MIDIEVAL WEAPONS AND COMBAT – Knights Armor (MIDDLE AGES BATTLE HISTORY DOCUMENTARY)
Presenter Mike Loades takes us on a fascinating tour of medieval arms and armour, and demonstrates their central role in key events in British history.
As an expert who trains people how to use medieval weapons, Mike is in a unique position to show us how these weapons were made and used and their impact on British society.
Using a well-known battle as the focus for each programme, and talking to modern-day experts, Mike shows us the properties of each weapon and how effective it would have been in battle. We learn about much more than the weapons themselves as the series draws in themes of technology, religion, geography and even music.
One of the most popular images of the medieval period is the knight in shining armour, looking splendid and invulnerable. Developments in steel plate armour went hand in hand with advances in offensive weapons, as each tried to get the upper hand in what became a medieval arms race.
Earlier body armour included ‘maille’ (popularly known as chain mail), which was not like a chain at all, but made up from an interlocking web of metal rings. From the Bayeux Tapestry it is obvious that maille was standard issue to Norman soldiers and was favoured for its relative lightness and ease of mobility. It gave good protection from long range attack and from a ‘glancing blow’ but not from heavy close-range attack such as from an axe or a lance.
As weapons of attack became more lethal so armour had to improve too. The next stage in armour developments may have been the ‘coat of plates’ as shown in a carving from 1230 at Pershore Abbey in Worcestershire. This was used across the chest in addition to maille, and experiments show that although the wearer would have suffered a blow from an full-speed lance attack, it would not have been life threatening.
In the 14th century, developments in the production of steel meant that craftsmen could make bigger and bigger plates of armour, and the race was on to cover the whole body in steel — like a steel exoskeleton. The main production centres were in Milan in Italy and in Germany, each of which developed a distinctive style. At the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow we see a rare example of full plate armour from Italy and learn how each set would have been made especially for the wearer — a bespoke service, each bearing the hallmark of the maker.
Medieval manuscripts show us how soldiers would have put on armour. Although the armour increases safety it also reduces visibility and hearing, so armour was in fact a trade-off between protection and the ability to fight effectively. Helmet visors would have been kept down during long-range attack, such as an arrow storm, but opened up for hand-to-hand combat.
Some weapons were specifically designed to get through plate armour and we see a rare example from the time of the Hundred Years War — a pole axe.
At the Battle of Verneuil in Northern France the French knights wore amazing full body armour and decimated the English archers. Although the English won the battle, they had been under huge threat due to the sophistication of the French armour.