Production photo courtesy of Jeffrey Hedgecock, 2018.
What kind of armour would an English man-at-arms have worn about the time of the first battle of St. Albans in 1455? While question may sound simple and straight forward, the answer took more than 3 years to fully realize. The greatest obstacle was the fact that almost no armour of verifiably English manufacture has survived from the fifteenth century. I had to rely on one of the foremost experts on the subject: Dr. Tobias Capwell, curator of arms and armour at the Wallace Collection. Dr. Capwell has spent years studying monumental effigies and contemporary illustrations, and his findings were published a few years ago in Armour of the English Knight 1400-1450.
While some armour was obviously produced domestically in England, a significant amount was imported from Italy. According to Dr. Capwell, during the fifteenth century "the Italians developed an export style which was designed to have the widest possible foreign appeal, being very practical, flexible and adaptable... [Y]ou find the same basic armour system in France, Germany, Spain, the Low Countries and England." Depending on the nationality of the buyer, a few minor variations were made to suit regional taste. For more a thorough discussion about the development of regional styles in armour manufacture, read my earlier article Regional Styles in Armour.
For a basis, I chose the WS A2 currently residing in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria. It originally belonged to Friedrich I, Kurfürst von der Pfalz, often known as Frederick "the Victorious." The Friedrich harness is possibly the best preserved and near-complete example of such Italian export armour: symmetrical shoulders with besegews, longer cuirass skirt, smaller tassets, and a great bascinet. It was made by the Missaglia workshops in Milan with a few modifications as required by a German client. It had asymmetrical arms and mail sabatons. It is impossible to know if the gauntlets were another point of variance, or not, as the ones now associated with it were not the originals.
The next step was to determine what an English variant of the same style would look like. Dr. Capwell recommended symmetrical vambraces and gauntlets, rectangular besagews, an armet, and plate sabatons. Although asymmetrical shoulders are commonly paired with symmetrical vambraces, it is highly unusual for symmetrical pauldrons to appear with asymmetrical arms as seen with the Friedrich. A contemporary example of vambraces with symmetrical couters can be seen on the BHM SBZ102 composite armour currently in the Historisches Museum in Bern, Switzerland. They, too, were made in the same Missaglia workshop around 1455.
Although the Germans preferred circular besagews, those seen on similar armours in England are often more or less rectangular, with slightly concave sides resembling a miniature pavise. The besagews also tended to be pointed directly to the arming doublet or mail, not hung from the pauldrons.
By the mid-fifteenth century, an armet was an option to the great bascinet. Paired with symmetrical shoulders, it would provide a great deal of head mobility. A contemporary example of an armet can be found in the Swiss National Museum in Zurich. Object number LM 16807 was made in the same Missaglia family workshops as the Friedrich.
Another point of variance occurs at the feet. The lower edges of the greaves on the Friedrich were pierced for attaching mail sabatons, a common feature of many Italianate armours. The English almost always wore plate sabatons.
Capwell, Tobias. "Armour of the English Knight 1400-1450." London: Thomas del Mar Ltd., 2015.
Complete field harness, in the French style (c.1451), Milan, Italy. Object number WS A2 in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria. Originally belonging to Friedrich I, son of Ludwig III, Kurfürst von der Pfalz (1425-1476). Made by the Missaglia family workshops of Tomaso & Antonio Negroni da Ello.
Portions of an armor for a man-at-arms (c.1455), Milan, Italy. Object number BHM SBZ 102 in Berne. Made by Antonio Missaglia, et al.
Right gauntlet, associated with the "Avant' armour (c.1440), Milan, Italy. Object number E.1939.65.e.13 in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow, Scotland. Originally belonging to a member of the Matchs family of Churburg Castle. Probably made in the Missaglia family workshops.
Armet (c. 1450-1455), Milan, Italy. Object number LM 16807 in the Swiss National Museum, Zurich, Switzerland. Made in the Missaglia family workshops.