In medieval warfare, it was important for every part of the body to be protected
. While most of the killing blows to a knight or soldier would likely be to the head and torso, any injury could end up being fatal.
Because of this, leg armor, or leg armor as some of you may prefer, was an integral part to a soldier’s set of armor. It often came in different pieces, to allow for the legs to move freely and the soldier to fight effectively. You can buy recreations of these pieces separately, either for a display piece or for a wearable outfit.
The Importance of Leg Armor
While a leg wound might not be immediately fatal to a soldier, it could be incredibly dangerous. An injury to the leg would be disabling and would at least slow a fighter down
, even if he were still able to keep on his feet. During a battle, this weakness would only get worse as time went on, as well as making the soldier more vulnerable when actively fighting. Even after the battle, this leg wound would continue to present a danger to the soldier. It could easily get infected
, which in medieval times was a potential death sentence. If he survived, the wound may well continue to give him trouble if it didn’t heal well. While medieval medicine wasn’t always as backwards and awful as we assume, it was nowhere near the level of modern medicine. Even today, a deep wound to the leg isn’t to be sniffed at. There are arteries in our legs which, if severed, could easily lead to someone bleeding out.
Who Wore Leg Armor?
Now that we know exactly how useful medieval leg armor was, we should know who tended to wear it in battle. This is important if you’re planning on putting together an outfit for whatever reason, whether for a display, or as part of a costume when LARPing or cosplaying a character.
Knights and Men-at-Arms
First of all, most people know that knights wore leg armor as part of their suit of armor. This makes sense for several reasons.
- Knights often fought on horseback. Because of this, most of the attacks directed towards them would be focused on their legs. The rest of the knight was either too high for an enemy to easily reach or protected by their horse.
- Knights usually had enough money to afford the full suit of armor, so had no reason to forgo leg armor.
- They also had their gear carried by their retinue or rode their horse, so didn’t have to worry about marching for long distances wearing full plate.
, while not necessarily knights, also usually wore armor on their legs. They too, often fought on horseback
and could afford a full set of armor. Even if knights or men-at-arms were a bit short of cash, they had the opportunity to rent their armor. Knights and men-at-arms didn’t always fight on horseback, but even when they fought on foot, they often wore a full suit of armor. In the early medieval times, this armor would be of chainmail, but by the later middle ages, they upgraded to plate.
Common Soldiers and Infantry
When it came to infantry or the more common soldiers, leg armor was less common
. However, it wasn’t unheard of for a foot soldier to use it, as long as they could afford to. For much of the medieval period, each fighting man was required to provide their own arms and armor. Poorer soldiers
, such as peasants who were likely to be conscripted, would be lucky to afford a gambeson and a helmet. These were the very basics, designed to protect the torso and head from injury. Everything else was an extra. These soldiers likely had very little limb protection
, other than cloth and their hopes and prayers. These were also the soldiers most likely to be killed or maimed, often sustaining leg wounds. This was even more true if the fighter had a shield, as their opponent would simply focus on their unarmored and unprotected legs. However, there were other soldiers and fighting men. As the medieval period went on, mercenary companies
became popular. These professional soldiers usually had more disposable income than your typical random peasant and spent it on their livelihood. They also had plenty of opportunities to loot armor, if it came to it. This resulted in some mercenaries equipping themselves with either half-plate or partial plate
, which was essentially bits and pieces of a set of armor, or even full plate. As well as mercenaries, knights, and men-at-arms, other professional soldiers
emerged. These had been trained as soldiers, rather than conscripted randomly. Because of this, they were often decently armed and armored. The focus was still always on the head and torso, but limb protection became increasingly common. This was especially true when metal armor became more affordable as the medieval period went on
. Of course, it was never cheap, but it became a better investment. A soldier with only one leg earns much less money, you see.
The Development of Medieval Leg Armor
As you may know, metal leg armor wasn’t invented in medieval times
. The ancient Greeks and Romans famously wore greaves in battle, and they continued to be used until about the 9th
century. These would protect the shins. We’ll talk in more detail about medieval greaves later, honest. In the 11th century, chain chausses were introduced
and used by knights and men-at-arms. Remember, these were the soldiers most likely to wear leg armor. This was the period of time when chainmail reigned as the preferred armor, as plate was difficult to produce. Chausses were like long chainmail socks or leggings, either pulled up to the knee or to cover the entire leg. They were flexible and protected against slashing weapons but weren’t as effective as later plate. In the 12th
century, they were usually worn with quilted breeches, which served a similar cushioning purpose as the gambeson. During the 13th century, they were reinforced with knee plates
known as poleyns and steel shin plates, which were similar to greaves.
