Perception vs. Reality

I love this resource. It’s an analysis of hundreds of effigies all laid out in an easy to read bar graph with bonus explanations as to what the bars on the graphs mean! Mr. Strong, aka “Talbot” really went above and beyond with this. I can’t imagine what it was like to do living history a generation ago before all this easy to access statistical data. I don’t even want to imagine. There are plenty in the community who lived through it, and I tip my hat to them. It’s like going through school without Google, or working at night without electricity*, or existing before the wheel: people did it; I’m just glad I don’t have to. While I’m focusing specifically on an English portrayal, the root site does provide data on other cultures as well as all recorded effigies combined. Pretty slick. Again, all the kudos to Talbot.

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For anyone considering an accurate armored living history portrayal, the effigy analysis is a great first stop before you get bogged down in actual pictures of effigies and extant armor and all the other stuff. It’s a great way to really compare what you see in your head, to what you should expect to actually wear. It works great from almost any of the general starting points people usually come to the hobby with. If you have a specific piece of armor you want to wear, or a specific time period, or a specific country you want to portray: going through the graphs will help put the rest of your build into perspective. For example, assume you’re not sure what you want to do, but you’re certain you want to be from the 1330s in England. Studying the graphs you’ll be able to know that you’re highly likely to be wearing partial legs, but those full plate sabatons you’re drooling over would be completely inappropriate. What you do with that info is all up to you. Change time period, give up the sabatons, fabricate some explanation/excuse you will perpetually feel guilty about every time you say it… whatever. The bottom line is, you’ll at least know what you’re doing in about 5 minutes.

To illustrate my point, I’ll use me as an example.

Perception:

godsaint_hemiteou_adv_by_justice8701-d7n12ww
Thank you internet, for this random picture. Credit to justice8701 on DeviantART

Before I started on this endeavor that picture is most definitely not what I saw in my head for myself. What I want is that iconic, “simple” full armor and mail from head to foot. I’ve never been a huge fan of fluting, big fans, or the completely encased from every joint look. I like mail, and I want there to be pieces of mail incorporated in my armor. While I’ll probably never ride a horse, I want to look like I could. I’ve imagined wearing a breast and back plate, full arms, stuff on my shoulders, full legs with enviable cased greaves, finger gauntlets, sabatons, a helmet with a visor (but not that super pointy pig face nonsense.) Perhaps some brass edging as decoration, but in general a more utilitarian and practical look over a gilded/etched/enameled decorative one to suit my plain tastes.

Reality:

My HEMA and reenacting group allows a wide variety of time periods and depending on who you talk to everything from 1350 to 1450 is “technically” appropriate. However, the general standard seems to be closer to the mid/late 1410s. So that’s where I’m going to focus. In addition to cohesion of style, keeping the kits within a narrower time frame makes the armored combat a bit more balanced and reasonable, it cuts down on absurd asymmetry in technology of defense when paired against their peers. So looking at 1400 -1420 as my limits, I have almost no hard choices to make… which is nice. The standards were fully articulated arms and legs of plate, closed greaves, full sabatons, integrated shoulders, and bascinet. This particular resource doesn’t give much guidance on mail supplementation, but the effigies themselves and some other general knowledge does (suffice to say, it’s enough mail to make me happy.) Though by the 1410s articulated gauntlets were becoming a thing, hourglass gauntlets were by far the most popular. That leaves only one real big decision to make: the breastplate.

In the 1400s the predominant body defense was rounded which the graph defines as “…a body defense that is covered by a jupon that has a rounded profile. These may represent a globose cuirasses or breastplates or rounded coats of plates.” That’s not really what I wanted, to be honest. What I want is that well defined breastplate. By the 1410s the cuirass, “…a breast and backplate with a series of uncovered hoops that defend the hips.” was becoming the norm. It was a rapid shift from the 1400s, where almost every effigy had a rounded defense on the torso, to the 1410s where almost every effigy had a cuirass.

While the cuirass wasn’t popular in the early 1400s, likely due to it being new technology and outrageously expensive, they were around. And, since my goal is to represent a wealthy (and influential, well respected, admired, beloved, super sexy…) gentleman knight, I’m not terribly concerned about wearing a piece of equipment on the cutting edge of technology. No, sir, the unwashed, common rabble, hippie types can settle for coat of plates and covered globose. And, while details still need to be ironed out via effigies, illustrations, and artifacts of the era: at least the general structure and path is laid out for me.

*I am completely aware of the irony of this statement since I spend free time voluntarily experiencing pre-industrial living conditions for recreation. At the end of an event I get to go home to modern living, and can still watch funny cat videos on my phone in the privacy of my tent. Don’t look at me like that, I know you do it too.

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