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Arms and Armour Glossary of Terms


Caltrop: Sharp spikes, resembling ‘jacks’ used to maim a horse. Robert the Bruce used them at Bannockburn, and there are references to spurs being used for this same purpose.

Camail: See Aventail.

Cap à pied: Head to toe armour from the sabaton to the helmet.

Casque: The iron casque, the main head defense during the 9th – 13th centuries, was a rounded or pointed steel bowl that fit snugly over the head but was usually worn over a mail coif and arming cap. A strip of steel or other metal was often fitted to the front of the helmet to protect the nose, called a “nasal.” Common examples of these helmets can be seen in the Bayeaux Tapestry. They evolved from the Roman legionnaire’s helmet and the crude spangen helmets that replaced them as Europe rebuilt following the fall of Rome. During the early years of the 14th century most casques were replaced with bascinets as more defense was sought against arrows and the defense of the neck and head were enhanced.

Catapult: A class of siege engines designed to throw spears and heavy bolts.

Cervèllaire: The small skull cap worn under the great helmet during the last part of the 13th century and into the early 14th century. By the 1330s the helmet had evolved completely into the bascinet, displacing the great helmet completely except for use in some jousts.

Chamfron: The plate defense guarding the horse’s face. 14th century examples seem to be very rare, with little refinement, using globular pierced defenses for the eyes. The chamfron became well developed in the 15th century, when the horse was more fully armoured in plate. The Crinet, another portion of horse barding, defended the horse’s neck.

Chapel de Fer: Literally iron cap. This was generally a domed helmet, made in three or more pieces, with a wide brow around the outside. During the 14th century it was widely used by English and French men-at-arms and bachelier knights who could not afford a bascinet. Squires and other retainers probably also wore them, and they were often the helmet of choice amongst archers, since if an archer were to lower his head when a salvo of arrows was expected, the whole face would be momentarily covered.

ChaussesMail defenses for the thigh.

Chevauchée: A burn and slash kind of war where the enemy army was lured to the field to protect the economic vitality of a region. It was used with great effect by the English under Edward III and the Black Prince during the Hundred Years War.

Churburg, armor collection at: An extraordinary family collection housed in a castle on the Austrian border. Especially strong in armour from the 15th century, it also boasts the earliest homogeneous harness in the world, a 14th century armour including the hauberk, bascinetbreastplatearm harness and plaque belt. All of the pieces are trimmed in brass and etched with passages from the old testament. The gauntlets are related but do not match the suit; the pair that match are in the Bargello collection in Venice, Italy. The harness is known commonly as “Churburg #13” after the catalog description and it is shown in nearly every armour book because of its rarity and quality. Even the helmet and breastplate linings are intact and the aventail actually matches the bascinet.

Churburg #13: The first homogeneous harness, dating from the very end of the 14th century, housed in the famous armour collection at Castle Churburg. The harness has many very interesting features, both because of its high quality, unusual decoration, and intact condition.

The pieces themselves appear to have been from the Missiglian workshops in Milan; they are commonly dated to 1390. The harness is complete with a camailed bascinet, segmented breastplate done in 11 pieces, complete arm harnessgauntlets, a mail hauberk, and knight’s plaque belt.

Claymore: The large two-handed swords popular in Scotland during the 15th, 16th and even the 17th centuries. Ranging in length from 50″ to 72″, they possessed handles that were 18″ – 21″ in length. Overall the swords weighed only six or seven pounds, although there are examples that are as much as ten pounds. These swords were popular also in Germany and in the Swiss states during the 15th and 16th centuries, although the term Claymore seems to have been restricted to Scotland. The term two-handed sword or greatsword seems more popular on the continent.

Close Helmet: The first ‘international’ style of helmet, evolved from the armet during the 16th century. Close helmets were light, weighing from 3 – 8 lbs, featuring a single piece skull, a chin defense or bevor and visor both pivoted from a point somewhere above the ears. Although very close fitting, the name is a modern attribute.

Coif: A Mail defense for the head in the form of a hood, often worn under a full helm. The mail coif was worn over a padded cap, providing excellent protection against both shock and penetration.

Coronal: The head of a lance, fitted for the joust of peace instead of the sharp point used for war. Using multiple points (generally but not always limited to three) it spread the impact and reduced the damage.

