Effectivness of plate armor vs. bludgeoning weapons
I was curious to know how effective (in its defensive abilities) plate armor was against bludgeoning weapons such as maces, flails, war hammers and battle axes? Did it depend on how well crafted the plate armor or the weapons were made and could it have depended on the weight of the plate armor or the weapon? How many strikes did it probably take to injure a knight in full plate armor? Does it pertain to what area or vital point is struck? For example lets say that a foot soldier struck a knight on the top his his helmet with a pole-hammer.

Last edited by Justin Pasternak on Thu 25 Jan, 2007 10:17 am; edited 1 time in total
Hi Justin,

The answer to your question, as with all such, is "it depends". Some bascinets (a type of helmet) were so thin in spots that Edward III had to pass a law banning the covering of them with fabric because this was used to hide the flaws.

For the most part, plate armor in good condition was invulnerable to most kinds of attacks, whether it be from arrows, swords, maces, or what have you. Part of the armor, however, were thinnner than other parts; a good harness varied significantly in thickness from the finger plates on the gauntlets (if the gauntlets had finger plates) to the center of the breastplate and front center and top of the helmet; in general, armor thinned out the farther you got from the center of the body (even the breastplate would be thinner on the edges than in the center).

The thinner parts could very well be vulnerable to smashing blows, and we know this from studying medieval fighting manuals. It was extremely unlikely that you'd ever punch *through* armor, even the thinner parts, but you can crush fingers, toes, feet, hands and, with a very powerful blow, stun or kill with a blow to the head (the linings in medieval helmets were very thin; one armorer I know calls them "medieval pot holders"). Sigmund Ringeck, one of the most famous of German fencing masters, wrote a book that talked about fighting in armor, and the spots I just mentioned are all places he said to strike what he called "der Schlachenden Ort", or "the battering point", which is what he called a heavy blow with the pommel of one's sword (this technique had other names, too, e.g., der Mortschlag). Likewise, the anonymous author of Le Jeu de La Hache, the most famous of all pollaxe manuals, instucted us to strike for pretty much the same spots when using swinging blows of the "mail" or hammer head of your pollaxe. And we know from primary-source accounts that such blows could be effective. For example, in an article about the famous fifteenth-century knight Jaques de Lalaing, we read about a deed of arms which talks about this. In it, we’re told that during a fight between Jacques and his companions against some Scottish knights “Herve, stepping within distance, struck Sir James so hard on the head with his pollaxe that he knocked him to the ground, stunned, face down.”

Of course, armor worked pretty well, so hitting someone on an area protected by plate was a chancy business at best; that's why most armored combat consisted of stabbing attacks to the gaps between the plates of armor. Still, vulnerabilities did exist if one knew how to attack them and had the strength and skill to do so.

I hope that helps.

Hugh Knight
One thing I never see mentioned is that a blow to a thinner part of plate armor will leave a dent in the armor that would press against the body. This would be very painful and restrict movement and breathing and the only way to relieve the pressure would be to remove the armor.

Also, many cuirass I have seen are thicker in the center and taper as the armor goes around the body
I think a full blow to the head from any heavy polearm would be likely to stun or kill the victim. Fiore wrote about this happening, as did a source on Agincourt. Smythe instructed halberdiers to strike at the head.
Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
I think a full blow to the head from any heavy polearm would be likely to stun or kill the victim. Fiore wrote about this happening, as did a source on Agincourt. Smythe instructed halberdiers to strike at the head.

A great bascinet supported by the shoulders and not on the head would probably give the best protection. A regular helm of any kind supported by the head or rather the neck would leave the neck vulnerable if a blow was strong enough: Might snap the neck vertebrae or cause a concussion.

The term being poleaxed: " Cause great shock to someone " comes from the real effects of a poleaxe on head. :eek: :lol:

I also remember some comments by " a jouster / fighter in plate " who post here that a heavy blow on plate will still sting or stun even when the armour looks untouched / damaged by a heavy blow.
In the right hands, heavy polearms might even have been able to pierce or shatter armor. Charles the Bold supposedly had his helmet split by a halberd.

And there's this bit from an account of the Battle of Fornovo:

The leader himself, when about to bring aid to Valaresso, who was fighting sav­agely, was surprised by several of the enemy and overwhelmed; with his helmet shattered he was severely wounded on the head by a hammer and fell in agony from his horse.

Of course, landing a solid blow on competent warrior wasn't easy, and a glancing blow could easily have no effect at all.

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