Origin of the term "Spaulder"
I am wondering if anyone could shed come light on the origin of the term “spaulder” or a least historical text references?

The reason that I am asking, is that a friend and I had a conversation about shoulder defenses. He uses the therm “pauldron” for everything as he claims that the term “spaulder” never existed historically, as he has not see a reference in any older books on armour that he has access to, nor is it listed in the Oxford English Dictionary.

This has sent me on a search for the origin or early text references for this term, which is apparently used quite commonly by a lot of people in the present, but no one seems to provide the origin of the term.

The best that I have come up with is:


earlier spauld [shoulder] (Middle English spald, spalde < Old French espalde, espalle < Latin spatula spatula)


earlier paleron, poleron, (Middle English polron, pollerons (pl.) < Middle French espalleron [shoulder])

Both terms have French roots referring to the shoulder: the old French "espalde", "espalle" and the middle French "espalleron". Also the spaulder evolved into the pauldron as more protection was needed for the shoulder area. At the time that spaulders would have been common it overlaps old French usage [~9th century to ~14th century] and when pauldrons started coming into use (~15th century?) it overlaps middle French usage [~14th century to ~17th century].

So it seems plausible that “spaulder” is a legitimate term from the time, I just have not found anything definitive as a reference.

Last edited by Mike Visser on Sat 17 Jul, 2010 2:16 pm; edited 2 times in total
"Spaulders" refer to the earlier cupped shoulder plate, with or without lames down the upper arm, worn as part of transitional plate harness. See http://www.myArmoury.com/view.html?features/pic_mow_bp01.jpg where you can see the spaulder on Edward's effigy.

"Pauldrons" are larger and later shoulder protection. They tend to be more complex in structure than the spaulder. See http://www.myArmoury.com/feature_gothic_armour.html
Thanks for the reply Jonathan, much appreciated.

I am familiar with the differences between the two, the definitions that were in my original post were not mine, but from a dictionary. (I've edited them out since they weren't clear and are not related to what I am seeking.)
Well yes and no. The French word for spaulder comes up in England... I cannot think of anywhere the English version of spaulder is used. That said during the 14th century they never use pauldron. So for me spaulder is legit.

Randall Moffett wrote:
Well yes and no. The French word for spaulder comes up in England... I cannot think of anywhere the English version of spaulder is used. That said during the 14th century they never use pauldron. So for me spaulder is legit.

It is a legit term for me too for the same reasons. Of course we have settled on just one of the variant spellings that were in use at the time. spaudler is another variant that seemed fairly common.
Randall, do you happen to have references to the use of the French word for spaulder in England?

I'm interested in references of any variants that are known of the word (not just the English version), as I am trying to nail down some reference for it.

Best case scenario: someone is able to point to a period reference that describes pre-15th century shoulder armor (aka not pauldrons) using some variant of spaulder, spaudler , espalde, etc.
The earliest I know of in Europe is from 1224 and is in Fawkes de Breaute's inventory. It also appears in the Rule of the Templars, of which there are a few different 13th century versions which include espauliers.

I did find a few references to pauldrons pre1400 but it is very late in the century.

I think there is very little case for using pauldron over spaulder/spaudler, especially for earlier shoulder armour as there is 0 occasions for this type of use in period.

Thanks for the help Randall, much appreciated.
Hi Mike,

Your friend is correct that "spaulder" is something of an anachronism, but then again, so too is "shield." At any rate, "pauldron" is likely incorrect, as it is based on a single sixteenth-century work, amid more prevalent variations.

The proper term for what you're looking for in Modern English is "spaudeler," which is what you'll want to look up in OED.

The earliest attestation in English is probably "spawdeler," c. 1450-1509, in Richard Coer de Lion, line 5285

"Spauld" (spaud) as shoulder is possibly attested in English as early as 1305, and certainly by 1313.

"Spanbelere" is a copyist's error for "spaudeler," so don't be confused by it.

"Pauldrons," or more correctly "Pouldrons," is first attested in English in 1439, as "palerns;" 1454: "pollerons;" 1465: "polrondys."

There are various cognates for "spaudeler", including Middle Low German "spoldener" and Middle High German "spaldenier."

Hope that helps.


Wow! :surprised: Thanks Eric.
Just to add to this, most high-level academics use the term "spaudler", not "spaulder;" for example, you can see this use in Blair's European Armor and in Edge and Paddock's Arms and Armor of the Medieval Knight and in the Wallace Catalog, and I think Nicholl uses it, too, if I recall correctly--among several others. The mispelling of the term as "spaulder" appears to be a typographical error that caught on with members of the reenactment community and was just never noticed, although someone pointed out to me that Oakeshott spelled it that way, so it may have come from there, too.
I think the real issue is that for some reason people now are trying to force one term over the other when both are equally wrong as a medieval word. Both are modern terms though based on several terms in many languages which employ the 'ld' and 'dl' in different placements for a similar medieval word. It is not an error if spelled spaulder over spaudler or whatnot. In the end I can point to a large number of academics that do use one or the other. The rule of thumb to me is be consistent with it. For academic papers, if you have to, simply explain your usage and run with it. I see no reason why the reenactment, WMA or any other body need discard one over the other as both have relative medieval words.

Now that said I would much prefer period terms over ones some one just made up recently from them. Of course there are likely a score or three or terms for this type of shoulder defence that are medieval.


Last edited by Randall Moffett on Thu 09 Sep, 2010 2:59 pm; edited 1 time in total
Since it comes from the French " Épaulière " or shoulder piece I just think of it in French. ;) :D :cool:

Mostly Spaulder or Spaudler are English mangling of the French and at different period the mangling differed. ;) :p :lol:
I have access to an English source of around 1415 listing 'paleron' for the shoulders.

Good discussion all round.

Matt, I think you should cite your source to the OED and to the University of Michigan's Dictionary of Middle English (the online version of which might still be getting updates - I think the 80+ fascicle print version is not being supplemented). Certainly the OED editors would be interested, and it would not be a bad note to put on one's C.V., at any rate.

As an aside, it is interesting that the text of Richard Coer de Lion refers to spawdelers as a legitimate shoulder defense of the late twelfth century, which as we all know would not have been been the case. It seems likely (to me) that the poet has chosen a familiar (during the latter fifteenth century), but earlier (than palerons) shoulder defense to represent late twelfth-century armor. Archaeologically incorrect though the poet's characterization of twelfth-century armor be, it nonetheless gives the sense (one might conjecture) that later fifteenth-century poets, who cared enough to name the parts of armor of a plausible past, did so not with the metrically equivalent "pollerons," but with a shoulder defense we too know to be both older and different in form: "spawdelers."

This characterization, poetic as it is, might lead one to suggest a fifteenth-century awareness of a semantic difference between "spawdelers" and what, for the sake of modern convention, we might call "pauldrons."

So, going back to your initial question, Mike, I think your friend is splitting the wrong hairs: if fifteenth-century poets knew enough to know the difference, then soldiers and armorers likely did. "Spaulders" follows a modern convention and is a perfectly legitimate designation, and certainly preferred to "pauldrons" in many contexts.


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