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WootBot


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Staff

On May 11, 1963, a Los Angeles couple named Ron and Phyllis Patterson held a weekend-long radio station fundraiser they called a "Renaissance Pleasure Faire," giving birth to a whole new entertainment industry based on corsets, meat pies, and stilted faux-Shakespearean English. This month, to celebrate the 55th anniversary of Ye Olde Renaissance Festival, we've asked Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings to drop by and give us the scoop on what really went on during the Middle Ages. He's going to get medieval on your ass…umptions.

The Debunker: Was Medieval Armor Incredibly Heavy?

Medieval warfare was pretty hard on suits of armor, but Hollywood has been even worse. Agile swashbuckling heroes of the Errol Flynn variety generally have no problem disarming and capering around on-screen castle guards, who are next to useless in their cumbersome, unwieldy armor. Cartoon characters like Goofy and Bugs Bunny joust against armored opponents that are effectively giant clanking furnaces. And Laurence Olivier's Henry V cemented in our minds the "fact" that medieval knights used cranes to hoist themselves into the saddle—a silly notion for which there's no historical evidence, and which Olivier's historical advisors protested mightily.

The Debunker

Back in the day, a full set of plate armor did weigh around fifty pounds, which isn't nothing. But it's less, the Metropolitan Museum of Art points out, than firefighters with oxygen gear wear today as they run into burning buildings, and it's considerably less than modern soldiers carry into battle in modern times. Medieval armor didn't have to be bulletproof, so it was comparatively lightweight until the seventeenth century.

And its weight is distributed all over the body, unlike modern military equipment, which makes things easier on the wearer. A 2011 study done at Leeds University put subjects on treadmills wearing full suits of armor, and found that they did use twice as much energy to get around the battlefield. But because medieval knights were often in incredibly good shape (despite all the meat pies) that wasn't a huge problem. A 2015 study by Swiss historian Daniel Jaquet used 3-D kinematics to analyze the movements of modern athletes wearing replicas of full field armor, and found that they retained almost their full range of motion. The "knights" mounted fake horses, scaled fake castle walls (in a rock-climbing gym) and even tried somersaults and cartwheels. So much for the stupid old stereotypes about bulky, burdensome armor! I wouldn't try water sports wearing fifty pounds of plate-mail, though. As the old saying goes, knight-swimming deserves a quiet knight.

Quick Quiz: What part of a knight's body was protected by the armor called "greaves"?

Ken Jennings is the author of eleven books, most recently his Junior Genius Guides, Because I Said So!, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.

bblhed


quality posts: 11 Private Messages bblhed

That piece protects the shin. Kind of makes you wonder why that word was dropped for "Shin Guard" because that is one piece of armor that is still used in sports today. Lets bring back greaves in place of Shin Guard.

Also modern SCUBA gear weighs about 40 pounds and people swim with that on all the time.

efooter


quality posts: 18 Private Messages efooter
bblhed wrote:Also modern SCUBA gear weighs about 40 pounds and people swim with that on all the time.



To be fair, it's a question of density and not weight.

idontkn1


quality posts: 10 Private Messages idontkn1
bblhed wrote:That piece protects the shin. Kind of makes you wonder why that word was dropped for "Shin Guard" because that is one piece of armor that is still used in sports today. Lets bring back greaves in place of Shin Guard.

Also modern SCUBA gear weighs about 40 pounds and people swim with that on all the time.



Actually they sink in it at least most of the time. That's why you use a BCD with air in it to remain neutrally buoyant. And as the previous response pointed out. A lot of that weight outside of the lead meant to sink you is not much more dense than human flesh especially if you have on a wetsuit.

Skeeterator


quality posts: 2 Private Messages Skeeterator

Hate to sound like a grammar freak, but the term is simply ‘plate’ not plate mail. Likewise mail is correct, not chain mail.

And yeah, having worn plate I can attest that mobility is minimally impacted. For motions involved in hand to hand fighting almost not at all. I wouldn’t want to have to run a foot race in the stuf, though you’d manage. For combat Hollywood indeed has it so very wrong.

There were forms of specialty armor that were severely limiting, but that’s not what knights wore to battle. For example jousting armor could be extremely specialized. For example the helm(et) would sometimes bolt to the breastplate to prevent getting your spine snapped if hit in the head a full speed. But again, specialized armor for a narrow application, not battle armor.

The fully armored knight of the 15th/16th century was the apex of non-firearm combat science. 6-7 layers of protection, wrapped head to toe in tempered spring steel. All articulated to enable you to move with fluidity and speed.

It took specialized weaponry and tactics to pierce such defense. No other culture had anything that matched the advantage plate brought with it. You see Japanese armor quickly integrating European breastplates into their “traditional” armor as soon as they had access to the stuff.

Until the firearm, defense had the advantage for a little while. Not a common condition in battle...

bblhed


quality posts: 11 Private Messages bblhed
idontkn1 wrote:Actually they sink in it at least most of the time. That's why you use a BCD with air in it to remain neutrally buoyant. And as the previous response pointed out. A lot of that weight outside of the lead meant to sink you is not much more dense than human flesh especially if you have on a wetsuit.



I don't know about you, but I'm fairly chunky and I only use about 14 pounds of lead in salt water wearing a shorty. I was talking tank, reg, BC, weights, and all that. Weigh your full kit and you will be amazed at just how much weight you are hauling around. Why do you think you move so much faster underwater than surfaced? Also think about how hard it is to walk to the water on a beach dive than it is to swim the same distance underwater. Oh yeah tank is defined as a full Aluminium 80, that is 5 pounds heavier than an empty one.

nmbmailman


quality posts: 0 Private Messages nmbmailman

September's coming soon..and pining for the moon..and what if there were two..side by side in orbit around the fairer sun...Great R.E.M. tag Ken!

bsmith1


quality posts: 156 Private Messages bsmith1