Western Warfare in the Age of the Crusades, 1000-1300

By John France | Go to book overview

Chapter Two

The weapons of war

Contemporary descriptions of armies always distinguish between cavalry, the knights and infantry. The equipment with which they fought was appropriately different, but the differences were not merely functional. All who came to war brought their own equipment: the rich, the proprietors and their immediate supporters, could afford the best weapons and defensive equipment. Even when they fought on foot, knights were distinguished by superior equipment. The limitations and possibilities offered by weapons exerted a powerful influence on the conduct of war.

There is an unchanging quality about the appearance of war in the period 1000-1300. The mail-clad knight on horseback of the eleventh century, familiar from the Bayeux Tapestry, appears to differ only in small ways from, for example, the celebrated crusader portrayed in the Westminster Psalter. The most obvious difference is that the latter wore a great helm, or pot helm, which protected the whole head, neck and face, rather than the simple pointed iron cap of the Norman knight of 1066. This simple cap continued to be used throughout the period, although it had many variations. Sculpture on Angoulême cathedral shows a fluted helmet and another with a pointed rear drawn out into a neckguard. Cavalry in the Maciejowski Bible of the mid-thirteenth century wear a rather rounded form, also found in twelfth-century examples, but they have nasal guards, which seem generally to have fallen out of fashion before the end of the twelfth century, allegedly because an enemy at close quarters could seize the guard and blind its wearer. A variant type with a point inclined forward may have come from the East. Domed and flat-topped steel caps appeared in the twelfth century. All of these helmets were secured with a leather strap tied under the chin, and were worn over a coif of mail which formed part of the mail shirt, the hauberk. 1

Pointed, domed and flat-topped helmets were sometimes fitted with face

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