One of the most important possessions of a medieval knight was his armor. And while the armor that knights used changed over time from shirts of chainmail (so-called Hauberks) to suits of Plate armor, the armor always had the purpose to make it as difficult as possible to kill the knight within the armor. However, one question often comes to mind when we look at armored knights. Could a knight actually go to the bathroom in his armor or did he have to take off the armor before?
Several images from medieval manuals show that knights could go to the bathroom in their armor. Knights wearing shirts of chainmail only had to pull up their shirts of chainmail, drop their pants, and squat down. It took more effort for knights in Plate armor, but it was still possible to go to the toilet in Plate armor. However, in situations when armor was necessary, going to the bathroom probably ranked among the least of a knight’s worries.
Let`s take a closer look and also look at the reason why knights would probably not go to the bathroom in their armor even though it was possible!
Could knights go to the bathroom while wearing armor?
First of all, we have to acknowledge that knights did not wear their armor all day long, quite the opposite. For most of his life, a medieval knight did not wear armor but more practical clothes. Here you can find out more about how medieval knights dressed when they did not wear their armor.
Only in situations when the life of the knight was at risk, for example in battles, on campaigns in hostile territory, or when participating in tournaments (which were completely different from jousting!) would a knight wear his armor.
All these situations have one thing in common: Going to the bathroom was most likely not high up on the priority list of a knight participating in a battle or a tournament. However, many medieval armies were plagued by dysentery. That disease could inflict great losses to a medieval army, potentially even greater casualties than a battle.
So let`s assume that a medieval knight in his armor really had to go to the bathroom. Could he do that in his armor or did he have to take his armor off?
Several depictions in medieval manuals show soldiers in armor while they are going to the bathroom. So yes, medieval knights could go to the bathroom even when they were wearing armor.
But depending on whether or not a knight wore chainmail or plate armor it would take more or less effort to go to the toilet.
How did knights in chainmail go to the toilet?
The type of armor that knights used developed throughout the Middle Ages. While knights in the Early and High Middle Ages usually wore shirts of chainmail, so-called Hauberks, Late Medieval knights would protect themselves by wearing more and more complete suits of plate armor.
When a knight in a Hauberk (a shirt of chainmail) had to answer nature`s call then he just had to pull the chainmail up, drop his pants, and squad down. When he also wore leggings made of chainmail for leg protection then he also had to drop them.
However, despite the depiction of that technique in several medieval manuals, we must assume that a knight would probably not do that during a battle since lifting the Hauberk would have meant exposing himself to the weapons of his enemies. It seems more likely that especially knights with dysentery would rather soil themselves than squat down, pull up their armor, and – as a result – expose themselves during a battle.
The same can especially be said for knights wearing suits of plate armor since the procedure of going to the bathroom in a full suit of plate armor was way more complex.
How did knights in Plate armor go to the toilet?
Plate armor was a lot more complex to put on than chain mail, but it had several advantages.
Even knights in full plate armor could go to the toilet while wearing armor since field harnesses were built to restrict the mobility of the knights as little as possible. So squatting down was no problem whatsoever. However, several pieces of armor had to be removed or lifted before a knight could drop his pants which made going to the bathroom in full plate armor a more time-consuming affair.
Only in very rare suits of armor which were purely used for jousting, the buttocks and groin were covered by plates which made it impossible to go to the toilet without first getting out of the armor. Do you want to find out more about the 4 reasons why knights jousted? Then please check out my article here.
And that brings us to one final question.
Would knights really take the time to remove (or lift) parts of their armor when nature called during a battle?
I personally don`t think so.
We must not forget that knights mostly wore armor when they were in dangerous situations like battle. Leaving the battlefield during battle was not possible and dropping one`s guard (well, more like pieces of one`s armor) in the middle of a fight was definitely not a good idea.
If we combine that with the fact that dysentery was a real problem for medieval armies, then it seems more reasonable that knights would rather soil themselves during a battle and worry about it later, than squat down and go to the toilet during a battle. That, by the way, is also supported by the experiences of veterans from more recent wars (like World War II).
So yes, knights could theoretically go to the bathroom while wearing armor. But there were good reasons why they would probably not do it.
By the way, the same can be said about sleeping in armor. But that is a story for another time, more on that here.
And if you want to find out more about what medieval knights liked to do in their free time then I would like to recommend you my article here.
Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.
Until next time
David S. Bachrach: Warfare in Tenth-Century Germany (Woodbridge 2012).
Malte Prietzel: Krieg im Mittelalter (Darmstadt 2006).