Now, what can be more ubiquitous to the medieval knight than a gallant duel? You can picture it; one knight throws down his gauntlet and dramatically declares a challenge. It’s the stuff of legends and part of the romanticism of the medieval period. Of course, gauntlets were used for more than challenging people to duels, being one of the components of a suite of plate armour. As a piece of armour, and a part of the knightly suit of armour, you may well be looking for gauntlets for sale which can add to the creation of a LARP character. Alternatively, you might be a collector looking for a display piece. In either case, it would be ideal to know the history of this armour piece and what kind of character would best suit which style of gauntlet.
What Are Gauntlets?
Like so many words we use to describe medieval armour, the word “gauntlet” originates from an old French word, “gant”, which means glove. This prevalence of French terms in the medieval English language, especially with regard to arms and armour, was largely in part to the Norman invasion and subsequent takeover in the 11th
century. This led to French being a dominant language in England among the upper classes until the 14th
century and the Hundred Year’s War. However, gauntlets were more than just gloves. They were armour designed to protect the hands, wrists, and forearms of a soldier.
The design of gauntlets varied massively as they were developed, but it’s safe to say that they were always considered a type of glove. A gauntlet could be made from leather, mail or plate metal, or a combination of all three.
Were Gauntlets Important for Battle?
Simply put, yes. Admittedly, every piece of armour had some level of importance, or a soldier wouldn’t bother to wear it. While later plate armour could be elaborate and beautifully designed, especially when made for a king, if the armour were meant for battle, every piece would have a purpose.
The importance of the gauntlet in particular is obvious to anyone who has rapped their knuckles against anything. Now imagine you need to hold onto a weapon and wield it effectively enough to defend yourself against someone trying very hard to kill you. Now imagine that rather than a painful knock to the knuckles, they’ve actually chopped your fingers off with a sword. You would probably be wishing that you’d been wearing gauntlets. In battle, your hands and wrists were a very popular target
. They were usually the parts of your body closest to your opponent and so might be easier to strike with a cheap shot. Even a minor injury to the hand or wrist could potentially make it very difficult to continue holding a weapon, let alone fight with it. The importance of hand protection was especially important for any soldiers wielding a two-handed weapon
, whether a polearm or a longsword. This is because a soldier with a shield could protect his hands and wrists with the shield itself, so a specialised piece of armour on the hands was less important.
Who Wore Medieval Gauntlets?
As always, knights and men-at-arms
got their pick of the armour. The wealthier the man-at-arms, the more intricate the gauntlets. However, because the hands were a viable target no matter who you’re fighting, they were often prized among cavalry and infantry alike
. If a professional soldier was outfitted by their commanders, then some kind of hand protection would often be included after the head and torso were covered. It was incredibly easy for the hands to be severely damaged in battle, and that would end the career of any professional soldier.
Likewise, mercenaries would try to get their hands on any gauntlets for sale, or that could be looted on the battlefield. Our poor conscripted peasant was less likely to have gauntlets, but once he had a helmet and a gambeson, even he would likely invest in some kind of hand protection if he could. The only soldiers who might not focus so much on hand protection would be archers, who would rather be able to fully use their fingers than protect their hands.
The Different Designs of the Gauntlet
While there was a huge variation in the designs of medieval gauntlets, there were some basic designs that both prevailed throughout the medieval era and sometimes beyond. While we mostly consider gauntlets to protect the hands completely, there were also hand protections that provided partial protection only.
Full or True Gauntlets The two basic designs of full gauntlets were ‘mitten’ gauntlets and ‘glove’ gauntlets.
It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to figure out what these designs looked like. The mitten style originated shortly after the first metallic gauntlets were designed, but unlike many components of medieval armour, this design didn’t go out of fashion when more the complicated articulated gloves were developed. Whether they were made of chain or plates, they looked and worked pretty much in the same way that modern mittens do. The fingers were enclosed in either chain or plate, and the thumb has a separate pocket which allows it to move freely.
These mittens were very protective, especially the later plate variants, and kept the fingers warm. However, they were undeniably ungainly as the fingers were so restricted. Gauntlets were also developed with separate fingers.
These allowed all of the fingers to move with relative freedom when compared to the mitten design. This design, especially in later years, was frankly genius to the point that even modern blacksmiths can recognise the great skill required to make working gloved gauntlets. However, this design wasn’t just more difficult and likely expensive to produce, it offered reduced protection against both the environment and battle.
Partial Hand Protection
There were other ways that medieval soldiers sought to protect their hands from any errant strikes. These didn’t provide complete protection to the hand, but they were both easier to produce and weren’t anywhere near as restrictive. Demi-gauntlets
were quite self-explanatory. They were plate armour gauntlets that protected only the back of the hands and the wrists.
