Historical Reenactment
Not all armour is created equal. Allow me to share two decades of hard-earned lessons as a re-enactor.

"Composed armor circa 1450-60 and later," The Met., Accession No. 29.150.7.


Considering the Historicity of Armour

One of the greatest missteps made by modern re-enactors seeking to commission a reproduction harness is selecting the wrong example(s) to use as the basis. Whether walking around a historical event or browsing through a museum’s online collection, it is easy to assume that all of the armours that “look” authentic really are. Unfortunately, an overwhelming number of armours on display in museums are actually “composed,” meaning they have been assembled from various pieces, not always from the same regions or general time periods. The Wallace Collection provides a very clear indication of what "composite" means in the description of the "Full Armour" in their inventory labeled A20:

The vast majority of early, apparently complete armours in museums today are in fact composites. Their parts were not originally worn together during their ‘working lifetime’. Instead, many of these armours were put together, often in the 19th century, using disparate parts from different sources. Sometimes the constituent pieces actually date from different periods, were made in different places, in differing styles. Often the composer had too few of the original pieces, so new parts were made by 19th-century restorers to allow a complete armour to be assembled.

This armour is one such composite. Overall, it gives a useful general impression of the type of armour worn by German knights and men-at-arms in the late 15th century. However if we look somewhat closer we find that the parts date variously from the 1470s to the 1510s, with modern restorations also included, and come from Italy, Germany and Flanders.

The Wallace Collection is very forward in disclosing the provenance of the A20; some museums are much less so. The helmet was made in Brussels; the bevor (chin) and breast are from South Germany; the gauntlets are from Innsbruck; the sabatons are Italian; legs and elbows date from the early 16th century; the backplate, besagews, lower cannons (forearms), left pauldron (shoulder), and left upper cannon (bicep) are all 19th century restorations.

More Examples of "Franken-armour"

Another example of a "complete" armour assembled from multiple sources like Frankenstein's monster is accession number 29.150.7 in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Its description is a "composed armor circa 1450-60 and later." A search under the provenance tab reveals the following object details: 

Armet (helmet), vambraces, right cuisse, and gauntlets: Found in the Venetian Castle of Negroponte (Chalcis), Euboea, Greece, in 1840.
Right pauldron: Found in the Citadel of the Knights Hospitaller of St. John of Jerusalem, Rhodes, after 1855.
Breastplate: Emil Blum, Zurich (until about 1920; sold to Bashford Dean).
Left Pauldron: Made by Raymond Bartel, 1920–28, for Dean.
Left Tasset: Made by Julien Arrechia, 1920–28, for Dean.

No other explanation is provided on the site for the additional composed pieces; however, even at first glance, it is obvious that something is not quite right. The armet has been situated several inches too high above the shoulders, perhaps to better show off mail curtain, or aventail. Although the skull portion was found at Chaclis, the visor, rondel and rondel stem are all modern restorations. The "sabatons" that are strapped to the feet in the photograph are actually stirrups and likely modern reproductions of the pair on display with the "Frederick the Victorious" armour (WS A2) in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

One of the more often copied examples of a "Franken-armour" is also in the Met's collection. Accession number 50.160a-x is described as a "composed Armor 15th century and later." Unfortunately, it does not have a provenance tab to disclose the exact sources of its various pieces. Its description explains that it is "Italian and German in culture and portions of it were part of the same Chalcis find as parts of the composed armour above. The right pauldron bears the mark of Matthes Deutsch, an armourer active in Landshut (Germany) between 1485–1505.

; on the outer vambrace of the right arm: BE below an abbreviation sign; stamped twice on the upper left vambrace: YO beneath a split cross; on the outer plate of the lower left vambrace: AN (or AR ?) beneath a crown; stamped twice on the left arm reinforce: two letters beneath a crown with a split cross enclosing a letter (possibly Missaglia workshop marks, MY beneath a crown and M beneath the split cross); on the cuff of the right gauntlet: Polo beneath a crown and with an indecipherable letter beneath a split cross; on the left cuisse: a radiant sun within a circle.

Closed sallet (helmet): skull possibly bearing the mark of Giovanni Angelo (active 1496–1529), Milan, Italy.
Right Pauldron: Matthes Deutsch (active 1485-1505), Landshut, Germany.
Left arm reinforce: Missaglia workshops, Milan, Germany.

