(About): Transitional Armor from the Dawn of the Age of Plate
Our Leather Brigandine is designed to simulate the early transitional armors that developed in response to the inadequacies of chainmail in the 13th-century CE, providing a fantastic low-fantasy torso armor that can be paired with all of our other armors to create exactly the look you want. It is a perfect lightweight armor: it visually recreates the weighty plate brigandines of the 15th-century perfectly, whilst remaining thoroughly wearable for all-day roleplay sessions.
Deceptively Simple Design
The simplicity of our Leather Brigandine is what makes it such an excellent addition to your roleplay arsenal: the core concept is a simple split-fronted leather tunic to which have been riveted plates of thick leather. The mounting garment is a soft and flexible dark-gray leather tunic made from a single piece, that hangs down to mid-thigh on most wearers. It is laced down each side, with eyelets from armpit to hem. The whole garment has been made using vegetable-tanned leather, the historically-authentic method of tanning that was used in the medieval period, rather than using modern chemical tanning methods. The armor plates are made from full-grain leather, the highest quality of leather available – they are each individually cut and securely hand-riveted onto the sub-garment with brass rivets. These are all carefully positioned and shaped so as to closely match the brigandines and scale armor of the medieval period. Our Leather Brigandine is secured in place at the front by four chunky antiqued buckled with their leather straps solidly riveted to the mounting garment.
Whilst at first a simple garment, our Leather Brigandine is packed with features that demonstrate thoroughgoing design with roleplayers firmly in mind. The brigandine is designed to fit fairly loosely, so that it can accommodate chainmail worn underneath it, and remains fully compatible with all of our other armors. However, its pierced front buckle straps combined with its tightening strings at each side give an excellent range of fits, so this is an excellent unisex armored garment. Each leather armor plate has been hand-tooled with an inlaid design, so up-close it remains just as impressive.
All told, our Leather Brigandine is a fantastic piece of light armor for your roleplay outfit. It’s brilliantly flexible, being able to depict a broad range of medieval and fantasy styles: from the historical brigandines worn by poorer soldiers in the Late Middle Ages, to leather scale armor in gritty low-fantasy settings. You could use it to depict a Viking-inspired fantasy warrior, or a grim mercenary. It’s one of those pieces of armor that you can build outfit after outfit around, and it won’t ever look the same twice.
(History): The Leather Brigandine in Historical Context
The brigandine emerged in the pressure-cooker of Late Medieval warfare, as it transformed from ritualised, formal clashes between hundreds of armed men, into sprawling wars-of-position that spanned entire nations. Not since the Roman Empire had Western Europe seen the mass mobilisation of societies behind efforts of war – the withdrawal of the Roman Empire a millennium before had left a series of fragmented, largely isolated states whose productive wealth was small and whose economic outlook was insular. As the Viking trade networks began to stimulate proper pan-European trade in the 10th and 11th centuries, European kingdoms began to grow in wealth and prosperity, aided by a climactic warm period known (inventively) as the Medieval Warm Period. Large swathes of European land were cleared of forest and settled, The population reached a high point that would not be seen again until after the end of the Medieval period: roughly 60-75 million, perhaps double what it had been in the age of Charlemagne four centuries before. Where a typical kingdom-deciding battle in Anglo-Saxon England might have been fought between a thousand warriors in total, as the High Middle Ages drew to a close, even a minor noble might be able to draw an army of as many from fertile and populated lands. The enormous Battle of Grunwald, fought in 1410 between the Teutonic Knights and the Kingdom of Poland saw as many as 70,000 troops upon one battlefield – although this one was spectacularly large even for the era, it shows that warfare had undergone a fundamental change in scale and character. Such was the world which birthed the historical originals of our Leather Brigandine.
A New Battlefield
Alongside this change in size and character, so came a deep change in arms and armor. The early Medieval period’s finest armor was chainmail – this has been largely unchanged in basic construction since Late Antiquity. It could be made on a small scale by individual smiths and apprentices using comparatively poor-quality iron. Although it was comparatively expensive and always remained out of the financial reach of any but the wealthy and their households, even the cheapest suit of mail provided excellent protection from swords and daggers. Unfortunately, weapon-makers set out to find new ways to break apart this armor. By the end of the High Middle Ages, heavy crushing weapons like the war-hammer and powerful piercing longbows were becoming common on the battlefield, which could split or burst mail with increasing ease.
