Thursday, 6 June 2013

More thoughts on Armour and the state of the impression

 I have finally commissioned a bow made from yew and near as we can to the depictions and descriptions revealed in the sources. The bow will be made by Mike Roberts a superb bowyer (and archer) who reports that self recurves are among his favourite bows and he is looking forward to the project. Visits to Scottish museums are planned for the Summer to look through the collections as long as too much life doesn't happen.
 I have located a wonderful source of linen from an antique source, the quality of the weave is such that despite being over a hundred years old there is no fraying at all. I have also begun experimenting with onion dyes though have been told that this may be unwise as period dyes are.....unpredictable.  I have been told that Jude at Thorhild stitchery is too busy to take on the leine great for her but looks like my wife and I might have to see what we can do. Looking at the measurements of the the Rogart shirt I think I may have to get some advice as the original wearer was considerably leaner and probably shorter than I am, sadly off the peg leines don't seem to get done too much I have contacted Claiomh to see what they think and if they can offer any services.
 I managed to get a copy of Terra Incognita which is superb and is giving me a lot to think about as it is offering a gentle challenge to some of my ideas.Interestingly there is much in there about the poor state of Scottish agriculture and the extraordinary level of pastoralism and amount of livestock in the Country. This has made me consider some of the textile armour problems in more depth especially as arable land was in really short supply, poorly developed yet wool and hides would seem not to have been in short supply.  I asked Dan Howard who I (and many others) consider a true expert historical armour about some of the descriptions given by Major and others. He said that pitch is used by some modern militaries as a waterproofer even today, and perhaps more interestingly that "stuffed" has changed meanings and "the time it could be referring to anything that is sewn between an outer and inner cover - including layers of cloth or even mail. It doesn't necessarily refer to what we would call "stuffing".
 I have also found some other period sources that lend further credence to Majors writings;
From the Ordinances of Louis XI of France (1461-1483) 
And first they must have for the said Jacks, 30, or at least 25 folds of cloth and a stag's skin; those of 30, with the stag's skin, being the best cloth that has been worn and rendered flexible, is best for this purpose, and these Jacks should be made in four quarters. The sleeves should be as strong as the body, with the exception of the leather, and the arm-hole of the sleeve must be large, which arm-hole should be placed near the collar, not on the bone of the shoulder, that it may be broad under the armpit and full under the arm, sufficiently ample and large on the sides below. The collar should be like the rest of the Jack, but not too high behind, to allow room for the sallet. This Jack should be laced in front, and under the opening must be a hanging piece [porte piece] of the same strength as the Jack itself. Thus the Jack will be secure and easy, provided that there be a doublet [pourpoint] without sleeves or collar, of two folds of cloth, that shall be only four fingers broad on the shoulder; to which doublet shall be attached the chausess. Thus shall the wearer float, as it were, within his jack and be at his ease; for never have been seen half a dozen men killed by stabs or arrow wounds in such Jacks, particularly if they be troops accustomed to fighting.
Dominic Mancini  (1483) London writing about English soldiers;
 They do not wear any metal armour on their breast nor any other part of their body, except for the better sort who have breastplates and suits of armour. Indeed, the common soldiery have more comfortable tunics that reach down below the loins and are stuffed with tow or some other material. They say that the softer the tunic the better do they withstand the blows of arrows and swords, and besides that in summer they are lighter and in the winter they are more serviceable than iron.
Howard Accounts mid 1400s. On having a doublet of Fence made:
"I toke to the dobelete make me a dobelete of fense, fore hevery for qwarter xviii folde theke of wyte fostyen, and iiii fold of lenen klothe, and a folde of blake fostyen to pote wethe howete"
Translation: "I took to the doublet maker, to make me a doublet of fence, for every four quarters 18 folds thick of white fustian, and 4 folds of linen cloth, and a fold of black fustian to put without."

From the ordinance of St. Maximin de Treves , published October of 1473.
 "The mounted archer must possess a horse worth not less than six francs, and should wear a visorless sallet, a gorget (This may mean a maille standard or bevor), a brigandine, or a sleeveless mail shirt under a ten layer jack".

 So despite the apparent poverty of the highlands contemporary sources would support the idea of caterans wearing manifoldly sewn linen armour covered with deer hide. Perhaps mail though far more commonly cited was worn only by the tacksmen  and so on. In my admittedly quite backyard experiments I have not been too impressed with how layered defences stand up to thrusting attacks, single handed overarm thrusts with spears easily penetrate 30 layers of linen, while stuffed (in the modern sense) armours have shown themselves to me to be more resistant to damage. While even a few layers of canvas seems more or less cut proof. Given the effectiveness of two handed thrusting attacks from pole axes etc maybe no though was given to armouring against this kind of attack without using full harness.