Medieval Armorers

The history of medieval armorers. For a Medieval Knight, his armor could mean the difference between life and death.

When we think if the Middle Ages, one image which often comes to mind is a knight in armor, astride his trusty horse. The gallant, jousting knight in armor has come to represent the time period and can still be seen at Renaissance Fairs and other historical re-creations.

But armor, considered a very valuable possession, could not be purchased off the rack. The work of the Medieval armorer, (high quality or low), was a matter of life and death for the knight.

Armor made of circular links of mail, sometimes called chain mail, can be seen in illustrations of the period, such as those of Matthew Paris, (1250). Chain mail was flexible and relatively comfortable to wear. It was the primary form of armor in the early Middle Ages, but not much is known about the craftsmen who made it.

In our automated age, we tend to forget such armor was put together one tiny link at a time, completely by hand. Obviously, producing a full set of chain mail to cover the body of a man was no small task!

The effectiveness of the longbow and the crossbow led to the development of plate armor, whose greatest period lasted from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century.

The craft of armor-making needed patronage, resources such as charcoal and iron and also fast-flowing water to drive the wheels that produced the power for the heavy hammers. Italy and Germany were the two main centers of armor manufacture. Armor made in Milan was widely exported and within Italy, Milan was only rivalled as a center by Brescia.

In Germany, the production of armor was concentrated in the Rhine-Westphalia region and in southern cities of Augsburg and Nuremburg.

The decoration of armor, particularly that commissioned by high nobles like Emperors and Princes, was of the highest artistic quality. The techniques used include engraving, gilding, etching and painting. One of the techniques which gave some German armors of the late fifteenth century a look of great luxury, was called goldschmelz. Shallow patterns were etched on the blued surface and this surface was then gilded to give an opulent gold and blue effect.

Some documents have survived which record the armor produced by individuals. These records provide valuable historical information for those interested in metalwork. One example is a sketch book of Jorg Sorg, made between 1548 and 1563. It tells not only the names of the Augsburg craftsmen, but also identifies their patrons among the noble families in Germany, Spain an Italy.

Highly durable and practically indestructible, armor can last many centuries and today, suits of armor are on display all over Europe. Armor for horses was also produced. A few craftsmen still make armor, but it's a highly specialized product, as you might guess. A full set can easy cost 3,000 to 4,000 dollars.

© High Speed Ventures 2011