have no idea I suppose but thanks for explaining your theory for me very helpful.

RPM
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Henrik Granlid




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PostPosted: Thu 19 Apr, 2012 5:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

On the topic of the Knights in Great Helmets in the fresco.

Is it not possible that they were wearing visored bascinets rather than greathelmets?
Something in the style of H33, H28 or H1c from Marek?

http://www.armorymarek.com/basinets--armet




And a sidenote, when did visored bascinets make the most prominent appearance? Houndskull or flat. From what I've gathered, they grew in popularity during the mid 14th century, am I correct in this?

Also, to kind of steal the thread but stay on a similar topic, what helmet would a footsoldier from the 12th and 13th century wear? The "almost-great-helmets" of the early crusaders of course, but what else? Kettle helmets, those round cap-looking-thingies that pretty much just cover the top of your head, as well as more conical hats with or without chainmail attatched to them.

Am I missing some sort of helmet here?
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Thu 19 Apr, 2012 6:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Henrik,

Not sure they are bascinets or anything too much like them. That said I am looking through Italian artwork and finding almost no other great helms in them so I am starting to find this a bit odd. The Pistoia Alterpiece was started in 1367 and shows all bascinets on the men arrayed as men-at-arms, some with some interesting visors.

If I can find another example I'd feel more comfortable regarding continued great helm use this late but if it is one of 20 plus we have to think upon why it is an isolated exampel or the reasons it is different than the others. So far I have found only half the examples are mounted but still 0 great helms.

You see visored bascinets appear c.1300. Makes some sense as the visored great helm had been around for decades. By the 1320s you see them in art fairly common.

If you use the word foot soldier ofr footman in the medieval sense here, commoners, great helms seem to be out. Simple round, conical or angular-flat skull caps were in use and kettle helmets. You see some gents in mail and padded hoods as well. By the end of the 13th we see bascinets in use increasingly in militry demands. Seems to be largely it. Into the 14th this will develop.

RPM
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Augusto Boer Bront
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PostPosted: Thu 19 Apr, 2012 7:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You are talking of foot soilders with a great helm, right?
Because there's plenty of miniatures showing great helms in Italy in the late '300s
http://manuscriptminiatures.com/search/?manus...amp;page=1

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James Arlen Gillaspie
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PostPosted: Fri 20 Apr, 2012 7:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Portrayals of armour in battle scenes are often of questionable value. Artists tended to portray what they saw, and few of them ever saw a battle. There are some exceptions in the 16th c. that are of great interest, but usually what artists saw were soldiers about town acting in various capacities and tournaments. Frog mouthed tilting helms are always showing up in battle scenes! Mad The great mural of the battle of Orsha shows the front-line Polish knights wearing tonlet armours, for crying out loud! Laughing Out Loud
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Fri 20 Apr, 2012 7:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Augusto,

Thank you for that. Now out of some score of illustrations I now have at least two that show great helms. That said I like to know if the one you posted is showing past events or present as the one gents arms with the crown seems to be one associated to much earlier royals.

It is interesting none the less as the remainder of their armour does indeed look 14th century.

I might have to put together some artwork for this era in Italy when I have some time to get a good view of how often they show up. It is interesting in this artwork so much is all or nothing where as much other art is much more mixed. Perhaps they were charged more for this by the artist Wink

RPM
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