(About): The Helmet of the Last Knights
Darksword Armory have worked from surviving historical originals and a plethora of Renaissance source material (both artistic and written) in order to produce a faithful, functional German Sallet, which will stand up to the rigors of re-enactment and roleplay. Darksword pride themselves in using heritage techniques to imbue their arms and armor with an indefinable gravitas that oozes from every surface – they have used the minimum necessary modern time-saving techniques in order to keep our German Sallet accessible and affordable to the majority of roleplayers and re-enactors.
An Exact Recreation of a Helmet from the Plate Armor Revolution
Our German Sallet is, in essence, a multi-part integrated armoring for the head and neck, consisting of an articulated bevor, half-visor and sallet. When closed up tight, they give the impression of an impregnable armored shell, providing absolutely excellent protection. Each design choice made by Darksword’s master armorers is based on a combination of solid historical knowledge, and centuries of combined metalworking experience. The sallet is wholly historically authentic, based in shape and design on the styles which arose in Germany towards the end of the 14th century – known as the ‘Gothic’ style. The helmet is shaped into a smooth, rounded dome, a highly effective shape which had been perfected to have the best chance of deflecting blows from any angle. The sides of the helm flare outward to the sides to deflect blows away from the shoulders. Mail aventails designed to protect the neck and shoulders were in the process of being abandoned, and the sallet does away with them entirely, extending to a long pointed tail at the nape to defend the neck. The German Sallet’s visor is an instantly-recognisable half-visor: it builds on the heritage that it inherited from the bascinet to form an eye-slit between the top of the visor and the brim of the helmet, rather than having a pierced full-visor. This was both lighter, could be better reinforced, and gave a better field of vision. The half-visor is articulated at the temple with a sturdy sliding rivet. The articulated bevor is one of the finest aspects of our German Sallet – a projecting ridged plate which defends the lower half of the face. It is articulated at the jaw so as to give an excellent range of movement when looking downward. The bevor was a development from earlier gorgets, protecting the jaw, throat and upper chest in one piece: the bevor of our German Sallet includes a generous gorget extending downward, which is handsomely decorated with the characteristic Gothic wolfzähne (‘wolf’s teeth’) fluting. Stylistically, it fits in beautifully with our German and Gothic-style reproduction armor – you could mix and match to create your own complete harness of plate!
Rugged Steel Construction
Darksword Armory have hand-forged our German Sallet helmet from 18-gauge (1.2mm) mild steel. At first glance, this might seem pretty lightweight. But medieval armor was always a balance between protection and weight: heavier steel would stand up better to blows, but would also more rapidly sap the wearer of energy and strength. Most surviving medieval armor from the era is around 20 – 18-gauge (1mm – 1.2mm). Tournament armors were often a little thicker, some jousting harnesses reaching 14-gauge (2mm)! These would have been wildly impractical for battle, but were fine for short periods of wear where your opponents weren’t trying to literally murder you. This means that our medieval German Sallet, being a highly effective defensive helmet, comes out at 7 lbs. 7oz., a reasonable weight considering the degree of its protection! This means that it is suitable for use in light combat, and will stand up to rough handling in re-enactment and roleplay contexts.
Designed To Be Worn
As Darksword Armory have endeavored to reproduce with absolute faithfulness the historical accuracy of a medieval German sallet, they have also kept re-enactors and roleplayers at the forefront of their minds. The edges of the helmet’s steel plates have been rolled – this means they are touch-safe: they won’t catch on other pieces of clothing or armor, and results in a reinforced edge that makes it much more resilient to edge-on impacts. Our German Sallet helmet is fully adjustable to fit, with robust leather straps and chunky buckles. The interior is fitted with Darksword’s leather suspension system. In the medieval era, you’d have needed some way to cushion the interior of the helmet and permit it to absorb the energy of a blow rather than to transmit it straight through the plate to the head. Although many poor soldiers had to resort to stuffing their helmets with moss, straw or cloth, by the late-medieval period effective suspension systems were becoming commonplace. Darksword’s version is easily adjusted with a leather thong.
Overall, our German Sallet is a spectacular re-creation of the most iconic helmet of the Gothic armor period. It’s robust, rugged, and handsome – it’ll go like cookies and cream with your shining Gothic-style armor or a leather brigandine. It’s an extremely faithful historical reproduction, and so would pass muster in even the most stringent re-enactment of 15th-century warfare – but its dramatic styling would also lend itself wonderfully to a late-medieval-inspired fantasy outfit. Perhaps it could be the helmet of a grim mercenary leader, or the shining helm of an exiled knight? Let us know how you use yours!
(History): Armorcraft in the Late-Medieval Era
Anyone can wear a piece of armor. But a true re-enactor or roleplayer realises that, in many ways, the armor wears them. We at Medieval Ware believe the best way to inhabit the arms and armor of the medieval era is to get to grips with how they were produced – and therefore, what kind of society produced them. If we delve into the armor-making process as it would have existed in the early 15th-century CE in the Holy Roman Empire (modern Germany), we can understand what the Gothic armor styles and our German Sallet say about the medieval era. Then, we can use that understanding to get into the heads of medieval people for even more immersive and authentic re-enactment, or to fuel our roleplay creativity.
