(About): A Gothic Masterpiece
No LARP impression or re-enactment outfit is complete without a shining medieval breastplate, catching the sun and glinting in the eyes of your enemies. Our Medieval Breastplate is an absolute classic of medieval armorsmithing, drawing upon influences from across late-medieval Europe to create the perfect addition to your armory. The expert LARP costumiers at Epic Armory have painstakingly designed and made this high-chivalric piece to fulfill every need of cosplayers and re-enactors alike.
Nothing Mild About This Steel
Our Medieval Breastplate is made from mild steel – this is a period-authentic material which would have been intimately familiar to late-medieval plate armor makers. It was produced in increasingly large quantities in Europe as blast furnace technology meant higher smelting temperatures resulted in purer iron which was easier to refine into high-quality steel. The only difference between modern mild steels and those of the late Middle Ages is merely scale of production and automation.
We have chosen a thickness of 18-gauge for the steel in our Medieval Breastplate. Plate battle armor had to strike a compromise between protection and mobility (as there was little point in a suit of armor that left you an easy target for heavy crushing weapons like a raven’s beak on a poleaxe); this armor is carefully matched with light late-medieval battle armor, which was usually made from steel around 18-gauge or 20-gauge in thickness. However, tournament armor did not need to be worn in vigorous physical usage for whole days at a time, and so was generally slightly thicker for extra protection, at around 16-gauge. This means our armor is both authentic and highly wearable – although it’s not recommended for full-contact combat, our Medieval Breastplate with Tassets will withstand the rigors of LARP and re-enactment use with minimal wear.
An Authentic Design
When you purchase the Medieval Breastplate with Tassets, you’ll receive a full integrated armor system. It includes the breastplate, backplate and tassets (thigh protectors). They are all independently connected with tough dark leather straps and buckles (as the originals would have been), and the breastplate and backplate can be adjusted to give an unrivalled fit to a wide variety of proportions and body type. It is designed to complement all of the other armor on our site – you could wear it over a chainmail hauberk, with a German sallet, or on its own as a standalone piece.
An expert in medieval armorer will notice that every small aspect of this breastplate has been scrupulously designed in order to mirror late-medieval innovations in armor design. The steel edges are all rolled, an innovation dating from the 15th-century which have the edges of the armor greater resilience and the capability of turning aside edge-on blows. For modern roleplayers and re-enactors, it means the edges are smooth and won’t get caught on your clothing or cause accidental injury. The leather straps and tasset lames are all hand-riveted, giving a fantastic hand-made look to your armor. Our Medieval Breastplate is of the Gothic style – this was a dramatic and instantly recognisable form of advanced plate armor which emerged amongst German and Swiss armorers in the 1400s CE, characterised by extensive fluting and creasing of the steel plate. These patterns, known as ‘wolf’s teeth’, gave the armor extra rigidity and resilience, as well as being achingly stylish amongst the European aristocracy.
Note: this armor is untempered mild steel and has been designed for light usage; it may be damaged by full-contact usage. Whilst our materials and construction are historically accurate, a medieval knight would likely have had a household of retainers and an armorer on hand to constantly maintain his gear and knock out any dings and dents; it’s unlikely that our customers do!
(History) ‘White armor’: Breastplates in Late Medieval Europe
Breastplates like our Medieval Breastplate with Tassets have a long and storied history, laden with symbolism and meaning. They came about amidst an arms race between ever more terrifyingly powerful weapons and a haphazard series of ad-hoc attempts by armor-makers to keep their customers and lieges alive. The tale of the medieval breastplate is one which illuminates the point at which Medieval Europe fundamentally changed from a series of small disconnected post-Roman fiefdoms into an interconnected network of wealthy Kingdoms with highly sophisticated world trade – and all of the military might that that implies.
Why was the Breastplate Born?
Before what we might recognise as plate armor began to appear in the 14th– and 15th-centuries CE, chainmail was the supreme form of protection. Chainmail manufacture was spread across Europe with the Roman expansion, and when the Empire withdrew local smiths simply carried on producing for local warlords. It was extremely time consuming to make, and became a signifier of high status amongst the Viking, Frankish and Anglo-Saxon successor states. It is very unlikely that most ordinary soldiers other than the odd wealthy burgher in the Anglo-Saxon fyrd or Frankish levies would have had any chainmail at all – outside of wealthy noble households, most would have made do with stout cloth and leather, relying on heavy wooden shields to stave off slashing blows from axes and to turn aside spear thrusts.
