The Writer’s Guide to Brigandine Armor

This week is my fourth and final installment in my series on common medieval armor.

As always, magic is the exception to the rules. Because magic.

Writer’s Tip: Even though brigandine armor was common in medieval Europe it is rarely depicted in literary. Including “brig” into your book would be an interesting way to stand out in the plate armor crowd.

Introduction

Brigandine is a type of torso armor composed of small rectangular metal plates or bands riveted to an outer layer of heavy cloth, canvas, or leather. It usually has an inner lining. It is generally sleeveless although there is medieval artwork showing brigandine with pauldrons (shoulder armor) and vambraces (forearm armor).

This type of armor is a more refined version of the earlier coat of plates which was worn from the 12th to the 14th century. It followed the same construction of metal pieces riveted between two layers of cloth, canvas, or leather but the plates were much larger. Brigandine came into use during the 14th century and was popular and widely used throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. [1]

The inside of brigandine without the lining, showing the metal plates.
Photograph by Gaius Cornelius at the Royal Armoury, Leeds. Photo source.

How It Was Worn

Brigandine was normally worn over a gambeson and hauberk (mail shirt) although it could also be worn with a gambeson with mail voiders. Starting in the mid-15th century the gambeson was replaced with the arming doublet. There are several medieval depictions of brigandine paired with plate limb armor.

It was common across all social classes. Yeomen wore it because it was effective and affordable. Noblemen wore it because they could choose a fancy fabric for the outside. Brigandine was also popular because it did not require a squire to put it on since it normally buckled in the front and because the individual plates allowed for greater movement than plate armor. It was worn by many of the archers during the Hundred Year’s War and they had to have the range of motion to draw a bow.

I have worn brigandine and had no problem shooting a longbow or running in it. I suggest watching Shadiversity’s video here for more information.

Weight

An example of 16th century Italian brigandine in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art tips the scales at 23.4 pounds (10.6 kg). [2] My guess is that this number is probably a good indication of the average weight. [3]

Cost

According to the British historian David Nicolle in his book “French Armies of the Hundred Years War,” a young nobleman would have to spend 125 to 250 livres to fully equipment himself in the best gear. That sum represented eight to sixteen months of wages for an ordinary man-at-arms. He then goes on to say “Salets were valued at between 3 and 4 livres tournois, a jacque, corset or brigandine at 11 livres.” [4] This means a brigandine would cost an ordinary man-at-arms less than a month’s wages. That explains why we see it depicted so commonly in contemporary artwork, like this 15th century painting of the Battle of Agincourt in which all the archers are wearing brigandine beneath their tabards.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia. Photo source.

Effectiveness and Vulnerabilities

Brigandine armor was effective against most types of attacks although not as protective as plate. Since it is made up of individual plates instead of a solid piece of metal, a person attacking someone wearing brigandine had a higher chance (although probably still not that good) of penetrating between the plates. Also, the plates would flex under a crushing blow although not as much as mail.


I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

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Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2020 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigandine
[2] https://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/71388.html
[3] https://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/71388.html
[4] https://armstreet.com/news/the-cost-of-plate-armor-in-modern-money

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