How Well Can You Move in Medieval Armor?: Medievalist Daniel Jaquet Gives It a Try in Real Life

If you’ve ever run a marathon in cos­tume, or for that mat­ter, board­ed pub­lic trans­porta­tion with a large musi­cal instru­ment or a bulky bag of ath­let­ic equip­ment, you know that gear can be a bur­den best shed.

But what if that gear is your first, nay, best line of defense against a fel­low knight fix­ing to smite you in the name of their liege?

Such gear is non-option­al.

Curi­ous about the degree to which 15th-cen­tu­ry knights were encum­bered by their pro­tec­tive plat­ing, medieval­ist Daniel Jaquet com­mis­sioned a top armor spe­cial­ist from the Czech Repub­lic to make a suit spe­cif­ic to his own per­son­al mea­sure­ments. The result is based on a 15th cen­tu­ry spec­i­men in Vien­na that has been stud­ied by the Wal­lace Col­lec­tion’s archaeomet­al­lur­gist Alan Williams. As Jaquet recalled in Sci­ences et Avenir:

We had to make com­pro­mis­es in the copy­ing process, of course, because what inter­est­ed me above all was to be able to do a behav­ioral study, to see how one moved with this equip­ment on the back rather than attach­ing myself to the num­ber of exact rivets…we knew the com­po­si­tion and the hard­ness of the parts that we could com­pare to our repli­ca.

The accom­plished mar­tial artist test­ed his mobil­i­ty in the suit with a vari­ety of high­ly pub­lic, mod­ern activ­i­ties: reach­ing for items on the high­est super­mar­ket shelves, jog­ging in the park, scal­ing a wall at a climb­ing gym, tak­ing the Metro …

It may look like show­boat­ing, but these move­ments helped him assess how he’d per­form in com­bat, as well as low­er stress activ­i­ties involv­ing sit­ting down or stand­ing up.

Out of his met­al suit, Jaquet has been known to amuse him­self by ana­lyz­ing the verisimil­i­tude of Game of Thrones’ com­bat scenes. (Con­clu­sion: some lib­er­ties were tak­en, armor-wise, in that grue­some face off between the Moun­tain and the Viper.)

An invi­ta­tion to trav­el to New York City to present at the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art offered an unex­pect­ed test­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty, com­pli­ments of the airline’s bag­gage restric­tions:

For rea­sons of weight, space and cost, the solu­tion to wear the armor over me was con­sid­ered the best.

(The TSA offi­cers at Newark were not amused...)

His armored expe­ri­ence sheds light on those of ear­ly 15th-cen­tu­ry knight Jean le Main­gre, aka Bouci­caut, whose impres­sive career was cut short in 1415, when he was cap­tured by the Eng­lish at the Bat­tle of Agin­court.

Bouci­caut kept him­self in tip top phys­i­cal con­di­tion with a reg­u­lar armored fit­ness reg­i­men. His chival­ric biog­ra­phy details gear­ing up for exer­cis­es that include run­ning, chop­ping wood, vault­ing onto a horse, and work­ing his way up a lad­der from the under­side, with­out using his feet.

Jaquet dupli­cates them all in the above video.

(Reminder to those who would try this at home, make sure you’re capa­ble of per­form­ing these exer­cis­es in light­weight shorts and t‑shirt before attempt­ing to do them in armor.)

Like Boucicault’s, Jaquet’s armor is bespoke. Those who’ve strug­gled to lift their arms in an off-the-rack jack­et will appre­ci­ate the trade off. It’s worth spend­ing more to ensure suf­fi­cient range of move­ment.

In Boucicault’s day, ready-made pieces of less­er qual­i­ty could be pro­cured at mar­kets, trad­ing fairs, and shops in pop­u­lous areas. You could also try your luck after bat­tle, by strip­ping the cap­tive and the dead of theirs. Size was always an issue. Too small and your move­ment would be restrict­ed. Too big, and you’d be haul­ing around unnec­es­sary weight.

Jaquet describes his load as being on par with the weight 21st-cen­tu­ry sol­diers are required to car­ry. Body armor is a life­saver, accord­ing to a 2018 study by the Cen­ter for a New Amer­i­can Secu­ri­ty, but it also reduces mobil­i­ty, increas­es fatigue, and reduces mis­sion per­for­mance.

Giz­mo­do’s Jen­nifer Ouel­lette finds that medieval knights faced sim­i­lar chal­lenges:

The legs alone were car­ry­ing an extra 15 to 18 pounds, so the mus­cles had to work that much hard­er to over­come iner­tia to set the legs in motion. There is also evi­dence that the thin slits in the face mask, and tight chest plate, restrict­ed oxy­gen flow even fur­ther.

Read a detailed, schol­ar­ly account of Jaquet’s armor exper­i­ment in His­tor­i­cal Meth­ods: A Jour­nal of Quan­ti­ta­tive and Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary His­to­ry.

For those look­ing for a lighter read, here is Jaque­t’s account of tak­ing a com­mer­cial flight in armor (and some best prac­tice tips for those attempt­ing the same.)

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

What It’s Like to Actu­al­ly Fight in Medieval Armor

Watch Accu­rate Recre­ations of Medieval Ital­ian Longsword Fight­ing Tech­niques, All Based on a Man­u­script from 1404

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

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