Knight’s Plate Armor

Knight's Plate Armor

Ever wondered what kind of armour a knight would wear? In this post, we look at the different pieces of a knight’s armour that might have been worn during the height of plate armor. We will cover what the pieces were used for as well as what a full suit looks like.

Before the height of plate, less wealthy soldiers would have likely only worn a metal helmet or breastplate. The rest of their armour would have been mail or perhaps leather. The decline in plate armour on the battlefield came much with the advent of gunpowder. Full suits of armour would become restricted to just jousting and eventually transition into highly decorated parade armor. Thus, we are looking at a full suit of armour at its height.

A Full Suit of Armor

When we look at a full suit of plate armor, it seems like a lot of metal. A full suit of armor ranges from between 33-55 pounds. That sounds like a lot to wear. However, this weight is distributed across the body. This way no one limb is responsible for holding that entire weight. It would allow for mobility and agility. To give a modern comparison, many firefighters will have a full set of gear that weighs around 45 pounds. This is about the average weight of a knight’s armor set.

One term that you may come across when viewing suits of armor is the word garniture. A garniture is the largest set of armor pieces that a person may have had made for them. A garniture would more often be made for jousting rather than for actual combat. Within a garniture, a knight might have what is called pieces of exchange. They are pretty much what they sound like. These pieces of exchange were armor pieces that would change out for one another depending on use. For example, some pieces were for fighting on foot, while others were for fighting on horseback. Different uses had different requirements.

Knight's Plate Armor
1548 Garniture with later restorations

Parts of a Knight’s Suit of Plate Armor

There are many parts to a knight’s suit of plate armor. These pieces would cover a knight literally from head to toe to protect them from attack in combat. We will work our way from the top to bottom.

Head and Neck

Starting at the head, we have a helmet. The design of a helmet would change quite a bit over the centuries. Regardless, the point of a helmet is the same then as it is today. It is to protect your head from damage. In fact, the changes in helmet design would reflect the changes in weaponry and combat styles. Just below the helmet would be a gorget or bevor. Whether a knight wore a gorget or bevor would depend on the style of helmet. Some helmets were designed to work better with a bevor, while others fit better with a gorget underneath. A bevor protects only the front, while a gorget would protect the front and back of the neck to some degree. Regardless, an important part of a knight’s suit of plate armor was a way to protect the head and neck.

Knight's Plate Armor
A 1140 Lionardo armet helmet
Knight's Plate Armor
A 1525 German gorget

Shoulders

Often connected to the gorget was a pair of spaulders or pauldrons. Both spaulders and pauldrons protect the shoulders of a knight. The main difference is that pauldrons were often larger and would cover the armpits. Pauldrons could include besagews or gardbraces to protect the underarm. Besagews were often round pieces for deflecting blows.

Arms

The next piece of armor for the arm would be a rerebrace. A rerebrace would protect the upper arm. This piece would either be attached to a pauldron or to pieces lower down on the arm. A rerebrace was commonly a part of another piece of armor rather than a separate piece. This was probably the easiest way to ensure protection along the biceps. After the rerebrace or attached to it would be the couter. Couters are pieces of armor meant to protect a knight’s elbows. They would often have pointed shapes to allow the knight to bend their elbows inside of the couters.

After the couters would be the vambraces. A vambrace is often called a bracer today. Vambraces would protect the forearm of a knight. They could be attached to the couters. There were also pieces of full arm armor that would connect vambraces to couters and rerebraces. At the end of a knight’s arm, there would be a gauntlet. The arms were some of the most important and vulnerable places on a knight as they would be what was closest to the enemy, especially during a swordfight. Take out a knight’s arms and you took away their ability to attack you.

Knight's Plate Armor
A pair of 1500 German pauldrons
Knight's Plate Armor
16th century pauldron & rerebrace
Knight's Plate Armor
16th century German couters
Knight's Plate Armor
A 1557 German gauntlet
Knight's Plate Armor
A 1450-70 Italian vambrace

Torso and Hips

The main part of a knight’s plate armor was a cuirass. This part of a knights armor was in active use for the longest span of history. Even as the rest of a knight’s armor would disappear over time, the cuirass was still worn by warriors such as cuirassiers even into the 19th century. A cuirass consists of a back plate and a breast plate. Along with the cuirass came the culet or faulds. A fauld, singular, was a plate that helped to protect the waist and hips. Faulds, plural, were multiple plates. Usually, a knight wore multiple faulds. The culet worked the same way, just for the backside of the knight. Both the faulds and culet would consist of small, overlapping strips of metal.

Knight's Plate Armor
A 1560 Italian cuirass
Knight's Plate Armor
A pair of 1530 tassets from Charles V armor

Legs

Underneath the faulds and culet mentioned above, a knight would usually wear a chainmail skirt. Also, they would wear tassets. Tassets were plates that would attach to the cuirass. They would protect the upper thighs, usually from attacks from above.

If a knight wanted to protect their thigh from attacks from below, they would wear cuisses. They work much like rerebraces for the thighs. Protection for the upper thighs would have been especially important when riding horseback where the enemy is below you and would be striking up at your thighs. Much like the armor design for the arms, the cuisses could be attached to other pieces of armor, usually for the knees. Poleyns were pieces that would protect the knees. Many Gothic-style poleyns would have side plates for protecting the outer sides of the knees.

Below the polyens, or attached to them, would be the greaves. These pieces would protect the knight’s shins. Like with the arms, full leg armor could incorporate multiple pieces of armor together. In this case, full leg armor would take the place of the cuisses, poleyns, and greaves all at once. Some pieces of leg armor would only incorporate greaves and poleyns together. At the very end of their legs, a knight would wear sabatons.

Knight's Plate Armor
A 1450 Italian cuisse
Knight's Plate Armor
A 1555 polyen for the right knee
Knight's Plate Armor
A 1550 pair of Italian greaves

Feet

For a knight’s plate armor, sabatons were often the equivalent of the toe part of modern steel-toe boots. They only covered the top part of the foot and would have straps that secured them. It was also possible for sabatons to be basically metal shoes. They would have multiple overlapping plates to allow for movement. Full-metal shoes would have been more necessary for a knight on horseback that expected to be getting attacked by foot soldiers. Such designs were likely less necessary for infantry.

Knight's Plate Armor
A 1510 greave with an attached sabaton
Knight's Plate Armor
Part of 1585-86 armor of Henry Herbert
Knight's Plate Armor
Part of 1550-75 Italian armour for field & tilt

Summary

In this post, we looked at the wide variety of a knight’s plate armor that could or would have been worn We mostly focused on the range of options available during the height of plate armor. At that time, armor would have covered a knight from head to toe, as demonstrated by the wide range of armor pieces mentioned here.

Photo Sources:

All photos have been sourced from the MET website.

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