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Carl Scholer





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PostPosted: Thu 09 Nov, 2006 1:19 pm    Post subject: Mail vs Plate         Reply with quote

Ok this isnít what it looks like. Iím not here to argue which armour provides superior protection. I think we can all agree to one degree or another that plate was adopted over mail because people felt that for whatever reason plate was the superior choice of armour. My question instead is how much of an advantage do you, the members of this forum, think plate gave over mail. Specifically Iím thinking about the usefulness of these armours as it applies to conflicts between mounted knights and men at arms. Do you think that a knight in say early 13th century harness with its mail, great helm, and heater shield would be at a significant disadvantage against an early 15th century knight in white harness and pig faced basinet, or would the advantage given by the more up to date harness be fairly marginal?
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Richard Fay




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Nov, 2006 1:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello all!

Mail might weigh a little less than plate (30 lbs roughly versus roughly 60 lbs), but it hung mostly on the shoulders. Even with a belt around the waist and ties below the knees (which did alleviate the problem some), the concentrated weight could be tiring. Plate is much more form-fitting, and the weight is spread out all over the body. Each piece is strapped or laced onto each body part, so the weight is distributed beter than with mail.

Personally, I've even noticed a bit of a different feel when I put my coat-of-plates over my mail (granted, cheap and heavy butted mail), because the pressure of the plates seems to distribute the weight better. I feel less pull on my shoulders when I wear the plate with the mail, even though the two together is obviously heavier than separate. I actually prefer the combination to mail alone (just my personal observations, remember).

A fit knight in plate armour could leap into his saddle without touching the stirrups, climb the underside of a scaling ladder using just his hands, and perform other remarkable feats. Of course, the helmet will be stuffy and hot, and on a very hot day, either knight might collapse from heat exhaustion! It's hard to say which would be at a disadvantage, but I think the plate armour was a bit better suited for fighting on foot.

I hope this made sense!

Stay safe!

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Richard Fay




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Nov, 2006 2:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello again!

I thought of another way the earlier, 13th century knight, may be at a disadvantage if he faced his 15th century descendant on foot. although one not directly related to armour. The knightly surcoat of the 13th century, depending on how long it was cut, might hamper the knight's movements. That's why the surcoat was cut short in the front in the early 14th century, and then shortened all around a bit later. I believe that Sir John Chandos was killed in battle when he tripped on the hem of his long, old fashioned surcoat. (I read it in one of my books, but I can't remember which one.) That could definitely be a problem for the 13th century knight!

Stay safe!

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Michael S. Rivet





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PostPosted: Thu 09 Nov, 2006 2:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, maille and plate work differently. Maille absorbs and deforms under stress. It may be impervious to a percussive cut by a sword (trying to keep the can of woms closed here) and decent protection against penetration by spear or arrow, but the force still passes on to the foundation garment and the fleshy substance beneath. That could cause moderate to severe impact trauma even if the maille was left intact.

Plate, on the other hand, is not only impervious to cuts and penetration (except possibly by heavy blows from spiked warhammers or similar nasties), but causes blows to skip off the surface of the steel. Strikes are less likely to land squarely on target, and should they do so, the plate itself distributes the force over a wider area. Hence, plate provides superior protection to various kinds of impact trauma.

So your maille-clad and plate-clad knights might duke it out for a while without ever breaking the other's armour, but eventually (assuming blows land equally often and with equal force behind them), your chap in the maille is going to get a bit bruised and battered.
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Patrick Kelly




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Nov, 2006 3:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Do you think that a knight in say early 13th century harness with its mail, great helm, and heater shield would be at a significant disadvantage against an early 15th century knight in white harness and pig faced basinet, or would the advantage given by the more up to date harness be fairly marginal?


Questions like this are really far too nebulous, with far too many variables and intangibles. A clear cut answer is really impossible. All that can definitively be said is that plate replaced mail and was worn by people who trusted it to save their lives. Therefore, logic would dictate plates superiority in this context.

Quote:
My question instead is how much of an advantage do you, the members of this forum, think plate gave over mail.


