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Arms and Armour Glossary of Terms


Backplate: Armour for the back. See the particular kinds of breastplate, brigandines, cuirasses and coats of plates for a more detailed description.

Baleyn: A medieval word for the whalebone used for weapons and armour during the 14th century.

Barbute: The Italian helmet derived from the bascinet recalling the Corinthian style helmets popular in the Greek empire. Characterized by a rounded skull; a “t-shaped” opening for the face, sometimes expanded into a fully open face; a strongly flared tail and cheek pieces all executed to form a very elegant, flowing defense for the head. Early barbutes featured an open face, and can be found as early as 1410; usually they were restricted to the Italian peninsula or on armours intended for export by Italian armouries. They seem to have been made in Venice and in Milan-the finest examples are of the Missiglian school. Popular during the middle years of the 15th century, they were seen on the field either polished or covered in cloth, sometimes velvet, which was in turn sometimes covered with chased bronze or latten floral adornment. Barded: An armoured warhorse.

Barding: The defense for the horse, sometimes referring to the armour and sometimes referring to the cloth decoration that served to identify the owner. During the 14th century armour for the horse seems to have been usually restricted to the chamfron for the head and the crinet for the neck, but there are also references to cuirboille armours. No armour from this period has survived, sadly. During the 15th century, as the knight himself adopted the full white harness, the horse was also sometimes fully armoured. See especially the very fine example of a German “gothic” harness in the Wallace Collection, London.

Bargello Collection: The armour collection in Venice, Italy, featuring many fine barbutes, bascinets, and in particular a very fine set of gauntlets that are a match to the Churburg #13 harness, the first homogeneous harness known. These gauntlets feature latten work on the cuff, metacarpal, and along the edge of the gauntlet. They are without question the finest examples known of 14th century gauntlets. Website at

“Barrel” helmet: See Heaulm.

Barriers (combat over the): Depicted occasionally in manuscript references, most of the 14th century examples seem to have taken place during a siege. The gateway to a castle is opened, after a wooden barricade, resembling a conventional wooden fence, has been set up around the opening. This serves to keep the castle from being overrun during the “à plaisance” engagement. In the surviving illustration, knights compete with spears only, on foot. Some of them are wounded, but there are no serious injuries. During the 15th century combats over the barriers became a part of the pas d’armes, gaining in popularity as the century progressed. They remained in fashion even during the 16th century, when elaborate garnitures were constructed.

Bascinet: The helmet that evolved out of the cervellaire, a small “skull cap” worn under the great helm, by extending the plate down over the neck and cheeks. Gradually the great helm was discarded altogether in favor of the bascinet because of the superior vision, glancing surface, and lightweight design. Early bascinets had no visors, but by the second quarter of the 14th century they were fitted with Klappvisiers, visors, using a centralized hinge system. Many of these hinges were easily removed, possibly meaning that they were intended to be discarded after the battle was joined. During the 1370s visors began to be attached to the side of the helmet, a more secure attachment system that often allowed the visor to pivot completely back around the helmet, meaning that it might not be lost in battle. During the 1390s steel ventails gradually replaced the mail aventail that had been fitted alongside the klappvisier to defend the neck, creating a new kind of helmet, the great bascinet, popular especially in the Hundred Years War in both France and England. Many examples can be seen in funery effigies of the period. This innovation of hinged neck defenses gradually evolved into the Armet, the dominant helmet of the 15th century. The bascinet itself was popular throughout Europe during the 14th century, showing a great variety of forms within the style. It is now the most popular helmet in the SCA because of the pronounced glancing surface, ease with which a grille may be attached and interchanged with a visor, superior defense for the head and neck, and sleek appearance. See Chronique: The Journal of Chivalry #12.

Baselard: A knife or short sword bearing a hilt in the shape of the letter ‘I’, originating in southern Germany during the late 13th century. It quickly became the weapon of choice for many footsoldiers.

Basket-Hilt: {}

Bastardsword: The modern word for a hand and a half sword. These blades, popular during the 15th century, were generally between 44″ & 50″ in length, but featured an extended handle that allowed the blade to be used in two hands, although it was short enough to wield one handed if required.

Bâton: A tourney sword from the 14th or 15th century. There are several contemporary illustrations that depict knights fighting on horseback with such “wands,” although in one of the primary references, King René d’Anjou’s Livre de Tournoi, the author uses the word “masse”. There is also contemporary evidence for these bâtons being made from ash or whalebone. There are a couple of references alluding to the use of bâtons in the vespers challenges, competitions for squires and young knights bachelier held the night before a larger tournament. These are referred to sometimes a behourds, and seem to have been fought in a friendly manner, to show prowess in front of the assembled knights. See also Chronique: The Journal of Chivalry #10.

Battering Ram: See Bosson.

