Maciejowski Bible

The Wardrobe of a 13th-Century Warhorse

What is Ivo Bauer up to today?

It is the 22nd of April in the year of our Lord 1248. Ivo Bauer’s heart thumps heavy in his chest as the archbishop’s men-at-arms saunter into the armory. The myriad mail rings shiver at the clapping of their boots on the hard dirt floors. At the metallic chime, the two men stop. Silence hangs as they feast their eyes on a sea of steel. 

Writing takes me—and my characters—to wonderful places. Today Ivo takes us to his apprenticeship in an armorer’s shop where a wealthy noble has commissioned some armor for his horse. Needless to say, this patron can afford to trample his enemies in style.  As a historical fiction novelist, it’s my job to figure out what that would look like—so I scoured primary sources and essays to discover the facts. For you, I’ve summed up hours of research into this bite-sized blog post. Enjoy!

The Wardrobe of a 13th-Century War Horse

Geoffrey Luttrell

This image from the Luttrell Psalter (1325) shows the caparison, trappers, and shaffron donned by medieval knights.

“Excuse me, Sir. Your horse is showing.”

I can imagine a mounted earl teasing his less-wealthy counterpart—let’s say a mercenary knight—with these very words.

During the 13th and 14th centuries, dressing a horse from head to hoof was not only fashionable, it protected the knight by protecting the horse.  Sadly, not every knight could afford to armor his noble steed. It was expensive just to armor himself.

Let’s say the petulant knight mentioned above was the Duke of Gloucester. In Hodge’s List of Prices, this wealthy English noble had an inventory of armor valued at over 103 pounds in 1397. Look behind him and you’ll find the basic knight’s armor—valued at 16 pounds—far less impressive. I think it’s safe to assume the duke had horse armor while the average knight did not. Primary sources from the time show horses both with and without armor. So in my work in progress—The Armorer’s Apprentice—the noble patron has a budget similar to the duke’s. Let’s see what Ivo and Michael might have created for his warhorse.

Medieval Horse Armor

This image from The Manuscript of the Apocalypse (1330) shows what mail trappers or bards looked like during the 13th and 14th centuries.

Layer 1: The Quilted Trapper

Comprised of one or more garments, the first layer of defense for the armored horse was a  quilted trapper.  These layers of fabric kept the mail rings from irritating the horse’s skin and protected it from hard impacts. Quilted trappers likely appeared in Western Europe during the twelfth century near the same time as mail trappers. Though we don’t see quilted trappers represented in illustrated manuscripts of the time—probably because they weren’t visible beneath the mail trapper and caparison—they are listed in inventories, such as the will of Raoul de Nesle  who died in 1302. He owned three of them.

Layer 2: The Mail Trapper

Made of chain mail, this was worn over the quilted trapper and protected the horse from slashing and piercing wounds. In his essay on the subject, Dirk H. Breiding informs us that a  “carved capital…dating to the late twelfth or very early thirteenth century, shows two warriors mounted on horses in mail trappers that protect their bodies, necks, and presumably their head, while a tympanum relief of 1203…depicts a trapper that appears to extend further, enclosing each leg individually down to the knees and hocks, respectively.”  Just like the Maciejowski Bible shows us the numerous combinations in thirteenth-century knights’ armor, Breiding’s statement, along with primary sources, help us imagine the variety worn by horses, as well.

Maciejowski Bible

Images from the Maciejowski Bible (1240s) show brightly colored caparisons on medieval warhorses.

Layer 3: The Caparison

Early on, the caparison was a thickly padded defense. But by the thirteenth century, the horse’s caparison was more like a knight’s surcote.  Since it was decorated in his colors or heraldry, a knight draped the colorful fabric over the mail trapper.  In illuminations from the Maciejowski  Bible and Luttrell Psalter, caparisons cover most of the horse and obscure the view of what lies beneath.

Layer 4: The Shaffron

Worn either above or beneath the caparison, the shaffron protected the horses face. It’s hard to discern whether it was made of hardened leather or metal at first.  A document from 1278 states that Edward I of England ordered 38 hardened leather shaffrons  reinforced with strips of metal. Knights often had the shaffrons decorated to match the crest on their own helmets.

So when we imagine my fictitious noble patron’s horse, we should think of quilted trappers, mail trappers, caparisons, and shaffrons. It’s worth noting that horse armor progressed magnificently over the next hundred years as armorers perfected the art of forming steel plate. To read more about that I strongly recommend giving the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s site a visit.

Thanks again for reading. Want to explore the fascinating world of Medieval Cologne with my characters? Get a FREE sample of The Fairytale Keeper sent to your Kindle from Amazon.com. To see more posts like this one, click the follow button in the sidebar or sign up for my monthly newsletter.

Sources:

  • Bouchard, Constance Brittain. Knights. Birmingham, Alabama: Sweet Water, 2009. Print.
  • Breiding, Dirk H. “The Armored Horse in Europe: 1480-1620.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.d. Web. 9 Nov. 2015. <file:///C:/Users/Ken/Downloads/The_Armored_Horse_in_Europe_1480_1620%20(1).pdf>
  • Breiding, Dirk H. “Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.” Horse Armor in Europe. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.d. Web. 09 Nov. 2015.
  • Breiding, Dirk H. “Horse Armor in Medieval and Renaissance Europe: An Overview – Medievalists.net.” Medievalists.net. Medievalists.net, 13 Nov. 2012. Web. 09 Nov. 2015.
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