Arms and Armour Glossary of Terms

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The glossary is meant as a growing resource for students, re-enactors, and anyone interested in knighthood, chivalry, or the medieval tournament. The current page is but a brief listing of what we would like to have on the page. Additionally, we would like to expand many of the definitions here; if you want to try one or more of them send your submissions–we can use the help!


 

Aiguilette: Literally “point of a shield,” the small metal end that was capped onto a lacing point in order to keep it from fraying. Also called aglet, aiglet, anglet.

Ailettes, ailets: (Fr. “little wings”) small square shields applied to the shoulders commonly worn during the 13th century. Commonly worn by crusaders. They were often painted with a heraldic device; the last reference I was able to locate was from 1313 when Piers Gaveston wore a pair covered in pearls. Not popular after the mid-14th century.

Aketon, acton, arming coat, auqueton, gambeson, hacketon, haqueton, wambais, wambesium, wambs: A kind of arming coat worn during the 13th – 15th century both as a complete armour unto itself and as padding for additional armour worn over the top. They were generally quilted, either sewn or stuffed with linen, tow or even grass. Most of the illustrations from the 14th century show many buttons or laces up the front, and there are a few examples that feature a high collar to assist in the defense of the neck. 14th century Aketons were generally cut wide around the arm holes in a manner that followed the line of the breastplate or cuirass. These extra-large arm-holes served to grant complete mobility for a full range of arm motion while providing a last-ditch defense of the area under the arm. I can find no evidence of Aketons ever being open under the arm, though this is a common SCA style. See also the pourpoint, a garment worn under the arming coat useful for attaching the laces for the attachment of a leg harness. A workable pattern for a 14th century model can be found in Chronique: The Journal of Chivalry #2.

    Major Developments during the 14th century

    • 1300-1350 Knights wore the haubergeon over their aketon
    • 1350-1400 Aketon shortened and begins to be worn under the jupon, sometimes the only body defense. Strongly wasp-waisted form common to the period.
    • 1350-1400 Sleeves were sometimes “banana sleeved” or ballooning out or were narrow so as to fit under the arm harness. Both seem popular for the entire period.

 

Anneal: The process of softening metal. For ferrous metals, that is those containing iron, the process involves heating the steel up to its critcal temperature and then slowly cooling it. For non-ferrous metals such as brass, bronze, silver, gold, aluminum and the like, the process is exactly opposite. The metal is heated to the critical temperature and then quickly quenched in water, snow, urine, or oil. What annealing actually does on a molecular level is to allow the metal crystals to realign, moving them into their more relaxed state. When the metal is worked, the crystals are moved out of alignment, contributing to both hardness and brittleness. Practically, in the production of arms and armour the metal must be annealed as it is worked, otherwise the metal might stress enough that it will crack.

Anueal: See Anneal

Arbalest: (Fr: arbalète, Ger. Armbrust, Crossbow) The correct term for a crossbow, introduced early in the 14th century. The crossbow consisted of a bow mounted on a stock that could be cranked or pulled into place using more leverage than could be used on a conventional longbow. The result was a very high-powered, lower trajectoried weapon of great destructive potential. It fired a bolt, a shorter version of an arrow. However, the firing time on a crossbow was slow compared to the longbow, and for that reason and owing to the vastly higher expense during the period, the longbow remained the favored missile weapon of the 14th and 15th century in England and in France. From time to time the crossbow was banned by various laws, but it remained a weapon of great popularity during the late 14th century in the low countries, the Swiss states, in Germany and in Italy.

Arbalestier: A crossbowman or wielder of a arbalest. During the 14th century they generally wore a mail hauberk to defend the body, a bascinet to defend the head, sometimes with a collarette of iron to defend the throat. Almost always a footman, the crossbowman sometimes wore a surcoat bearing the livery of affiliation. During the 15th century the hauberk was generally replaced with a brigandine and the use of a pavaise, a head-to-tow shield, was often brought out as a semi-portable defense that the man could hide behind as he reloaded so that he would not be cut down by arrows, other crossbow bolts, or by charging horsemen.

