Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Heavy armor

A BBC article on the weight of armor has got just about all my Facebook friends chattering.

Some of the professional historians think this is "pope is Catholic" junk science, and ask why in this time of disappearing funding for scholarly history, need this money be spent in this way? And were any historians consulted anyway?

Some of the reenactors are more interested, but the more informed -- the ones who have both worn armor and studied actual warfare -- ask whether this was a well-designed experiment.

I am both a professional scholar and someone who has worn armor (for 4 decades if you can believe it!) and I am not overly impressed -- tho I haven't seen the actual writeup behind the BBC article.

First, where are the horses? For much of the Middle Ages, it was the guys on horseback who were well-armed, and vice-versa.

Second, I say to the people who emphasize the drawbacks of armor what I say to those who are skeptical about the usefulness of heavy cavalry. Why did rich and important people buy expensive armor and wear it? and why did people who organized and paid for armies pay extra to well-armed men?

Third, full armor did have drawbacks and went out of use fairly quickly after it hit its peak of development. But the situation is not a binary one of full armor/no armor. Let's have a little more subtle analysis here.


  1. Anonymous4:48 pm

    Fourth, I wonder about the appropriateness of the volunteers used for the study. I didn't catch whether they were considered 'fit' or 'average' (or even 'sedentary'). But even if they were fit, did they have the right *kind* of fitness? Preparation for any kind of physical output is incredibly specific. Would the performance of individuals who are say, distance runners be a good measure of how well someone habituated to wearing the armour would perform?

  2. Trying to connect this directly to the outcome of Agincourt strikes me more along the line of "What if Spartacus had a Piper Cub?" In other words, that's a pretty complex and specific situation involving other weapons use and tactics, as well as specific issues regarding how the land played out. The entire culture of chivalry also has to be factored in.

    How many times have we seen discussions of current society where people make irrational choices with disastrous consequences (think about the recent financial meltdowns) and heard the argument, well, if they'd only changed this ONE thing in their behaviour, it'd all have been okay? But to get to that change requires a whole lot of other changes that weren't going to happen on their own!

  3. Anonymous5:00 pm

    Responding to 'anonymous': Indeed! I read that Welsh longbowmen developed certain muscles across their shoulders and backs that allowed them to do something that most modern folk are unable to do - namely draw the damn bow! And that it was the lack of any need to train for lengthy periods of time and develop such muscles that motivated the use of cheaper but less accurate musketmen.