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The Higgins Armory Museum

Imagine strolling through a castle courtyard's cobblestone streets filled with the hustle bustle of servants, knights, and king's men.  Produce is being sold, the jousting tournament is very lively and men on horses are flying every were.  You could also be walking down the dusty dirt pathways of the small village but not now.  This was what life would be like for a man or woman living in the middle ages.  
This time period was a time of hardship with sickness and plague but also a time of war and the improvement of armor and weapons.  One of the most perfect places anyone  could go to learn about the changes and improvements of armor is the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts.  There, you can see and learn about the massive collections of shining armor ( and some not so shining) from pointy toed boots from the early middle ages of the 1400's to the ancient Etruscan helmets rusted to a greenish color.

Right when you walk through the wooden double doors you learn that the rich loved to show off so much that they even dressed the family dog in a smaller suit of armor.  You will notice that when the fashion changes, the style of armor changes and as time goes on,  you will notice that the need for armor was not very strong.  The 3 major periods of armor were military, sport and fun, and for decoration in rich manors and estates.  Armor in military improved and went through ton of changes to reduce areas that are "out in the open" and to promote flexibility.  Combat armor usually weighed from 45 to 80 pounds.   A heavy undergarment of chain mail was put on underneath.  Mail is thousands of tiny metal rings strung together to make a tightly woven and flexible shirt.  Over time, pointed tipped shoes faded into rounded ends and mail turned into plates of metal.  When the fashion changed, the armor changed and that meant that you had to be wealthy to buy all of that armor.

Tournament armor was needed for foot tournaments and jousts on horseback.  Joust armor was different from battle armor because of the weight.  Battle armor was a lot lighter because knights should be able to run, walk, jog, sit, and jump.  The jousters just had to sit on the back of a galloping horse in one position holding a lance.  Joust armor could get up to 90 to 95 pounds.  You might have thought that the horse wouldn't be able to go very fast because of the 90 pounds extra on it's back plus the saddle and all.  That's why they bred heavy draft horses with thick muscles.  the average light horse wouldn't be very happy.  Joust tournaments were only friendly games played by friends but they were still very dangerous.  Lances splintering, horses at full speed charging at each other and the force of a thick wooden pole against your chest.  This sport probably wouldn't appeal to anyone today.

The very rich nobles and kings loved to show off the wealthiness by displaying suits of armor in their grand manors and castles.  This armor at the time could not be worn because the armor was for show and not for use like a china doll.  The china doll is not for play, it is for show.  The rich did not just buy them for show, they also bought mini suits of armor for the son as if to say " we are so rich that we can afford to buy a suit of armor for our 7 year old boy and our little dog.  Yes, dogs could were armor too, if you could afford it.  Parade armor was popular too because it again could show off how wealthy you were and could have a little fun parading down the street or going to costume parties with your favorite suit of armor.      

As you can see, the three periods of armor were very different from each other and as time goes on, the need for more metal armor slows down and eventually stopped all together.  Now, soldiers were bullet proof gear and hard helmets, not heavy metal plates with a style change every so often.  Combat armor was light and flexible enough to run, jump, and sit on a horse.  Tournament armor was the heaviest and was not flexible and very stiff.  Decoration armor was not for battle because they weren't the same quality of real battle armor.  They sat in mansions and manors to show off how rich you were.  The invention of armor in metal plates definitely helped armies in the middle ages but they wouldn't help us today.  

Article posted May 26, 2010 at 09:09 PM • comment • Reads 731 • Return to Blog List
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