Armourers and their workshops: The tools and techniques of late medieval armour production

Armourers and their workshops: The tools and techniques of late medieval armour production

By Nikolas Dupras

PhD Dissertation, University of Leeds (2012)

Blacksmith at work - Harley 6563   f. 68v

Abstract: This thesis is an interdisciplinary study of medieval armour, with the goal of determining the precise techniques used by medieval armourers in the practice of their craft. The corpus for this research is from the collection of the Royal Armouries, as well as a selection of objects from other museums, with a focus on German and Italian armour between 1400 and 1500.

The thesis makes use of a new methodology by which the armour itself is used as a primary source, in essence a text, using the interpretation of tool marks left on its surfaces. Although metallurgical studies have been undertaken on armour, the marks have not been systematically studied in the past and provide a means by which the techniques of the medieval armourer may be identified.

The thesis also makes use of inventories, artwork, and experimental hammerwork to more accurately understand the workshop environment. Inventories show the variety of tools required in the workshop, as well as what would have been available to an armourer. Artwork showing armourers engaged in their craft is used to interpret some patterns of tool marks as well as identification of certain tools and techniques. The experimental work undertaken was used to recreate particular types of marks and patterns, demonstrating the relation between tools, processes, and the shapes of armour.

Chants royaux sur la conception. The three men are doming over an anvil, while the woman is raising using a stake.The research demonstrates that it is possible, using this method, to reconstruct the ways that armourers worked, something that has been largely conjectural previously. This approach to armour studies has not been attempted before and has allowed for several specific questions to be answered. These include finding differences in working techniques of armourers from different regions, the ability to determine if certain unmarked objects were made by the same armourer, changing methods of construction, and whether a piece is a fake or authentic.

Introduction: Armour represents one of the most recognised and enduring monuments of the Middle Ages, but its fabrication as a craft-product remain obscure. Beginning at the end of the fourteenth century plate armour became much more complete in its coverage and more sophisticated in its design. The art of the armourer reached its apex in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, with the greatest practitioners working in Germany and Italy. In this period the full suit of armour was perfected, a lasting testament to the armourer which remains fixed in the modern perception of medieval culture.

The working techniques of medieval armourers, and the ways in which they made armour, is the focus of this thesis, making use of a systematic study of the armour to be used as evidence itself. This will allow an analysis of the objects to answer questions regarding the construction of armour, including aspects of working practices, techniques, and types of tools. In addition, related issues of geographic origin, attribution, and the accuracy of artistic convention will be investigated.

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