BLACKMAILLE
Part 25 - Maille VS Archery
by Lord Thomas the Black
 


BLACKMAILLE

MAILLE VS ARCHERY

I know I said I’d done my last “Blackmaille” article, but apparently I was mistaken. Sorry!

I’ve come out of my all-too-brief retirement to lay to rest one of the Great Debates of the online re-enactment communities, that is, “Just how effective was maille at stopping arrows?”

Now, my personal opinion in regards to this subject is a resounding “It depends.” Having spent a number of years now studying, researching, and re-creating maille, I can safely say I’ve learned the ins and outs of this medium. I’ve observed extant pieces in museums (and even gotten to handle a few!), and I’ve spent countless hours painstakingly re-creating reasonably authentic riveted maille. I say “it depends”, because there are a lot of “X-factors” to consider. What type of ring are we talking about? What type of rivet? Are all the rows riveted, or are some solid links? What kind of bow is to be used? What poundage? What type of arrows? Etc, etc, etc…

This debate has raged on in online forums for as long as I’ve been doing research on maille, and no proper test has been conducted to lay it to rest yet. Oh, sure, there have been tests done, but every time someone attempts to settle the issue, they only raise more questions and arguments. Either they used the wrong type of bow (for example, a modern recurve bow instead of a period longbow), or the target the maille rested on doesn’t correctly approximate the human body, or they used modern field points instead of period bodkins. The list goes on and on.

My purpose in writing this article is not to say definitively what the results of shooting at maille with a bow and arrow would be. Short of using a time machine to go back to the Middle Ages and see for ourselves what happened, there’s no absolute way of knowing for sure what the results are. We can rely on conjecture, and on period accounts, but both of those methods lack the accuracy of scientific experimentation. However, such experimentation, if done correctly, would be expensive, and most of us just don’t have the kind of disposeable income this test would take. This debate will go on forever, most likely, because the re-enactment community lacks the resources to do the test correctly. To give you an idea of what would be required, I’ve compiled the following information from the arguments against recent tests:

MAILLE VS ARCHERY TEST

Maille hauberks needed: For purposes of these tests, “hauberk” will be defined as “a maille garment having sleeves (mid-forearm), and a bottom hem reaching to mid-thigh”.

Ring type

Rivet type

Rows riveted

Arrow type

FLAT

WEDGE

ALL

BODKIN (6)

FLAT

WEDGE

HALF

BODKIN (6)

FLAT

ROUND

ALL

BODKIN (6)

FLAT

ROUND

HALF

BODKIN (6)

ROUND

WEDGE

ALL

BODKIN (6)

ROUND

WEDGE

HALF

BODKIN (6)

ROUND

ROUND

ALL

BODKIN (6)

ROUND

ROUND

HALF

BODKIN (6)

 

 

 

 

14 G BUTTED

N/A

N/A

BODKIN (1)

16 G BUTTED

N/A

N/A

BODKIN (1)

 

 

 

 

FLAT

WEDGE

ALL

BROADHEAD (6)

FLAT

WEDGE

HALF

BROADHEAD (6)

FLAT

ROUND

ALL

BROADHEAD (6)

FLAT

ROUND

HALF

BROADHEAD (6)

ROUND

WEDGE

ALL

BROADHEAD (6)

ROUND

WEDGE

HALF

BROADHEAD (6)

ROUND

ROUND

ALL

BROADHEAD (6)

ROUND

ROUND

HALF

BROADHEAD (6)

 

 

 

 

14 G BUTTED

N/A

N/A

BROADHEAD (1)

16 G BUTTED

N/A

N/A

BROADHEAD (1)

 ALSO NEEDED:     

            100 ARROWS, CLOTHYARD SHAFTS, GOOSE-FEATHER FLETCHINGS
                        50 FITTED WITH HAND-FORGED BODKIN POINTS
                        50 FITTED WITH HAND-FORGED BROADHEAD POINTS           

            20 GAMBESONS, LAYERED LINEN CONSTRUCTION
                        (WORN UNDER MAILLE)

            20 LINEN SHIRTS
                        (WORN UNDER GAMBESON)

            20 PIG CARCASSES
                        (TO APPROX. HUMAN BODY)

            1 YEW LONGBOW, @ 80lb DRAW WEIGHT

            3 EXTRA BOW STRINGS

            2 ARCHERS (TO SHOOT IN SHIFTS)

All of this comes at great expense, as a single period-correct hauberk will cost in the range of $5000.00, and this test calls for 16 of them! That’s $80,000.00 for the riveted hauberks alone!

What’s even scarier is that even this wouldn’t silence the critics. You would have to repeat all the above with a Saracen recurve bow (to accurately approximate the weapons/armor of the crusades), and again with a heavy crossbow (to simulate the War of the Roses). Even then, you’d have critics saying that this is inaccurate. Medieval accounts record the use of longbows with a draw weight of 100 lbs (even though 80 lbs is the limit for most archers nowadays. Do you know anyone who can shoot 100 arrows in a row from a 100 lb bow?). They’d say that the dead pig doesn’t accurately reflect a moving, hostile target, as would have been found on the medieval battlefield (even though shooting at a live person is frowned upon by local law enforcement. Cops, sheesh! No respect for science!). You’d have to repeat all the shoots at various ranges, as a shot that would kill up close may not go through the maille at a hundred yards.

Needless to say, this is a lot of work and expense to settle a debate of this magnitude. Maybe the guys at “Mythbusters” would like to take a crack at this?

My personal opinion, based on my experience with maille, is that an English longbow, shooting bodkin-tipped arrows, would most likely punch holes in most types of maille. This is supported by numerous contemporary accounts, and also by the damage to extant maille itself. Not to mention the fact that the bodkin point, being long and thin, was designed specifically to go through maille, whether it breaks the rings themselves, or merely stretches them open. The bodkin head is the first armor-piercing round in history!

But then, that’s just my take on it. Your mileage may vary.

As I said, without going back in time and seeing for ourselves, there’s no realistic way to settle this. The debate will likely go on forever, unless the re-enactment community pools it’s resources and conducts a series of tests using the guidelines I’ve outlined above. It’s our responsibility as an educational community to conduct these experiments and publish our results. At the very least, it’s a good excuse for a pig roast afterwards!

Anyone conducting a test using my criteria is welcome to send me a write-up of the results and their findings. The more detail the better. At some time in the future, I will compile these results into a book, crediting the educational pioneers that sought to settle this debate once and for all. Reports can be sent to:

Blackmaille
            c/o Tom Beckett
            13628 Belmead Ave
            Grandview, MO 64030

Thanks! And thanks to those of you who wrote demanding more “Blackmaille” !

 



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