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Steve Lewis




Location: Boston
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PostPosted: Tue 27 Mar, 2007 12:46 pm    Post subject: A question on plate armour         Reply with quote

Hey everyone,
I have been wondering for sometime about the changes in arms and armor in the medieval era. I just finished the Oakshott's Archeology of weapons in which Oakshott stated that the switch to plate armor had alot to do with English longbows. I unfortunately do not have the book with me right now or I would include the passage. Since I am not likely to read enough books to draw my own conclusions before curiosity eats me alive, i would like to know other people's take on this? Do alot of people agree with Oakshott? Is there actually a universally accepted reason or set of reasons for the switch to plate armor or is this still a subject for debate.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Tue 27 Mar, 2007 2:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The longbow had nothing at all to do with the development of plate armour. Note that the areas in which this armour developed (Southern Germany and Italy) had very little exposure to the English longbow. The main arguments for the development of plate are outlined in this FAQ.
http://forums.swordforum.com/showthread.php?t=41041
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Hugh Knight




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PostPosted: Tue 27 Mar, 2007 4:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
The longbow had nothing at all to do with the development of plate armour. Note that the areas in which this armour developed (Southern Germany and Italy) had very little exposure to the English longbow. The main arguments for the development of plate are outlined in this FAQ.
http://forums.swordforum.com/showthread.php?t=41041


Dan,

While much of what you say is accurate, I'd like to make a couple of points. First, I have seen little evidence for the use of bodkin-point arrows until late-13th/early-14th century, yet you claim they were "common" from Roman times. What's your source for that? One distinguished scholar--I forget his name and the book is packed away right now, but he was the armor curator at the Tower before it moved to Leeds, I think--wrote something about how in the early stages many bodkin points were hardened, citing some of them at Crecy (1346), but that this [practice later changed to one of using fairly soft iron for the heads since they couldn't penetrate plate reliably anyway so they were relegated to penetrating mail--which is all they were good for. You point out that arrows, even bodkin heads, are not very good at penetrating armor, and I agree completely, but they were next to useless at penetrating plate, so their use is best explained as being to defeat mail--especially in the gaps between plates. So I believe it wasn't *bows* as the OP said, but that arrows (well, their heads) had a significant effect on the development of plate.

None of which should be taken to refute your comments about heavier weapons, but I believe this is a sort of "chicken and the egg" thing. But I don't buy your implication they used these weapons because the old rules about not killing nobility were breaking down; there's no indication that changed until well after the age of plate was established (e.g., see the Wars of the Roses, where such attitudes had more to do with the nature of the war--it was perceived as rebellion--than about overall changes in attitude). Ransom was still a *huge* issue throughout the 14th century with fortunes being made from the hapless French taken prisoner.

Moreover, I strongly dispute your assertion that plate armor developed in Southern Germany and Italy: France and England were using far more comprehensive plate in the early and mid 14th centuries than that seen in Germany and Italy during the same period. All you have to do is to look at contemporary effigies to see that. You may be thinking of the development of *full* alwhyte harnesses in the 15th century, but "full" plate was being worn as early as the mid-14th century. And while some of that armor may have come from Germany and Italy, it was going to places where the bow *was* a huge factor--The Hundred Years War.

Finally, your FAQ talks about economic factors, but leaves out the interesting shift from a largely barter economy to a largely cash economy that developed during the 14th century (more on this can be read in a book called Life in a 13th-Century Manor. In England (which is the area I know best, but the pheonomenon wasn't limited to that country) the Black Death caused a significant shift in the economy. With fewer people the "real" cost of labor increased dramatically. Workers on rural farms couldn't take advantage of this, however, since they weren't paid in cash--they had to leave for cities for that (where the law said they became free if they remained for a year and a day). We have documents from the time citing attempts to stop such movement to the cities because of the upset this caused in the agrarian economy (and most knights, remember, were agrarian landholders). In the end, however, it was actually good for the landholders in two ways: First, because they could now start charging rent in cash rather than in kind from their tenants (and cash is more fungible than a cartload of grain) and because they could convert to sheep farming, which allowed for the sale of wool, which again is a more fungible product (given the wool markets in the low countries) than other agricultural products, which means even more cash. And since there were more workers in the cities, that meant it was easier to produce more "non essential" goods (including more advanced armor), and since the landowners--the knights--had more actual *cash*, they could afford to buy things more easily. This is obviously a gross oversimplification, but I believe this is one kind of economic push that spurred the development of plate armor.

