(About): A Speculative Amor Jacket Rich with Medieval Inspiration
Medieval leather armor is a fascinating area for speculation. Despite the assumption made by historians, film-makers, roleplayers and Renn Faire folk, actual archaeological evidence for leather armor remains vanishingly rare, with the handful of scattered pieces that have survived intact having ambiguous (or even dubious) historical provenance. Nevertheless, this uncharted territory has afforded armor designers and leatherworkers an enormous opportunity to create speculative armor based on the artwork, techniques and methods of medieval leatherwork and armorcraft that we know took place. Our Armor Jacket, made by expert German roleplay suppliers Mytholon, is one such work of functional speculation.
The Armor Jacket, Up Close
Our Armor Jacket is an open-fronted leather body armor consisting of a heavy suede jerkin, to which has been mounted overlapping leather armor pieces. The armor plates are made from carefully-selected split leather that is tough, comfortable and pleasingly rough in texture. Most commonly-available leathers in the Middle Ages were rough and ready by today’s standards, and modern split leather replicates the feel and look of medieval leather without its instability and fragility. Its design is striking, mimicking a breastplate, bevor and gorget, with leather pauldrons attached at each shoulder – so it is flexible enough in appearance to perform the task of leather armor, and also to substitute for heavy metal armor. Each piece of armor is kept in place both by leather pointing to other pieces of the armor, and also via secure hand-made rivets to the suede under-jacket. The Armor Jacket is front-opening, so it is extremely easy and quick to don and doff, and it is secured by four attractive antiqued buckles, which are adjustable for the perfect fit. The under-jacket is comfortable and rugged, designed to take the rough and tumble of roleplay and re-enactment, and is secured at the waist and sides with durable leather drawstring thongs for a perfect fit for almost every body-type.
Our Armor Jacket is available in a lovely natural brown or a dark and menacing black, meaning that it is perfect for an enormous range of fantasy roles. It could be the armor of a bright young squire or a dark evil mage, a mace-wielding holy cleric or the sneakiest assassin. It’s a magnificent, high-quality piece of torso armor that will elevate your roleplay to the next level.
(History): Where Is All The Leather Armor?
There can be little doubt that leather was a common material in medieval Europe that was likely available to most of the population regardless of social stratum, with fine leather goods made from exquisite leathers like calfskin, and functional leather objects owned by the mass of the population made from more homely cow, pig, sheep and goat skins. Evidence for this comes from across the archaeological and written record. For example, the Anglo-Scandinavian city of Jorvik (modern-day York in the North of England) was probably a national centre for leatherwork – even preliminary archaeological investigations turned up vast quantities of evidence for extensive leatherworking industry from the 9th-century onwards consisting of more than 5,000 fragments of leather and leather objects from a tiny 100m x 100m development plot in the ancient district of Coppergate. These items were enormously diverse, from complete turnshoes to cinnabar-painted belts and knotwork-tooled scabbards. By the 13th-century, town records show that leatherwork was the single biggest occupation within the boundaries of the city, and several roads and streets still bear names related to leather trades down to the modern day. Yet not a single fragment that can be conclusively determined to be leather armor has been identified. This does raise some questions – was Yorvik merely not particularly warlike, or was leather armor not used or made there whilst still being used elsewhere? Surely one would expect that, if leather armor were being routinely made, worn and discarded, it would show up in a similar manner to every other piece of leather equipment from the period in the largest leather-making centre of the country…? Yet it is disturbingly absent! So – where is all the leather armor?
A Handful of Surviving Examples
Medieval boiled leather, or cuir bouilli, was far more fragile than modern leathers. It was made by boiling tanned leather in wax or tallow, it was susceptible both to rotting if too moist, and also to cracking if not kept supple with wax or oil. Therefore, it is perhaps less surprising that the number of complete or near-complete pieces of medieval leather armor that have survived down to the modern day can be counted on one hand. A cryptic piece of armor thought originally to be the wing of a saddle emerged in the 19th-century; it was not until 1975 that it was correctly identified as a beautiful and finely tooled rerebrace or upper-cannon, part of a defense for the upper arm. The hours of highly skilled work that tooling that all of the vegetable forms, birds and background stippling would have taken immediately marks this out as an elite piece of armor, perhaps part of a tournament outfit or duelling ensemble belonging to a wealthy noble. Despite being riven with cracks from the drying-out of the leather, it has survived since the 1300s CE in an incredible state of fossilisation. The only other complete piece of medieval leather armor that we can recall is in the Musee de l’Armee in Paris: what has been classified as an ‘archer’s brigandine’, dating from the 15th-century CE. It is items like this that may well have given rise to the notion of ‘studded leather armor’; this brigandine appears at first glance to be a simple tunic of leather studded with steel rivets. However, this brigandine (and all others like it) are in fact a light form of plate armor, where overlapping steel lames are riveted to the inside of the armor jacket in order to create a flexible and affordable plate torso that could easily be maintained by a soldier in the field. Despite its laudable popularity as a stalwart of roleplay and fantasy costume, there are no surviving pieces of armor that we could describe as ‘studded leather’.
Hints of More
It should be remembered that proper leather required significant investments of time and effort – using medieval techniques making something out of leather could take more than a year to bring from butchering the animal to final completion of the final object. Thus, when taken together with its relative fragility, it seems that leather was primarily confined to a supporting role in clothing and accessories: boots, belts, straps and thongs, etc. However, although it is not historically supportable (in our opinion!) to say that leather armor was ever commonplace or normal amongst the mass of soldiers, it is clear that leather armor was indeed far more common than surviving historical artefacts might lead us to conclude. The Tower of London inventory of 1353 list dozens of leather armor items, only some of which are marked as ‘for the tournament’. Hereward the Wake wrote in the 12th-century of Low Countries people who wore leather armor as an alternative to sturdy felt. Such hints might leads us to think that leather armor like our Armor Jacket was more common than it might first appear…
When all is said and done, we don’t really know where all the leather armor is: scholarly opinions range from ‘it’s not in the history books of the museums, so it can’t have existed’ to ‘it was so commonplace and universal that nobody thought to remark on it’. Whilst the reality is likely somewhere in the middle, it’s a fertile ground for speculation, and master makers Mytholon have done us proud with our Armor Jacket.
- Material: Split leather
- Secondary material: Suede
- Color: Brown / Black
Neck Circumference: 22 Inches
Collar Shoulder Length: 5.5 Inches
Back Collar Length: 6.7 Inches
Chest Width: 44 Inches