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How to wear plate armour

In this video, historian Mark Griffin shows you how to put on plate armour, and we also find out how it feels to wear it in battle.
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MARK GRIFFIN: What I’m wearing are the foundation garments of the medieval armoured knight. Woollen hose and a stout canvas jacket that all the armour is going to hang off. The armour isn’t laced or buckled to itself, it needs to float on all these different areas, that gives me the maximum mobility. So all of these little points, these laces, will each have a piece of armour added to it. And the whole thing will make me incredibly mobile and not encumbered in any way. There’s no point in being a soldier and wearing equipment that doesn’t make you better than the ordinary man. The whole aim here is to be as mobile as possible and as protected as possible.
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It’s a playoff between the two things, but by the 1415 period, the medieval knight was getting as good as he was going to get. First of all, all over his body, a foundation of mail; little iron links, riveted together, exquisitely tailored to cover his entire body, and that would form the foundation garments of most things. Then we get onto the plate armour itself. By the start of the 15th century, we’ve dispensed with big wooden shields because you don’t need that, you’re covered in steel. So your armour is now so good that’s what you’ll be using. We have the body armour, the cuirass, and the back plate here as well. And this item on the front here, the fauld.
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This is more for foot combat and, of course, English knights usually ride to battle and then dismount, fighting on foot. But this could be worn on horseback as well. It’s made of nice thick steel here, probably thicker on this side than on this side. The art of the armour is to make sure the armour is thickest where you need it and lightest where you don’t need it. So the back plate is relatively thinner than the front. Now the knight who’s wearing this armour here, you can tell, is very well off. Not only is his armour bright or white steel, highly polished, it’s then got decorative bands on it.
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And those bands are in a particular English-style, as are the wings here on this knee and upper leg armour. But also, if you’ve got that decoration and you’ve got the money, then you need to be adding gold to it as well. All of this is based on a funeral effigy of a knight who died in 1420 and we know that if you can afford a fine alabaster tomb, then the chances are all of these little bits, the buckles, the straps, they’re all covered in gold. They’re all made to measure so they will fit my body perfectly, almost as if I don’t even have it on. It’s a beautiful armour to wear.
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On your head, one of the most important things to protect, you have a great bassinet. This is the bassinet covering your throat and also the back here as well. But you can change the visors on this helmet depending on what you want to use it for. This is the battlefield armour. Good vision, ability to breathe, and also the little holes down the bottom here means you can see on the ground around you. Especially vital if you’re on a horse because the enemy may be attacking all the way around you. It’s very, very different to tournament armour. If you were jousting you use the same sort of helmet, but you’d put this visor on.
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This is a jousting armour, so not something you’d want to wear on the battlefield. It restricts your vision, it restricts your ability to breathe, and you can’t see around you. And, of course, it’s locked down as well. So you’ve got no ability to quickly whip up your visor and see what’s going on. Finally, on your hands.
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So these hourglass gauntlets, because that lovely hourglass shape they have to them, have separate fingers on them that allow very, very good movement. Great if you want to hold a sword, or even better, a poleaxe, because an axe or a beaked war hammer is the thing you want to get through here. Of course, everybody wants to see a knight with a sword, so here is a real sword, razor sharp. That’s a surgical blade. That has the ability to slice off arms and legs, but mainly for unarmored people. If I’m going for a knight in armor, I have to thrust, thrust that through the gaps created in the armour. There’s very few gaps here but that will go in.
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But to be quite honest, I wouldn’t use this on the battlefield. I need a bigger and heavier and more concussive weapon to get through these plates. But in the hands of a right knight, you can see an armoured sword, and this is based on the one that Henry V had and hangs in Westminster Abbey, this would be a particularly lethal weapon.
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MATTHEW FELDS: It’s heavy, it’s hot, it’s tiring. However, when a man is opposite you trying to hit you and knock you to the floor, there’s nothing else you’d want. It’s difficult to put into words the protection level that you feel, or how protected you feel, when you’re wearing a full set of armour. Some of the blows that you’d see in Hollywood are quite easily turned by the armour and so it’s very effective at what it does. If you are sat, doing nothing, if you are stood around for long periods of time, the armour gets very heavy to wear. You notice it. When you’re actually in combat, you don’t notice it at all.
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It sounds silly, but it does become part of you. The restrictions in movement become your natural limits of movement. You focus on what’s in front of you, be it a single man, be it a group of men, that’s where your focus is, forgetting everything else.
In this video, historian Mark Griffin talks you through the design of a full suit of medieval armour and shows you exactly how it would have been put on and worn.
He is joined by Matthew Fields, a member of the Plantagenet Medieval Society, who describes how it feels to wear armour in battle.
What are your thoughts about the use and design of plate armour after watching this short clip?
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