Articulated Steel Gauntlets
(About): A True Successor to the Visby Gauntlet
By the early 1300s CE, warfare was changing. Terrifying new weapons like polearms, greatswords and the longbow were becoming dominant on the battlefield, and the crème of the European aristocracy needed new means of protecting themselves. Plate armor was rapidly being trialled and developed – and armor to protect the hands was critical in this new frontier in the arms race. Our Articulated Steel Gauntlets take inspiration from the early ‘brigandine gauntlets’ of the early 14th-century, where, for the first time, articulated fingers were made by riveting scales to a flexible leather mount, matching the brigandine jackets that became the mainstay of late-medieval soldiers. House of Warfare has created a simple, authentic design based upon these early steel gauntlets that will provide your outfit with an undeniable edge.
Our Articulated Steel Gauntlets are a rugged pair of armored steel gauntlets with individually articulated fingers. They are built around a comfortable, resilient pair of suede leather gloves, exactly same at the historical originals would have been. The wrist-plate is a wide ‘hourglass’ form seen on the early armored gauntlets of the 14th-century – before the complex articulation of joints using sliding rivets which emerged more than a century later, the wrist had to accommodate the full range of movement in one piece of shaped steel plate, so it was often made with an exaggerated flare such as this. The armorers at House of Warfare have chosen period-accurate 16-gauge steel for the construction: robust, sturdy, spot on. Each finger and thumb is covered by an articulated row of individual steel scales. The method of articulation is fully-authentic to the period: instead of being riveted to one-another as later articulated fingers were, each scale is mounted to a thick leather base, which is then sewn to the suede glove. Not only is this an innovative solution, it is also much more economical for modern replicas since it doesn’t require hours of painstaking riveting by a master armorer. The glove is held securely to the armored portions of the gauntlet by a riveted strap. This a fully-robust piece of re-enactment-grade armor that will protect your hands from the bumps and scrapes of roleplay, re-enactment and light combat. If you’re building an outfit for fantasy roleplay and are less concerned with exact historical accuracy, a pair of Articulated Steel Gauntlets match fantastically with any and all of our shiny plate armor.
(History): A Brief History of Articulated Steel Gauntlets
Historians have argued that much of Late Medieval history was concerned with rediscovering and reproducing the Classical past. This idea of a ‘Renaissance’, a re-flowering and re-imagining of Roman and Greek ideas certainly took place in the realm of architecture, art, philosophy and medicine – and it also took place in arms and armor too. Plate armor itself could be seen as a case of ‘convergent evolution’, where the same complex social organisation and widespread trade networks that permitted the Roman Empire to equip its soldiers with the lorica segmentata legionary armor had again re-emerged in Western Europe by the mid 13th-century CE. By the end of the Medieval period, Italian master armorers such as Bartolomeo Campi and Fillipo Negroli were producing wildly exuberant suits of armor “alla Romana” or ‘in the Roman style’, fusing together Classical shapes and tropes like the chiselled-chested lorica musculata with contemporary influences from Gothic and Milanese armor. However, it appears that the articulated steel gauntlet, which emerged in Western Europe the 13th-century CE, was more or less entirely without historical precedent. What follows is the briefest skim through the developments which led to our Articulated Steel Gauntlets’ appearance in the 14th-century CE.
The Greek historian Xenophon refers to a ‘cheir’ which he speculates was worn as a sort of gauntlet by North African cataphract heavy cavalry, but there is no evidence that this was ever a real object, since none have been found. There is an ambiguous fragment of bronze armor found in a Mycenaen tomb that dates all the way back to the 14th-century BCE that some have posited as the major plate of an armored gauntlet, but if it were so then it would have been a left-hand gauntlet which was protected by the shield, and not entirely dissimilar hinged foot-plates have been discovered. Thus, the earliest object that we can unambiguously understand as an articulated gauntlet is likely the Sassanian iron gauntlet at the Römisch-Germanische Zentralmuseum in Mainz, Germany. This dates to the 6th or 7th century CE, well after the Classical period, but although its resemblance to later articulated steel gauntlets is striking, it is a historical orphan: the archeological record simply doesn’t support there being the regular production of functional plate gauntlets – likely this was a statement piece, worn by a noble or military leader to emphasise their status. Some historians have speculated that ring-mail fragments associated with the Valsgärde splints, widely regarded as an early example of splint-reinforced arm armor, might indicate that they were once attached to maille gloves, but the fragments were badly deteriorated and since there is no evidence of armored gauntlets from anywhere else related to Viking colonisation there is little beyond speculation to support this theory.
