Getting the Crusader Armor to match your persona

By Robertí de Tyre

IN THE LAST installment of this article, we offered ideas on how to make your persona work in a Crusader context. Now, for you fighters out there, we hope to make the armor get the same look, and to do it in an inexpensive manner. This is to prepare you for the tourney-circuit, as well as making you look better than a reject from Play-It-Again-Sports.

The most important piece of equipment you should start with is the helmet. This is the one item that makes the look. Itís also the most expensive piece of armor you own...and for a very good reason. Obviously, it will save you from blunt-force trauma, concussion, whiplash, broken teeth, and other painful and possibly fatal injuries. As of 1998, the SCA minimum standard for helmets is that they be made of 16-gauge mild steel, with a one-inch minimum gap in the vision slot. Most armorers, however build their helmets to much stricter standards.  I recommend using at least 14-gauge mild steel in your helmet, and a 7/8-inch gap in the eye slots. Under such standards, your equipment can deal with more punishment without having to be repaired or re-worked every other week.

Next, you will want to make or purchase a shield. The shield should be of the long, tapered heater-shield or kite shield shapes prevalent during the Crusades period. Other styles can include the elongated oval shield or the round, with or without a metal boss.

 If your persona (and finances) make you a warrior without wealth, you can cover all sorts of rusty, ratty sports equipment and scattered plates with either an oversized tunic or a surcote. The best example of this Iíve seen is Sir Meurisse de Lune-Sombre, in a stainless steel barrel helm, a knee-length surcote with elbow-length sleeves, and leather vambraces on his forearms. He also wore stainless elbow and knee-cops and a mail coif. Everything else was plastic plates, hidden beneath the surcote.

During the Crusades period (circa 1096-1301 CE), I recommend three distinct periods where a person could model their equipment from. These periods are:

A. Circa 1096 to 1170 CE: The Early and Middle Crusade Period.

B. Circa 1170 to 1204 CE: The Third Crusade to Albigensian Crusade Period.

C. Circa 1204 to 1301 CE: The latter-day Crusades to the Post Acre Period.

During the Early and Middle Crusade Period (Figure 1), the Crusader was armed and armored with primarily mail. The mail shirt, or hauberk, had elbow-length to wrist length sleeves. This was supplemented with a helmet of either conical or round form with or without a nasal-bar, in various forms. In Figure 2, I have pictures of these varieties.


Alternate forms of body armor included scale, lamellar and quilted armor. Sometimes, these armors were used together. Figure 3 shows small pieces of these armor types.

In the Third Crusade to Albigensian Crusade Period, warriors wore even more extensive mail. In addition to the long sleeved hauberk with mittens, knights wore mail on their legs in the form of chausses, or mailed stockings. These were either in the form of a strip of mail covering the front of the leg or a full stocking. Over this was worn the surcote, a sleeveless or short-sleeved overgown. Also, the khazaghand, a mail-lined, padded jacket. On both the surcote and the khazaghand, knights put their personal coats-of-arms for identification. (Figure 4a)

Knights also wore visored helmets, which ultimately developed into the great and barrel helm styles right alongside earlier types. For sieges and light skirmishes, the chapeau de fer, a wide-brimmed helmet could be substituted. (Figure 4b)

The latter-day Crusades/Post Acre Period showed little change from the previous periods. The most notable changes were the addition of plate-armor on knees and elbows, padded cuisses protecting the thighs, and a conical form of great helm known as the sugarloaf helm.

During this time, a coat-of-plates sometimes protected the torso, and, in the extreme end of the period, plate-armor on the limbs, made of leather or metal. (Figure 5)

In this article, I have given some brief ideas dealing with how the armor of the Crusades looked. Now, here are some suggestions on how to get the look you want. 

HELMET: For the Early and Middle Crusade Period look, a round or conical helm, either with a one-piece bowl or segmented. Phrygian topped and fluted helmets were also available. Your helmet can have a nasal bar as well, and a barred grill for visibility and comfort. A light leather or mail drape at the brow-band of the helmet will complete the look.

For the next two periods, barrel and pot helmets were abundantly used, with or without a closed visor. For the earlier types, a mail, scale or leather drape on the back along the brow-band helps to give that "cap with a coif" look. A barrel or sugarloaf helmet can be worn with a coif, or with a mail or scale aventail attached to the bottom rim of the helm.


BODY ARMOR AND TORSO: A good Early and Middle Crusader just canít go wrong in wearing mail. In the First and Second Crusades, these were knee-length shirts, with elbow-length sleeves. A few plastic or leather plates under the mail will protect the torso, or a corselet of lamellar or scale either over the mail, or as a substitute.

For the Third Crusade onward, you can hide armor under the long, flowing folds of a surcote. Mail sleeves can be sewn to the undergarment, or any of the above armors can be used under the surcoat. A coat-of-plates can be used as well.


ARMOR FOR THE LIMBS: Sports equipment can be hidden underneath a loose tunic and trousers, and youíll have that Early and Middle Crusade Period look licked. Try cross-gartering the trousers below the knee, and make your fighting tunic sleeves narrow at the wrist, and wide higher up. You can also wear a gambeson with plates inside pockets, and cover the limbs in leather. For the other periods, elbow and knee-cops, mail or scale covered vambraces and boots can make you look like you stepped out of the Maciejowski Bible or Manessa Codex.

I conclude this by saying what I heard an armorer say once: With a little time and care, you can make your armor look like it belongs in the Middle Ages, instead of like a walking rag collection. How we look is sometimes how we are perceived. If our goal is to recreate the Middle Ages and Renaissance as it should have been, then it behooves us to at least attempt to look the part.