By the 14th-century, the technology involved in medieval weapon-making had progressed by leaps and bounds, and armor-makers faced a very different set of challenges that needed to be circumvented. Weaponry had, quite simply, become deadlier. The increasing availability of high-quality steel from the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent via Islamic traders in the Mediterranean meant that sharper, stronger edged weapons could be made with more weight behind them. This period saw the emergence of large two-handed weapons such as the longsword, the warhammer and the halberd. Whilst a suit of good-quality chainmail could frustrate a comparatively poor quality sword or axe made from iron or low-carbon steel, a swinging blow from a high-carbon steel polearm or greatsword, or the immense force of a cavalry lance strike, could burst mail and sever limbs. As well, the powerful longbow had begun to be used with needle-like bodkin arrows which could pierce straight through chainmail, and this was a serious problem for mounted knights – this was demonstrated most spectacularly at the Battle of Crécy, where the pride of the French aristocracy, arrayed in gleaming hauberks of mail and chivalric surcoats, were shot to pieces by an army of a few thousand Welsh and English longbowmen in 1346. For nobles, this was simply not an option. New solutions needed to be found.
A Hurried Transition
The forms of armor that fathered the medieval breastplate were known as ‘transitional armors’ since they marked the switch from mostly-chainmail to mostly-plate outfits that predominated amongst the soldiering class. These were a reactive ad-hoc response to the pressure of these new high-medieval weapons. They included splint mail, where thin bars of metal were sewn or riveted onto stout cloth, and the ‘coat of plates’, where soldiers affixed crudely beaten metal plating into the lining of their surcoats. At the site of the 1361 Battle of Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland, hundreds of examples of this transitional armor have been found, with 24 distinct types of plate arrangement, varying from 8 plates in a suit to more than 600. The ‘coat of plates’ then went in two directions: one branch of development where steel lames became smaller and were refined into an overlapping pattern and riveted into the lining of a civilian doublet spawned the brigandine, a cheap, easy-to-maintain plate armor accessible to commoner infantrymen. The other involved discarding the cloth lining altogether and using larger plates to make a three- or two-piece plate coat, eventually forging a single unbroken metal shell: the breastplate.
Simply the Breastplate
We can very roughly date the single-piece medieval breastplate from the second half of the 14th-century – and by 1400 it looks like it becomes fairly widespread. An early example of whole breastplates are the records of Edward the Black Prince, where he gives away several of them in 1358. His funereal effigy from 1376 is depicted wearing what could well be a ‘globose’ style torso-breast plate which comes in to a rather fetchingly narrow ‘wasp-waist’. At roughly the same time, silversmiths in Pistoia, Tuscany, were working on the staggering altarpiece of San Jacopo, which features some incredibly detailed images of contemporary arms and armor, amongst which are a handful of full breastplates. We can infer from these sources – being the personal inventory of a Crown Prince and the devotional art of an ostentatiously wealthy Catholic Church, that these breastplates were rare and elite – although they become more and more common over the following century.
The Breastplate Rises
As the Renaissance burgeoned in Italy and Germany, the application of mechanical and proto-industrial techniques to metal refinement (like blast furnacing and water-powered mechanical hammers) meant that good-quality high-carbon steel became cheaper and more available. With it flourished the highest cultivation of the armor-makers craft by masters who would design integrated armor systems with articulated joints that interlocked and covered the entire body, along with interchangeable parts for different tactical situations and requirements. These craftsmen diversified into unique schools of armor-making each with their own style. With the rise of plate armor from 1400 CE, the emblazoned surcoat worn over armor, began to wane in popularity, with nobles preferring to display their increasingly sophisticated plate armor which was a symbol of their wealth and status. Italian armor was particularly associated with this stark style of display, and it became known as alwyte armor, ‘white armor’ (which is the source of the phrase ‘it’ll be alwyte on the night’) – unadorned, simple, and polished to a high sheen, its wearers would stand out like otherworldly beings on the battlefield. German-made or ‘Gothic’ armor was another style that was enormously popular with the nobles of late-medieval Europe, the polar opposite to the minimalistic Italian style: Gothic armor was creased, fluted and ribbed, the manipulation of the steel plate giving it extra rigidity and strength under the crushing weapons that evolved to deal with heavy medieval breastplates.
By the 1500s CE, plate armor was king. Gothic and Italian makers had intermixed and borrowed styles from each other, birthing new forms of armor such as the spectacular Milanese style, in which nobles would commission wildly decorated inlaid breastplates and helmets. The increasing availability of cheap ‘munitions-grade’ mass-produced plate armor meant that by the conclusion of the Medieval Period, it became mostly accessible to the mass of soldiers: it is in this period that we see professionalised mercenary armies who were wholly clad in plate – from light brigandines for skirmishers, to heavy late-medieval breastplates as part of the ‘harness of plate’ for men-at-arms.
The rise and rise of plate armor throughout the medieval period gives cosplayers, LARPers and re-enactors an enormous amount of flexibility in terms of how one might use put our Medieval Breastplate with Tassets to use: in a high-medieval-inspired impression, it might connote the highest status as a wealthy noble; in the age of Gothic and Italian ‘white armor’ it might indicate a rakish and fashion-forward knight; in the late-medieval age of plate it might be the outfit of a sturdy man-at-arms. The possibilities are endless!
- Material: 18-gauge steel
- Fittings: Top-grain leather
- Weight: 38 lbs (with tassets)
Breastplate: 32 Inches long by 18 Inches wide
Back Plate: 23 Inches long by 18 Inches wide