I've worn both plate harness and mail for extended periods of time and while mail is my favorite I'll freely acknowledge that plate armor is ultimately superior. While it's very difficult to cut through mail, plate armor is superior in both its resistance to penetration and in its shock absorbance. We see many tests on armor that fixate on a very narrow set of parameters for gauging its effectiveness. One aspect that is often overlooked is the armors comfort factor. Plate armor feels a bit restrictive. Now please, no one jump on me with quotes of people jumping on and off of horses and doing cartwheels, things which illustrate the range of body movement the armor allows. This really isn't what I'm talking about. Whenever I've worn plate harness I've always felt a bit bound up, kind of like spam in a can. Big Grin When wearing mail I've never had that feeling. However, in terms of comfort this is the only area where mail is superior. (I'd better point out that I'm talking about relatively developed suits of mail, not simple byrnies, etc.) The weight of a plate harness is much more evenly distributed over the entire body. It's already been pointed out that the weight of a mail hauberk rests mostly on the stomach and this makes a huge difference in prolonged wear. On several occasions when I was younger I wore plate armor from sunrise to sunset with little ill effect. The longest I've worn mail has been for 8-10 hours at a time. This absolutely tortures my back and I feel the effects for a day or two afterwards, in my knees as well as my back. I firmly believe our medieval ancestors were far more hardy than we are. However, the human body hasn't changed that much and if these things affect me I believe they would have affected them as well, it's just a matter of varying degrees.
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Richard Fay




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Nov, 2006 5:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello all!
Patrick Kelly wrote:

Whenever I've worn plate harness I've always felt a bit bound up, kind of like spam in a can.


Patrick,
But that's exactly the feeling I like with my coat-of-plates! I feel as snug as a bug in a rug when I'm in my coat-of-plates! Big Grin

Plate can be restrictive, especially if it's not "custom made". Many 15th century warriors couldn't afford the best custom made armour, so they had to settle for "off-the-peg" and have it adjusted to fit. I'm sure this might be a bit more "restrictive" (binding, chaffing, etc.) than the better-made armours. Any warrior in plate armour ran the risk of heat exhaustion; I think a mail-clad knight might be a bit less vulnerable to heat exhaustion, since mail has it's own built-in ventilation. Heat exhaustion could kill! I once suffered heat exhaustion one sultry summer when I was running around the house in my gambeson/butted mail hauberk/coat-of-plates combination! (Don't ask!) If I had an authentically-made rivetted hauberk, I might prefer that instead because it's flexible!

One thing to consider regarding which knight would be at a disadvantage would be the sorts of weaponry each would wield. If the 13th century carried a slashing sword such as an Oakeshott XII or XIII, and the 15th century knight carried a poleaxe, then the 13th century knight wouldn't make much of an impression against the other knight's armour, but the 15th century knight's poleaxe might make mince meat of his opponent!

Well, I think I diverged a bit from the topic, and I've said enough for now!

Stay safe!

"I'm going to do what the warriors of old did! I'm going to recite poetry!"
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Carl Scholer





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PostPosted: Thu 09 Nov, 2006 5:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm really liking the responses so far, thank you.

Youíre right my post is a bit nebulous, but Iím definitely not trying to get any concrete or definitive answers on the subject, just opinions and speculation. Iíve been essentially racking my head over the subject for the past day now so I should probably voice some of my thoughts on it to help clarify the source of the question. At the moment Iím thinking that the advantage given by plate armor over the previous mail armor was not terribly significant. Plate certainly gives good protection against bone crushing blows and the thrusts of lances and arrows but the older types of kit also included the shield to provide protection against these sorts of attacks. In grappling and fighting with daggers Iím not entirely sure how pronounced of an advantage the plate armored fighter would have although I assume the mailed fighter would be in greater danger from thrusts. But in summation I don't think a later period harness has anything that would give an absolute or gross advantage to fighter over an opponent wearing an older style of mail harness.
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Richard Fay




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Nov, 2006 6:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello all!
Carl Scholer wrote:

but the older types of kit also included the shield to provide protection against these sorts of attacks


Carl,

The shield could also hinder, not just help. There were reasons the shield was discarded; armoured warriors didn't feel it was necessary. Without a shield, they could wield longer, two-handed weapons with a greater reach.

An early fourteenth century armorial treatise that describes how a knight armed for tournaments, war, and jousts stated that the shield was rarely carried in war at that time because it impeded more than it assisted (mentioned in Tournaments by Richard Barber and Juliet Barker, among other works). A fifteenth century knight would know how to fight without a shield. He might even be able to grapple more effectively, using the opponent's shield against him!

Yes, these discussions are speculative, and you can never arrive at a definitive answer, but they are a good mental exercise, if they are discussed intelligently!

