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Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Authentic surcoats, tabards...? Reply to topic
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Kirk B.

Joined: 05 Aug 2007

Posts: 27

PostPosted: Fri 20 Dec, 2013 1:35 pm    Post subject: Authentic surcoats, tabards...?         Reply with quote

I been thinking of making a replica Crusaders era one and I’m curious about the materials used the in the originals?

I imagine they would of been made from some sort of a coarse woven fabric like cotton or linen.

But I’m also interested in what the decorations would of been made of? As in a applied coat of arms, etc...

The only actual survivor I’m aware of that even comes close is Edward, the Black Prince’s. And I can’t determine any construction details from just photos.

Besides, I suspect his gear was of a much finer quality that most anyway with the decorations being gold thread, etc...

Any insights anyone?

Thanks in advance.

-Mr. B.
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Mart Shearer

Location: Jackson, MS, USA
Joined: 18 Aug 2012

Posts: 1,302

PostPosted: Fri 20 Dec, 2013 6:41 pm    Post subject: Re: Authentic surcoats, tabards...?         Reply with quote

Fabric choice and method of decoration would likely depend on social status. 14th century accounts mention various silks and cloth of gold. Emboidery seems common, and some of the Manesse Codex's surcoats with numerous escutcheons were likely appliquéd embroideries. Some surviving banners are painted, and this practice may have extended to the surcoats.

Surcoats aren't really in use during the First and Second Crusades. The Third Crusade seems to be the period where they are adopted, but the application of heraldry to them is far from universal, even into the 14th century. There are a large number of pictures of knights wearing surcoats which bear no heraldic charges, nor do they match the colors of a knight's arms on his shield. It seems the primary purpose lay in display of wealth through the use of sumptuous fabrics, and the protection of the underlying mail from sun or wet weather. Identification of the owner matters more as social status increases.

The records for Windsor Tournament in 1278 show purchases for surcoats for the 4 earls attending to be Cind' or Cindatum, Syndal, Cendal, etc. which is believed to be a light silk fabric. The other 34 participants get surcoats of card. also written as carde or carda, which is though by some to be a cotton muslin-like fabric.

The Black Prince's coat armor is composed of silk velvet with gilt thread embroidered charges, sewn with a linen base and stuffed with raw cotton ("cotton wool" in the British terminology). Randall Storey notes of the Prince's father, Edward III, "For the Dunstable tournament in 1342, he spent over £7 on a surcoat (tunica ad arma) embroidered with silver and gold figures."

Most surcoats seem to have full skirts, and often show lots of folds above the waist belt, so a 4-gore patten where the side gores extend to the bottom of the armscye seems likely during the 13th century. We sometimes see a pale green lining, or one of vair, so some surcoats might have been lined with common linen to protect the more valuable silks from rust stains. However, conspicuous consumption might have been desirable to many nobles.

ferrum ferro acuitur et homo exacuit faciem amici sui
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Kirk B.

Joined: 05 Aug 2007

Posts: 27

PostPosted: Sat 21 Dec, 2013 9:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you, just the type of information I’m seeking. I plan to study Manesse Codex now.

“Crusader era” may of been a poor choice of words on my part, I probably should of just said early surcoats.

The idea of painted decoration is intriguing, I don’t see many modern interpretations with that detail.

I spent quite awhile last night looking through the “Show us your harness/kit” thread, and found some very good inspiration & information there also. Unfortunately perhaps 20% of the photos didn’t open for me.

On a side note, I’m surprised there aren’t more “Maximilian” harnesses being created nowdays, such a popular style in it’s time (and again during the Victorian era armor making resurgent).

And with so many beautifully made Gothic harnesses represented I imagine there are many modern armor smiths capable of it.

Thanks again,

-Mr. B.
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