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A medieval knight was the most important soldier in medieval warfare (Franck and Brownstone 11), and armor was vital to their survival. As time went on, different types became obsolete as new technology was invented.

Chain Mail

Chain mail was a major form of protection during 12th and 13th centuries (Smith). Chain mail is made by linking iron rings together with a rivet (Gravett 12). A mail coat weighed around twenty-five pounds (Gravett 12). When Norman knights invaded England, they wore mostly mail (Gravett 13). By the 12th century, mail covered the entire body (Gravett 13). Mail was worn over fabric clothes (Franck and Brownstone 11), and sometimes, a mail tippet (scarf) was worn to protect the throat (Reid 44). However, mail soon became obsolete. As mail was not rigid, blows could break bones without cutting through the rings (Gravett 18), and by the 1300’s, soldiers carried weapons that could crush mail altogether (Smith). A new type of protection was needed.

Plate Armor

Plate armor was invented. It was made of plates of metal shaped into a suit of armor, consisting of a helmet, breastplate, gauntlets, and many other parts. By the 1400’s, plate armor covered the entire body (Smith). Though it protected against sword slashes, it was not without its weaknesses. Armor was not completely impenetrable, but an un
A Gothic style suit of armor.
armored man had to strike more precisely (and probably repeatedly) before he could defeat his armored opponent (Clements 40).
These suits of armor were made for defense, not maneuverability. A knight could not even put it on by himself. He had to have his squire do it for him (Franck and Brownstone 10). The weight was incredible, being around 44 pounds (Gravett 18). Between 1459 and 1464, Benedetto Accoli of Arezzo wrote of Italian mercenaries, saying their cavalrymen were so burdened with heavy armor that they could not fight for an hour without collapsing under its weight (Clements 39). Picture at right found at


The cavalry was the group of knights on horseback. Horses were also very important. War-horses were fitted with suits of armor too, though they were not covered as well as their riders (Gravett 19). Knights on the ground were equipped with poles used to kill oncoming horses or to pull other knights off of their horses (Clements 38).
If an armored knight was pulled off their horse, they would be dead in no time. While on the ground, armored knights were helpless. They could be easily killed by daggers, which were capable of killing an armored man, especially one pinned under his fallen horse (Clements 38).

Extra Defense

For extra protection, shields were used to deflect arrows and block sword attacks. Early knights wore shields that covered most of their bodies (Franck and Brownstone 12). These shields were shaped very much like kites (Franck and Brownstone 12). Small shields used by soldiers, called “bucklers” were slightly larger than a fist and were used for punching (Langley 29).
“A knight’s head was much more exposed than the rest of the body, for even the large shield of earlier times left the head exposed. Nor was mail able to stop many of the weapons directed at the head. For these reasons, both cavalry and infantry had worn helmets long before the age of the European knight (Franck and Brownstone 13).”Helmets had a very important role on the medieval suit of armor. Early knights wore helmets with their faces exposed; though some wore a strip of metal coming down from the rim of the helmet to protect the nose (Franck and Brownstone 12). Because the helmet needed support, it was worn over a mail coif and tied with straps (Reid 43). A visor limited vision, so it was only lowered during fierce battles (Langley 29).

A Soldier's Armor

Soldiers were also supplied with armor, but it was not nearly as effective as that of a knight (Langley 29). A soldier’s “jack” (jacket) was made of canvas sewn together to make a protective covering (Langley 29). Some soldiers wore jerkins (vests) made of metal plates tied together with leather straps (Reid 56). A soldier’s gauntlet was just a sheepskin mitten inside of a metal mitten (Langley 29). They wore chain splints over their sleeves to keep swords from cutting through their arms (Langley 28). A soldier usually used their sword only as a last resort. They preferred to use a glaive (spear) instead.
Though it may seem old and obsolete now, armor was new, innovative, and vital to the survival of a medieval knight.

Works Cited

Clements, John. “MEDIEVAL ARMOR Plated Perfection.” Military History. Vol. 22./ July 2005: 38-44.

Franck, Irene, and David Brownstone, Dress Through the Ages: Knight. Danbury, CT: Grolier Educational

Gravett, Chris. Arms and Armor. Austin, TX: Steck- Vaughn Company, 1995

Langley, Andrew. Medieval Life. New York, NY: Dorling Kindersley,1996

Reid, William. Arms Through the Ages. Gothenburg, Sweden: Harper and Row, 1976

Smith, Robert. “Armor.” Internet: February 22, 2008

Gothic style armor.

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The last revision was Apr 13, 2011 8:27 am by michellebozeman.