Stay safe!

"I'm going to do what the warriors of old did! I'm going to recite poetry!"
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Nov, 2006 6:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Russ Mitchell cited some entries from Kassa's archives (17th century) in which a mail haubergeon cost 6 times as much as a "double" breastplate. The production time for the mail was 2 months whereas the breastplate was only 2 days. There must have been a very good reason why someone, even as late as the 17th century was willing to pay top price for a mail shirt when plate armour was both cheaper and more readily available.
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Richard Fay




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Nov, 2006 7:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello again!

Dan,

Could the reasons be that mail was still lighter? More flexible? Could be worn beneath other items, even civilian clothing in an attempt to conceal the fact that you were armed (although it didn't work so well for Richard the Lionheart)? John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, is shown wearing a mail shirt under his clothing in an anonymous portrait. This is ironic, if it was meant as protection against a "dagger in the back", since he was murdered by the French on the bridge at Monterreau. Nobody's arguing the fact that mail was still in use throughout the medieval period and beyond. It did have some advantages over plate! However, if it was better in all circumstances over plate, plate would never have been adopted!

Personally, if I were a 15th century man-at-arms, I would want a mail shirt or brigandine coat to wear "on the road", and leave the stuffy plate for the battlefield! However, in a bloody melee, I would want the best protection available! Of course, mail was fine for the Irish, among others!

Stay safe!

"I'm going to do what the warriors of old did! I'm going to recite poetry!"
Prince Andrew of Armar
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Richard Fay




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Nov, 2006 7:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello again!

I guess I should never say that I have no more to say about a subject, because I always find more to say!

I read an interesting, if doubtful, statement in The Monks of War: The Military Religious Orders by Desmond Seward. In the chapter about the three sieges of Rhodes, when the author is describing Mehmet's siege of 1480 and how the Knights Hospitaller beat the Turks back, he states that "great elbow guards could catch and snap a sword". I find this dubious at best, but I guess it might be possible to catch an opponent's blade in the large fans of some of the late 15th century couters. Has anyone else heard of this pretty remarkable feat, or was Seward making it up? The book was an entertaining read, but I'm not sure of its accuracy. (And this statement made such an impression that I recalled it while taking part in this discussion, even though I first read the book years ago.)

The reason I brought this up here is, if this is possible, it would give the 15th knight in plate another advantage over his foe. He could catch his opponents blade, them drive the point of his own weapon into a nice soft spot! Of course, the 13th century knight's shield edge could be used in a similar way, to catch his opponent's weapon.

I'm not stating that this was a possible use of couters, just wondering about what I read!

Any further information about this statement by Seward would be greatly appreciated!

Stay safe!

"I'm going to do what the warriors of old did! I'm going to recite poetry!"
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Michael Edelson




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Nov, 2006 9:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Plate not only feels more restrictive, it is more restrictive. Even the best articulation cannot accomodate the full range of motion of the human body. Mail, on the other hand, does not restrict motion. This, to me, is its greatest advantage.

Mail is (again, to me) more comfortable, as there are no leather straps to dig into my flesh. Mail does not mind if you gain or lose a few pounds or a few inches of bicep. Mail is significantly faster and easier to put on than plate. It is possible to put on a full mail harness by yourself...I have never seen a plate harness that can be donned solo. Ditto for removal.

Mail is easier to store and easier to polish in case of rust (just put it in a bucket and shake the bucket for half an hour and you're done). Mail, when stored, is very compact. You can carry a hauberk, coif, chauses and gaunltets in a very small pack.

All that said, plate is cooler. Knowing human nature, it is not entirely impossible that this was the greatest reason for its popularity.
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Hisham Gaballa





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PostPosted: Fri 10 Nov, 2006 5:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mail was worn in the Ottoman Empire and Iran up until the mid-18th century and India until the early 19th century. It was still being worn in the Sudan and Sub-Saharran Africa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Ottomans did encounter enemies in the 15th and 16th centuries who did wear full plate armour; the Italians, the Hungarians and the Holy Roman Empire, yet they never adopted it themselves (although some types of mail-and-plate armours such as the krug had more plates than mail). This was because the Ottomans had a completely different style of warfare in which archery was paramount and mail offers a high degree of protection against arrows. The kind of "man-to-man" melees with axe, mace, lance and sword which characterised European warfare usually only occur in the final closing stages of a lot of Near Eastern, South Asian and Central Asian battles.

