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8-08-2015, 16:47

Advances in Cavalry Armor

Despite the arrival of the stirrup, which made direct cavalry charges feasible, the Franks and other Europeans who adopted it still avoided shock action when possible. h is was partly because cavalry armor still gave riders only minimal protection. So although a charge by horsemen could potentially devastate the front ranks of an enemy’s infantry, those foot soldiers could, in turn, badly damage the mounted attackers. As a result, for a while cavalry units were more often used to protect the l anks (sides) of traveling armies, to chase away ambushers, to raid villages, to harass the l anks and backs of enemy troops during a battle, and to pursue l eeing enemy soldiers. Charges by heavy cavalry composed of knights did, however, eventually become a frightening fact of warfare. h is was made possible primarily by a steady series of improvements in cavalry armor during the High Middle Ages, which lasted from about 1000 to 1300. Starting in the eleventh century, when Duke William scored his great victory at Hastings, the mail shirt, now called a hauberk, became longer and heavier. Also, cavalrymen adopted the coif, a mail hood that covered the head. h en came arm and leg protectors, along with gloves made of mail. h e twelfth and thirteenth centuries witnessed still more improvements in cavalry armor. From about 1150, for example, most European knights started using a loose cloth garment—the surcoat (or surcote)— over their mail armor. Later, in the 1200s, according to Ayton, iron plate or hardened leather defenses for the elbows, knees, and shins i rst appeared. And during the following hundred and i fty years, protection for arms and hands, legs, and feet became steadily more complete. From the mid-to-late thirteenth century, the torso of a well-equipped knight would be protected by a surcoat of cloth or leather lined with metal plates—a coat of plates, which by the mid-to-late fourteenth century would be supplemented, or wholly replaced by a solid breast-plate.17 h e late 1300s therefore marked the zenith of this ongoing trend toward the adoption of full suits of plate armor by mounted warriors. h ese true knights typically provided heavy armor for their horses as well. Calling units of these i ghters heavy infantry was completely appropriate, for as Jones explains, “A suit of the new armor could weigh seventy pounds. And, together with its own armor, the horse had to carry over 100 pounds of metal alone. With a horse protected from lance wounds in the chest and the rider virtually proof against [protected from] harm, the knight became far more formidable.”18