The most famous medieval archers were the English longbowmen. These men and their longbows proved highly effective in countless battles, for example, the battles of Crecy (1346) and Agincourt (1415).
But did English longbowmen and other medieval archers wear armor? And if so, what kind of armor did medieval archers use?
Late medieval archers wore open-face helmets and a padded jack (a textile armor made from up to 24 layers of cloth) that was often reinforced with parts of plate armor (for example a breastplate). Another option was Padded textile armor that was worn over a shirt of chainmail.
Let`s take a closer look!
Did medieval archers wear armor?
Ok, first things first. The Middle Ages were a period of around 1000 years and countless different cultures. So the use of armor by archers changes depending on the part of the Middle Ages that we look at.
Mail armor was so expensive during the Early Middle Ages that even most infantrymen could not afford chainmail and had to rely on their shield and perhaps a helmet for protection, while chainmail was only worn by wealthy warriors. So archers during the Early Middle Ages probably didn`t use any specific armor.
However, over the course of the Middle Ages (especially with the introduction of plate armor), armor became cheaper and a lot more affordable. And as a result plate armor became really common during the Late Middle Ages.
Ok, so let`s now finally look at the armor that a late medieval archer would use in battle!
Good sources for the armor of medieval archers are medieval depictions of battles in general, but especially the paintings of Hans Memling (1433/40 – 1494). Late medieval archers wore padded jacks (textile armor made from up to 24 layers of cloth and sometimes also one layer of elk leather) that were usually reinforced with parts of plate armor. So an archer could wear a breastplate and maybe some plate armor for his arms in combination with his padded jack. By the way, the layer of leather in the padded jack is one possible use of leather in armor.
Because, unlike its depiction in movies and video games, leather armor was actually never used.
In addition to the padded jack and the more or less complete suit of plate armor, the archer wore an open-face helmet.
Speaking of the padded jack and its layers of cloth. Padded jacks were often made from old bedding that had been washed as often as possible. Washing the bedding made it softer. And the softer the cloth was, the better the padded jack protected against arrows. Padded jacks were quite effective against arrows, especially when they were worn in combination with some plate armor.
Speaking of medieval bedding. Have you ever asked yourself how medieval knights slept? Then I would like to recommend you my article here with everything you have to know about beds, mattresses, and sleeping in the Middle Ages.
But aside from the padded jack with pieces of plate armor worn above it, there was also one other type of armor worn by archers that is commonly depicted in medieval paintings. These medieval paintings show archers who wear padding over a shirt of chainmail. That was actually quite common.
Chainmail in the Late Middle Ages was usually worn under the padding!
Why was padding worn over chainmail?
Now that sounds kind of odd. Wasn`t it usually the other way around and the padding was worn under the chainmail? Well, yes. Many (but not all) knights chose to wear padding under their chainmail.
But there is still a good reason why wearing the padding above the chainmail is beneficial.
When the padding is worn over the chainmail, then the shirt of chainmail can be smaller (and as such lighter) than when the padding is worn under the chainmail. Additionally, the habit of wearing padding over the chainmail also stops the heavy chainmail from compressing the padding (which makes it uncomfortable to wear).
It was quite common in the Late Middle Ages that the padding was worn over the chainmail. In the Early and High Middle Ages, it was the other way around. Then the padding was worn under the chainmail. So the question of if chainmail was worn under or over the chainmail is a question of the period of the Middle Ages that we look at.
Ok, now we have talked a lot about the armor of medieval archers and found out that late medieval archers also wore at least some parts of plate armor. But that opens up another question. How heavy was plate armor in the Middle Ages? And how did it compare to chainmail?
And here you can find out more about how medieval archers carried their bows (and if they really wore them across their chest).
Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.
Until next time
Sabine Buttinger, Jan Keup: Die Ritter (Darmstadt 2013).
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