Part 14 - BRASS: It's Not Just For Trim Anymore (Or Is It?)!
by Lord Thomas the Black
BRASS: IT’S NOT JUST FOR TRIM ANYMORE (OR IS IT?)!
Welcome back to another month of Blackmaille!
Almost anyone who’s seen mail armor has seen brass rings used as trim around the edges, or sometimes a design is woven into the mail itself, in a sort of brass inlay. In fact, I plan on discussing inlays and how best to go about weaving them next month.
This month, however, I want to explore a theory put forth by Mr. Ian Bottomley of the Royal Armory in Leeds, England. In a symposium he gave in 2000, he suggested the possibility that mail garments were lined, and that the brass edging seen on extant examples of mail were most likely the attachment points for the lining.
The reasoning behind this seems solid enough. Mail by itself is better than nothing at all, but still not terribly effective protection by itself. Sure, it’ll protect against cuts; in fact, it was designed to do so. But what about the force behind that cut? Mail by itself doesn’t disperse force well, and in some cases even compounds the problem by allowing rings to be pushed into the wound. Couple a mail shirt with a padded gambeson, however, and you now have the cut protection of the mail combined with the padded undergarment’s ability to diffuse force. With this in mind, and with many examples from period to choose from, it’s almost a given that mail was worn with some kind of padded garment underneath.
That’s not really a lining, however, so what other proof can there be for Mr. Bottomley’s theory? Well, there are the properties of steel and brass to consider. More importantly, the effects of weathering on these two metals. Steel rusts, while brass develops a fine coating of verdigris. As it turns out, brass verdigris will actually help protect (to a degree) linen thread in direct contact with it, whereas steel rust will degrade linen thread further. This makes brass trim an ideal way to stitch a lining into a mail garment.
So was Mr. Bottomley correct in his findings? While he certainly has more education and training in the study of medieval armor, in my experience with mail, I have to disagree with his theory. The reasons for this all boil down to one of practicality, Mail had to be cleaned in a vat of sand and vinegar, and oiled afterwards. Cloth must be laundered and either hung or lid out to dry. if the lining were sewn in, the process of washing the cloth would rust the mail, while the act of cleaning the mail would surely destroy the cloth lining. The alternative is to remove the liner each time either the cloth or mail had to be cleaned, and I think that removing the stitching, cleaning everything, then sewing it all back together would get mighty old after a while.
Also, lining a mail garment adds to its bulk, and makes it harder to maneuver around for repairs (anyone who’s ever tried to fix an armpit seam with a field repair can bear me out on this!). If the lining wasn’t sewn in, then you end up with just what we have now: mail worn over a padded gambeson.
As I said, Mr. Ian Bottomley has years on me in study and experience with actual medieval armor, and has proven himself very knowledgeable in other forms of armor. In this case, however, I feel that a practical, hands-on understanding of mail must take precedence. Our ancestors would have used what worked best, and a sewn-in lining, while an intriguing idea, just doesn’t work in real life.
As always, thank you for joining me for another month. Any conflicting opinions, documentation pro/con, or mail-related questions can (and should) be sent to:
c/o Tom Beckett
6112 E 126th St, Apt 104
Grandview, MO 64030
Next month: Inlays!
See you next month!
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