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Arming a Knight

Can you dress your self ? Maybe you can, but a knight couldn't! It could take over an hour for a squire to help a knight into a suit of armor. Armor became popular in the mid-14th century. Until then, the main protection was called a hauberk, a chain-mail covering that could weigh up to 30 pounds (13.6 kg), but was flexible and could be kept rolled up on the knight's saddle. Mail was not perfect protection: arrows would stick to mail, and when it was hit by a sword the knight would be badly bruised. Knights began to fasten metal plates to the mail. Originally these were added at the knee and elbow, so that the knight could bend, but more and more pieces were added, until a knight was eventually completely cased in metal. These suits of armour were so heavy that a knight might have to be lifted and lowered into his saddle by a pulley! A suit of armour was very expensive and would be made to order for a knight, who would get dressed in stages:

  1. First, there would be a padded doublet lined with satin and a pair of pants called hose. Extra strips of blanket would be wrapped around his knees to protect them from rubbing against the armor.
  2. The first pieces of armor to be put on were the sabotons, a kind of shoe made out of mail, a material made of iron links.
  3. Next were pieces of armor for around the shins called greaves. The pieces for the upper legs, called cuisses, were buckled onto the leg with leather straps.
  4. A mail skirt was tied to the points, laces that hang down from the doublet. Then a padded backpiece and breastplate would be added, along with the vanbraces and gauntlets that protected a knights arms and hands. The helmet was the last and most important piece of armor.

HELMETS: The helmet was the most important part of the knight's equipment, since the head was the most vulnerable area of his body. The helmet was made of iron, and was thicker at the spots that were more likely to be hit. They were very uncomfortable, and could weigh up to 25 pounds (11.34 kg)! A knight would wait until the last possible moment before putting on his helmet. Once it was on, he couldn't hear or talk very well, and if the helmet was knocked to either side the knight wouldn't be able to see! There were several different kinds of helmets: the bascinet was a very smooth, cone-shaped helmet that was worn over mail and was difficult to cut; the salade was a light-weight, hat-shaped helmet that was very popular because it was fairly comfortable, with both a neck and a chin guard to protect the face; the helm was flat on top and rested on the knight's shoulders, with narrow eye slits and holes on the front for breathing; lastly the armlet, the type of helmet most often pictured in books, was a very small helmet shaped to fit the head. It could only be put on by taking it apart and then using rivets to put it back together on the knight's head. A knight might also have a ceremonial helmet, but it would be used for show and not for protection.

THE KNIGHT'S HORSE: His horse and his sword were the two most important possessions of a knight. Knights gave their horses fancy names and would decorate them as richly as possible, even hanging golden balls from the harness. The winner of a battle would often take horses as a prize. A knight would share his tent with his horse while on crusade, and would give his horse water first if there was a shortage. A knight usually had 3 horses: a couple of palfreys for everyday use and a destrier that was bred to bear the weight of a fully-armored knight! The destrier might also have armor. It was always a stallion that would be trained by a squire to respond to leg commands so that the knight's arms would be left free to fight.