Archer: A man wielding a bow, an early form of artillery used with great effect during the Hundred Years War by Edward III. Most archers of the 14th century were armed with a padded jupon, mail shirt, or light brigandine. Some also carried light swords andhelmets such as the chapel de fer, but the majority were probably barely able to field more than themselves, a knife, and their bow / quiver of arrows. Gradually replaced during the 15th century by the Arbalestier (crossbowman) and in the 16th century by the rifleman and cannon, the use of archers was a first step towards combined arms in an era dominated by heavy cavalary. Masses archers could destroy a mounted unit of cavalry or infantry if they could get in enough volleys before being crushed underhoof.

Arçon: A saddle-bow, the piece rising in the front of the saddle.

Arm, defense of: (see Arm Harness)

Arm Harness: All of the elements used in the defense of the arm. Under the armour might be an aketon or gambeson. Prior to the 14th century, the arm was defended by a mail sleeve over an aketon. The early 14th century saw the enhancement of a couteradded to protect the elbow point. During the middle of the 14th century this couter was attached by rivets and lames to the vambrace which defended the lower arm and the rerebrace that defended the upper arm. Generally the resulting “arm harness,” in one piece, was laced to the gambeson by a point from the top edge of the rerebrace at the outside of the arm. Over the rerebrace was then laid the spaulder, a defense that covered the shoulder and uppermost arm. This piece was also laced to the gambeson by a point along the top edge. This defense remained more or less constant during the 15th century, except that the wing was expanded in size to cover more of the inside of the elbow and the spaulder was sometimes expanded to become more cumbersome but more protective pauldron. During this period reinforces were sometimes fitted to the couter to enhance the protection for the joust. The 16th century saw an explosion of this kind of defense, but it was used only in the joust. Also during the 16th century, the size on the couter wing was reduced again and there was a brief flirtation with articulation on the inside of the elbow joint.

    Major Developments during the 14th century

    • 1300 three-piece vambrace, couter, and rerebrace dominate early experimentation with arm defenses. German and Italians use splinted defenses frequently, and examples in both countries often retain the three piece model even after the splinted defenses have been supplanted by plate. Italian, English and French development followed the following points, though there too the simpler three-piece model is sometimes found for the duration of the period.
    • 1320 Earliest known defense known from the effigy of Don Alvéro de Cabrera in the Monastery of Santa Maria de Belpuig, Bellaguer, Spain. A splinted defense, three part construction.
    • 1325-1330 Vambrace begins to be constructed in two parts, hinged and secured with buckles.
    • 1330s on small plates defended the shoulder points, as found at Wisby and shown on contemporary effigies. These were often attached to the brigandine defenses or to the gambeson itself.
    • 1330s Laminated spaulder shown on Ifield, Sussex (England), reinforced with disks bearing a lion mask, the same being attached to the couters.
    • 1335 Lames and couter articulated in English examples
    • 1340 Fully articulated arm harness in plate appears in England (see Clehonger, Herefordshire)
    • Rerebrace fully enclosed
    • Vambrace fully enclosed
    • Spaulder formed in lames extends down the arm, permanently attached to the rerebrace.
    • Couter often formed of smaller plates, rather than the pointed variety. Often rounded in shape.
    • 1350 Besagews disappear completely
    • 1360 Couter is pointed in shape and is generally articulated with two or three lames, but sometimes no lames are present, generally attributed to Italian workshops as opposed to the German method of attaching the couter via internal leather straps.
    • 1360 Disc-shaped couter wings give way to heart-shaped wings.
    • 1360 Tulip-shaped vambraces formed in Italian examples, bulging to match the form of the forearm muscle and flared to accommodate the wrist.
    • ~1360s developed the sliding vambracethat could turn in the articulation to accommodate a greater range of arm movement and a reinforce was sometimes added to the vambrace just ahead of the couter.
    • ~1395 development of the pauldron, where the spaulder was enlarged to cover more of the armpit and part of the back and chest.

Armbrust (Ger. for crossbow, see Arbalest)

Armed at all points: Ready for tourney or battle.

Armed to all rights: Completely armed, fully equipped, ready for battle.

