Part 30 - A Trip to Leeds
by Lord Thomas the Black



             Welcome back to another edition of Blackmaille!

            In October of 2005, I was privileged to be able to take a trip to the Armorer’s Mecca: the Royal Armouries in Leeds, England. My Lady Wife suggested I write this article as a review of the experience.

            As a side note, the fact that I was not only allowed, but encouraged to make this side trip during our honeymoon is a testament to what a wonderful woman I married. Thanks, honey!

            Anyone who’s in any way interested in armor is strongly encouraged to make this trip. Leeds is home to the largest collection of arms and armor in the world, and not only displays a huge amount of the collection, but also has shows featuring their historical re-enactors demonstrating the use of the various types of armor and weapons. These shows are performed several times daily, and are entertaining as well as enormously informative. Seeing someone who knows what they’re doing demonstrating the proper use of medieval weapons, while wearing historically accurate armor truly helps put such things in their proper perspective, and aids in understanding what things were really like back then.

            We arrived at the armory sadly unprepared for what lay before us. It was a mere two and a half hours before the museum closed, and we were down to only 36 shots left on the digital camera’s memory cards (unbeknownst to us at the time). Still, we made the most of it, as not only was photography permitted, but so was flash photography! We made a beeline for the Warfare and Tournament wing, which housed the medieval collections I was most interested in.

            I won’t go into detail on everything we saw as a good deal of it was plate, which while impressive, is not my forte’, so I’m not going to embarrass myself by attempting to discuss it here. Besides, this is a maille article, so I’ll cover the most interesting pieces available there.

            The first piece that caught my eye was a maille hauberk on a mannequin, immediately on the right as we entered the wing (Fig. 1). The interesting thing about this hauberk is the sleeve tailoring (Fig. 2) As you can see, instead of being tailored by contracting the rows of rings, the tailoring is done by using smaller rings on the lower part of the sleeves! This was possibly done because the smaller rings offered more protection to the arm, or because this was tailored by a less-experienced mailler, and switching to smaller rings is easier than whole-row contractions. The majority of the hauberk and upper parts of the sleeves were made with 3/8” I.D. rings, while the lower arms appeared to be around 5/16” I.D. 

            Fig. 1                                                               Fig. 2

            A similar case was seen with a nearby hauberk (Fig. 3), wherein the neckline was tailored using smaller rings, as well (Fig. 4). Here, we’re again looking at @ 3/8” I.D. for the hauberk, and around ” I.D. for the neck opening. Note the very noticeable difference in ring sizes in Fig. 3.

                 Fig. 3                                                               Fig. 4

Sarah drew my attention to the next interesting hauberk (Fig 5), because she knew about my interest in signature rings (See Blackmaille #16). This hauberk had all three types! Near the collar were the name and place rings (top and bottom cast brass rings, respectively, Fig. 6) , and the right armpit contained an “Ave Maria” ring (which sadly wasn’t visible the way the shirt was displayed)! As with most of the maille we saw this day, the rings were around 3/8” I.D.  

         Fig. 5                                                               Fig. 6

The museum had several interactive displays as well, including some models of siege engines visitors can play with, and leading into a closed-off wing (which was being prepared for a future exhibit), two decent-sized patches of riveted maille for visitors to handle (Fig. 7)!

                                                 Fig. 7

There were more beautiful examples of maille than I could shake a stick at, and I got pictures of as many as I could (Fig 8 & 9). 

                        Fig. 8                                                               Fig. 9

            Some other noteable examples of maille I found were in the Eastern Armour wing, such as these examples of animal armor, for elephant (Fig. 10) and horse (Fig. 11). 

            Fig. 10                                                 Fig. 11

Also found in the Eastern wing were some beautiful examples of Indian and Persian maille. The Indian maille is notable for the complex inlays woven into the maille (Fig. 12), while the Persian is known for having many, if not all of the rings stamped with Islamic prayers (Fig. 13). 

            Fig 12                                      Fig 13

            In the Self-Defense Wing, I came across a maille vest made to protect against rapier attacks (Fig. 14). It was intended to be worn under one’s normal garb, and the astonishing thing is this: the rings were only around 1/8” in diameter, and every one was riveted (Fig. 15)! 

            Fig. 14                                     Fig. 15

            Finally, as a perfect example of maille’s long-lasting history, I present one of the odder-looking examples in the museum: A WWI tank-driver’s mask, with maille along the bottom to help protect the wearer’s face from flying shrapnel (Fig. 16)! This maille appeared to be made of approximately 5/16” I/D. rings, and these were welded, instead of riveted. 

                                                Fig. 16 

            Now don’t get me wrong, this is not anywhere near all that the Armoury had to offer. These are just the more interesting pictures from the batch we took. In truth, many other pictures had to be sacrificed to make room on the camera’s memory card for the ones I really wanted! Still more sit on my computer at home, awaiting ink and photo paper before seeing the light of day again. Also, the exhibits indoors are only a small part of the Armoury. Outside, there’s the Crafter’s Row to see, where the gunsmith’s, leatherworker’s, and armorer’s shops sit behind wall-to-wall windows, like an armorer’s terrarium for visitors to see how the existing armor is refurbished, and reproductions are made for the re-enactors. If the armourers aren’t busy, you can knock on the glass to ask questions of them, too. I wasn’t able to ask anything or to photograph as much as I would have liked, because they were shooting a TV show there, but I did get a shot of the tools used to make their riveted maille (Fig. 17). For those who have seen my demos, do the tools look familiar?

                                                Fig. 17

            As I said, anyone with even a passing interest in the armorer’s craft should take the time to visit the Royal Armories at Leeds. It’s well worth the effort. I would advise packing extra memory cards and setting aside more time (at least a couple of days) to see everything! Take the time to talk to the museum guides, too. They’re very knowledgeable about the displays, and can answer most questions easily, even pointing out other examples elsewhere in the museum, or recommending books from the gift shop!

            Thanks for joining me for another month of Blackmaille. While I don’t know when the next article will be up, there are a couple of ideas in the works, such as a mailler’s book review, and the building of a mailler’s shop (wherein I’ll document the building of the Black Oak Maille Guild’s new demo booth at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival).  Check back often! As always, any questions, comments, etc should be sent to:

                                    Thomas Beckett
                                    13628 Belmead Ave
                                    Grandview, MO 64030

                                    ATTN: Blackmaille

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