Behourds: À plaisance tourneys popular during the 14th century that seem to have been fought with bâtons and possibly with specialized armour, maybe light courboille and augmented cloth armours. There is evidence for such equipment in the account of the tourney at Windsor in 1278. (Barker & Barber, Tournaments, p. 30)

Besagews: Small round “shields” that were laced to the mail at the shoulder to defend the armpit. Developed as augmentation to mail defenses in the late 13th century, they faded in popularity during the first half of the 14th century, disappearing completely by 1350 as spaulders began to serve the same purpose while at the same time defending the shoulder joint itself. During the latter half of the 15th century they made a comeback, added occasionally to tourney garnitures during the early 16th century.

Bevor, buff, bevier: A cupped defense for the chin attached to a gorget. Popular with sallets done in the German style, although they were also fitted to Italian examples, especially on armours intended for export.

Black armour, evidence for: There seems to be some grounds to the rumor that the armour of Edmund, Prince of Wales, was actually finished with a black polish. Although he was not given the name “the Black Prince” until after his death, it is possible that this represents a finish used during the 14th century. However, there are hundreds of manuscript illustrations from the 14th century, and they almost always depict the armour as satin or gloss finished.

During the 15th century black finishes on armour become commonplace in manuscript illustrations, although it is unclear whether this is paint or some kind of controlled oxidation process. Modern armourers have used black oxide finishes done through commercial houses to approximate this effect, but I have only seen one actual piece with something approaching this finish, a gothic composite harness held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, C. 1480 or so. I do not know whether the finish is original or not. It is also possible that this is a rough finish direct from the hammer or from heat treating, left on low-quality munitions pieces to reduce costs.

Blood Channel, Blood Groove: The erroneous name given to the fuller of a sword blade by more fanciful modern writers.

Bloomery Process: Also known as the ‘direct reduction’ method of smelting iron, this process was known from as early as 900 B.C. The ore is heated in a low, cylindrical shaft furnace, constructed of stone, fueled with charcoal, and fanned with a bellows to a temperature from 1100-1220 degrees C and reduced directly to a spongy lump, producing iron ore and large quantites of slag. Though not discovered until the 15th century, this iron could be converted to steel by leaving it within the furnace for a longer time, so that the iron spent more time in contact with carbon monoxide gas.

Body, defense of: Prior to the late 13th century, the knight defended his body with a combination defense of mail and underlying padded aketon. At the very end of the century we begin to find references to cotes of plates being occasionally worn in addition to the hauberk defense. By 1350 the cote of plates seems to have progressed more usually into a single globular defense, a breastplate covered or polished. By the end of the century, the breast and backplate had advanced to the point where they were fully encompassing, and with the addition of faulds defended not only the body but the hips as well. During the 15th century this defense was refined only by degree; the basic solution derived in the latter 14th century served well until the second quarter of the 16th C..

    Major Developments during the 14th century

    • 1275-1350 The cote of plates features the use of several large plates riveted to the inside, or very occasionally, to the outside of a cloth covering.
    • 1335-1370 The globose breastplate develops, at first covered with cloth but later a polished piece of iron in one or more (often 2) pieces. Backplates still usually formed from several large plates covered in cloth.
    • 1350-1380 Guard chains sometimes attached from the breastplate, sword, dagger and helmet to prevent loss.
    • 1360-1400 Brigandines, derived from the cote of plates, also find wide use. The size of the individual plates decreases as the brigandine progresses, until during the late 15th century they become a coat using hundreds of very small plates, a jack.
    • 1370’s Cloth covered breastplates disappear, covered hip defenses now taking the form of faulds attached directly to the breastplate. Sometimes breastplates are worn without any additional defense for the back or hips except for that provided by the padded gambeson or jupon.
    • 1400 The full cuirass is developed in all details.


Bolts, crossbow: Shortened arrows used in arbalests, small stocky missiles capable of incredible penetration.

Bombard: A piece of heavy ordnance for heaving stones used during a siege.

Bosson: A ‘battering ram’ designed to pound down the gate on a besieged castle.

Bouche: The small corner cut into the top of the shield to accommodate the lance, not popular until the 15th century.

Bouging: The rough-finish process by which the larger lumps are taken out of a roughly shaped piece of armour left from raising or dishing. It generally takes 500-1000 hammer strokes to get a clean, bouged surface. Next the piece is planished, and finallypolished.

Bourdonasse: A long, elaborately painted lance designed to splinter on contact in late joust over the barrier.

Brass (funerary brass): During the 14th and 15th centuries gisants or funerary brasses were often used as memorials for knights and their consorts. These plates were constructed in pieces of sheet brass and installed in the floor of a local church in remembrance of the knight’s deeds. Often highly detailed, they are one of the better references for what armour looked like during the transitional period, when few actual examples of the armour have survived. One must use caution when dating armour using a funerary brass, however, because a knight was generally depicted in his own harness, which might be as much as forty years out of date at the time of his death. In modern times, these brasses have been the base upon which the popular brass rubbings are made, a process by which a wax crayon is used to take an impression of the knight. Many English and French churches produce income by selling finished rubbings of the brasses in their floors or sell the components and allow tourists to take their own rubbings.

