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Among these, the lance rest, an object protruding from the proper right side of many breastplates, probably holds first place. First, knights rarely fought alone, nor did medieval and Renaissance armies consist entirely of mounted knights. Although knights were the dominant force of most of these armies, they were invariably—and with time increasingly so—supported and opposed by foot soldiers, such as archers, pikemen, crossbowmen, and handgunners.

During a campaign, a knight depended on a small host of retainers, squires, and attendants who lent armed support and looked after his horses, armor, and other equipment—not to mention peasants and craftsmen, who made the organization of a feudal society with its warrior class possible in the first place.

Second, it is wrong to assume that every nobleman was a knight. Knights were not born but created, by other knights, feudal lords, or sometimes priests.


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And, under certain conditions, people of non-noble birth could be knighted although the knighting was often regarded as their admission into lower nobility. On some occasions, mercenaries or civilians fighting as ordinary soldiers could be knighted for exceptional displays of courage and valor, while in later times a knighthood could be bought. In other words, it was by no means an exclusive right of the knight to wear and fight in armor. Foot soldiers such as mercenaries, or groups of retainers comprising peasants, as well as burghers, also participated in armed conflict and accordingly protected themselves with armor of varying quality and extent.

Indeed, the burghers of a certain age, and above a stipulated wealth or income of most medieval and Renaissance cities were expected—an expectation often enforced by laws and decrees—to acquire and keep their own arms and armor. Usually this would not be a complete suit of armor, but comprised at least a helmet, a body defense in the form of a mail shirt In times of war, these militia forces were required to defend the city or do military service for feudal lords or allied cities. During the fifteenth century, as some wealthy and powerful cities became more independent and confident, even burghers organized their own tournaments for which, of course, they would have worn armor.

Accordingly, not every piece of armor was once worn by a knight, nor can every person depicted in an artwork wearing armor be identified as a knight. A person in armor should more correctly be referred to as a man-at-arms or man in armor.

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There are several references to women participating in armed conflict from most periods of history. Nevertheless, some are recorded as having fought in armor, although no contemporary illustrations showing any of them actually wearing armor appear to have survived.

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Joan of Arc ca. Yet only one small illustration of her, undoubtedly drawn during her lifetime, has come down to us, showing her with a sword and banner but not dressed in armor. The fact that contemporaries apparently perceived women leading an army, or even wearing armor, as something worth recording at least in writing indicates that such a sight must have been an exception rather than the rule.

This idea may stem from the fact that much of the armor on exhibition in institutions like the Metropolitan Museum represents equipment of especially high quality, while much of the plainer arms and armor of the common man and lower nobility has been either relegated to storerooms or lost over the centuries. It is true that, unless looted from a battlefield or won in a tournament, the acquisition of armor would have been a costly affair. However, as there are certainly differences in the quality of armor, there also would have been differences in price.

Armor of low to medium quality, affordable to burghers, mercenaries, and lower nobility, could be bought, ready-made, at markets, trading fairs, and in urban shops. On the other hand, there were also the high-end, made-to-measure products of the imperial or royal court workshops, and of famous German and Italian armorers.

Although examples of the price of armor, weapons, and equipment are known from several periods in history, it is difficult to translate historical monetary value into modern terms. At the upper end of the scale, we find examples such as a large garniture a basic suit of armor that, through the addition of further pieces and plates, could be adapted for various purposes both on the battlefield and in different types of tournament commissioned in by a German king later emperor for his son.

An entire suit of field armor that is, armor for battle usually weighs between 45 and 55 lbs. Moreover, while most modern equipment is chiefly suspended from the shoulders or waist, the weight of a well-fitted armor is distributed all over the body.

It was not until the seventeenth century that the weight of field armor was greatly increased in order to render it bulletproof against ever more accurate firearms. At the same time, however, full armor became increasingly rare, and only vital parts of the body, such as the head, torso, and hands, remained protected by metal plate.

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A harness of plate armor was made up of individual elements for each limb. The widely held view that a man in armor could hardly move, and, once he had fallen to the ground, was unable to rise again, is also without foundation. On the contrary, historical sources tell us of the famous French knight Jean de Maingre ca. Furthermore, there are several illustrations from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance depicting men-at-arms, squires, or knights, all in full armor, mounting horses without help or instruments such as ladders or cranes.