You're right, of course, when you point out that medieval craftsmen had the capability to produce plate long before the Transition, but it was harder to afford then because efficient armor production requires a host of related craftsmen working in (mostly) urban workshops; not something you could have the local blacksmith do for large-scale projects. The economic shift I describe above made these kinds of developments more feasible on a larger scale.

Regards,
Hugh
www.schlachtschule.org


Last edited by Hugh Knight on Tue 27 Mar, 2007 8:35 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Steven H




Location: Boston
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PostPosted: Tue 27 Mar, 2007 7:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The suggestion that plate was developed in response to plate is problematic primarily because plate armour was developed prior the widespread use of longbows (which were never common on the continent). The French showed up at Crecy already wearing transitional plate-and-mail harnesses having never faced concentrated longbow fire before and considering missile fire to be of little real use in battle.

Why did they show up already wearing the 'response' to a weapon they'd never faced and assumed was no good? Because they could afford to wear such armour, as a result of the economic factors described by Hugh and Dan.

Kunstbruder - Boston area Historical Combat Study
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Wed 28 Mar, 2007 7:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hugh Knight wrote:
While much of what you say is accurate, I'd like to make a couple of points. First, I have seen little evidence for the use of bodkin-point arrows until late-13th/early-14th century, yet you claim they were "common" from Roman times. What's your source for that?

Bodkin typologies have been in use since the Bronze Age. They have been found on Roman battlefields and saw constant use in the Middle East during the entire so called Age of Mail. pp.199-204 of James' "Final Report" on Dura Europos has dozens of examples. I'd also recommend Manoucher's recent book. I have no data on arrowheads in Western Europe.

Quote:
One distinguished scholar--I forget his name and the book is packed away right now, but he was the armor curator at the Tower before it moved to Leeds, I think--wrote something about how in the early stages many bodkin points were hardened, citing some of them at Crecy (1346)


This letter from Dr Starley contradicts that claim. Cross-linked from ArmourArchive (emphasis mine).
http://forums.armourarchive.org/phpBB2/viewto...p;start=35

As a metallurgist this is a question which interests me greatly. Some early studies were done by Peter Pratt and Peter Jones, involving a current member of RA staff but before he joined us. Some of these experiments are recorded in an appendix to Robert Hardy's book. However I have been concerned that the published version of these experiments used heat-treated steel bodkin points, for which we have no evidence. By contrast it would appear that other types of arrowheads: the compact tanged and barbed (London Museums Type 16), did indeed have steel edges/points welded to them and these were quenched and tempered. The metallurgical work is in progress but some of the information is due to be published by Ashgate in a collection of papers from the International Medieval congress, Kalamazoo (The volume will be titled de re Metallica). Unfortunately I haven't seen any results on the testing of such weapons.

Hope this helps,

David Starley PhD
Science Officer

Royal Armouries Museum
Conservation Department


So it wasn't bodkins that were hardened, but compact broadheads.

Consider the following:
1. Many sources acknowledge that hardened steel arrowheads stood a greater chance of punching through armour than soft wrought iron. Yet, according to Dr Starley, the majority of hardened arrowheads found are not of a bodkin typology but of a compact broadhead typology - e.g. MoL Catalogue Type 16. Virtually all bodkins so far examined have turned out to be unhardened.

2. If you fire a bodkin type arrowhead and a broadhead arrow weighing the same weight from the same bow, the bodkin constantly outranges the broadhead.