Armet (à rondel): The dominant helmet during much of the 15th century, the Armet gradually evolved into the first truly international style of helmet, the close helmet. Armets were built of a snug-fitting bowl that came to just above the ears, fitted with cheek plates that attached by hinges to this bowl. Usually the chin pieces clasp in the front and secure in the back along a strip of steel that extends from the shallow skull bowl. The bowl itself is often reinforced with an additional layer of steel across the brow, and avisor fills in around the nose and eyes to make an exceptionally functional closed helmet. For some unknown reason, a disc of metal was sometimes attached to the back of these helmets; the purpose of this rondel is unknown. The armet succeeded the bascinetas the most common helmet in Europe, taking elements from the great bascinet. They were exceedingly popular in Italy, France and England, while the Sallet enjoyed great popularity in those regions and also in the German lands as well.

Arming Cap: A small quilted cap worn under the mail coif that offered protection against blows and the friction of mail against the head. They seem to have fallen out of use by the beginning of the 14th century.

Arming Coat: (See Aketon)

Arming Nail: A word for rivet used in the making or repair of armour.

Arming Points: Leather discs attached to armour so that it could be laced to the gambeson, hauberk, or another piece of armour. Generally these pieces of leather were relatively thin and flexible and featured two holes to allow a lacing to pass through and be tied off.

Armour (Armor): The defense of the knight against the weapons of his opponents, consisting of his complete harness. Often this was used only to denote the “hard” bits of the harness, the hardened leather or plate defenses, rather than the softer arming garments, though sometimes layered cloth was also used as the sole defense, as in a jupon. I use the English spelling with the “-our” rather than the Americanized version to denote the difference between modern armored combat vehicles (e.g. tanks) and armour that is meant for the individual medieval soldier.

Armour, buying: During the high middle ages, armour could be purchased from guild members in major cities, retrieved from less fortunate men-at-arms from battlegrounds, or imported from armouring centers, especially in Italy and Germany, both very high quality production centers during the period. Modern collectors and re-enactors have two main options. They can purchase real pieces from auction houses such as Sotheby’s or Christies, or they can order reproduction pieces from the thriving artists working with tournament societies all over the world. If you are buying armour to use in a tournament re-enactment, be sure that you tell the armourer what use you intend to put the armour to so that appropriate safety standards can be met. Generally reproduction armour can be made in level of authenticity, detail, and technique according to both the skill of the artisan and the desire and/or pocketbook of the customer.

Armour, collections: Around the world there are several well noted museums where the bulk of the surviving armour pieces might be viewed.

  • Chicago: Warren C. Harding collection at the Art Institute
  • New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art
    (http://www.metmuseum.org/)
  • Philadelphia: Kienbusch Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
    (http://libertynet.org/~pma/html/armor.html)
  • Worcester, MA: The Higgens Armoury
  • Churburg Castle, collection (wonderful!)
  • Gratz, Austria: The Gratz Armoury
  • Leeds: The Royal Armouries (formerly in the Tower of London)
    (http://www.leeds.gov.uk/tourinfo/attract/museums/armour.html)
  • London: The Wallace Collection
    (http://www.demon.co.uk/heritage/wallace/)
  • Madrid: The Real Ameria
  • Paris: The Musée de L’Armé
  • Venice: The Bargello Collection
    (http://www.thais.it/scultura/fmndb.htm)
  • Vienna: The Waffensamlung

 

Armour, decoration of: Medieval armour, even armour meant for war, was often decorated when the knight was wealthy enough to pay the enormous costs associated with such embellishment. During the 14th century, plate armour was rarely decorated.Leather armour was often tooled; some splinted armour might have been splinted with latten or brass. Part of the reason for this decoration was to display status and wealth, but another part was to offer insurance; a rich armour could be ransomed or led an opponent to believe that the knight had money to offer in exchange for his freedom should he be captured. See also Transitional Period for notes on 14th century stylistic elements.

    Major Developments during the 14th century

    • Engraving
    • Adding brass, bronze or latten trim to the edges of pieces. Sometimes this trim was further embellished by the engraving of mottoes or simple patterns or, seldom, embossed.
    • Use of colored leather for strapping
    • Use of heraldic color schemes coordinated with strapping to create a rich variety of colors and textures in a single combatants.