The helmet is a type known as a closed sallet that did not appear until the very end of the 15th century. The skull dates to between 1500-1520; the visor does not fit properly because it belongs to another style of helmet. Notice the ocular (eye slit) is positioned too high. It would be impossible to see through unless the wearer tilted their head toward the ground. The cuirass was purportedly assembled form multiple sources during the Victorian era. The left arm reinforce bears the mark of the famed Missaglia workshops. The remaining pieces of the left arm, right gauntlet and left cuisse all bear marks from other lesser know or uncertain makers.

A Lack of Contrary Evidence is not Supporting Proof

To be fair, many of the examples of "Franken-armour" are black and white images taken in the early- to mid-20th century and are no longer on current display. Unfortunately, the images are still available through their museum's online collection as well as social media sites such as Facebook and Pinterest. Far too often, individuals who wish to jump into the world of historical re-enactment but have no connection to an established group will make the mistake of simply using a search engine to find images of armour that is pleasing to their modern eyes. Then, rather than conducting academic research and examine the provenance of the "complete armour" that has caught their eye, they find themselves asking a Facebook group if their selected image "looks good." Without fail, a number of the responses will affirm their decision by stating something to the effect that there is no evidence that a man-at-arms of humble mean did not find himself wearing a mix of contemporary and out-of-fashion armour at any given date in time. The problem is that you can really never prove a negative. While there may be hundreds of thousands of photographs that have been taken during the conflict in Afghanistan, can you disprove someone who asserts there may be an old mercenary [i.e. military contractor] who prefers to wear his grandfather's Viet Nam-era helmet? 

Why do so many museum choose to display "Franken-armour" rather than complete harness in the first place? The primary reason is that so few have actually survived. In fact, there are barely more than a dozen complete Italianate armours known to have survived from the 15th century, and 10 of those come from only two sources (Churburg castle and the Sanctuary of Curatone at Mantova). Everything else is just bits and pieces of former harness. To understand the rarity that a complete armour would survive the passage of 6 centuries, consider that the workshops of Milan likely produced hundreds of thousands of complete armours during that time. It is for that reason that we must turn to sources other than the archaeological record to understand all of the regional styles and configurations, such as contemporary artwork as well as funerary monuments and effigies.

Further reading:

The armour seen in modern museums only represents a very small portion of what was produced over the course of the 15th century. To better understand what has been lost to the span of time, you will need to look at other sources. The next article in the series may be helpful to you: Armour Build: III. Get Illuminated [STILL UNDER DEVELOPMENT]

It is not easy to build a relatively-historical harness, but it can be done. The final article in this series offers an example of how the author selected the elements of his Milanese Export 'Alla Inglese'.

For a brief explanation of how Milanese armourers mass-produced armour in various ways to appeal to the taste of clients across Europe, consider reading Regional Styles in Armour.


Full armour (c15th-19th). Inventory number A20, Wallace Collection. .

Composed Armor (c1450–60 and later). Accession Number: 29.150.7, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Assembled by Bashford Dean from multiple extant and modern sources.

Composed Armor (c1450 and later). Accession Number: 50.160a–x, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Assembled by Bashford Dean from multiple extant and modern sources.

Capwell, Tobias. "Rediscovering the Armour of Late Medieval England." Royal Armories YouTube Channel, Winter Lecture series, 03 November 2021.



Armour Build: I. The Long Game
Everyone says ‘what if I knew then, what I know now?’ This series offers advice on the building of a reproduction harness through the lens of someone with two decades of experience.
Learn More About the Long Game
Armour Build: II. Historicity
Considering the fact that most sets of armour in museums are "composed," meaning assembled from various pieces, how good are they for use as a basis for reproducing a "historical" harness?
Learn More About Historicity
Armour Build: III. Get Illuminated
What better example of 'conspicuous wealth' than to have your own image painted in the local church? Fortunately, the armour was expected to an exact representation.
Learn More About Armour in Artwork
Armour Build: IV. Visit the Dead
Whoever said 'you can't take it with you' obviously had never seen a 15th-century knight's tomb--it was an everlasting representation of their martial glory.
Learn More About Knightly Effigies
Armour Build: V. Milanese Export 'Alla Inglese'
See an example of a complete armour build with this English-styled Milanese export harness circa 1450.
Learn More About a Complete Build