How to Make and Wear Medieval Armor: An In-Depth Primer

Look at a medieval knight in armor and you can’t help but won­der how he got the stuff on. Then fol­lows a ques­tion with an even more com­pli­cat­ed answer: how did the armor get made in the first place? Luck­i­ly, we in the 21st cen­tu­ry have medieval­ists who have ded­i­cat­ed their lives to learn­ing and explain­ing just such pieces of now-obscure knowl­edge (as well as the ever-grow­ing legion of medieval bat­tle enthu­si­asts doing their utmost to both demand that knowl­edge and hold the schol­ars who pos­sess it to account). You can see what went into the mak­ing of a knight’s armor — and still goes into it, for those inclined to learn the craft — in the video above, a live pre­sen­ta­tion of the real tools and tech­niques by armor­er Jef­frey D. Was­son at The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art.

With nar­ra­tion by Dirk Brei­d­ing, Assis­tant Cura­tor of its Arms and Armor Depart­ment, the video reveals every step of Was­son’s process, begin­ning with research into how 500-year-old com­po­nents of armor looked and work, and end­ing with pieces that, while new­ly made, could eas­i­ly have fit into the suit worn by a knight of those days.

Was­son’s next demon­stra­tion, in the sec­ond video just above, shows the process of get­ting dressed in armor, one a knight could hard­ly exe­cute by him­self. Much like the videos about how women got dressed in the 14th and 18th cen­turies pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture, it required an assis­tant, but in both cas­es the result is sup­posed to have been less restric­tive and cum­ber­some than we today might expect — or some­what less restric­tive and cum­ber­some, any­way.

Though we asso­ciate this kind of plate armor with the Mid­dle Ages, it actu­al­ly devel­oped fair­ly late in that era, around the Hun­dred Years’ War that last­ed from the mid-14th to the mid-15th cen­tu­ry. As a form, it peaked in the late 15th and ear­ly 16th cen­turies, span­ning the end of the Mid­dle Ages and the ear­ly Renais­sance; the image of the knight we all have in our heads is prob­a­bly wear­ing a suit of 16th-cen­tu­ry armor made for joust­ing. That prac­tice con­tin­ued even as the use of armor declined on the bat­tle­field, the devel­op­ment of firearms hav­ing great­ly less­ened its pro­tec­tive val­ue and put a high pre­mi­um on agili­ty. Yet armor remains an impres­sive his­tor­i­cal arti­fact and, at its best, an achieve­ment in crafts­man­ship as well. But now that we know how to make it and put it on, how best to keep it shin­ing?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What’s It Like to Fight in 15th Cen­tu­ry Armor?: A Sur­pris­ing Demon­stra­tion

How Women Got Dressed in the 14th & 18th Cen­turies: Watch the Very Painstak­ing Process Get Cin­e­mat­i­cal­ly Recre­at­ed

Renais­sance Knives Had Music Engraved on the Blades; Now Hear the Songs Per­formed by Mod­ern Singers

A Free Yale Course on Medieval His­to­ry: 700 Years in 22 Lec­tures

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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