The armor of a knight is probably one of the first things we imagine when we think about the Middle Ages. And for good reason! Medieval armor was not only highly effective, but the medieval armor that survived until today is also a testimony to the skill and craftsmanship of the medieval armorers. But one question often comes up when thinking about medieval armor. How long did it take to put on medieval armor? And did knights need help putting on their armor?
The shirts of chainmail that were used by knights in the Early and High Middle Ages could be put on within a minute and without any additional help. They were basically put on like a modern-day sweatshirt. Late medieval plate armor was more complex to put on. A knight in the year 1390 needed about 8-10 minutes to put on a complete suit of plate armor if he had help and the individual parts of the armor were spread out in the same order they were put on.
Let`s take a closer look!
How long did it take to put on mail armor?
Chainmail was a highly effective type of armor that was not only used in the Middle Ages but had also been a staple in the armament of Roman soldiers.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the length of the sleeves of the Hauberks (the shirts of chainmail) changed. During the Early Middle Ages, shirts of chainmail were more like long T-shirts with sleeves that only covered about half of the upper arm.
But the sleeves would become longer and in the High Middle Ages, the shirts of chainmail had mail sleeves that protected the knight right to the fingertips. Simultaneously the shirts of chainmail also became shorter and so-called chausses (mail leggings), which protected the legs, were developed and became standard for knights after 1200.
Here you can find out more about the chausses and whether or not there was a dedicated piece of groin armor.
But despite the length of the mail sleeves, a Hauberk (shirt of chainmail) was basically just a tailored sweatshirt that was made from chainmail and could be put on just like a sweatshirt. First, the knight would slide his arms into the sleeves. Then he would pull the Hauberk over the head and let it fall down on him. Then the knight had to wiggle around a little so that the mail shirt rested comfortably on his shoulders.
By the way. Most modern-day depictions of knights in chainmail show them with padding under their armor. And yes, historically knights oftentimes wore padding under their mail armor. But some knights also chose to not wear any padding beneath their armor.
Depending on the time period and the completeness of the knight’s mail armor, he could also put on his chausses (the mail leggings) as additional leg protection. Last but not least, the knight would put on his belt so that some of the weight of his armor was taken off his shoulders and put on his hips. His sword was usually also fastened to the belt.
Speaking of swords. Have you ever wondered how effective a medieval sword was against the different types of armor? Then I would like to recommend you my article here.
Knights could put on their mail armor like a modern-day sweatshirt. So it took a knight under one minute to put on his chainmail. And even when the knight didn`t wear any additional padding beneath it, the chainmail was still a highly effective piece of armor.
Here you can find out more about what knights wore beneath their armor and the different advantages and disadvantages of not wearing padding beneath the chainmail.
And here you can find out more about how chainmail was made in the Middle Ages and how long it took to finish one shirt of chainmail. But that`s a story for another time.
Let`s now look at how long it took to put on plate armor.
How long did it take to put on plate armor?
Ok, so a shirt of chainmail could be put on extremely fast (that was actually one of the 5 reasons why chainmail was so popular). The same can not be said for plate armor. And not only did plate armor take much more time to be put on, the maintenance was also much more challenging.
Ideally the individual parts of the plate armor were spread out in the same order that they had to be put on before the knight started to put on his suit of plate armor. That drastically decreased the time it took to put on the plate armor.
It`s generally important to state that the design of plate armor varied over time. But for answering the question of how long it took to put on a complete suit of plate armor, I decided to only talk about a late medieval suit of plate armor from around the year 1390 that covered the knight from head to toe with plate.
We can assume that a late medieval knight in the year 1390 needed about 8-10 minutes to put on a complete suit of plate armor that covered him from head to toe if he had an aide who knew what he had to do and the individual parts of the armor were spread out in the same order they had to be put on. Depending on the exact design of the armor it could take either more or less time. Taking off a complete suit of plate armor took way less time than the 8-10 minutes it took to put the plate armor on!
Such a complete suit of plate armor offered excellent protection against most threats. And yet it did not make the knight invulnerable. There were actually two ways to kill a knight in full plate armor!
And speaking of plate armor. Have you heard the claim that medieval plate armor was painted (as it’s often depicted in movies)? Then you might want to check out my article here and find out whether or not medieval plate armor was actually painted.
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).*
Alan Williams: The knight and the blast furnace (2003).*
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