The other factor is undoubtedly climate. Mail (and its underlying padding) can "breathe" so it is probably cooler to wear. Anyone wearing full plate armour in Iran or India will probably end up dead of heat exhaustion from lack of ventilation. That's my theory anyway. Happy
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Fri 10 Nov, 2006 5:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael Edelson wrote:
Plate not only feels more restrictive, it is more restrictive. Even the best articulation cannot accomodate the full range of motion of the human body. Mail, on the other hand, does not restrict motion. This, to me, is its greatest advantage.

Mail is (again, to me) more comfortable, as there are no leather straps to dig into my flesh. Mail does not mind if you gain or lose a few pounds or a few inches of bicep. Mail is significantly faster and easier to put on than plate. It is possible to put on a full mail harness by yourself...I have never seen a plate harness that can be donned solo. Ditto for removal.

Mail is easier to store and easier to polish in case of rust (just put it in a bucket and shake the bucket for half an hour and you're done). Mail, when stored, is very compact. You can carry a hauberk, coif, chauses and gaunltets in a very small pack.

All that said, plate is cooler. Knowing human nature, it is not entirely impossible that this was the greatest reason for its popularity.


Sort of why I like the transitional armour period since one can use just the maille or the maille with a few pieces of plate depending on situation.

With later plate it might be more an all or nothing thing and arming up would take more time and help.

I wonder if plate might be left behind if one was doing raids or patrols and not expecting a set battle i.e. the level of protection varied on mission or immediate threat level.

In hot climates being able to put on maille quickly could be an advantage as one could travel un-armoured and put on hauberk over gambison, helm and grab a shield in only a few minutes !? One might have a few Knights armoured at any one time plus some more lightly armed archers and billmen for perimeter defence for those few critical minutes of putting on of armour should a column be attacked while travelling in dangerous territory.

From an aesthetic point of view I sort of like the hauberk, conical nasal helm and shield look and ease of getting into or out of it by myself.

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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Richard Fay




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PostPosted: Fri 10 Nov, 2006 8:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello all!
Jean Thibodeau wrote:

I wonder if plate might be left behind if one was doing raids or patrols and not expecting a set battle i.e. the level of protection varied on mission or immediate threat level.

Jean,
Yes, full plate could be left in the baggage, and something lighter (brigandine, in this example) worn if combat wasn't imminent.
From Arms and Armour of the Medieval Knight:
David Edge and John Miles Padock wrote:

Although brigandines had first appeared in the later part of the fourteenth century, by the mid-fifteenth they were extremely common and worn by all classes of soldier...
Brigandines were also worn as a light armour by men who did not expect to go into battle, or who might be travelling in unfriendly but not openly hostile country. Comines says that while the men of Charolois and Calabria were fully armed, the troops of Berri and Brittany who marched into Paris in 1465 wore only light brigandines or, some said, garments with gilt nails sewn onto satin, "that they might weigh the lesse"...

Plate is more restrictive, and impossible to put on by yourself, but the initial question was about a knight clad in mail versus a knight clad in plate. Which would have an advantage, if either?

I think that's hard to say, since plate might restrict movement, but mail has its own issues regarding movement. Would the 13th century knight in mail leave off his chausses to fight better on foot? If he did, even with a shield, his legs may become vulnerable. If it was fought on a particularly hot day, the knight in plate would probably suffer heat exhaustion first, although the great helm might give the 13th century knight problems (no visor to lift up for a moment to get more air).

Even mail usually needed a squire's or servant's assistance to don properly. A mail shirt can be slipped on like a tee-shirt, but the full panoply of a 13th century knight usually needed someone to tie the laces and such. It might be possible to do yourself, but it wasn't recommended.

Mail is definitely better for travel; you can roll it up in a sack and put it behind the saddle when not needed for combat. You need a packhorse or cart to carry the trunk with the plate armour. And mail (especially a simple mail shirt) can be donned quicker; it takes time to suit up in a full plate harness.

So, does anyone has an answer regarding my question about Desmond Seward's comment about the use of plate couters of the late 15th century as "sword breakers"? I find it suspect, but I would love to get other opinions!

Stay safe!

