(About): A Fully-Functional Medieval Jousting Helmet, Reproduced from Historical Originals
Our Jousting Helm is a truly spectacular statement helmet designed for one purpose: to be the finest tournament helmet on the field. Known in German as a Stechhelm (literally, ‘joust helmet’), this outrageous form of head protection emerged in the early 15th-century and has become affectionately known as the ‘frog-mouth helmet’ due to its unique shape. The designers at Canada’s finest artisan smithy Darksword Armory have pored over historical descriptions, artistic depictions, and a fantastic surviving early-16th-century example at the Metropolitan Museum, to produce an absolutely unparalleled reproduction: a hand-forged, fully-functional German jousting helm from the last hurrah of Renaissance chivalry.
Cunning Safety Design, Renaissance-Style
From a distance, our Jousting Helmet is an iconic image of late-chivalric ostentation – but up close, it becomes even more impressive. The format of our Jousting Helm is a cuirass-mounted great helm. The gorget and upswept frontplate are all one piece of hammered sheet steel, cunningly shaped as to be wholly smooth. It is shaped with a ventral ridge to deflect head-on blows to one side, and every face of it is curved – no lance will find purchase on it. It also contains three screw-holes for its attachment to a cuirass. The dorsal plate (top) is handsomely ridged in the manner of the Gothic armor style, providing it with greater rigidity, as well as an attractive imitation of the wearer’s flowing locks. It is attached to the frontplate with stunning decorative brass rivets – and it is positioned in such a way as to create an ocularium (sight-hole) that opens upward. Stylistically, it fits in perfectly with our excellent range of reproduction German and Gothic armor. In the 15th century jousts where this helmet was most popular, the wearer would tilt their head downward on the approach, setting their lance on target, and then leaning slightly backward in the saddle at the moment of impact – this would mean that they could not see, but it would wholly protect their eyes from the flying splinters of shattered lance (some of which could be three inches or more in length).
Modern Materials and Wearability
The expert armorers at Darksword Armory have hand-forged our Jousting Helm from 14-gauge mild steel. This is 2mm in thickness, a heavyweight steel that has been tempered for heavy impacts; it is a fantastic analogue of the historical frog-mouth helms that were made in the 15th-century CE. Medieval armor design was almost always a careful balancing act between protection and mobility: too light, and the plate would buckle and crack under assault; too heavy, and the wearer would become sluggish and vulnerable from exhaustion. But tournament armor removed the requirement for mobility almost completely, and they could be designed almost wholly for single-purpose defense. They would have been far too heavy and ungainly to use on a battlefield since a full suit of tournament armor often weighed in excess of 100 lbs., but it was perfect for tournament use, being nearly impenetrable. Our Jousting Helm is also fully functional, being comfortably padded inside, and secured with the authentic array of chunky leather straps and leather pointing.
Overall, this is a truly exceptional piece of replica armor. Very few modern armor-makers would attempt to recreate something as ambitious as a full-scale frog-mouth helm, and yet Darksword Armory have succeeded with alacrity. It would be an incredible addition to your jousting garniture. However, for those not regularly riding in the lists, it would also make an incredible showpiece for re-enactment – or even roleplay (imagine the faces of your friends when you want onto the field in a full German jousting helm!). It is such a handsome piece of armor that it would make a stunning art object for your own great hall, sorry, living room.
(Note: Darksword Armory hand-forges each Jousting Helm to order, and so they have a 4-month completion time. Well worth the wait!)
(History): A Helm For The Joust: Crusaders, Broken Lances and Chess
The history of our Jousting Helm stretches back into the medieval era. It encompasses the battlefield at Hastings, the sands of the Holy Land and a 13th-century game of chess. So, ye who seek the origins of the frog-mouth helm, read on…
Not Just Good Helms – Great Helms
The ancestors of our Jousting Helmet were the great helms of the Crusader era. These had developed in the 12th-century CE amongst Western European knights and warriors in France, Germany and the Holy Land. The nasal guards and cheek-pieces of earlier spangenhelms and nasal helmets had gradually been merged together in pursuit of ever-greater facial protection, into one face-plate pierced with slits for eyes and ventilation: the ‘enclosed helm’. The ‘true’ great helm emerged around the middle of the 13th century, when the whole helmet began to be made as one integrated shape, with curved sides, a flat or sloping top, and frontal reinforcement. These great helms were state-of-the-art personal protection, and provided excellent defense against the weapons of the era: mainly swords, spears and simple bludgeoning weapons. Great helms would be worn with many layers: an arming cap, mail coif and cervelliere skullcap underneath. When we think of a member of the Knights Templar, in their flowing white mantle and tabard emblazoned with the white cross, they are almost always depicted with the iconic great helm. Our own Crusader Great Helm is a marvel of historical reproduction. However, they had many drawbacks: they were very heavy, they greatly hampered battlefield awareness by restricting vision and hearing, and (critically for the Crusader knights in the Holy Land) they were extremely hot. By the last quarter of the 1200s CE, they had begun to slide out of favor – the bascinet had been developed from the great helm’s cervelliere skullcap (possibly by applying Middle Eastern helmet designs to pre-existing European types), and this was much lighter and less restrictive a solution. The days of the great helm were numbered.
