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.

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Comment (309)

  1. Is the armor he donns at 15:00 real (as in practical) armor or ornamental? I'm inclined to believe it's ornamental as every corrugation serves as another potential weakspot. That's why breastplate was traditionally smooth where it could be, so attacks would peel off and not transfer the whole power to the body. It lessened the impact and made punctures less common. That's not to say that all armor was bland but it makes me wonder.

  2. Shiny armour don't mean shit when up against well practised soldiers and longbow men,Juliet Barker in her book Agincourt: The King, the Campaign, the Battle argues the English and Welsh were outnumbered at least four to one and possibly as much as six to one, She suggests figures of about 6,000 for the English and 36,000 for the French, strong leadership, a well executed plan, determination and of course luck can win battles against superior forces, the British Army proved this again during the Falklands war.

  3. Another thing: isn't stabbing more accurate and requires less telegraphing and gross muscular movement to accomplish the same or greater effect.

  4. It may be radical to suggest, but perhaps swords were more designed for stabbing than slashing. In this period in particular with the advancement to steel over iron as the Romans had requiring a wide stabbing sword. The Greeks had a curved slashing sword of iron. The dimension and long taper of the steel medieval swords, there is very little types of armour that could withstand a thrust and most could withstand a slash. Then later after armour became obsolete, swords reverted to being curved sabers used for slashing on horseback with virtually no taper.

  5. NICE!

    Well couldn't the knights have choosen a roman stile shield? I mean: plate armor itself was not particularly heavy.

  6. I love how skilled this guy was, it showed him using many different weapons in different situations including on Horseback, and with armor. This guy really knew what he was doing, and was even a good shot with a bow. it is amazing how skilled this guy was, not to mention he did throw himself off a horse to prove a point, which is always awesome. I need to find this guy's name, because I have a whole new respect for him. He got a lot of facts right, and taught me a lot about things I didn't know, so I appreciated this documentary extremely.


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