3. Sir John Smythe recommended a fourth of each sheaf be flight arrows to "gall" the enemy at range. This is similar to the ratio of broadheads to bodkins found on the Mary Rose.

All this suggests to me that the compact broadhead was intended to be used against armour at shorter ranges and the bodkins were intended to be used on the flight arrows described by Smythe.

FWIW Nobody can cite a single battle throughout the two-thousand year history of mail that was determined because arrows could penetrate armour - mail or otherwise.
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Hugh Knight




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PostPosted: Wed 28 Mar, 2007 9:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
FWIW Nobody can cite a single battle throughout the two-thousand year history of mail that was determined because arrows could penetrate armour - mail or otherwise.


Dan, you and I are in complete agreement on this: Arrows (of any sort) didn't penetrate armor reliably enough to be an issue. I do, however, believe that the moral factors raised by *wounds* received through gaps in plate armor were a significant (if not primary) factor in numerous battles:

"In fact, there is little evidence that the longbowmen, ... did any more damage than the killing of a few horses and the wounding of even fewer men. While the archers did not kill many men, however, they did harass their enemy to such an extent that they broke into a disordered charge, a charge narrowed by continual flanking fire until it reached and stopped at the solid infantry line. This then caused the victory—not the archery fire itself, but the archery-induced disordered charge into a solid infantry line, which was neither penetrated nor defeated." (Devries, Kelly, Medieval Military Technology, Broadview Press, 1992, p. 38 writing about the Hundred Years War up to and including Agincourt)

And I believe that such effects helped drive the development of plate armor, regardless of the precise point typology.

Your argument about narrow broadheads being used against armor at short distances is interesting, but seems strange to me. Such a wide design doesn't lend itself well to penetrating plate--just look at the shape of modern tools: a spike penetrates steel better than a chisel does. It would seem that hardened edges on a broadhead, even a very narrow one, would be more about keeping a sharp edge sharp during handling, etc., than about any attempt to penetrate armor. A sharp edge would make a huge difference when it comes to cutting flesh through tough clothing, but arrows would have a high liklihood of becoming dull very fast if they were soft when bundled and jostled and carried about. Besides, many "soft" targets were available, even in periods when armor was relatively comprehensive.

In Infantry Warfare in the Early 14th Century Kelly Devries writes this about the battle of Dupplin Moore: "The infantry was greatly aided by the archers on their flanks. It seems that most of the Scottish soldiers either wore no helmets or helmets unequipped with visors, and that the disinherited archers…’blinded and wounded the faces of the first division of the Scots by an incessant discharge of arrows.’ This may have caused little death, but in fact is so disrupted the Scots that their attacks fell on the infantry with disarray and confusion." (p. 119)

These kinds of applications would seem much more appropriate for broadheads of any size since while bodkin points may be more efficacious against mail they cause less disabling wounds, whereas broadheads, however narrow, cause much more effective wounds because of their wide edges.

Regards,
Hugh
www.schlachtschule.org
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Wed 28 Mar, 2007 6:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

hi Hugh, I agree with evrything in your last post. A comment about the hardened arrowhead. I don't think that there was ever an arrowhead devised to penetrate plate. Russ Mitchell cited a source that recommended cutting the tips of bodkins to give them a chance of penetrating plate. This suggests to me that the bodkin was not optimised for armour penetration. I think that the longbow affected the evolution of plate armour but it didn't have much influence on its initial introduction.
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Wed 28 Mar, 2007 8:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As people have pointed out, plate was already being worn before the explosion of the longbow and in places not exposed to it. The pace at which plates were added accelerated during the longbow era, but not necessarily because of it. As others have said, it created havoc and disorder more than anything else. Many English writers tend to overstate its effectiveness.

I think the effectiveness of discplined, determined, non-mounted combatants and the increasing vulnerability of the mounted knight to them was a big part of that acceleration.

Happy

ChadA

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