(About) Simply The Best
The master-smiths at Darksword Armory are secretly very proud of their Gothic Gauntlets. They describe them on their website as “simply the best gauntlets we have ever offered” – and, despite the top-notch quality of the rest of their catalogue, they’re right.
Master-Forged Gauntlets Articulated by the Finest Artisans
Our Gothic Gauntlets have been painstakingly replicated from a genuine pair of gauntlets which reside in the National Germanic Museum in Nuremberg – Darksword specialise in this kind of minute-detail reproduction. Our Gothic Gauntlets are made from mild steel. This was the material used by the master-armorers of the Upper Rhine, where the most exquisite examples of Gothic armor were made for Kings and Emperors across Europe in the 15th-century CE. It is a hard and rugged material, and our Gothic Gauntlets are battle-ready, suitable for use in light combat and LARP settings. From the wrist to the tip of the fingers, the gauntlets consist of a waterfall of overlapping riveted plates: each and every one of the fingers and the thumb on each gauntlet is riveted and articulated, allowing unmatched levels of manual dexterity. Each individual gauntlet has 153 hand-made rivets and 46 independent moving parts, working together to form an 8-point articulation axis. For us mere sword-swingers, that means you’ll barely notice that you’re wearing anything at all.
The styling of the Gothic Gauntlets is everything that is iconic about the Gothic armor style. They are crossed by the creases and valleys of the geometric wolfzähne, ‘wolf teeth’ fluting. The cuff is closed by a thick leather strap for added security, and the articulated fingers and thumb are mounted on a heavy suede glove.
We think that Darksword Armory is correct – this might be not just the finest gauntlets in their range, but possibly the finest example of technical historical reproduction available on the market today. Their look, whilst distinctive, is flexible: whilst it is a re-enactment-grade reproduction of a genuine historical artefact and would be a peerless addition to your own garniture of Gothic armor, it would also make an amazing addition to a fantasy portrayal. Their faintly menacing, lobster-like appearance might make them ideal for finishing the costume of a sinister evil knight. They are such spectacular objects that they would make a fantastic art piece for display on your desk in their own right.
(History) European Gothic: The Last Knights
For many medieval armor enthusiasts, Gothic plate armor represents the zenith of the plate era. Before the 15th-century, plate armor had not been widespread in Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire, who had equipped elite legionaries with the iconic lorica segmentata (‘segmented armor’). This had been produced with a sophisticated case-hardening process which was labour-intensive and required significant manpower to do on any significant scale. After the fragmentation of the Empire, small-scale manufacture of armor focused on chainmail, which was much more easily produced by individuals or a master with a handful of apprentices. The re-emergence and widespread adoption of plate armor in the late-medieval period should tell us a lot about the kind of societies that produced them: they were again highly economically interconnected and significantly urbanising kingdoms capable of the high degrees of division of labour that were last possible under the slave-economy of Rome.
By the mid-1400s CE, chainmail had broadly given way to full-plate harnesses as the ideal form of battle armor. Chainmail had been on the wane since the 13th-century, since it had reached its limit in terms of being able to resist the heavy piercing and crushing weapons of the high-medieval period, such as the pollaxe, the warhammer and the bodkin arrow. Armor-makers had experimented with a wide variety of transitional armors such as splinting, the ‘coat of plates’ and experiments in scale mail – chainmail remained, but in the form of gousset designed to cover gaps and joins in separate plates of armor. But by around 1420 armor-making techniques had progressed to the stage where fully articulated suits of mail were starting to be possible. A fully-armored knight in a harness of plate from the mid-1400s CE must have been like a creature from Mars.
Gucci vs Hugo Boss – Italian and German Armor
The chivalric surcoat, a knee-length tabard usually in bright colours displaying either your heraldry or that of your lord, fell out of favour to show off these spectacular new armor designs. A great rivalry developed between two dominant styles of plate armor in the mid 15th-century: Italian ‘white armor’ and Gothic plate. Broadly, these styles were pioneered by Tyrolean and Northern Italian smiths, and Southern German armorers respectively – but it shouldn’t be seen as a rigid geographical description (‘all Italian nobles wore ‘white armor’ and all Germans wore Gothic’). Rather, these should be thought of as rival ‘schools’ of thought, embodying differing philosophies of design and purpose. Italian plate or ‘white armor’ was typified by rounded, sweeping expanses of highly polished plate, and embraced an aesthetic of chivalric austerity: sort of the late-medieval equivalent of minimalist interior design. The other was the Gothic school.