Cote Armour, jupon: A quilted garment worn over a breastplate or cote of plates or as the sole body defense during the 14th century. Such armours were popular in England since they required little technical skill to manufacture, were light and easy to transport. Popular amongst men-at-arms and archers-they were often worn with the chapel de fer for the defense of the head.

Cote of Arms: A word that seems to have been interchangeable meaning a cote armour blazoned with a device or a surcoat bearing the heraldic charge of a man’s affiliation. Because it was the most visible expression of a knight’s arms, the word has come to mean the heraldic device itself rather than the cote upon which it was sewn, painted, or embroidered.

Cote of Plates, Pair of Plates, Plates: A cloth or leather covered armour for the body with several large plates riveted underneath for the defense of the body. The most famous examples were unearthed at the Battle of Wisby site, dating from the mid-14th century. For the first half of the century they were made of flat plates, but gradually the breastplate was dished to conform to the shape of the body and the waist was drawn in for the characteristic “wasp-waisted” element of transitional style.

Couter: The defense for the elbow, generally mistakenly called the “elbow cop” in modern SCA parlance. During the 14th century these were generally reasonably shallow, starting off rounded in the early part of the century and progressing towards a more conical but still rounded shape as the century progressed. In the second quarter of the century a “wing” was added to the couter to improve the protection for the joint itself, first affixed with laces, then with rivets, and finally, mid-century, was made integral to the couter itself. Wing decoration then flourished, with the shapes varying by region, date and fashion du jour. About the same time that the more conical shape came into popularity, possibly because of this need, the couter was during the second half of the century now articulated using two or three lames to attach it into a single jointed defense from the wrist (defended by the vambrace) and the upper arm (defended by the rerebrace). See Arm Harness for a more detailed description of the development.

Crinet: The armour for a horses neck, not popular until the 15th century. It was made with overlapping plates from the top to the bottom, held together either with leather strips or by sliding rivets (the latter was much more common during the 16th century, when sliding rivets became universally accepted). Made of very thin steel, perhaps 22 gage, the plates were often fluted or flared for strength.

Crossbow: (see Arbalest)

Crossbowmen: (see Arbalestier)

Cuff: The part of the gauntlet defending the wrist, flared widely during the 14th century but becoming longer and more narrow during the 15th.

Cuirass: The plate defense for the body. Introduced during the third quarter of the 14th century, it became the “cadillac” defense of the 15th century. Consisting of a breast and backplate, hoops of steel to defend the hips known as faulds, and tassets to defend the hips. During the 14th century, the breastplate was often made from a single piece of steel and the backplate from a brigandine, but during the 15th the breastplate was generally made in two or more pieces (especially in the German “gothic” examples) and the back in many pieces. The piecing yielded a good deal of increased mobility and made the harnesses much easier to produce.

Italian cuirasses were often more rounded in shape, keeping with the Milanese school lines, formed of larger pieces of thicker steel. German models were sharper, formed of more numerous and thinner plates, often featuring fluting to increase the strength lost with the use of small, thin plates.

Cuirboille, courboille: A material used for armour to add rigidity. It was made, by all accounts, by boiling or painting a heavy leather with beeswax, probably enhanced with other ingredients. I believe that there was a good deal more cuirboille around than has been recorded, in part because it would be very cheap for a medieval economy to produce and in part because it stands up very well to repeated blows. I believe that it might well have been far more common for squires and practicing men-at-arms or knights to wear cuirboille when practicing, then put on a metal harness à la guerre for war.

Cuisses: Defenses for the thighs. During the 14th century cuisses were at first either leather, splinted leather, cuirboille, or quilted cloth. These defenses were often elaborately carved and studded, and probably painted as well. From the middle of the 14th century, these experimental materials for cuisses were frequently replaced by primitive plate. By the 1380s, the cuisse was often made from one broad piece covering most of the thigh and one or more smaller pieces at the hip. Arming points are provided at the top for the cuisse so that the cuisse can be laced to the arming hose or gambeson. This form of cuisse remained popular during the whole of the 15th century, divided in style according to the Gothic or Milanese fashion. During the 15th century a wrap plate was also added to the cuisse to defend the back of the thigh, especially as foot combat for knights became more common.

The defense of the knee, the poleyn, was attached either to the cuisse directly (usually before 1350) or articulated using lames to create a moveable joint. The latter half of the 14th century saw also the development of full greaves used to defend the shin and lower leg, and sabatons for the defense of the feet. See also Leg harness for a more detailed and complete development during the 14th century.