Industry and Armor
By the late-medieval era, industrialised processes had emerged in a number of critical economic processes. Innovative elites – be they minor nobles seeking a leg-up on their haute-nobility rivals, or wealthy burghers in towns finding new ways to enrich themselves – had begun experimenting with applying new forms of economic organisation to their productive enterprises, such as increases in scale and greater division of labor. Their application to the field of arms and armor made the revolution in plate armor over the course of the 14th-century CE possible. Where in the early-medieval era, there were only a handful of armoring crafts – broadly just smelters who made metal and, smiths who made finished helmets and pieces of chainmail – now there were a profusion of separate trades which all contributed to the finished pieces of plate armor: smiths, finers, armorers, polishers, leatherworkers, engravers, as well as a profusion of laborers and apprentices. This arrangement was not historically unprecedented: the lorica segmentata plate armor of the Roman Legions was just as complex in its production processes. But the medieval period saw its extension across Europe and on a scale which surpassed the Roman Empire by sheer volume, into a deep qualitative shift in the character of post-feudal labour processes as Europe barreled headlong into the Early Modern Era.
Beginning in the mid-13th-century, blast furnaces began to appear across Europe. To begin with, these were merely enormous versions of the bloomeries which had been used to create iron from iron-ore for centuries. Initially, these were just more efficient at making larger quantities of iron bloom, but remained fairly haphazard at creating high-quality steel. But by the Renaissance era, with water-powered bellows, cunning hourglass-shaping and much greater understanding of the chemical processes involved, metallurgists were able for the first time to exercise significant control over the smelting process, and were able to produce good steel consistently – sometimes by creating efficient reducing conditions within the blast furnace with the presence of charcoal, or carburising the iron in a charcoal-fueled finery forge. This finished steel would be then sold on at a local market.
The armorer would then buy the steel consignment. It may be that the armorer was producing a fine suit of Gothic armor for a specific noble, or, later in the era, he was one of a proto-production line of armorers producing cheap plate armor on a near-mass scale for market. Beating armor was an extremely skilled and very tough job – steel has to be beaten into shape cold (ie. without heating it, or only heating it minimally) in order to retain its specific qualities. As the armorer shapes it, the metal becomes ‘work hardened’, its crystalline structure becoming deformed and hard with each hit. Thus, shaping was an incredibly fine balance.
Shining White Armor or Rugged Black Scale?
Once the German Sallet had been shaped, it would be black with impurities known as ‘scale’ from the forge, and rough with hammer marks. Much plate armor would have been sold unpolished, as cheap but effective factory-seconds – like this black sallet from the late-15th-century. This example has also been brightly painted, possibly to identify the wearer, possibly to add an additional layer of corrosion protection, but equally possibly to brighten up the dull dark-brown surface. Such black armor was just as effective as the shining ‘bright steel’ or ‘white armor’ that we think of as typical plate armor, and it would probably have been much more resistant to corrosion too, being already coated with a later of iron oxide scale. However, some discerning armorers needed an altogether more distinguished appearance. Fine sallets destined for a wealthy buyer would have been sent to a polisher, who would painstakingly polish off the scale and smooth out the hammer marks. This would likely have represented the majority of the labor put into the German Sallet, as it was enormously time-consuming to gradually wear down the hard steel with decreasingly abrasive tools – until it was finally ready to be buffed to a glorious mirror-sheen and sent off to the engraver.
Armor as a Work of Art
A piece of fine armor was a magnificent opportunity for a noble to show off their taste and style. When we talk about ‘Gothic’ armor, it refers to the style of plate armor which emerged amongst master armorers working in German cities within the Holy Roman Empire, notable ones being Augsberg, Nuremberg and Landshut. But the ‘Gothic’ and ‘Italian’ and ‘Milanese’ styles of the era did not stay fixed geographically. They have more in common with the international artistic movements of the Early Modern Era, prefiguring them in many ways. Hence, some of the finest Gothic armor was made in Italy, such as the jaw-dropping German Sallet made for Phillip I of Castile by the legendary Negroli workshop in Milan, Italy (likely engraved by Domenico, one of the Negroli brothers themselves).
In Renaissance Gothic armor we see the changing late-medieval world in microcosm: burgeoning industrial organisation, sophisticated military design, and an emerging international aristocracy. These are all fascinating insights into the world that shaped the people of the 15th-century – and you can incorporate these deep historical currents into your re-enactment or roleplay with our medieval German Sallet helmet.
- Material: 18-gauge mild steel
- Secondary material: leather
- Weight: 7 lbs. 7 oz.
Interior circumference: 27 inches
Front to back interior: 9 inches
Side to side interior: 8 inches
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