Tis Not a Phase, My Lord – The Gothic School
Predominantly focused around the ancient metalworking region of the Upper Rhine and particularly associated with the German region of Bavaria, the master-smiths in this school produced instantly recognisable Gothic armor. It was typified by the extreme ‘fluting’, the careful creasing of the mild-steel plates to create series of ridges in stunning geometric arcs known as wolfzähne, ‘wolf teeth’. An archetypical example is the jaw-dropping full plate harness made by legendary German armorer Lorenz Helmschmid of Augsberg for Archduke Sigismund of Austria on the occasion of his marriage to Katerina of Saxony. Although the Gothic armor of this period was diverse and varied, according to fashion and the specific commission of the patron, we can see some general trends present in Sigismund’s armor.
Chest and neck protection changed significantly in this period, since suits of armor were now being designed as fully-integrated logistical systems rather than separate pieces of plate. Where earlier suits had an aventail of mail attached to the helm that protected the throat, Gothic armor is often seen with a large projecting bevor affixed to the gorget, within which the head could be turned. The gorget itself became the mount for fully-encompassing shoulder pauldrons. The breastplate had shrunk significantly, being divided into an upper part and a lower placard with a narrow wasp-waist and faulds. The greaves fully encompass the calves in a new innovation for the period – and topping the outfit off are an eye-popping pair of poulaine-style sabatons. These were not extra weapons for the feet; they were merely for show whilst riding in a ceremonial context and would have been near-impossible to walk in – they reflect the contemporary fashion for incredibly pointy shoes amongst the nobility, which were thought to be very sexy and suggestive. You might think of this as Lorenz the armorer’s way of wishing Sigi a good wedding night!
Almost all of the surviving parts of Sigismund’s armor are original, with only the helmet being mismatched from the original suit – but you may notice that some parts do not quite match with others in style and function. This is because a harness of plate was part of a garniture consisting of dozens of interchangeable parts for different occasions. For example, one might want bulky right pauldron and lance-rest for use in a tournament, whilst in battle one would require lighter more mobile parts. Again, this speaks to the change in philosophy of a suit of armor to a harness and a garniture of modular bits. This is something that you can recreate in your own armory: you may have our Gothic Gauntlets for display, but use our HEMA Gauntlets in combat scenarios.
Other contemporary styles of Gothic armor were even more outrageous. The very strange kasten-brust armor, dating from the first half of the 15th-century, would have any knight stand out on the battlefield – although not necessarily in a good way. Kasten-brust means ‘box-shaped breast’, and it refers to the totally bizarre boxy breastplate of the armor, which looks like some kind of Darth Vader cosplay mashup. This was paired with a huge wide plate skirt extending from the faulds of the placard. There are only a handful of surviving fragments of this armor, but it appears in several contemporary artworks, such as the altarpiece of St. Leonard’s Church in Basel, so there is no doubt as to its use, at least ceremonially.
Another spectacular form of Gothic armor was the armor collected and patronised by Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, who consciously styled himself as ‘The Last Knight’. His reign coincides with the high-point of plate armor: before the widespread adoption of effective black powder firearms and cannon, plate armor was the tank of its day, and the suits of Gothic armor known as ‘Maximilian armor’ are arguably the highest form of the armorer’s craft. It is typified by the extension of the ‘wolf’s tooth’ pattern of ribbed and creased flutings onto almost every surface of the armor, creating the impression of a body encased in shimmering water or a flowing mantle. The heyday of Maximilian armor is dated to the end of Maximilian I’s reign, around 1515-1525 CE. But as the use of firearms became more widespread, the general use of plate armor began a precipitous decline: plate had to be impractically thick to stop bullets, and so full harnesses began to give way to mass-produced half-plate harnesses known as ‘Almain rivet’ armor. Maximilian plate was the last hurrah of the supremacy of platemail – and from its grotesqued armet to its Gothic gauntlets, it went out on a high.
- Material: Mild steel
- Secondary Materials: Leather, suede
- Sizing: One size