In the fourth century A.D. the Roman Empire fell and Europe was invaded by various barbarian tribes. One of the dominant groups was the Franks of central and western Europe, who gradually expanded their power until their leader Charlemagne became emperor of the West. Powerful local lords and their mounted warriors offered protection to peasants, who became their serfs in return. By the 11the century a new social order was formed my armored knights, who served a local lord, count, or duke, and were in turn served by serfs. When males were about seven, a boy of noble birth who was going to become a knight was usually sent away to a nobleman’s household, often that of his uncle or great lord, to be a page. Here he learned how to behave and how to ride. About 14, he was apprenticed to a knight whom he served as a squire. He was taught how to handle weapons and how to look after his master’s armor and horses. He even went into battle with his knight, helping him put on his armor and assisting him if he was hurt or unhorsed. He learned how to shoot a bow and to carve meat for food. Successful squired were knighted when they were about 21 years old. Young men who wanted to be knights had to keep fit. So squires trained constantly to exercise their muscles, and improve their skills. They practiced with each other and also sometimes with their knightly masters.
The main body armor worn my early knights was made of mail, consisting of many small, liked iron rings. During the 12th century, knights started to wear more mail. Their sleeves got longer, and mail leggings became popular. A padded garment called an aketon was also worn below the mail to absorb blows. In the 14th century knights added steel plated to protect their limbs, and the body was often protected further with a coat-of-plates, made of pieces of iron riveted to a cloth covering. A suit weighed about 44-55 lbs. And the weight was spread over the body so that a fit man could run, lie down, or mount his horse unaided in his armor. The only problem was that the armor quickly made you hot. By the 15th century, knights were protecting themselves with full suits of plate armor. The armor’s smooth surface deflected the edges and points of weapons. This reduced the impact of any blows but still allowed the armor to be made reasonably light. Plate armor was often made to imitate civilian fashions. Some armors were partly painted black, both to preserve the metal and as a decoration. Or armor could be “blued” by controlled heating of the metal. Some pieces were engraved with a pointed tool, and from the 16th century on, designs were often etched into the metal with acid. Gold plating, or gilding, was sometimes used to embellish borders or bands of decoration and in some cases, entire armors. People often think that plate armor is clumsy and stiff. But if it were, it would be little use on the battlefield. In fact, a man in armor can do just about anything a man can do when not wearing it. The secret lies in the way armorers made the plates so that they could move with each other and with the wearer. Some plates were attached to each other parts to pivot at that point. Others were joined by a sliding rivet, one part of which was set not in a round hole but in a slot, so the two plated could move in and out. Internal leather connecting straps, called leathers also allowed this type of movement. Tube-shaped plates could also have “flanged” edge , or projecting rim, to fit inside the edge of another tubular plate so that they could twist around.
The sword was the most important knightly weapon, a symbol of knighthood itself. Until the late 13th century the double-edged cutting sword was used in battle. But as plate armor became popular, more pointed swords became popular because they were better for thrusting through gaps between the plates. The mace, which could concuss an opponent, also became more popular. Before drawing his sword or using his mace, however, a mounted knight usually charged at his opponent with his lance lowered. Lances increased in length during the medieval period and, from about 1300, began to be fitted with circular vamplates to guard the hand. Other weapons such as the short ax could be used on horseback, while long-staffed weapons, held in both hands, could be used on foot. The horse was an expensive but vital part of a knight’s equipment. Knights needed horses for warfare, hunting, jousting, traveling, and carrying baggage. The most costly animal was the destrier, or war-horse. This was a stallion about the size of a modern heavy hunter. Its deep chest gave it staying power yet it was also nimble. Knights prized war-horses from Italy, France, and Spain. In fact the Spanish Andalusian is more like a war-horse than any other modern kind is. By the 13th century, knights usually had at least two war-horses, plus other horses for different tasks. The courser was a swift hunting horse. For travel, knights often used a well-bred, easy-paced mount called a palfrey. Sumpter horses carried baggage. Richly decorated covering, or trapper, could be used to display heraldic arms and might be padded for extra protection. The “Great Horse” war-horse, wears armor on its head, neck, and chest, the latter partly covered in decorative cloth. Horse armor was expensive, and uncommon. If a knight could only afford part of the armor, he would usually choose the shaffron, the piece for the head. The shaffron probably came into use during the 12th century. Both pieces are decorated with etched and gilt bands depicting animals and mythical figures, The crinet flexes on sliding rivets and internal leathers. P. 28