Components of medieval armour

Components of medieval armour

Following is a table that concisely identifies various pieces of medieval armour, mostly plate but some mail, arranged by the part of body that is protected and roughly by date. No attempt has been made to identify fastening components or various appendages such as lancerests or plumeholders or clothing such as tabards or surcoats which were often worn over a harness.

There are a variety of alternative names and spellings (such as cowter/couter or bassinet/bascinet/basinet or besagew/besague) which often reflect a word introduced from the French. Generally, the English spelling has been preferred (including mail instead of the lately used maille or the inauthentic term chainmail).

Summary Comparison of Components of Medieval European Harness
Name Date of introduction (or of use) Description
Mail coif  ? to 14th C. Mail hood worn with a hauberk.
Great helm Late 12th. C to 14th C. Started as a simple cylinder with a flat top but later developed a curved "sugar loaf" pointed top to deflect crushing blows. Has small slits for eyes and breathing/ventilation which may be decorative as well as functional. Often removed after the initial "clash of lances" as it impedes sight and breathing and is very hot. Often worn with another helm underneath. A stereotypical knight's helm from the crusader period.
Cervelliere Late 13th C. Steel skullcap worn underneath a great helm.
Bassinet Early 14th C. Originally worn underneath a great helm and had no visor but did develop "nasals" to protect the nose. By the mid 14th C. it replaced the great helm and was fully visored, often "dog faced" (the conical hounskull visor), often worn without a visor for visibility and 'breathability'. Worn with an aventail then later with a gorget. Visors on English bassinets have a hinge at each side whereas German bassinets have a single hinge attached at the middle.
Armet 15th C. A bowl helmet that encloses the entire head with the use of hinged cheek plates that fold backwards. A gorget was attached and a comb may be present. May also have a rondel at the rear. Later armets have a visor. A stereotypical knight's helm. Favoured in Italy.
Sallet Mid 15th C. When worn with a bevor as is usual, a sallet covers the entire head. It is distinguished by a long, sometimes pointed (if Italian) tail that extends to cover the back of the neck and by a single, long eye-slit. It has no ventilation holes as there is a gap where the helm and bevor meet. A favoured helm in England and Western Europe, including Germanic areas (the tail may have influenced design of German helmets in World War 2).
Close helm A bowl helmet with a visor, very similar visually to an armet and often the two are confused. However, it lacks the hinged cheekplates of an armet and instead has a bevor.
Barbute 15th C. Close fitting helmet with a characteristic Y- or T-shaped slit for vision and breathing, reminiscent of ancient Greek helmets
Burgonet Early 16th C. Open face bowl shaped helmet with a neck collar, a peak, a very characteristic comb, sometimes with cheek pieces. Sometimes has a buffe (a visor that is raised, rather than lowered).
Aventail or Camail Detachable mail hung from a helmet to protect the neck and shoulders, often worn with bassinets.
Gorget Steel collar to protect the neck and cover the neck opening in a complete cuirass. Quite unlike a modern shirt collar in that as well as covering the front and back of the neck it also covers part of the clavicles and sternum and a like area on the back.
Bevor Worn with a sallet to cover the jaw and throat (extending somewhat down the sternum). May also cover the back of the neck if worn with a bassinet rather than a sallet. May be solid or made of lamés. Sometimes worn with a gorget.
Brigandine 12th to 16th C. Cloth garment, generally canvas or leather, lined with small oblong steel plates riveted to the fabric.
Hauberk or Haubergeon  ? to 14th C. Mail shirt with sleeves reaching to the mid-thigh.
Cuirass 14th C. Covers the breast, not the back, however the name is sometimes used to describe the breast- and backplates together. Developed in antiquity but became common in the 14th C. with the reintroduction of plate armour, later sometimes two pieces overlapping for top and bottom. Whether of one piece or two, breastplate is sometimes used to literally describe the section that covers the breast.
Pixane A mail collar. In common with a gorget, it is not like a modern shirt collar. Rather, it is a circle with a hole for the neck to fit through. It covers the shoulders, breast and upper back, perhaps like an extremely small poncho.
Plackard Extra layer of armour to cover the belly.
Fauld Bands to protect the front waist and hips, attached to cuirass.
Culet Small, horizontal lamés that protect the small of the back or the buttocks, attached to a backplate or cuirass.
Cowter Plate that guards the elbow, eventually became articulated, may be covered by guard of vambrace (see below).
Spaulder Bands of plate that cover the shoulder and part of upper arm but not the armpit.
Pauldron 15th C. Cover the shoulder (with a dome shaped piece called a shoulder cop), armpit and sometimes the back and chest.
Gardbrace Extra plate that covers the front of the shoulder, worn over top of a pauldron.
Rerebrace or Brassart or Upper Cannon (of Vambrace) Plate that covers the section of upper arm from elbow to area covered by shoulder armour.
Besagew Circular plate that covers the armpit, typically worn with spaulders.
Vambrace or Lower Cannon (of Vambrace) 14th C. Forearm guard. May be solid metal or splints of metal attached to a leather backing. Developed in antiquity but named in the 14th C. Vambrace may also sometimes refer to parts of armour that together cover the lower and upper arms.
Gauntlet Gloves that cover from the fingers to the forearms, made from many materials.
Guard of vambrace An additional layer of armour that goes over cowter, in which case it is proper to speak of the lower cannon of the vambrace which is the forearm guard, and the upper cannon of vambrace which is the rerebrace.
Chausses Mail hosen, either knee-high or cover the whole leg.
Poleyn 13th C. Plate that covers the knee, appeared early in the transition from mail to plate, later articulated to connect with the cuisses and schynbald or greave. Often with fins or rondel to cover gaps.
Schynbald Antiquity, lost but later reintroduced in 13th C. used till 15th C. Plate that covered only the shins, not the whole lower leg.
Greave Covers the lower leg, front and back, made from a variety of materials, but later most often plate.
Cuisse Plate that cover the thighs, made of various materials depending upon period.
Sabaton or Solleret Covers the foot, often mail or plate.
Tasset or Tuille Bands hanging from faulds or breastplate to protect the upper legs.
Gousset 14th C. Mail that protects areas not covered by plate.
Lamé Band of steel plate, put together severally so that several bands can articulate on various areas like around the thighs, shoulders or waist. Such pieces are named for the number of bands, for instance, a fauld of four lamé.
Doublet or Arming Doublet Padded cloth worn under a harness.
Rondel Any circular plate. Rondels protecting various areas may have particular names, such as a besagew protecting the shoulder joint.

The following components of Yoroi roughly match the position and function of certain components of occidental armour:

  • Mempo (mask)
  • Kabuto (helmet)
  • Domaru (cuirass)
  • Kote (vambrace & lower pauldron)
  • Yukake (semi-gauntlet)
  • Osode (pauldron, sort of)
  • Suneate (greave)
  • Waidate (fould)
  • Kyubi no Ita, Sendan no Ita (bezagews)
  • Yodare (gorget)

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