Breastplate: Originally evolving out of the cote of plates as the size on each individual plate increased and the front plate was increasingly globular, the breastplate was fully formed by 1360 or so but was not in wide use until the 1380s. This globular design provided an effective glancing surface that deflected both hand and missile weapons. During the 1360-1400 period it was seen both in the covered and open form, often worn over a gambeson, though it was sometimes worn under as well. There are illustrations that show the breastplate worn both over and under of an outer houpelande, but by 1400 the usual practice was to attach the breastplate to the backplate and provide faulds for the defense of the hip, the solution widely implemented during the whole of the 15th century. In the middle of the 14th century a “stop rib” was often added to the area just below the neck to keep lances and sword points from skipping up into the throat. During the same period, a lance rest was added to enable the knight to more easily couch the lance for a longer period of time. The edge around the neck and arm openings was rolled outward, sometimes over a wire, to guard against chafing and to help deflect a weapon from these vulnerable areas.

15th century breastplates increased the size of the rolls around the neck and arm hole, and experiments were made with making the breastplate from multiple pieces to increase the knight’s mobility while simultaneously increasing the protection.

Brigandine: Armour formed by the covering of small plates with cloth. Usually these were attached with rivets; an excellent and popular defense for the body and upper legs during the 14th century, as evidenced by the massive find at Wisby, where thousands of bodies were buried in a peat bog in 1365. Brigandine coverings might be used for body defenses, cuisses, vambraces; are easy to produce and to fit. Because of this, they were popular with the lesser nobility of Europe and the man-at-arms. Sometimes they were covered in leather, and other times cloth was used. The cloth could be painted or a bright dye could be selected to give an individualistic edge to the decoration. Brigandines should be distinguished from the Jack popular in the 15th century, a coat of cloth or leather lined with many small plates.

Brittleness: The quality of metal that describes its likliness for the crystals to become detached, becoming a crack. Metal is said to be ‘brittle’ if it is likely to crack–this can be reduced by annealing the metal, allowing the crystals to realign. By their composition, some metals are more brittle than others: higher carbon steels are more brittle than lower carbon steels, though they are also harder, and brass is more brittle than bronze. Note that hardness and brittleness are distinct qualities, hardness referring to the metal’s restistance to deforming and brittleness the tendency to crack.

Broadsword: The general two-edged blade popular from the 6th century onward. Ranging in length from 30″ to 42″ in length, the average sword weighs only three to four pounds. Light enough to be used as a fighting tool all day, yet heavy enough to impart crushing impact along the edge, which was rarely sharpened. The weapons works by concentrating the force of the blow, the knight and the mass of the horse into the thin edge, often left to a thickness of between 1/16″ – 1/8″. The thickness at the center was between 3/16″ and 1/4″, and the blade generally started out from between 2-3″ wide at the base and tapered gently to a point. See Chronique: The Journal of Chivalry #13.

Bronze: Non-ferrous alloy of copper, tin and trace metals. Because of the copper base, bronze is very malleable and easy to work. Known interchangeably during the middle ages as latten, it was used for adornment and decoration of armour during the 14th century. Early man first learned to work bronze more than 10,000 BC, discovering that the metal work-hardens quickly under the hammer, making it a valuable metal for simple tools.

Buckler: Small round “target” shield popular in Europe from the 13th to the 16th century. There is some doubt as to how often this shield was used outside of Scotland for war; there are many depictions of single combats using bucklers and sword or dagger, although these may represent combats over points of honor, or what we might more commonly know as “duels.” Shields in use during the 14th century are generally not round, but they are usually the pointed “heater” shape we now associate with a “medieval knight’s” shield and cote of arms.

The buckler may well have originated amongst the Norse people, who in their repeated “visits” to England and the continent may have brought it with them and left it as a legacy in Scotland.

Buckles: The most popular form of attachment of armour to a limb or another piece of armour was by buckle and strap or by lacing them to the aketon or hauberk. During the 14th century these buckles were often cast in bronze, and we are fortunate that many large deposits of such buckles have been unearthed in European cities during urban renewal projects. They seem to have been discarded with leather rubbish and preserved and are a reasonable artifact that can be inexpensively purchased by the amateur medievalist.

Straps on armour were often finished with bronze caps that protected the end of the buckle and eased the arming process by providing a firm base that could be easily grasped. The other end of the strap was generally attached to the outside of the armour with a wide-headed rivet piened over on the inside of the armour. Some straps were attached to the inside of the armour and secured with a rough washer on the inside and piened on the outside, but this practice seems to have grown in popularity during the late 15th and early 16th century.

Burres: (See Grapers)