They were usually worn with gloves of either mail or padded leather
. These were relatively cheap and light and allowed for greater manoeuvrability of the fingers and hands. However, they were obviously less protective. Another type of hand protection were rondels. These were actually a type of buckler, which was a small shield. Hand rondels were strapped around the hand and provided a metal circle which protected the back of the hand.
These were light and allowed for full dexterity of the hands. However, much more of the hand and wrist were vulnerable.
The History and Symbolism of Gauntlets
The history of the gauntlet is a long and storied one. Hand protection wasn’t as prevalent in the early medieval period or before, partially because of the difficulties in design outweighing the need. In the time when larger shields dominated warfare, the hands and wrists would be hidden behind the shield as much as possible.
Early Hand Protection
What protection there was in the early middle ages generally consisted of either leather wrappings, or the first iteration of the gauntlets, thick leather gloves
. These became more popular as two-handed weapons became common, as the hands and wrists suddenly became very vulnerable. Up until the development of plate armour, men-at-arms primarily wore mail hauberks
into battle. In the 12th
century, the sleeves of these hauberks gradually grew longer, until they formed a type of mitten to better protect the hands.
For comfort, a leather glove would ordinary be worn underneath this arrangement. The design of this mitten started to have some variation near the end of the 13th
century. Some were designed with separate fingers, to allow the man-at-arms to move their fingers more freely. Eventually, in the 14th
century, these early mail gauntlets that were attached to the hauberk gave way as plate armour was developed.
The 14th Century Onwards
The next phase of the gauntlet was usually constructed of leather reinforced with riveted metal plates
, but separate mail gauntlets were also in use at this time. These early plate gauntlets, while still relatively simple in design, both provided good protection and allowed the soldier to wield his weapon effectively. However, the palms of the hands were still only protected by the leather glove, as plate here would make it difficult to effectively hold a sword. This was a vulnerability, but a necessary one when it came to most combat. Later in the 14th
century, the famous hourglass style of gauntlets was developed
. These were called such because the metal flared over the forearm. This design encouraged a strike to glance away from the arm and hopefully away from the body. As plate in general continued to be developed into the 15th
century, the design of the gloved gauntlet improved to allow for the metal plates to protect the hands more and more completely. Eventually, the benefits of these intricate and highly articulated gloved gauntlets
outweighed those of the mitten design. At least, if you could afford them. The articulated design of the gauntlet was further fine-tuned after the end of the middle ages. Eventually, as plate armour fell out of favour, gauntlets joined them. However, gauntlets still see some use today. Leather gauntlets, like in medieval times, are used by falconers. The design of those were essentially perfected centuries ago. Also, some butchers may wear mail gauntlets to protect their non-dominant hand from their very sharp knives. Finally, protective gauntlets are used in many other jobs, usually made from fire-retardant materials, or just leather.
Gauntlets for Sale
When it comes to collecting armour, or creating a LARP character, you’ll likely be looking for a modern recreation of medieval armour. The recreated gauntlets for sale can add both protection for more full contact LARP events and they have a great design. You can either your gauntlet with matching armour, for a uniformed soldier or a white knight in perfect shining armour. Or you can mix and match with other pieces for a more personalised look. Either way will be sure to have the desired result, especially if you can also find the perfect cuirass for sale in the store. You’ll be able to find all kinds of hand protection, including articulated gloved gauntlets, mittens, and demi-gauntlets.
As you know, each of these has their ups and downs. The articulated gauntlets in particular will have been carefully designed, as even recreations using modern methods require skill to create. Many of the gauntlets are made from mild steel, which is the closest approximation to the steel available in medieval times. With mild steel, be sure to watch out for rusting and regularly treat the armour, especially the moving parts.
There’s nothing that ruins a beautifully intricate articulated glove more than rust, especially when it’s so easily preventable. Another steel option is that of galvanised mild steel.
This steel has been coated with a thin layer of zinc, which protects the steel underneath from rust. The zinc will corrode in its place, sometimes creating a fine white powder which can be brushed off. However, you will still have to keep an eye on your armour, as this coating might not last forever. Finally, leather gauntlets are a popular option
, as they were in medieval times. If the leather is reinforced with metal, then remember to watch out for rust. If not, the leather is easier to maintain, but would still benefit from regular treatment with beeswax
. Remember to bear this in mind with all gauntlets which have a leather lining.
Once gauntlets were developed, they very quickly became an integral part of a soldier’s armour. Whether you are seeking to acquire them as part of a collection, or to build a LARP character, you would do well to look at the gauntlets for sale here at Medieval Ware. They come in many designs, so you can be as picky and specific as you like.