Modern experiments with genuine fifteenth- and sixteenth-century armor as well as with accurate copies have shown that even an untrained man in a properly fitted armor can mount and dismount a horse, sit or lie on the ground, get up again, run, and generally move his limbs freely and without discomfort. Tournament armor was made for very specific occasions and would have been worn only for limited periods of time.

The man-at-arms would have mounted his steed with the aid of his squire or a small step, and the last pieces of his armor could then be donned after securely sitting in the saddle.

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This notion appears to have originated during the late nineteenth century as a joke. It entered popular fiction during the following decades, and the image was finally immortalized in when Sir Laurence Olivier used it in his movie Henry V —despite the protestations of his historical advisors, who included the eminent authority Sir James Mann, Master of the Armouries at HM Tower of London.

As outlined above, most armor is neither so heavy nor inflexible as to immobilize the wearer. Most men-at-arms would have been able to simply put one foot in a stirrup and mount their horse without assistance. A stool or perhaps the help of a squire would have made the process even speedier; a crane, however, was absolutely unnecessary.

When the person wearing armor was not engaged in warfare, he would simply do what people do today. Being on the battlefield must have been a different matter.

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In this case, we do not know the answer. It is sometimes argued that the military salute originated during the Roman Republic , when assassinations were common and citizens were required to approach public officials with their right hand raised in order to show that they did not conceal a weapon. A more common account is that the modern military salute originated from men in armor raising the visors of their helmets before greeting their lord or comrades. This gesture would have made a person both recognizable as well as vulnerable, at the same time demonstrating that the right hand i.

Although these theories are compelling and romantic , there is actually little evidence to support either of them as the direct origin of the modern military salute. As for the Roman practice, it would be virtually impossible to prove that it continued through fifteen centuries or was revived during the Renaissance , leading in a straight line to the modern military salute. There is also no direct evidence for the visor theory, although it is more recent.


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  7. The majority of helmets for war after around were increasingly of types not fitted with visors, and helmets became rare on European battlefields after about As with so many misconceptions, the origins of this misnomer are to be found in the nineteenth century. When early scholars of armor looked at medieval artworks, they noticed what they thought to be depictions of many different forms of armor: rings, chains, bands of rings, scales, small plates, etc.

    It is today commonly accepted, however, that most of these different depictions are actually various attempts by artists to efficiently show the surface of a type of armor that is difficult to render both in paint or sculpture. Rather than showing each interlinking ring, the small links were stylized by dots, slashes, S-shapes, circles, and the like, which readily lent themselves to misinterpretation. To give a definitive answer to this question is impossible for several reasons.

    First, hardly any evidence survives that would provide a complete picture for any given period. Scarce evidence is available from the fifteenth century onward as to how armor was ordered, in what time the order was completed, and how much the parts or entire armor cost. Second, a complete armor could comprise elements made by several specialized armorers.

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    Pieces might also be held in stock half-finished and then fitted for a specific commission. Finally, the matter is complicated by regional and national differences. Throughout the German-speaking lands, most armorer workshops were controlled by strict guild regulations , which limited the number of apprentices, and thus had a direct effect on the number of pieces that could be produced by one master and his small workshop. In Italy, on the other hand, no such regulations existed, and workshops could accordingly be much larger, which undoubtedly must have enhanced speed and quantity of production.

    In any case, one must bear in mind that the production of arms and armor was a thriving business throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Armorers, blade smiths, gun makers, crossbow and bow makers, and fletchers were found in every large town. Then as now, their market was regulated by supply and demand, and time-efficient work must have been an essential part of a successful business. The answer to this question is therefore perhaps as simple as it is elusive. The time it took to make armor depended on several factors, namely, who ordered the work, from whom the work was commissioned i.

    Two famous examples may serve to illustrate this point. The armorer informs Sir John that he can make the requested suit of armor as soon as the English knight tells him what pieces he requires, in which fashion, and when the armor must be completed unfortunately, no time frame is given.