The types of armor that were worn in the Middle Ages evolved over time. While chainmail was used throughout the Middle Ages, plate armor was only developed in the Late Middle Ages. Aside from these two types of armor that were meant for combat, special suits of plate armor, which were only meant for jousting, were also designed in the Late Middle Ages.
But while all these types of armor were effective they still differed when it came to their weight. So in this article, I would like to talk about how heavy the different types of medieval armor were (and whether or not a knight in plate armor really needed help to get on his horse).
A full suit of mail armor covered the knight from head to toe and weighed around 20 kg (44 lbs). A complete suit of plate armor from the 15th century weighed 20-25 kg (44-55 lbs) and offered almost complete protection. Special late medieval jousting armor could weigh up to 45 kg (100 lbs) but was only used in jousts, not in battle. Even knights in extremely heavy jousting armor could mount their horses without external help.
So I wrote that late medieval plate armor offered almost complete protection. Yet there were still two ways a knight in his plate armor could be killed. But that is a story for another time.
For now, I would like to talk about the weight of the different types of medieval armor in more detail.
How heavy was chainmail in the Middle Ages?
Chainmail in the Early Middle Ages was quite expensive and as a result pretty rare. Most men in an early medieval army did not wear chainmail but had to rely on their shields for protection. However, these shields were built in a way that they offered a pretty decent level of protection, especially when used in a shield wall.
Do you want to find out more about the organization and composition of medieval armies? Then I would like to recommend you my article here.
Unlike in the Early Middle Ages, chainmail became much more common in the High Middle Ages. And not only that, the extent to which the body was covered in chainmail also changed. Most knights in the High Middle Ages wore suits of chainmail that covered them from head to toe. In addition to that, they also wore a Great helmet, which was worn over a second helmet, to protect their heads.
Such a complete suit of chainmail covered the entire body of the knight. It weighed around 20 kg (44 lbs) and offered good protection against cuts and slashes. However, chainmail was only seen as a lifesaver. The most important defense was still the shield.
The existence of the shield as the main defense is also the reason why some knights chose to not wear any additional padding underneath their armor.
But these full suits of chainmail were eventually developed further. And in the 13th century, armorers started to add plates to the chainmail to reinforce especially vulnerable parts of the body (like the knees or the elbows). That process did not only lead to the development of full suits of plate armor but also resulted in shields being used less commonly. And eventually, knights almost completely stopped using shields.
However, chainmail was still used even when plate armor was developed. The reason for that is the same reason (or rather 5 reasons) why chainmail was so popular for so long.
How heavy was plate armor in the Middle Ages?
As mentioned, the development away from chainmail towards plate armor already started in the 13th century. But it took until the 15th century until that development was finished and complete suits of plate armor were worn. Unlike chainmail, plate armor also had the advantage that it was also extremely effective against stabs and blows (for example the blow of a mace).
One might assume that these complete suits of plate armor must have been extremely heavy. But that was not the case! A complete suit of plate armor was not much (if at all) heavier than a complete suit of chainmail!
A complete suit of 15th-century plate armor weighed 20 – 25 kg (44 – 45 lbs) and didn`t limit the mobility of its bearer. Instead, it was highly effective in protecting the knight against all dangers he faced on the battlefield.
But despite its effectiveness, a full suit of plate armor still didn`t make its bearer invulnerable. There were still two ways a knight in full plate armor could be killed.
Ok, so neither mail armor nor plate armor was really that heavy when we compare it to the kit of a modern-day soldier.
But there was still one type of medieval armor that could be much heavier…
How heavy was tournament armor in the Middle Ages?
Until now we have only talked about armor that was designed to be used in medieval battles. Aside from that the armor was also used in Early and High Medieval tournaments since these tournaments had nothing to do with jousts.
Instead, the early & high medieval tournaments only differed from a real battle in 3 points.
But over time these tournaments were replaced by jousts. There were 4 reasons for that. As a result, the jousts turned more and more into a sport and were no longer seen as military training. As such the knights tried to make jousting as safe as possible (although it still remained dangerous).
To make jousting safer the knights used special jousting armor that was thicker and offered even more protection against the frontal impact of a lance than armor that was used in battle. So the jousting armor was much heavier than the armor that was used in battle. Late medieval jousting armor weighed up to 45 kg (100 lbs) and was only used in jousts since it was too heavy, impractical, and hindering to be used in a real battle.
Here you can find out more about the special jousting armor including a video that shows pretty well why using jousting armor in a real battle would have been a terrible idea…
However: Although jousting armor (up to 45 kg/100 lbs) was much heavier than normal medieval mail or plate armor (20 – 25 kg/44 – 55 lbs) knights could still mount their horses by themselves without any additional help no matter what kind of armor they were wearing!
I hope you enjoyed our trip into the world of medieval armor. Should you be interested in the effectiveness of different kinds of medieval armor (Gambesons, chainmail, and plate armor), then I would like to recommend you my article here.
And here you can find out more about whether or not leather armor (the type of armor that is commonly shown in movies and video games) did actually exist in the Middle Ages.
Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.
Until next time
Alan Williams: The knight and the blast furnace (2003).*
Quita Mould: Leather in Warfare Attack, Defense, and the Unexpected (Leeds 2017).*
David Nicolle: A companion to medieval arms and armor (Woodbridge 2002).*
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