Historical Reenactment

Battle between Heraclius and Chosroes by Piero Della Francesca c1452-66.

How a man schall be armyd at his ese when he shall fight on foote

Although there are numerous examples of knights being armed in period illustrations, almost no written descriptions have survived. One notable exception is found in Sir John Astley's Ordonances of Chivalry [MS M.775]. Written about 1450, folios 122v-123v describe step-by-step how a knight would be dressed in armour before fighting in a judicial duel. The following is a transcription of the passage contained under the heading "How a man schall be armyd at his ese when he schal fighte on foote" as written its original Middle English: 

How a man schall be armyd at his ese when he schal fighte on foote
He schal have noo schirte up on him but a dowbelet of ffustean lynyd with satene cutte full of hoolis. The dowblet muste be strongeli boude there the poyntis muste be sette aboute the greet of the arme. And the b ste before and beyhnde and the gussetis of mayle muste be sowid un to the dowbelet in the bought of the arme. And undir the arme the armynge poyntis muste be made of fyne twyne suche as men make stryngis for crossbowes and they muste be trussid small and poyntid as poyntis. Also they muste be wexid with cordeweneris coode. And than they woll neythirrecche nor breke. Also a payre hosyn of stamyn sengill and a peyre of shorte bulwerkis of thynne blanket to put aboute his kneys for chawfygeof his ligherness. Also a payre of shone of thikke cordwene and they muste be frette with smal whipcorde thre knottis up on a corde and thre coordis muste be faste sowid un to the hele of the shoo and fyne cordis in the mydill of the soole of the same shoo and that there be between the frettis of the heele and the frettis of the myddill of the shoo the space of thre fyngris.

To arme a man
ffirste ye muste sette on Sabatones and tye hem up on the shoo with smale poyntis that wol breke. And then griffus and then quisses and the breche of mayle. And the tonletis. And the brest. And the vambras. And then glovys. And then hange his daggere upon his right side. And then his shorte swerde upon the lyfte side in a rounde rynge all nakid and pylle it oute lightli. And then putte his cote upon hos bak. And then his bascincet pynid up on two greet staplis before the breste with a dowbill behynde up on the bak for the make the bascinet sitte juste. And then his long swerde in his hande. And then his pensill in his hande peyntid of seynt George or oure lady to blesse him with as he gooth towarde the felde and in the felde.

When translated into modern English, the passage clearly describes the construction of the arming clothes as well as detailing how armour was meant to be worn:

How a man should be armed at his leisure when he will be fighting on foot
He should not wear a shirt, only a doublet made of fustian [thick, rough cloth] lined with satin and cut full of holes [for attaching arming points]. The doublet must be sturdily built and the arming points must be set about the bend of the arm. And gussets of mail must be sewn onto the doublet under the armpit from the side of the breast around to the back. And under the arm the arming points must be made the kind of fine twine men use to make crossbows strings, and they must be tied tightly and pointed as points. Also they must be waxed with cordwainer's [leather shoemaker] coad [sticky wax] so that they will not stretch or break. He should also be wearing a pair of hose of single [uncut] stammel [coarse woolen cloth] and a pair of short strips of thin blanket to wrap around his knees to prevent chaffing by his leg harness. He should also be wearing a pair of shoes made from thick cordwain [tanned goatskin], and they must be fitted with small whipcords with three knots upon each cord; three cords must be stitched under the heel of the shoe and fine cords in the middle of the sole of the same shoe with a space of three fingers between the two sets.

To arm a man:
First you must put on sabatons [foot armour] and tie them onto the shoe with small arming points that will not break. And then greaves [lower leg plates] and then cuisses [upper leg plates] and the breeches of mail [often referred to as paunces of mail or a brayette]. And the tonlets [fauld, or hoops of lames] and breastplate. And the vambrace [arm plates]. And then the gauntlets [armoured gloves]. And then hang his dagger upon his right side. and then his short sword hung from the left side in an uncovered round ring making it easy to pull out. And then put his [heraldic] coat upon his back. And then his bascinet is pinned on using two great staples, one on the front of his breastplate and the other on his backplate, making the bascinet stay in place. And then put his long sword in his hand. And then put his pennant in his other hand painted with Saint George or Our Lady to bless him with as he goes toward the field and in the field. 

Afterwards, the author includes a list of items that the combatants should have waiting for them in field. A transcription and translation of that list is included in the article Armoured Combat on Foot.


Household Accounts

The household accounts of Sir John Howard, later duke of Norfolk, record that on 20 December 1463 he paid "Herry a Pantre" [provisioner] for 60 yards of fustian cloth to make fighting doublets:

Item, my mastyr payd ffor ffusten ffor my lord ffor to make doblettys off ffence conteynynge Ix. 3erdys 25 [shillings]

Sir John's expenses also contain countless entries where he paid to have clothing made for his retainers. On 3 April 1466, the following is recorded that two different ladies were involved in the construction of a single doublet for Richard Colson:

Item, the same day my mastyr paid to Jenyn of Colchestre for a doblet of blak fusteyn for Rechard Colson, iiij.s. ix.d.
Item, the same day my mastyr paid to Marget Seman for the said Rechard, ij.s. iiij.d.


Modern Reproductions

As plainly described in the Hasting MS, the arming doublet must be strongly built (i.e. reinforced) and cut full of holes for arming points. The garment should not be thickly padded as it must fit close to the body beneath armour. It is also important that the lower peplum (cummerbund-like portion) fit very snugly in order to place the weight of the wearer's leg harness on the hips rather than the shoulders, thereby keeping the arms unencumbered. An excellent source for acquiring a custom-fitted arming doublet in the States is from Gwen Nowrick at Historic Enterprises.  Her handiwork can be seen in the last two images in the gallery below.


'How a man schall be armyd' Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, MS M.775 Ordonances of Chivalry [fols. 122v-123v].

T.H. Turner (ed.), Manners and Household Expenses of England in the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Centuries (London: Roxburghe Club, 1841), pp. 158, 339.

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