Saturday, June 15, 2019

12th Century Enclosed Helmet

 Picked up a primitive great helm otherwise known as an enclosed helmet to add to my medieval armory collection. Produced by GDFB ( Get Dressed For Battle) the familiar flat top crusader style helmet is made of 14 gauge steel, lined with a leather suspension system, weighs in at about eight pounds and is WMA authorized for combat sport.

The enclosed helmet first appeared around the end of the 12th century after Norman nasal helms began to evolve with added face protection and a square profile. In retrospect the cylinder flat top profile seems counter intuitive and a step back from the conical deflective properties of spangenhelms but became the dominant helmet design of the high middle ages with sugar loaf and great helm versions being used into the 14th century.

Typically worn with a padded cap and chainmail coif the enclosed helmet was probably developed in response to the use of heavy lances by armored knights and massed archers upon the medieval battlefield. Often they were discarded once in a melee due to restrictive peripheral vision and lack of ventilation. That said the tight fit of the helm does place the wearer's eyes quite close to the vision slots which results in surprisingly decent sight lines. The ventilation holes also aids in downward vision. In later variants of the great helm often secret helmets or cerve!lieres were used with mail coifs for head protection once the great helm was removed after the initial cavalry engagement. The biggest issue may well be the lack of hearing and the prodigious weight of the cap, mail coif and helmet ensemble. Medieval knights must have been quite fit, strong and well muscled to function effectively on the battlefield.

Used by famous martial orders such as the Templars, Hospitallers and Teutonic Knights and, of course, recognizable as the black knight's helmet of choice in Monty Python's satire Quest For The Holy Grail the flat top helmet became an iconic symbol of the middle ages.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

English Longbow

With an apparent early Spring and some unseasonal warm weather of late I had the opportunity to test my latest bow acquisition - a hickory longbow purchased from EBay vendor KP Archery this past winter. With an eye for reenactment I wanted a ELB that looked medieval traditional but was also functional. This simple but well made bow fit the bill perfectly. A self bow of American hickory it is 72 inches in length pulling #45@28 and came unfinished with a simp!e Flemish twist string.

I was familiar with KP Archery's products as my first bow was a flatbow purchased several years ago which I still possess and continue to use. It has been bomb proof so I had no doubt the ELB would not disappoint but I was anxious to loose some arrows as soon as the weather permitted.

A sanding and several coats of marine urethane later the bow was ready to shoot. I added a simple jute twine grip to complete the look and then waited for Spring.

This is a very nice basic D bow that complies to the specifications of the ELB society, albeit more of a Victorian style longbow due to its low poundage. It is certainly not a war bow but does look the part quite nicely when matched with medieval style arrows. Not just looks though....the bow shoots nicely with very little hand shock. It draws well with no stacking at 28 inches and it only began to get difficult at about 31 inches of draw. Sends the arrows down range at a decent velocity. This is a fun bow to shoot, perfect in it's simplicity, and affordable at $68 USD. If you are looking to get into traditional "off the knuckle" instinctive archery or want to participate in historical reenactment or larping this is a great economical option.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Chain Maile Chausses

Received the last piece of maile required for my replica 12th century medieval kit this week and was curious but also anxious of the fit. Therein lies the issue with modern armor recreations bought off the internet as items are usually produced in Asia and sizing can be hit or miss. They are mass produced and usually tagged with the "one size all" label which can be problematic. There is a reason why hardcore re-inactors or HEMA participants spend the coin for custom pieces.

My suspicions were confirmed with the first attempt to suspend the chausses. The upper legs were snug but there was more than enough maile around the back of the knee and lower legs. Length was also an issue. You know what that means.......DIY modifications!

Before I proceeded with the modifications I removed most of the foot maile to make the chausses a rough serviceable length as I had no intent on covering all the foot or creating an integral shoe.I also removed the maile belt hoops. Not only did they just add extra weight but the design did not facilitate the fit I was looking for. Not quite sure they are historically accurate anyway...not that it really matters.

Next step was weaving the upper edge of maile and the inside of the thighs with a leather strap in anticipation of adding the ties for durability and protection of the string. I opted for the belt method of suspension rather than attaching direct to braies or the use of a lendener - a wide girdle like under garment. I suspect the lendener would perform the best with distributing the weight of the maile much like a modern day tool belt that sits firmly on the hips.


Took some trial and error but I got the points in place to best support the weight using a rather sturdy black leather belt. It's OK but I think the lendener would feel better with less chance of binding.In hindsight some of the excess maile on the mid leg might be a good thing for adding padded gambeson style leg protection but I may have to remove some inner thigh links to have enough room on the quads.

Lower leg definitely needed a taper. The stove pipe design meant there was too much unnecessary material and weight. First step was to remove what was left of the foot mail except for enough to cover the top of the foot. It could remain loose, or depending on the footware used, be secured by the use of straps or points.

The next step was tapering the lower leg. I removed a section of maile from ankle to mid calf, lined the edge with with leather weaving then added ties that could be pulled tight. The length of the tie also meant I could loop it around the lower leg to offer more weight support. Finally another strap was temporarily added just below the knee that helped facilitate less weight on the hips and belt suspension. I will add a permanent one eventually though it appears small belts were/are the preferred option but a leather strap should be period authentic.

Weight support belts

Seems to have worked fairly well. Mobility was good and suspension was comfortable. Looks rough but effective and remember it will all be covered by a gambeson, hauberk , tunic or surcoat

Update - I purchased a pair of padded gambeson chausses to wear under the chain mail leggings. Bought via EBay the seller nailed the leg length and thigh measurements but the calves were too tight and the belt loops were short waisted. Using an upholstery needle and thread I hand tailored the chausses to fit. By opening the lower leg seam and adding an ankle strap and extending the belt loop by an additional four inches I was able to wear the garment appropriately.