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Steve Fabert





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PostPosted: Fri 10 Nov, 2006 8:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The answer to the question may differ considerably if some assumptions are stated clearly. Are you interested in combat on foot, or on horseback? And what offensive weaponry are you assuming the contestants will be using? I think the answer may well be very different if you view the armor as one component of the entire 'weapon system' rather than a separate variable to be matched with identical weapons and fighting methods on both sides. If each knight is allowed to choose his weapons to match his armor, there may be little to recommend one choice of armor over the other besides personal preference.

I doubt that it was an accident that two handed swords came into fashion for foot combat at about the same time as plate armor began to predominate. Single handed swords and shields seem to have gone well with mail for many centuries, before the use of plate became common. It makes sense to reduce the shield to a buckler and then dispense with it altogether, once plate defenses were available, but not before then. Once both hands are free to swing a weapon, different offensive choices may offset other positive attributes of mail-based equipment packages.

I have no experience with fighting on horseback and so can't say whether the apparently obvious virtues of plate for horsemen is a reality or just an appearance. Do the horsemen among us feel there is any advantage to wearing mail while mounted, or is plate protection clearly preferable for fighting on horseback?
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James Barker




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PostPosted: Fri 10 Nov, 2006 8:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
Russ Mitchell cited some entries from Kassa's archives (17th century) in which a mail haubergeon cost 6 times as much as a "double" breastplate. The production time for the mail was 2 months whereas the breastplate was only 2 days. There must have been a very good reason why someone, even as late as the 17th century was willing to pay top price for a mail shirt when plate armour was both cheaper and more readily available.


Those double thick breast plates weight a ton; I have seen some that are 20 pounds. Maille in the 16th c and on is also super tiny; it's not the same as the old 8mm shirts. Given the weapons of the time a maille shirt and buff cotte is what I would wear.


Now for the 14th and 15th c give me well fitted plate! I have a good spring steel harness for the 14th c and while it is a bit more limiting than my 11th century maille outfit sword blows are like nothing to the armor! You barley feel a thing in plate but it hurts like all hell to get nailed by a sword in maille. Even my maille and jack combo for my 15th century archer impression is not a good to get hit in as a coat of plates or brigandine corazzina.

I love the mobility of maille but I like the weight distribution and protection of plate.
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Greg Coffman




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PostPosted: Fri 10 Nov, 2006 9:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Small point

Quote:
It makes sense to reduce the shield to a buckler and then dispense with it altogether, once plate defenses were available, but not before then.


Bucklers were in use throughout the middle ages and renaissance. I don't know if buckler became less prevelant with the introduction of plate, but they were still very common even then. But the trend did not go from shield to smaller shield (buckler) to no shield at all. Bucklers were in use throughout the time that shields were in use in the middle ages (I don't know about before the middle ages) and stayed around much longer. The following article from ARMA suggests that bucklers might even have been more common than shields in the middle ages as demonstrated by a study of period artwork. Of course, even in artwork depicting 15C combat in plate, shields can still be found here and there.

http://www.thearma.org/essays/SwordandBuckler.htm
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Steve Fabert





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PostPosted: Fri 10 Nov, 2006 9:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Greg:

You are correct, I am not suggesting that plate armor caused either shields or bucklers to become obsolete. I am referring instead to the rarity of two handed weapons being wielded by men wearing mail, who do not seem to have been willing to dispense with the protection of a shield in the same way that 15th century plate users sometimes (but not always) did. If you do not choose a two handed weapon, then it would still make sense to use the offhand to carry a defensive shield or buckler whether your torso is protected by plate or by mail.
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Fri 10 Nov, 2006 10:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't think there's much question that a man in a hardened and well-fitted suit of plate would have the advantage over a man in mail. For example, imagine 15th- or 16th-century heavy cavalry facing 13th-century knights. I can't see any outcome other than the gendarmes routing 13th-century guys.

I think it'd be about the same on foot, though probably not as dramatic. In individual combat, skill would be the most important factor, but the guy in plate would have the advantage. If the guy in plate had a two-handed weapon, and the guy in mail had a sword and shield, then the plated warrior's advantage would increase. I think 15th-century men-at-arms, wearing full harness and wielding polearms, would have little to fear from 13th-century knights.

Quote:
n early fourteenth century armorial treatise that describes how a knight armed for tournaments, war, and jousts stated that the shield was rarely carried in war at that time because it impeded more than it assisted (mentioned in Tournaments by Richard Barber and Juliet Barker, among other works).


That's very interesting. What treatise is that from?
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