The Development of Armor in the 14th Century
he 14th century saw the most change in the appearance of medieval armor, virtually changing from all chainmaille (fabric made of small interlocking rings) to all plate armor (large pieces of metal). It was a time of great political upheaval which saw the development of mercenary companies who worked as brigands (a type of bandit) when unemployed. The Hundred Years War took place, which didn't actually last a hundred years. The feudal system exceeded it's usefulness and was phased out and due, in large part to economics, there was a large change in the knight and his equipment. The 14th century saw the increase in use of plate, latten (a copper alloy), whalebone, cuirboulli (hardened leather), iron and steel in armor.
The big question is, "Which came first? The chicken or the egg?" Weapons developed along with armor. This was the beginning of the use of the two handed axe, mace, thrusting swords, two handed swords and the longbow with it's high firing rate and excellent penetration abilities.
t the beginning of the 14th century the use of the great helm (helmet comprised of an upper and lower half with an attached cap) over a shorter precursor to the bascinet (helmet which covers the whole head except the face, which is rounded or comes to a point at the top) was worn until about 1350. After this date the great helm was primarily worn in tournaments. As the great helm developed it became more conical in shape at the top and developed a pointed top in order to provide more of a glancing surface.
The sugarloaf great helm was also in use which was similar to the great helm in form but was completely rounded from the eye-slots up.
By 1330 we see the first development of the bascinet worn with a coif (chainmaille hood) and by 1350 the full bascinet had been developed and worn with a chainmaille aventail (drape attached directly to the helmet). At this time the bascinet came to a central point at the top and extended down to the chin. The advent of the visor on the bascinet also occurred at this time pivoting at the center of the forehead with either a triangular piece hanging down to cover nose and mouth or a visor with a round face and protruding eye-slots that covered only the area left uncovered by the aventail.
By 1380 the pointed hound skull visor had been developed. This visor type pivoted at the temples and had pins which could be removed so as to remove the visor. It also covered the entire face opening of the helmet. The shape of the helmet had also changed to a back point leaving a nearly straight line up the back of the helmet.
The kettle hat (similar to a sun hat) which is the helmet most used in history and in fact had been in use even on military helmets of the first world war was also in use during this period. The Kettle hat took several forms either rounded or pointed top, one or two piece skull and the brim being either riveted on or all being one solid piece.
he coat of plates is a type of body armor comprised of overlapping plates riveted mainly to the inside of either a leather or fabric shell but sometimes also attached to the outside is the staple of 14th century body armor. This type of armor was low cost to produce and still is and was used throughout the entire century, which is something to be said considering the constant flux of armor in this century.
Chainmaille was also used throughout the century but started at nearly knee length with long sleeves and mufflers (mittens) and shortened to that similar to a modern day t-shirt. It was worn under virtually any other type of body armor and sometimes overtop.
By 1340 the breastplate came into existence in the form of a short plate defence covering the upper chest. This developed into the full breastplate we now associate with a knight in shining armor including a fauld (skirt made of overlapping horizontal bands) by 1370.
The brigandine also came into being during the 14th century by around 1370. Similar to the coat of plates a brigandine was comprised of much smaller overlapping plates with larger plates to cover the lungs and heart attached to the inside of a canvas shell usually covered in a fine material such as silk velvet.
he 14th century also saw the beginning of the plate arm defence. The first appearance being around 1320 and taking the form of gutter shaped pieces directly attached to the chainmaille as well as besegews (circular disks at armpits). The besegews continued to be used until around 1360 but would later re-appear in the 15th century. The maille mufflers disappeared by 1330 and were replaced by either simple gloves or gauntlets similar in construction to a brigandine. By 1340 the hourglass gauntlet had been developed consisting of an hourglass shaped piece of metal covering the back of the hand and wrist and small overlapping plates covering the fingers.
eg armor kicked off the century with the chainmaille cuisses (leggings) with plate poleyns (one piece knees) that were seen throughout the 13th century. But by 1310 we see the advent of a plate greave or shin covering as well as splinted leather. By 1340 we see plate cuisses (thigh armor) and the sabayon (plate shoe of overlapping articulated plates). These were often accompanied with the poleyn and each piece was laced to the underlying gamboised cuisse (padded legging) or attached to each other with leather straps.
By 1370 we see the development of the shell articulated (overlapping plates attached to each other by rivets) as well as the fan on the poleyn which covers the tendons at the back of the knee. By 1375 the wrap plate was developed on the cuisse which was a plate attached either by leather or hinges to the outside of the thigh and wrapping around the back of the leg.
he shield is an integral part of the defence of the medieval knight. Throughout the 14th century the heater shield (shaped like the bottom of an iron) which was approximately 2 feet wide and 2.5 feet tall and constructed of wood with a slight curve to it and strapped to the arm. Or the buckler a round shield with a dished out center ranging from 12"-16" diameter and held in the fist.