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The gorget is one of the most important pieces of a knightly garniture: it is the piece of armor which protects the vulnerable throat. Developing from simple stout cloth into chainmail, the gorget came of age in the era of plate armor – and became the longest-lived of any component of plate armor (Keep reading to find out how!). We have a broad selection of gorgets for sale – so select the right medieval gorget and add that extra detail to your roleplay or re-enactment outfit.
Full-Throated Defense: The Ancient History of the Gorget In Ancient Europe, there is little evidence that there were specific forms of armor that were adapted specifically to defend the neck. Although they had a flourishing and complex culture, the Iron Age peoples of Northern and Western Europe were not literate, and so left behind little we can interpret with absolute certainty. We are forced to rely on scant historical sources: scattered fragments of archaeology, and textual sources written mostly by supremacist Greek and Roman writers who looked down on the Celtic peoples to the West and North. It appears that most Celtic peoples would have fought in simple stout clothing when at war (rather than stark naked – this appears to have been mostly Roman propaganda), defending themselves with cheap and effective wooden shields. The wealthiest members of society would have worn byrnies of chainmail, an ancient Celtic invention, but it appears that they were worn with simple helmets rather than complex head armor. We might think of this as a reflection of the ritualised nature of warfare: military conflicts were likely very small-scale, and battles were probably rarely fought to the death. Thus, there was little need for expensive and encompassing gorget armor. Rather, the throat was a location for decoration and declarations of status: beautiful gold torcs were worn on the neck, like the jaw-dropping Snettisham Torc, which contains over 2 lbs. of gold!
The Gorget in the Age of Chivalry The medieval gorget as a piece of throat armor has its immediate predecessors in the High Medieval era (1000 CE – 1250 CE) with the emergence of simple chainmail throat protection – but these were not yet a proper gorget! By this period, chainmail had become more widespread, with a booming population and a network of wealthy kingdoms in Western Europe now able to support more specialist workers like miners and armorsmiths. The head and throat were both protected with a maille coif or hood worn under the helmet – we have a fantastic reproduction maille coif for depicting armor from or inspired by this period. Gradually, as High Medieval weaponry like the crossbow and pole weaponry began to develop, knights began to add a pisane or standard to their armor: a sort of proto-gorget made from chainmail that protected the shoulders and throat, like our chainmail mantle. This was replaced by an aventail, a sheet of chainmail that was attached directly to the helmet. A medieval fresco from the middle of the 14th century at the Klosterneuburg in Vienna illustrates this transition excellently: a figure on the right is wearing a pointed bascinet helmet with a mail collar or standard, whilst the leftmost figure is wearing a big, bulbous padded bascinet - and around their head is the close-fitting aventail. You can even see its attaching rivets at the rim!
The Medieval Gorget is Born The gorget, as an independent piece of developed armor, emerged in the era of ‘transitional armor’. By the end of the High Medieval period, the refinement of powerful weaponry like crossbows and polearms (that could be wielded by any peasant to kill a high-born knight, the horror!) pushed armor-makers to begin to experiment with new forms of armor that were better than simple chainmail. Knights began to augment their chainmail armor with experimental forms of armor like splinted leather or cloth, and rudimentary plate armor pieces. The earliest pieces of plate armor to emerge were simple cops or couters for the elbows, and basic poleyns for the knees. The gorget was to follow soon after. Medieval people were not stupid – they knew that the throat was a vulnerable target in the heat of battle. Around the end of the 13th-century, simple plate gorget armor designed to protect the upper chest and throat had begun to be worn over the maille hauberk. These took their name from the gorge, French for ‘throat’, named after the piece of fabric that was wrapped around the neck as part of a contemporary chaperon hood.
How to Wear a Medieval Gorget By the middle of the 14th-century, simple plate torso armors like breastplates and cuirasses were becoming commonplace amongst wealthier warriors, and the gorget throat armor began to become a more integral part of the trend towards fully encasing the body in the plate armor (at least amongst those who could afford it!). The gorget would be fitted under the breastplate, usually affixing with arming points (lacing) to the gambeson (padded arming garment) underneath. This gave a pretty decent degree of throat protection all things considered, since the gorgets of this initial period of plate armor were usually fairly rudimentary, unarticulated collars. When selecting your gorget have a good think about how it will interact with your torso armor – we have a wide selection of both leather and steel plate torsos in order to help you decide which would pair perfectly.
Late Medieval Gorgets The gorget reached its apogee with the refinement of plate armor into encompassing armor suits in the last half of the 14th century CE.
Eager Bevor Perhaps the most spectacular form of the gorget was the Late Medieval bevor. These developed in the late 14th century, when plate armor was a fully-developed reality. These were enormous projecting guards attached to the gorget that protected the whole jaw and lower face, usually coming up to the bridge of the nose. They were frequently worn with a sallet helmet – we have a magnificent reproduction Gothic sallet and bevor gorget for sale. Bevor was imported from the Old French ‘baver’, meaning ‘to dribble’ – historians speculate that this may have been a reference to the effect it had on its wearer, but we at Medieval Ware prefer an alternative idea. ‘Baver’ is related to ‘baviere’, a child’s bib – so it could well be that sardonic knights would refer to this as their kiddie bib! The bevor developed into the falling buffe in the 16th century: often worn with a burgonet helmet, the falling buffe was made from several articulated pieces so it could be raised and lowered. Particularly useful for a mid-battle snack.
The Integrated Gorget In the first quarter of the 15th century, the armorer’s trade underwent a significant boom, with nobles now commissioning entire unified garnitures of plate armor from single craft houses. This spurred rapid development of spectacular armor designs in competing schools and styles of design, like the Italian school, Milanese style, Gothic armorers, and more besides. These new schools changed the form of the gorget again: the gorget expanded to replace much of the top of the chestplate, being worn over the breastplate but now forming a large mounting for the pauldrons. Gorgets were now articulated with sliding rivets to permit an excellent freedom of movement and protection throughout. This marked the ultimate form of the gorget, which it retained until rising gunpowder weaponry made all plate armor obsolete in the 17th century. The gorget, however, retained an interesting post-script: due to its association with nobility, a form of gorget was worn as a ceremonial signifier of rank by officers in numerous European and colonial armies until the middle of the 20th century! This makes it by far the most long-lived piece of plate armor. So – you should absolutely incorporate one into your ensemble.