Coats-of-Plates & Mail
As many of us know, the mostly mail armour protection of the 13th and early 14th century gave way to coats-of-plates with mail, and perhaps greaves.

What I am interested in discussing is how these two types of armour compare to each other. Clearly, the coat-of-plates must have offered superior chest protection than mail; otherwise, the former would not have been adopted.

Do we have any period sources that give us contrasting prices for mail alone versus coats-of-plates? What about time to maufacture? And the approximate weight of a coat-of-plates versus a mail shirt? More importantly, but perhaps most difficult to answer, how much better is the protection provided by a coat-of-plates versus a mail shirt?

As far as answers go, I am most interested in answers based from primary sources. Where this is not available, information based upon modern reproductions or personal experience is next most interesting.

I am least interested in answers that are based upon unsubstantiated opinions, personal speculation, and armchair theories. I am quite capable of coming up with these myself, so I'd prefer responses with more substance.
Is it really replaced by the coat of plates? I thought it was supplemented by it - so a knight would wear a coat of plates over his mail shirt.
As far as we can tell, the COP was worn over mail up until a certain point in the 14th century when plate defences were worn by themselves with mail voiders to cover gaps. Exactly when this occurred is hard to pin down but, around the same time, the COP started to be replaced with solid cuirasses.

I think Kew is right. Supplement is a better way of looking at this. When the plates start they are always used in unison from what we can tell with mail. It is only with lower troops that is not true later in the 13th. The Clos de Galles indicartes large numbers of aketons and pairs of plates ordered for common troops.

I think advantages are that plate is much harder to penetrate and protects better from blunt force trauma. As far as I know there is no primary source on time to manufacture a pair of plate but having made riveted mail and pairs of plates I could make many of the pairs of plates in the time I assume it would take to make a riveted mail hauberk. Thom Richardson's PhD has price comparisons which show a great deal of variety in cost which could show that not all pairs of plates and mail items were created the same, perhaps inferior and superior quality.


Sort of. We have evidence for example commissions of array that ask to have men equipped in aketons and some with aketons and mail or pairs of plates. But for the knightly, well equipped types, that is correct not replace but supplement.


I am not sure that is 100% correct. Clearly some were wearing full hauberks under plate well into the 15th century according to text. Monstrelet for example in his account on Agincourt is pretty clear the French seem to have been wearing full mail shirts under their plate harnesses. I have an account of a knight working for Richard II who is given a passport to France and he has a full inventory of his war gear. Not a bit of mail besides the hauberk is listed, along with it his full plate and aketon. But yes some do sometime in the 14th some do seem to make this transition so it seems an option.

While Thom Richardson's thesis, The medieval inventories of the Tower armouries 1320–1410, does give some specific purchasing costs, there is also the financial analysis in Randall Storey's thesis, Technology and Military Policy in Medieval England.

Cost of mail can vary based on several factors which are usually not mentioned in inventories:
Material -- steel is more expensive than iron (steel mail shirts running triple the cost);
Size of ring -- smaller diameters can take three or four times the labor to assemble and smaller wire takes more labor to draw;
Area of coverage -- adding coifs or mittens or longer sleeves to a hauberk uses more material and labor.

Cost of pairs of plates can also vary based on similar factors:
Material -- steel is more expensive than iron;
Size of plates -- smaller and more numerous plates require more rivets and riveting;
Covering -- a covering of silk velvet with silver or gilt nails is considerably more expensive than a covering of hemp with iron nails.

Storey does at least give us a summary
Average Prices of English Arms from the years 1294-1339
(in pence)

Of 12 pairs of plates sampled, prices (when adjusted to pence) varies from 27p to 320p, with an average cost of 167p.
Of 14 "hauberk"s sampled (some of which might have been originally listed as haubergeons) prices vary from 60p to 240p with an average cost of 138p.

So a pair of plates could be cheaper, or more expensive, than a mail shirt, and vice versa.

Richardson notes the issue of pairs of plates with "voiders" of mail sleeves and paunces (skirts) as early as the 1320s, but as Randall Moffett has noted, it sometimes seems a matter of personal preference whether to wear this panoply or the plates over a full haubergeon.

We also have record which seem to indicate that gambesons, plates, and mail (I believe the corset to be a sleeveless mail shirt) were considered equal and interchangeable protection.
Watch and Ward at the City Gates.

25 Edward I. A.D. 1297. Letter-Book B. fol. xxxiii. old numeration. (Latin.)

It was ordered that every bedel shall make summons by day in his own Ward, upon view of two good men, for setting watch at the Gates;—and that those so summoned shall come to the Gates in the day-time, and in the morning, at day-light, shall depart therefrom. And such persons are to be properly armed with two pieces; namely, with haketon (fn. 11) and gambeson (fn. 12) , or else with haketon and corset (fn. 13) , or with haketon and plates.

Though it is important to note all are used in that with an aketon. Find that account very interesting.

Quite so. Armor systems of layered defenses.

It's also the only substantive evidence I've found for wearing a gambeson over an aketon.
The King's Mirror from Norway does as well.

I suspect that may be what we are seeing in the Mac Bible as well.