At the same time as these new developments in armor-piercing weaponry, the Middle Ages saw a significant improvement in metallurgy, seeing the emergence of blast furnaces and finery techniques that allowed the creation of any significant quantity of fine European steel for the first time. This meant that decent-sized plates of iron and steel could now be made. These were seized upon by soldiers and nobles seeking to protect themselves. The way they utilised them was initially haphazard, resulting in the ‘transitional’ armor forms that marked the experimental period between the end of the dominance of chainmail in the middle of the 13th-century and the refinement of true plate armor in the late 14th century. Emerging amongst schynbalds, splint-mail and ailettes was the brigandine.
What is a Brigandine?
The core concept of a brigandine is very simple: a civilian doublet (a simple close-fitting jacket) that is lined with overlapping steel plates or lames. The brigandine’s immediate predecessor was the coat of plates: the heraldry-bearing cloth surcotes that medieval soldiers wore over their chainmail was a logical place to add extra fortification, and soldiers sewed iron or steel plates into the lining of these surcotes. It seems that this was done even in an ad-hoc fashion by the soldiers themselves as the need arose, and was gradually formalised into a type of garment. The innovation that created the brigandine was the move from merely sewing the plates into place, to riveting narrow overlapping plates securely through the fabric. This created an armored garment that was significantly cheaper and easier to manufacture than the large solid breastplates that were simultaneously beginning to be pioneered. A soldier could maintain his own brigandine with a handful of simple tools, bending out or replacing busted lames, tightening rivets and so forth – whereas a skilled armorer would need to maintain a breastplate. This meant that the brigandine became nearly ubiquitous armor amongst the mass of soldiers at the end of the medieval period. As well as being much cheaper, it was also much lighter than a harness of plate, meaning that it was particularly useful for missile troops and skirmishers.
Leather Armor and the Brigandine
Leather armor is a little harder to pin down in the historical record. There are only a handful of surviving fragments of leather that we are unambiguously certain are pieces of armor, such as the gorgeously crafted Late Medieval rerebrace at the British Museum. Historical opinion is deeply split as to why that might be. The medieval form of hard leather was called cuir bouilli (sometimes Anglicised to curboilly) – and it was made by boiling leather in wax or oil to harden and set it. Although it was robust and would have provided a good degree of protection, it was a comparatively fragile material: it was prone to both cracking and rotting; the former if it dried out from being left unwaxed or oiled, and the latter if it was not kept dry. Proponents of the idea that leather armor was common the medieval period use this to explain why so little medieval leather has survived: it has merely rotted away or been disposed of. The handful of sites where special oxygen-free environments have preserved leather items to a reasonably intact standard that we can interpret cannot be taken to be a representative sample, and so it is perfectly possible that leather armor was common but has not survived.
But for our two-penneth, we at Medieval Ware are less convinced! The lack of archaeological evidence can’t really be seen as proof that there was medieval leather armor. Also there are other factors that should give us pause. Although there can be no doubt that the raw materials for leather were fairly common (animal hides, oak bark, lime, animal droppings, and urine!), the process of making leather was extremely arduous. Hides had to be subjected to numerous different processes and treatments; a batch of leather would take approximately two years from animal to finished leather. Although there can be little doubt that some cities like York, England and Florence, Italy became highly specialised in the production of leather, breaking it down into multiple different processes and professions, it seems very possible that the comparative scarcity of leather meant that it was very rarely used as a primary material for garments or armor. We feel reasonably confident to state that, whilst leather belts, scabbards, laces, and shoes were common amongst all strata of society in the medieval period, only at the very end of the medieval period did leather armor appear, and even then almost exclusively for tournament use.
So, where does that leave our Leather Brigandine in terms of its historical authenticity? Well, we do know that at least one actual leather brigandine has survived from the medieval period – it resides at the Musée de l’Armée in Paris, and dates from the tail end of the 1400s CE. Whilst we can’t divine whether this was a common method of brigandine construction, the dearth of evidence surrounding leather transitional armors has given fantasy designers a rich seam of uncertainty to fill in! Our reproduction Leather Brigandine stands in this tradition, and it is an excellent way to catapult yourself right into that historical setting.
Want to complete your look? Then you should definitely check out this Sword!
- Material: Vegetable-tanned full-grain leather
- Secondary material: Brass rivets & eyelets
- Sizing: (Note: if you plan to wear our Leather Brigandine over a gambeson or chainmail, measure yourself whilst wearing these – they’ll increase your measurements more than you think!)
Chest: 38-44 Inches, Waist: 36-42 Inches, Top of Shoulder to Hip: 21 Inches, Overall Length: 37 Inches
Chest: 42-50 Inches, Waist: 40-48 Inches, Top of Shoulder to Hip: 23 Inches, Overall Length: 40 Inches