Caught Bare-Handed: Early-Medieval Art
As far as artistic representations of warriors from the Early Medieval period, individuals are rarely shown anything other than bare-handed, let alone with anything resembling an armored gauntlet. The Junius Manuscript, dating from the 10th-century, is an Anglo-Saxon collection of poems in Old English that contains several illustrations of warriors, whose armor appears to end very deliberately at the wrist. The Bayeux Tapestry, which sings the glories of William of Normandy’s crack troops, shows both the Normans and Anglo-Saxons as bare-handed – even Bishop Odo, the commissioner of the tapestry, whose ensemble is otherwise embroidered in close detail, is shown without gloves or armored hand-coverings. It is hard to imagine that constant cuts, bruises and abrasions of the hand were not common and likely debilitating to a noble or levied peasant, so it is perhaps surprising that so little hand-protection can be seen in medieval manuscripts, and that no form of armored covering emerges until well into the second half of the Medieval period. It seems intuitive that at least a stout pair of leather gloves would be a prerequisite for a campaign, but there is scant enough evidence even for that in the archaeological and textual evidence that has survived. Counter-intuitively, the regular use of standalone leather gloves only appear definitively in the historical record significantly after the appearance of armored steel gauntlets, eg. in the 14th-century Codex Balduini Travirensis, although they may have been in use some time before this.
It is widely agreed that armored gauntlets first appear in the medieval European context during the Crusader period. Rather than emerging as its own independent piece of armor, the armored gauntlet appeared as an extension of the chainmail armor of the period. Hitherto, chainmail was usually only seen in the form of a hauberk or byrnie, around the early 1200s CE it began to appear extended over the wrist into simple mittons or muffers enclosing the hand whilst still providing limited manual dexterity. A stained-glass window at Chartres Cathedral dating to the first quarter of the 1200s CE clearly shows mailled hand-coverings of an early 13th-century knight in its retelling of the life of Charlemagne. An even clearer image of a medieval knight from the c. 1250 CE Westminster Psalter shows the construction of construction of the muffers clearly: a layer of maille protecting the back of the hand, with a leather pad on the palm for flexibility. The direction of travel was clearly in the direction of more heavily protecting the hands as medieval weaponry became more powerful and more deadly.
Transitional Armor and the Visby Gauntlet
In the last quarter of the 13th century a fundamental leap in armor technology began to accelerate with the emergence of early forms of plate armor. Whereas chainmail had gradually extended to cover the whole body over the preceding centuries, from a basic hauberk to a whole suit including chausses, coifs and muffers, the development of plate armor for different parts of the body seems to have happened relatively quickly, speaking to the speed of which the production and refinement of iron and steel was increasing with the introduction of new technologies like the blast furnace. The mass graves from the 1361 Battle of Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland are always a touchstone for the study of transitional armor, as it so happens that the burials took place in conditions which preserved them to a much greater degree than normal. Alongside the coats of plates and splint mail, there was found the staggeringly well-preserved ‘Visby gauntlet’. This is perhaps the closest analogue for our Articulated Steel Gauntlets. It has been described as a ‘brigandine gauntlet’, where instead of being articulated to one another, the shaped metal plates were all mounted directly onto a sub-garment, likely a stout cloth or leather glove – this is the exact manner of construction used in our Articulated Steel Gauntlets. This is the same manner of construction of the coat of plates seen also in the Visby burials, where simple iron or steel plates were sewn into the lining of a surcoat to provide extra defense – these were the direct forerunner of the late-medieval brigandine. Historians have observed a definite progressive experimentation in the development of transitional gauntlets which incorporated both leather and metal elements, innovations in which would inform later all-steel articulated gauntlets: variance in the size and shape of the plates protecting the back and sides of the hand, the inclusion of offensive spikes or studs called gadlings, and the innovation of the “knuckle-rider” plate that is matched to the articulation geometry of the knuckles ensuring the continued production of the knuckles throughout the whole range of flex.
It is a strange quirk of history that even basic armored gauntlets did not apparently emerge until the end of the 13th-century CE in Western Europe. In Japan, ‘transitional’-style armor incorporating mail supported by plates and splints had incorporated armored gauntlets called tekko into the kote arm protection for two centuries by the time similar arrangements emerged in the West (although Japanese armors developed into plate armors much later for a variety of reasons, not least of which was the later importation of matchlock firearms). Nevertheless, our Articulated Steel Gauntlets capture the historical parenthesis between the Age of Chainmail, that had lasted from the end of the Roman Empire, and the beginning of the Age of Plate, whose reign would be only shortlived by comparison, ending after a few short centuries under the onslaught of shot and cannon.
- Material: 16-gauge mild steel
- Secondary materials: Suede, leather
- Weight: 3.4 lbs (pair)
Overall Length: 10 Inches
Hand Width: 5.5 Inches
Wrist Width: 4 Inches
Index Finger Length: 3.8 Inches