Historical Reenactment
A lifelong Medieval history enthusiast, I enjoy the knightly pursuits of jousting, hunting, and sword fighting.

With Todd Cornell at Days of Knights 2017. © Joe Metz 2017

Brigandine is a type of body armour consisting of numerous, small, rectangular, overlapping, steel plates riveted to a textile shell resembling a sleeveless doublet. As with many other forms of armour, surviving examples vary by date and region, but many had a pair of larger 'L-shaped' plates centered over the upper chest, which were known as lung plates. The rivets, or "arming nails," were commonly arranged in triangular groups of three and passed through . Brigandine spaulders are regularly depicted in period artwork; however, no examples are known to have survived.

Contrary to popular opinion, the name does not come from a perceived popularity with outlaws. A "brigand" originally referred simply to a foot soldier [brigand (Fr.) a foot soldier. From brigante (It.): brawler, fighter]. 

Brigandines were usually divided into two separate halves, each of which was termed a brigandine, so that a complete brigandine was normally described as a “pair” of brigandines in medieval account books and inventories. Although not quite as protective as a solid plate cuirass, the brigandine's overlapping steel plates allowed the wearer considerably more movement and flexibility. This feature made it a favorite of many men-at-arms, who often wore it with plate arms and legs. The brigandine was also used by mounted knights; a number of surviving examples were equipped with lance rests. In fact, more expensive versions had richly-dyed velvet cloth exteriors and sometimes even decorative gilt or silvered nails. Such examples were popular with individuals of higher social classes. 1

Widely Popular in Mid-Fifteenth-Century England

In his doctoral thesis on the cost and distribution of arms and armor in England from 1450-1471, Jack Wiedemer, Jr., discussed the commonality of brigandines: 

By using a brigandine as a starting point, in short, and protecting his head and limbs with plate or mail, a man-at-arms could construct a semi-complete harness whose weight and cost was dictated mainly by his financial ability and by his personal standards of comfort and military efficiency. How many men-at-arms actually did this during our period [i.e. 1450-1471] is a moot point, but the number was probably fairly large. Since there were a great many men-at-arms who could not or would not buy complete armor, and since most of them would probably not have been content to wear the peasant’s jack, brigandines and perhaps shirts of mail may have been the favorite body armor of English men-at-arms at this time. 2 

Many household accounts survive for members of the nobility; those of Sir John Howard, Lord Howard, are of particular interest. On 5 Sept 1463, Howard bought a brigandine and separate sleeves for 12 shillings. When he issued brigandines to one of his servants or retainers, he often gave the man sleeves of mail, a standard of mail, or both, at the same time. His accounts also refer to pauldrons designed to be worn on brigandines. In 1468, Howard handed out at least 44 brigandines to help send a fleet to sea; the individual costs listed ranged from 17 brigandines costing 16s 8d each down to 9 brigandines costing 10s each. The clerk who drafted the account put down the cost of each half of each brigandine, so the actual cost of the 17 brigandines must have been 33s 4d, or £ 1 13s 4d4

The Tellers' Rolls found in the Great Britain Public Record Office show that, in or about 1465, 36 brigandines were purchased for the Calais garrison, each costing £1 13s 4d5 That is the same price Howard recorded in his accounts and thus would appear to represent the average price for a brigandine of good quality. A few years later, in June 1471, a chancery warrant says that Olivier de la Marche, the famous Burgundian soldier, diplomat, and "man of letters," was planning to send 500 complete harnesses, as well as 500 brigandines and 1,000 sallets for archers, into England for private sale. The brigandines were “garnished and complete,” explained to include sallets, bevors, leg harness, gardes, gardebraces. 6

Brigandines for the Knightly Class

More expensive versions of brigandines were, of course, prized by members of the knightly class. In 1450, when Sir Humphrey Stafford of Grafton was sent at the head of a contingent of royal forces to quell the Kentish rebellion, he wore a sallet and brigandine with gilt rivets. Humphrey and his men were ambushed and killed. Jack Cade then donned the knight's armor and gilt spurs, and, when he rode triumphantly over London Bridge a few days later in brigandine, gilt spurs, gilt sallet, and a coat of blue velvet, 7 it was remarked that he had dressed himself up “as he had be a lord or a knight.” 8

Brigandines “of Southwark,” which fetched relatively high prices, were distinguished from other brigandines in the accounts of Sir John Howard, who had dealings with a brigandine maker called Parre of Southwark, as well as with an armorer of Southwark named Thomas Parker. The same Thomas Parker had been granted 'the workshops of the royal armory within the Tower' on 6 May 1450, and named Henry VI's personal armourer for life. 10 

Brigandines Made For a King

Brigandines were not only for members of the genre and lower classes. Even kings were known to wear them for personal protection. Thomas Poleyn, “brigander maker,” supplied Jenkyn Stanley, serjeant of the royal armoury, with 3 brigandines for Henry VI in 1455. The yeomen of the crown tested them with “shot.” The only brigandine to survive was accepted and covered with purple velvet. It had sleeves and was valued at 11 marks. In 1470, the exchequer paid £6 13s 4d for a brigandine for the person of Edward IV only a few days before Tewkesbury. 11

Brigandine Reproduction

The brigandine pictured above was made by by Ashley Barber of Armour Services Historical in Essex, England and is a reproduction based on examples in the Royal Armouries collection in Leeds. 12 The exterior is made of a heavy wool fabric dyed a deep green color. The interior consists of well over a hundred hand-tinned, spring steel plates attached to the fabric shell by approximately 1,000 decorative punched rivets of tinned steel. It is closed in the front with hand-forged steel buckles. The spaulders are attached to the brigandine by points through sets of tinned bronze eyelets.

Reference:

1. J. Wiedemer, Jr. Arms and Armor in England, 1450-1471, Their Cost and Distribution. University of Pennsylvania, 1967, p. 34.

2. Ibid., p. 59.

3. T.H. Turner (ed.), Manners and Household Expenses of England in the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Centuries (London: Roxburghe Club, 1841), pp. 222, 442.

4. Ibid., p. 571.

5. Public Record Office (P.R.O.), E 405/43.

6. Public Record Office (P.R.O.), C 81/File 832/3110.

7. C.L. Kingsord (ed.) Chronicles of London (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905), pp. 159-160.

8. An English Chronicle of the Reigns of Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI, ed. J.S. Davies (London: Camden Society, 1856), p. 66.

9. Turner, op. cit., pp. 431, 538, and 568-580

10. Cal. Patent Rolls, Henry VI, 5, A.d. 1446-1452: 314.

11. Public Record Office (P.R.O.), E 404/70/3/34, E 404/71/1/57; E 403/844 (under 1 May).

12. Brigandine (1470), Italy. Object number III.1665 in the Leeds War Gallery. Purported to have come from a chateau in Southern France.


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