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?
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.
I’ve been doing it all wrong all these years!