Part 51 - Maille in "Kingdom of Heaven"
by Lord Thomas the Black
“There, at the end of the
world, you are not what you were born, but what you have it in yourself to
- Godfrey of Ibelin
“Kingdom of Heaven”
Maille in “Kingdom of Heaven”
Welcome back to another edition of “Blackmaille” This month, we wrap up our three-part series on the crusades with a look at one of my favorite films: “Kingdom of Heaven”.
In 2005, director Ridley Scott brought to the silver screen a sweeping epic of the third crusade. Loosely based on James Reston Jr’s book “Warriors of God”, “Kingdom of Heaven” tells the story of Balian of Ibelin, a pivotal character in the third crusade, and defender of Jerusalem until its surrender in 1187.
“Kingdom of Heaven”, like most Hollywood efforts, plays pretty fast and loose with history, often sacrificing accuracy for the sake of story. Still, I freely admit my unabashed love of this movie. No other movie before or since has depicted maille so profusely, nor as accurately. Nearly everyone in the movie wears maille at some point, and all of it is depicted with an accuracy almost unheard-of in Hollywood epics.
For example, let’s look at a scene early on, when Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson) is evaluating Balian’s (Orlando Bloom) sword fighting skills. As they spar, there’s a knight sitting by the campfire oiling his maille from a small pot by the fire!
This kind of maintenance was a day-to-day reality for warriors in the Middle Ages, yet it’s never depicted in movies at all. Small details like that are what make a movie like this so much more engaging.
Another scene that portrays maille accurately flashes by fairly quickly. During the siege of Jerusalem, Balian, while fighting off attackers from a siege tower, is struck on the arm. The maille is not damaged, but he’s clearly hurt. Later, he turns back the maille to reveal a badly broken arm.
Again, injuries from the force of a blow were common, but aren’t depicted in movies, where armor is portrayed as an impenetrable defense against any weapon.
The maille used throughout “KoH” was made by Weta/Tenzan Chainmaile, who also made the maille in “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”
The Weta maille used in “KoH” represents a refinement of the PVC maille used in “LotR”. Instead of rings cut from PVC pipe, the Weta/Tenzan maille in “KoH” was injection-molded, and constructed of alternating rows of solid and open rings.
Nearly all the maille in “KoH” was made in a period-correct style. The coifs had ventails covering the lower part of the face and neck, which tied up at the temple.
The maille worn by Saladin’s army is period-accurate, too, with maille-and-plate body armor and maille drapes on helms common amongst the Islamic soldiers.
The only two inaccuracies I could see in the maille were both in the sleeves. Maille sleeves (presumably intended to be on a hauberk) ended in a patch over the back of the hand, held in place with a leather thong across the palm, instead of terminating in mittens as was done in period. Also, the maille on the sleeves seemed to be woven in the wrong direction. This is a common gripe of mine with medieval movies, and it stems from the costumers using maille sleeves tied to an undertunic, instead of a full hauberk.
Still, “KoH” is far and away the best movie depiction of the realities of wearing maille in battle. I highly recommend every mailler rent this film for this alone. If “KoH”’s depiction of the crusades appeals to you, then that’s great, too. There are a lot of books available on the subject, and like the old PSA used to say: “Your local librarian will help you Read More About It!”
In the meantime, thanks for joining us for another month of “Blackmaille”! I hope you’ve enjoyed our three-part series on maille and the crusades. 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 you can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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