 

Armour, as insurance: Killing knights who were opponents was not necessarily the rule in medieval conflicts. In war, a knight wearing an expensive harness might well be captured rather than killed both because knights tended to see themselves as a more or less homogeneous, almost brotherly class, and also because a rich suit of armour indicated that the knight had money-it was more in the financial interest of the capturing knight to take him alive and demand a ransom than to slay him outright and lose the ransom. Fine armour and horse both contributed to communicating this intent on the battlefield, though it was not always effective, as at Agincourt when more than 1,500 knights were slain outright following the battle.

Armour, techniques required for building: A mixture of blacksmithing, silversmithing, and engineering, the armourer’s chief tools would be of course the hammer and stake. Flat sheets of iron, generally purchased from a specialist preparing sheets for an armoury, would be cut into rough shapes. These shapes would be dished, raised, fluted and flared until they were generally in shape. Then they would be planished and bouged to smooth them out. Finally they would be heat-treated, sanded and polished. There is some evidence that forge-welding was being done during the 14th century; work done by the Swiss Institute of Arms and Armour in Granscay, Switzerland has published some excellent research on this. A modern student of armour who wants to get started should invest first in research books, to begin to train his eye; next in basic hammers, stakes and vices; then later in finish and welding equipment. See also Chronique: The Journal of Chivalry #6.

Armour, weight of during the 14th century: The weight of the whole Churburg harness is approximately 28 pounds, including hauberk, but to this you must add another 6-12 pounds for the leg harness. Note that a full harness during the 15th century only averaged 56 lbs and that a modern infantryman’s harness weighs approximately 55 lbs. And most of that is on the back, not distributed around the body. (See Malcom Vale, War and Chivalry) It is a complete myth that men had to be lifted into the saddle with a crane!

Armourer (Armorer): The artist/craftsman responsible for creating armour. In the 14th and 15th centuries armouring was a highly sought after family business, where carefully guarded techniques made for a good deal of secrecy and national jealousy. Families such as the Missiglian and the Negroli and the Seusenhofers kept a huge industry alive for more than two centuries. Modern schools of armouring have produced similar stylistic families, with the “Valerius School” being the most prolific across the U.S.. We use the English spelling “-our” to distinguish from the kind of armorer who works on firearms who is a machinist-engineer/artist rather than a silver-/blacksmith / artist. See also Chronique: The Journal of Chivalry #6.

Armourer, art of the: The ability to go beyond the craft of armour creation and to make an artistic statement that is communicated to the viewer through the piece. For more detail see the article in Chronique: The Journal of Chivalry #6.

Armourer’s Mark: The stamp that was placed on a piece of armour to signify the maker, much like a hallmark that is still used on jewelry. Sometimes three or four master’s marks appear on a given piece, especially in the Italian examples where armour shops often had two or three armourers working on different aspects of the harness. Journeymen and apprentices do not seem to have had their own marks, and sometimes a family or guild mark is included as a statement of quality.

In England there remain from the 14th century statutes that delineate which armour may be stamped and sold within London and which cannot. The city guild seems to have held a strong control over the import/export market by this “quality” filter that could be conveniently applied to reduce imports or restrict unguilded craftsmen. See Chronique: The Journal of Chivalry #6.

Articulation: The technique for joining plates together using rivets. In order to work properly, the rivets must be nearly parallel and optimally opposite one another to work. Frequently, poor articulation is the reason that many reproduction harnesses might look like the real thing but don’t move like them. It is one of the more difficult arts for the armourer to learn. Plates that articulate together should not produce gaps, places where weapons might force their way in, where pieces can freeze in an awkward position (it happens!) or come apart. Much more difficult than it sounds….

Artillator: Maker of bows, arrows, and other archery goods.

Ash, as a material for lances: Several chronicles mention that ash was used as the material for lances and pikes, because of its resilient quality and ease of availability in western Europe.

Aventail: A skirt of mail attached to a bascinet or armet during the 14th and 15th centuries. It defends the neck from attack, usually hanging to at least 1″ below the shoulder point for bascinets. Generally it was attached to a leather cuff that wrapped around the base of the bascinet and up the cheeks, which was pierced with holes and laced to the helmet through vervelles.