These were known as schynbalds, as they only protected the front of the leg. These plates were worn over the chausses. In the 14th
century, the development of plate armor had hit its stride
, relegating armor primarily made of chainmail to be used by the lower classes and to support the shinier plate armor. Chausses became largely redundant. The leg armor that was worn in the later medieval times was usually several separate parts of plate armor.
Although, as time went on, these pieces would fit together more and more smoothly, especially as the medieval era came to an end and gave way to the renaissance. As with everything else, the cutting edge of armor development went to the knights
. Plate armor became more and more complex and provided better protection with added manoeuvrability. If you’re trying to emulate a knight or man-at-arms from a specific time period, it’s important to make sure you know what they would have been wearing. However, if you’re a more ordinary soldier, you actually have a little more wriggle room. If a soldier couldn’t afford the most modern armor, which they often couldn’t, they would wear something a bit more mismatched and potentially out of date.
Recreating Medieval Leg Armor
Now, we’ve had a look at the history of medieval leg armor, but what about what you’re most likely to be looking for? That’s the art of recreating medieval armor. This recreation works fantastically as a display piece, especially if you can manage to get a full suit. If you’re more inclined to wear the armor yourself, perhaps when LARPing or as cosplay, you’ll definitely want a recreation. Although it would be interesting to see someone in actual 14th
century plate at a LARPing event, a recreation is far more practical.
Caring for Your Recreated Armor How to care for your armor depends entirely on what it’s made from.
Each material has different properties and different pros and cons when it comes to your needs. So, choose carefully and make sure that you know how to care for it.
Leather and Fabric
Most armor pieces will have some leather and fabric in their construction, even if they’re mostly made of metal. Unfortunately, you can’t just ignore these parts of your armor, unless you want your greaves to end up in a muddy field somewhere. Regularly check on these components and maybe learn some sewing to patch up any wear and tear. Leather may need to be treated with beeswax
or other protective coatings to keep it going for longer. This is important both if the whole armor piece is leather or fabric, and if it’s mostly of another material.
Mild steel as a material is the closest to authentic that a replication is likely to get. Mild steel is fairly cheap and easy to produce, as it is softer and more malleable than medium or hard steel. While it isn’t as strong as those types, it’s easily strong enough for your purposes. Most modern steel is of better quality than medieval metals, so mild steel armor will be both stronger and lighter than their equivalents. Mild steel does rust
though, so you will have to maintain your leg protection by both treating it with a protective coating before you use it and keeping it clean and oiled after use.
Galvanised Steel or Iron
Galvanised metal did not exist in medieval times, but it might work well for your purposes. Simply put, galvanised steel or iron has been dipped in a bath of molten zinc
. We don’t recommend you try a similar bath. The zinc coating protects the steel from rust
, which can make it easier to maintain. Galvanised metal isn’t horribly expensive either, so it might be worth a look. However, the zinc coating won’t last forever, so you should still check your armor pieces for signs of rust.
Okay, now we’re onto a material that definitely isn’t historically accurate. This polymer isn’t as protective as steel is by any means, nor is it as authentic. However, don’t write it off just yet. It might not be ideal for battle
, but it might be ideal for someone acting as a soldier in a more peaceful setting. If you’re just after a costume, consider polyurethane. Polyurethane is normally cheaper than steel, it’s definitely lighter and more comfortable
as it’s not as rigid and doesn’t require the same level of maintenance. Also, many polyurethane pieces are treated to look like steel, at least to the untrained eye.
Leg Armor for Sale
Let’s check out the different components of leg armor for sale here at Medieval Ware. These are ideal for LARPing, cosplay or display purposes.
Tassets were introduced as plate armor became more common among knights. They were designed to protect the upper thighs
, especially from blows striking downwards. Tassets were a single piece of plate armor which hung down from the breastplate. Tassets were usually attached to the breastplate with straps or rivets and sat against the upper half of the thigh. You can find out more information about tassets and browse your own on this site. They are ideal for someone wanting the armor of a knight or man-at-arms, as they are part of the full suit of plate armor.
We’re back to greaves. These had an interesting history, especially in the medieval times. They were common until the 9th
century, then disappeared for a while. In the 13th
century, they returned as schynbalds, or half-greaves that only protected the shins, much like modern shin guards used in sports. Closed greaves that protected the entire lower leg
became popular in the early 14th
century. Again, we have more information and greaves available for sale at Medieval Ware. These are good for both full plate, and for a soldier wearing half plate.
While leg armor was undeniably useful and important, not every medieval soldier could afford to wear it. However, it was not only the domain of knights in full plate, as some may believe. It’s both attractive and practical for many characters and display piece, and an integral part of full plate.