Part 43 - 6-in-1 Maille: Fact or Fiction?
by Lord Thomas the Black
6-in-1 Maille: Fact or Fiction?
Welcome to another edition of Blackmaille! The article you are about to read began life as one written for our local SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) newsletter, The Clarion. I’ve expanded it somewhat, and added pictures to illustrate some things better. Enjoy!
In recent months, I have seen a number of debates online, and received a number of emails asking if European 6-in-1 maille is really a period pattern. A number of effigies, paintings, and extant examples are pointed out by supporters of 6-in-1, while these same sources are hotly contested as artistic license or misinterpretation by those who say that Euro 6-in-1 is a modern invention. So, I’ve decided to examine the evidence, pro and con, and hopefully shed some light on this controversial subject.
As most people involved in the study of arms and armor know, nearly all maille made in the Middle Ages was made in the European 4-in-1 pattern (4 rings going through a fifth), and all was riveted.
The debate about 6-in-1 first arose when scholars examining some maille hauberks observed the thicker, heavier collars on said hauberks. Was this actually 6-in-1 maille, or just densely-woven 4-in-1? Initial reports had stated that these were 6-in-1; however, later scholarship revealed that they were merely 4-in-1 of smaller links or thicker wire.
The arguments for a 6-in-1 collar on a maille hauberk, bishop’s mantle, or standard are compelling, though. A 6-in-1 collar will stand up on its own, and will offer more rigid protection for the throat. So why wasn’t it used?
Well, for a long time, there really was no saying it definitely wasn’t used, any more than there was definitive evidence for its use. Therein lay the basis for debate.
More recent research indicates, however, that there is evidence of 6-in-1 maille being made in the middle ages. In a Celtic/Gallic “massenfund”, or horde deposit dating from the 2nd -1st century BCE, found at Tiefenau (near Bern, in Switzerland) is a fragment of maille that is very clearly 6-in-1.
So, there’s clearly evidence that it was done at one time. Now the question is: how long did it last? Here again, we have evidence. A maille mantle held by the British Museum:
Erik D. Schmid, one of the world’s foremost experts on maille armor, had this to say about this piece in a recent post on swordforum.com:
“The date that the British Museum has on it is late 15th century, and I would have to agree with them. I just looked at this piece two days ago. The collar is definitely 6-in-1.”
So there you have it. We have an early (@ 2nd century BCE) example, and a late (@ late 15th century CE) example. Now that we’ve “book-ended” 6-in-1’s use in the Middle Ages, how common was it?
The answer is: not very. Concrete examples are so few and far between as to be practically non-existent. At the very least, its use was extremely rare, but why?
The answer to that question may lie in the economics of the day. “Everyday” Euro 4-in-1 maille was time-consuming and expensive to produce (a full suit cost roughly the equivalent of a small car nowadays). 6-in-1maille, even just on a collar, would be even more so. The added cost of production would have put 6-in-1 maille out of most warriors’ price range. The added cost to those who could afford it would have ensured that the maille was likely scrupulously cared-for. Such pieces might also have been handed down generation-to-generation, or, in the event of damage, pulled apart and woven into new maille items. Ample evidence exists of this type of “recycling”. If a shirt was too badly damaged, or just plain out-of-fashion, it might be cut apart into voiders, or a standard, or part of some other item.
Also a consideration is the added trouble of training an apprentice in 6-in-1 maille. Put yourself in a mailler’s shoes back then. You have an apprentice for whom you provide a place to live, clothing, food, and teach him a trade, and in return, he makes maille for your shop. Do you want to take the time and trouble training him in a rarely-asked-for and expensive procedure, or would it be a better use of his time to hone his skills on the more common style? I wouldn’t waste my time on the little urchin, either!
As the SCA is fond of saying: “If they’d have had it, they’d have used it!” Well, the evidence would suggest that they did indeed have it, and to a much lesser degree, used it. This is not to say that you should rush right out and tack a 6-in-1 collar to every hauberk you have (or make). It was a rare and costly process, and one with much study still to be done on its behalf.
Still, the study of maille is still in its infancy, and new research is being done all the time. Who knows what the future may reveal about the past?
Thanks for joining me for another edition of “Blackmaille”! As usual, any questions, comments, hate mail or fan mail can (and should) be sent to me at:
c/o Tom Beckett
13628 Belmead Ave
Grandview, MO 64030
Or, I can be reached by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
 Carmen, W.Y. "A History of Firearms from Earliest Time to 1914" London UK, Routledge & Regan, 1955
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