Written by David Kuijt

Early Middle Ages
(from Charlemagne [742-815] to the end of the 10th Century)

ARMOUR: Mail hauberk (Locations 8-14), spangenhelm (Location 5). Scale shirts sometimes replaced the mail hauberk, or rarely lamellar armor. Some helms had face protection (Location 3) or mail (Location 4) or both. Splint armor on shins (Locations 16-17) or forearms (Location 7) occurred. Cavalry wore convex round shields on the Continent. Anglo-saxon and Viking troops often used horses to ride to battle, but fought dismounted. Infantry shields were large, round, or "kite" shaped.

WEAPONS: Universal weapons were spear, sword or light sword, dagger, and shortbow. Other normal weapons were the Danish axe (used by most armies, especially the Saxon Huscarles), axe, francisca, and throwing axe. Other weapons found on the Continent include the light crossbow and sling. The mace and spiked mace were uncommon, but could be found.

11th Century

ARMOUR: Not much change from before. Some mail hauberks extended to the wrist (covering Location 7), and included chausses (leg defense), thus covering Locations 7-18. Helmets were sometimes fitted with a nasal; in combination with a ventail (mail flap) this would give mail protection in Location 3. Most hauberks included an attached hood or coif protecting Locations 4-5, although a conical helmet was worn for additional protection on Location 5. Shin protection other than mail seems to have disappeared.

WEAPONS: Spears are still the most common weapon, both for infantry and for cavalry. Swords are next, although their expense makes them uncommon except by nobles. By far the most common equipment for cavalry is the lance and sword. All types of axe are in use by Viking, Norman, and Anglo-saxon troops. Norman cavalry use the one-handed versions by preference (axe and francisca, called a sgeggox). Other troops on the Continent don't use the axe in this period. Crossbows are used infrequently on the Continent and by the Normans, but not by Vikings or Anglo-Saxons. Bows (shortbows) are common among the Normans, Vikings, and Anglo-Saxons, but use of the bow in war among the Franks declined after the death of Charlemagne. Archers in battle are often unarmored, although some great nobles were known for their skill with the bow in the 11th Century.

12th Century

ARMOUR: Very little change. Mail sleeves (protecting Location 7) become common, as do chausses (mail leg defense) covering Locations 15-18, but the basic hauberk (Locations 8-14) is still common. Helmets sometimes have basic faceplates (covering Location 3, as well as 5). Quilted aketons and other soft armor appear as cheaper alternatives to the mail hauberk in the 12th Century, covering the same areas as the hauberk.

WEAPONS: Little change here also. Maces and axes are still favored weapons, although of less importance than spear and sword. Cavalry is now the most important arm, and infantry is less regarded. Crossbows come into fairly common use for infantry on the Continent, and improvements in technology due to contact with Saracen composite bows allows the construction of stronger crossbows (the heavy crossbow). The Welsh (later English) longbow appears in this Century in Wales, but is not in use anywhere else. Shortbows are still used.

13th Century

ARMOUR: Full helmets protecting Locations 3 and 5 (with mail on Location 4) are common, although many still wear helmets without faceplates (Location 5, with mail on Location 4). The best suits of mail now have hand protection as well, completing the protection to all parts of the body. Towards the middle and end of the 13th Century the great helm (full helmet) appears, protecting Locations 3-5. Also towards the end of the 13th Century body armor of cuir boulli (covering Locations 10-12) is worn to supplement mail. Although uncommon, similar reinforcements were sometimes worn to protect the legs (Locations 14-17, only from attacks in front)

Infantry may be equipped with a simple hauberk and kettle hat. Quilted aketons (covering Locations 6-14) are common, as are sleeveless versions (Locations 9-14). Some aketons are equipped with a high raised collar (protecting Location 4) to supplement the kettle hat. Infantry generally used no leg defenses. Unarmored infantry, especially missile troops, were fairly common.

WEAPONS: Spear and sword are still the universal weapons of the mounted knight, supplemented by one-handed maces or axes. Crossbowmen are common (Northern Italy exports them as mercenaries). Infantry spearmen are common, as are a wide variety of staff weapons (battle axe, ahlespeiss, glaive, maul, and guisarme). The falchion (a heavy-bladed sword, effective at cutting through armor) appears in this Century and remains popular among noble and common soldier alike for several centuries.

In England crossbowmen were common until the last quarter of the Century, when the Welsh wars brought them into conflict with the Welsh longbow. The English embraced the new weapon by the end of the Century.

14th Century

ARMOUR: Changes are dramatic. At the beginning of the Century, the typical knight's armor is mail with some additional protection on the front of legs and torso, the last largely hidden under a surcoat. By the middle and end of the Century, a well-equipped knight is wearing plate armor—rigid metal protecting all points of his body except the insides of joints, which have mail. Shields are used less by knights as the armor protects them sufficiently.

Infantry equipment varied little from the previous Century, although the hauberk gradually becomes supplemented or replaced by a brigandine or coat-of-plates protecting Locations 9-12. Kettle hats are ubiquitous. The raised collar of the previous Century has disappeared, but coifs of mail are still in use.

WEAPONS: The spear is no longer effective against plate armor, and the cavalry spear evolves into the couched lance. Swords are still the mark of nobility, and are universal. Knights still supplement the sword with other weapons (axes, picks, hammers, maces, or falchions), more effective for combat against fully armored knights. The bastard sword appears as knights abandon the shield and look for heavier, more effective weapons to pierce each other's armor.

Crossbowmen are common. Composite materials for making the bow of a crossbow are replaced by steel, allowing much stronger crossbows to be manufactured (arbalests and siege crossbows) and used as well as previous types. The short bow is still used, but English longbow troops dominate the battlefield through this Century. By the end of this Century all polearms are in use. The infantry spear evolves into the pike. Notable defeats of cavalry are given by the Scots at Bannockburn (using pikes), the Swiss at Sempach (using halberds), and the English at Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt and elsewhere (using the longbow).

15th Century

ARMOUR: Full plate is universal. Faceplates are sometimes removed for more air and visibility, and most helmets allow them to be temporarily removed. Infantry is armored similarly to the previous Century, save that some few are well-equipped enough to have full plate or part of a plate harness (often a breastplate or knee harness). Padded jacks and brigandines are still prevalent for common soldiers.

WEAPONS: All the weapons listed are used.

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