And the Knights that wear it
We have all heard tale of the knight in shining armor, the warrior mounted atop his steed, encased in metal from head to foot. The knights and the armor that they wore that were the archetype for this mythos lived during the 14th and 15th centuries (though as you will see, they actually wore chain mail much earlier then this), after the times of the Vikings but technically before the time of the Hundred Years War. These knights technically had to types of armor: chain mail and plat mail.
Very basic, chain mail was one of the first metal armor types to be used by knights. Before this point, leather tabards and jerkins with plates of metal attached were the primary heavy armor. Chain mail gave much more protection and offered much more flexibility. In tapestries from the 11th century, knights and soldiers can be seen wearing knee length and thigh length mail shirts.
Chain mail is simply a ‘woven’ piece of cloth made from inter-linking chains of iron. These small links, when looped through each other, provided a very light form of protection that allowed the user to move freely. AT the time when chain mail was developed it kept cutting attacks and most thrusting attacks from being effective against knights. As the knight became the premier mounted soldier, the need for the knight to be more protected became a necessity – enter plate armor.
At some point, we may discuss the difference between full plate armor and other forms but this is really just an overview. Plate mail was developed with the idea of protection in mind and with the idea that warfare itself was changing. As more knights and other mounted soldier poured onto the battlefield the size and ferocity of the attacks that the knights would be receiving got more and more potent. Plate mail was exactly what it sounds like – plates of metal attached with leather straps over the vital areas of the body or in some cases over the entire body. Providing the best protection, plate mail formed the walking tin can that we are used to seeing on the battlefield. The advantage that plate mail had over chain mail was that blunt attacks were not nearly as effective against plate mail, thrusting attacks took a lot more force and all of a sudden, it was by chance or true skill that an attack lept past the defenses of the knight to score a hit.
“On his head was a helmet, resplendent with many precious stones… Very last of all a sword from the royal treasury was carried out to him. It had been preserved from long before, when it had been carefully crafted by that master, Weyland.” – John of Marmoutier, Norman Chronicler
Chain and Plate Mail could be worn together and especially during the later years of the Middle Ages this was common. Full plate armor was heavy and cumbersome. It restricted the movement of the wearer and especially the heaviest versions of plate armor kept the knight from being mobile if they were un-horsed. Matching up chain and plate armor made for a more maneuverable warrior. A warrior that could attack faster and move faster on the battlefield became preferable to the knight in weighty armor. Especially with the invention of the polearm and polearms that were designed to pry plate mail from the knights body, plate and chain mail combination armor became the norm and a knight wearing older armor would be at the mercy of the other, faster knights on the battlefield.