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Garniture made c. 1550 for Duke Johann Friedrich 
II of Gotha.

Armor of King Henry VIII for foot combat c. 1520, Front
A gentle knight was pricking on the plaine,

Y cladd in mightie armes and silver shielde,

Wherein old dints of deepe wounds did remaine,

The cruell markes of many' a bloudy fielde;

Yet armes till that time did he never wield;

His angry steede did chide his foming bitt,

As much disdayning to the curbe to yield;

Fully iolly Knight he semd, and faire did sitt,

As one for knightly giusts and fierce encounters fitt.

- Spencer Edmund, The Faerie Queen

Armor of King Henry VIII for foot combat c. 1520, Back

A short history of armor

The history and development of armor has been the unending contest between the armorer seeking to improve his client's defense and the weapon-smith trying to make new and better weapons for penetrating those denfenses.

From antiquity there has been body-armors made of hides or quilted fabric. In the fifth century BCE, mail came into use. It was made of large numbers of small iron or steel rings linked through its neighbors. Mail was worn over a quilted under garment to prevent the rings from chafing the skin, it made a useful defense against cuts from a sword. However, it was less effective against the heavy blow of axes and maces, while the point of an arrow or spear might burst the rings apart. For this reason, from the thirteenth century onwards, experiments began to be made to reinforce mail with rigid plates either of hardened leather or metal.

At first only body-armor was used, either over or under the mail shirt. Later the especially vulnerable joints of the shoulder, knee and elbow were protected by saucer-like plates, the thighs were enclosed in quilted tubes, and the head and face were encased in a helm of steel or hardened leather. These plates were designed to spread the force of a blow in order to minimise its bruising effect, and to prevent the bones from being broken, as well as to prevent the penetration of a weapon point. The impossibility of identifying a man with his head entirely concealed by his helm led to the development of a system of devices to aid in identification, known as Heraldry.

During the fourteenth century plate began to be used more scientifically. It was no longer employed simply as a rigid defense. By placing plates at angles a weapon could be deflected away from a vital spot.

By the fifteenth century the mail was almost completely covered or replaced by plates. Vertically- hinged metal tubes protected the limbs, linked at the joints by narrow plates overlapping like the tail of a lobster, so when the joints were flexed no unguarded opening would be exposed to an opponent's weapon. Wherever it was found impossible to use plates, like at the armhole, mail continued to be used.

In the sixteenth century, a complete armor for use in the battlefield weighed only about fifty pounds and this was carefully distributed all over the wearer. The wearer could mount his horse quite normally from the ground or, at the most, from a mounting-block. The plates were designed to allow their wearer complete freedom of movement. The joints of the foot-armor, for example, are more flexible than any human foot.

During the late sixteenth century complete armor fell out of use because, as firearms became more effective and their users better trained, mobility was found to be a more effective defense than additional or heavier plates. A lightly armed horseman could close with musketeers more rapidly than the heavily armored calvaryman and was therefore underfire for a shorter time. Body-armor such as the breastplate and open faced helmet survived through most of the seventeenth century, being used by pikeman of infantry units. They continued to be used by some heavy calvary units until the Franco-Prussian war (1870-1871), by which time experiments had already begun to devise body-armors proof against modern firearms.

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Aaron Neilson
a n @ m i c r o n . n e t