I don't recall such a reference in the King's Mirror text. Have a citation you can share?

On the other hand it does call for a breastplate of some type under the mail --nipples to navel or some such. And then there's Guillaume le Breton's mention of a plate under the mail in the joust between Richard I and William of Barres. Also a number of early depictions of scale armors over mail indicates reinforcement of the hauberk was not totally unknown before the introduction of the pair of plates.
Baard H posted his translation on the post on the Mac armour post

""The rider himself should be equipped in this wise: he should wear good
soft breeches made of soft and thoroughly blackened linen cloth, which
should reach up to the belt; outside these, good mail hose
which should come up high enough to be girded on with a double strap; over
these he must have good trousers made of linen cloth of the sort that I
have already described; finally, over these he should have good knee-pieces
madeof thick iron and rivets hard as steel. Above and next to the body
he should Wear a soft gambison, which need not come lower than to the middle
of, the thigh. Over this he must have a strong breastplate made of good
iron covering the body from the nipples to the trousers belt; outside this,
a well-made hauberk and over the hauberk a firm gambison made in the manner
which I have already described but without sleeves. He must have a dirk
§ and two swords, one girded on and another hanging from the pommel
of the saddle. On his head he must have a dependable helmet made of good
steel and provided with a visor. He must also have a strong, thick shield
fastened to a durable shoulder belt and, in addition, a good sharp spear
with a firm shaft and pointed with fine steel. Now it seems needless to
speak further about the equipment of men who fight on horseback; there
are, however, other weapons which a mounted warrior may use, if he wishes;
among these are the "horn bow" and the weaker crossbow, which a man can
easily draw even when on horseback, and certain other weapons, too, if
he should want them."

So here it states under all the iron armour the soft gambeson and then over it the firm gambeson. Viola a two textile armour sandwich. I am wondering how soft differs from firm as far as construction but doubt there is such a specific account.

That seems like a pretty good translation. One change would be to replace "soft gambeson" with "soft aketon" to avoid confusion.
I remembered the gambeson over the mail, but wasn't thinking of the aketon beneath. Not quite what I had in mind for one directly over the other, but good enough. Point to you, sir.

So where does this leave us regarding Craig's original set of questions?
Do we have any period sources that give us contrasting prices for mail alone versus coats-of-plates? What about time to maufacture? And the approximate weight of a coat-of-plates versus a mail shirt? More importantly, but perhaps most difficult to answer, how much better is the protection provided by a coat-of-plates versus a mail shirt?

I think the documentation shows that price could be comparable. While we don't have a specific time to manufacture, and I'm prone to want a life-cycle analysis, we know that labor and material costs are rolled into the final price, so must assume that is also comparable. I know mail shirts can range from 10 lbs. - 30+ lbs. depending on the size of the individual and level of coverage beyond wire thickness and ring diameter. I don't know if total weights for a pair of plates is available, but jacks of plates and brigandines seem to fall in the 15 lb. - 20 lb. range. Then again, a pair of plates doesn't cover arms or thighs, much less hands and head.

How much protection must not only account for resistance to certain types of strike, but also how comprehensive the coverage is IMHO. Does a trauma plate which can stop rifle bullets protect better than a lower quality vest which covers back, sides, and groin? Does a solid steel box offer better protection if you can't move inside it?
Good points on the coverage Mart. I had meant to bring that up. I think an aketon and mail or pair of plates seems to be a great combination. There are a number of sources who recommend it from the period for common troops.

Weight is one that I had not thought of but also a good consideration to 'weigh' in the equation.

As I said earlier I know of no period sources on making a pair of plates and modern methods are perhaps easier in many respects so using modern production times is tricky. I can make a simple pair of plates from loose fabric and plates likely in day or less if I spent much of the day doing it. I think there are some for mail from the period. I need to see if I can find one but I do not know what good it will do with none for the pair of plates. That said the merchants selling armour in London seem to deal in armour plates so I would not be surp5rised if there were mass produced pair of plates. A water powered hammer could greatly speed up the creation of simple plates.

Maybe the ease of making also applied to (some) CoPs in the 13th or 14th century too; it's interesting to see that the cheapest CoP in Storey's data cost less than half the price of the cheapest hauberk/haubergeon, while the most expensive CoPs cost about half again as much as the most expensive coat of mail. If we ignore the effect of inflation for the moment, it's possible to hazard a guess that CoPs varied more than mail in terms of quality and workmanship, and that the cheapest CoPs could literally have been cheap and nasty homemade stuff (or at most hammered by a random blacksmith with little or no armouring experience) that could have been constructed really, really quickly.

Which also hints that there might be more to the making of a really good CoP than we know at the moment . . . .
I suspect material costs are a big consideration. Many of the pairs of plates Prince Edward owned in 1356 were covered in velvet or various colors. You also may have steel over iron in the running as well but well tailored and fit armour in general I suspect drove up costs as well.


Page 1 of 1

Jump to:  
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum
You cannot attach files in this forum
You can download files in this forum

All contents © Copyright 2003-2006 — All rights reserved
Discussion forums powered by phpBB © The phpBB Group
Switch to the Full-featured Version of the forum