The Cult of the Crusader
However, something had changed back in Europe. Returning Crusaders were worshipped with a kind of holy reverence, and their image mixed with the early cult of chivalry which had taken hold particularly in France with Papal encouragement. Chivalric ideas set out a code of conduct to be adhered to by the knightly class, in an attempt to restrain what was becoming a wayward and dangerous group of directionless strongmen. Whilst this had been instrumental in creating the ‘peace of God’, in which knights were not permitted to fight other Christians and hence had to turn outward toward opportunities for enrichment in the Crusades, it also created an air of mythical reverence to these warriors, now anointed with holy status. Thus, those returning from Crusade had an enormous and outsized impact on the cultural and military landscape of Europe. Crusading knights had taken on local Levantine garb in an attempt to alleviate the effects of the desert heat, wearing flowing robes over the top of their armor. When they returned to Europe, these robes sparked off the fashion for brightly coloured mantles and surcotes, which would survive all the way through until the Early Modern era. As well, their great helms became a very great symbol of knightly virtue, and they can be seen throughout iconography of the era, for example in this exquisite walrus-ivory chess piece from around 1250 CE which depicts a great helmed knight battling a dragon. After the mid-14th-century, it is likely that very few great helms saw battle, which we can gauge by their relative rarity in the historical record. However, the great helm had a second life, in the form of helmets which seem to have been made exclusively for the craze that was sweeping the nation (or rather, had been sweeping the nation since 1066) – the joust.
Early Jousting: Bloody Good Fun
Jousting had emerged in the High Middle Ages amongst the Anglo-Norman elite, initially as a practical method of training. The Norman (and later, French) nobility prided themselves on being fine horsemen, and their noble class was deployed on the battlefield as devastatingly effective heavy cavalry. The prime weapon chosen by Norman knights was the lance, a wooden stave usually around six feet in length, tipped with a short metal point. Initially, Norman technique seems to have favoured an overhand spear-like grip above the head, according to sources such as the Bayeux Tapestry of 1066, with a ‘couched’, under-the-arm grip emerging later. In between campaigns, knights would need to train, and thus they held jousts (from the Old French word ‘joster’, meaning to approach or meet). These were less formal than the regimented jousts we might immediately imagine, closer to two opponents riding at one another and doing everything they can to force their opponent to yield – initially attacking with lances, but then discarding them and drawing swords when up close. As well, these were often not the ritualised one-on-one combats we might imagine: often, they were a melee featuring a dozen or more combatants, with the defeated combatants forced to give up equipment, horses or money.
Jousting Comes Of Age
Unsurprisingly, everyone thought these jousts were awesome, and so they quickly became very popular – even to the extent that Kings had to regulate the number of jousts taking place so as to have enough spare knights to campaign, and the Pope decreed them sinful in 1130! These restrictions did little to dent their popularity, and they became highly ostentatious affairs, intertwined with courtly life, forming a kind of ‘circuit’ of regular events. They also became deeply involved with the ideology of chivalry, with all of the cliches about winning the fair maiden’s affection and the like. Bards and troubadours wrote diss tracks to hype up their knights, and it was altogether exactly the kind of place you’d expect to see Heath Ledger in a natty suit of platemail. They were also a fantastic place to hawk for work – a successful ‘freelancer’ (a knight without a commitment to fight for a lord) might well find sires clamouring to hire his martial services if he acquitted himself well in a joust.
In the High Medieval era, the kinds of equipment worn in jousts likely followed closely the kind of equipment worn on the battlefield: chainmail, simple helmets and the like. It is likely that this was extremely dangerous, and probably resulted in lots of knights meeting untimely ends at the hands of their fellows. Some changes made this slightly less likely, such as the ‘lists’, a two-lane field divided by a rope which directed combatants to ride past one another rather than to smash directly into each other – but at the end of the day, they were still big blokes knocking seven bells out of each other. However, as the age of plate dawned in the 14th-century, we see the emergence of specifically-made tournament armor: we have surviving plate armor harnesses that are far too thick and heavy to be used for more than a few minutes on the battlefield. Most battlefield steel armor would have been around 1mm thick, but tournament armor has been found that twice that or more! These specifically-designed tournament harnesses began to incorporate design features specifically for jousting, such as the escutcheon, a sort of small shield that defended from the lance blow, lance rests screwed into the breastplate to steady the lance, and, of course, the second life of the great helm.
The Jousting Great Helm Lives On
It is a great irony that just as the great helm was becoming militarily obsolete, its popularity as an object of knightly reverence was only beginning. The precise qualities which made the great helm so cumbersome – its weight and immobility – made it absolutely ideal for use in the joust. Our Jousting Helm sits firmly in this lineage – it was fully immobilised by being screwed onto the breastplate, so that a grievous impact could not throw back the head. There were no perspex safety glasses in the medieval era, but a frog mouth helm was the next best thing: just before impact, the wearer would lean back in the saddle, protecting their eyes from the shards of their opponent’s lance. Helms such as our Jousting Helm, and ones like it, such as Henry V’s magnificent funerary helmet, would have been impossibly impractical to wear in battle; they were heavy, their vision was deliberately restricted. But when you were on your faithful steed in the lists? There’s nothing better. Tournament armor design in the Renaissance era was so good that we use precisely the same methods for making re-enactment jousting armor today.
Material: 14-gauge mild steel
Secondary material: Brass, leather