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Medieval Travel Guide

Chain Mail Armor

The medieval chain mail armor is best represented by the Norman cavalry, the main force of William the Conqueror's invading army. Infantry was discredited until the disputes of the sons of the Conqueror led once more to the English infantry taking the field.

Chained Mail and Banded Mail
Chain Mail Head Protection Combined with Banded Mail (Arms and Legs)

In the meantime, the medieval chain mail armor of the cavalry had been further lengthened, and changed into a complete sheathing of steel by the addition of long sleeves falling over the hands. The leggings were covering the thighs, shins, and feet, and a capuchin-like hood, which could be thrown back, was leaving only the eyes and nose exposed.

With a thickly padded garment under the mail, a conical or flat-topped steel helmet, a large kite-shaped shield, and long reaching weapons, the knight had little to fear when encountering light-armed cavalry or infantry.

Chain Mail Armor Construction

The making of the medieval mail armor must have been laborious in the extreme. The wire which formed the links had to be hammered out from the solid bar or ingot. The art of wire-drawing was not practised till the 14th century, when Rudolph of Nuremberg is credited with its discovery.

The roughly-hammered strips were probably twisted spirally round an iron or wood core and then cut off into rings of equal size. The ends of the rings were flattened and pierced, and, when interlaced, the pierced ends were riveted together or sometimes, welded with heat. Links that are 'jumped ', that is with the ends of the ring merely butted together and not joined, generally show either that the mail is an imitation, or that it was used for some ceremonial purpose. That is because this would be a very insecure method and useless in the stress and strain of battle or active service.

The most usual method of interlinking the rings is for each ring to join four others, as shown below.

In the 13th century the banded mail appears, as shown on effigies and other representations. The technique consisted in the passing of a leather thong through each alternate row of rings, for the sake of extra strength. Double mail is sometimes to be shown on carved monuments, and is constructed in the same manner as the single mail. However, two links would be used together in every case whereas only one is used in the single mail.

As the manufacture of mail progressed, the entire body of the person wearing it was protected, including the arms and legs. Eventually, the neck and head were protected with a coif or hood of mail, which could be thrown back on the shoulders. The coat-of-mail remained without important variations the chief knightly defence until the close of the 13th century.

Chain Mail Construction
Chain Mail Method of Interlinking

While the defence of the body consisted of the chain mail hauberk with the underlying gambeson and the shield, the head had received the additional protection of the chapelle-de-fer (cap of steel), round or flat.

The chain mail armor had a long life of service, beyond that of the medieval armor proper. It was worn again, without plate armor, and for a brief period, as late as the 16th century, when it was revived especially in Italy where assassination was rife.

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