Monday, July 21, 2014

Loss of English Horses at Agincourt

The chronicles agree that the English lost many horses when the French looted their camp at the battle of Agincourt. The shipping account of the earl of Oxford's return trip gives some indication of the level of loss. Of 84 archers, all originally mounted, only 37 returned with horses. The earl and his 39 men at arms brought back 87, including six for the earl's cartage. Based on 14th and 15th c. English shipping allowances of three horses per squire and more for higher ranks, the earl and his men at arms probably left Harfleur with about 140 horses.

Other companies may have lost more or less.

Curry, Anne. 2000. The battle of Agincourt: sources and interpretations. Woodbridge: Boydell Press. p.433

Craig L. Lambert. 2011. Shipping the Medieval Military English maritime logistics in the fourteenth century. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press. p.99

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Early 1500s. Another image of the coronel from the Higgins shown above.

16th or possibly 18th century.
Herehere and here are jousting lance heads in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with a coronel at front left.

A 14th c. English joust announcement also talks of lances Roques, that is to say, with heads like the rook of a medieval chess set.  The medieval rook was shaped a lot like the surviving coronels, or the images of them in medieval iconography.

The Met lance heads show that jousting with sharp lances did not necessarily mean that the points of those were literally sharp by any other standard than those of Crayola Crayons.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Armor 1375-1387

Manuscript Miniatures Note that the Lyon Grandes chroniques de France looks later than 1380 to me and the Lyon library dates it to the end of the 14th century.
Effigies & Brasses Both of these are limited to England, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Why the particular date range? Because I'm part of La Belle Compagnie. In addition to the  years leading up to Agincourt, we do a 1382 and a 1386-7 scenario, John of Gaunt's expedition to Galicia, which is well suited to the weather at a June event we do in Cape May NJ. I was going to take it back to only 1377, but adding two years brought in a lot more images.

The Amor of Charles VI at Chartres, ca. 1380

The Black Prince and Pembridge helms.  By this time, I believe these were for jousts and tournaments, not war. And mostly jousts.

Gauntlets, from before 1361, and probably old at that time, to around 1450.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Hose: 1350-1500

It is well to know that in the second half of the 14th century century and the 15th century, there were three main types of hose, each designed to be supported by a different default method.

Short Hose: supported by a garter below the knee or similar method. Most often worn by women, but sometimes by men, and designed to be worn with a long garment.

Single point hose: longer hose supported from a single point on each leg.  This is reliably decent only for medium length outer garments hemmed not far above the knee. A lot of hems during that period were that long, even for the male fashionable elite. But get much shorter and you start flashing your breeches when you bend, turn around, or sit down.

Now, breeches are shown in medieval art, but usually not in situations that gentlemen would want to normally be seen in in public: agricultural laborers laboring sweatily, bakers feeding an oven, prisoners stripped for execution, executioners stripping down to execute victims with less encumbrance, people caught in the middle of changing, people caught in flagrante delicto. Or maybe when young gentlemen practice sword and buckler, but perhaps they don't do that in the street.

This brings us to:

Multi-point hose: cut high enough to lace up at multiple points near an approximation of the natural waist. The Charles de Blois pourpoint or doublet, which may or may not have been made  before his death in 1364, attaches to hose in seven places, with two laces at each.

At some point two legs of this kind of hose are sewn together into a single garment. This doesn't change what what holds it up needs to do much.

What holds up the hose? Short hose can be held up by a garter, and single point hose can be rolled down in hot weather to be supported by a garter as well.

Single point hose often look like they are simply laced to breeches, but the reality was more complicated. It appears that when this was the case there was a substantial belt in the casing of the breeches. Below, a woodcut of the martyrdom of St. Sebastian from 1410-1420 clearly shows a belt.

Similarly, belts can be seen in the breech casings of the two thieves of the Parement of Narbonne. Still earlier, we see a broad green belt within Saul's breeches casing as he eases nature in the Morgan Bible.

For multi-point hose, the optimal support system seems to have been lacing it to a doublet.  When this kind of hose is laced up bending or sitting puts a lot of stress on the back points, and tends to drag down a belt in back if it is the only support for the hose.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Aristocratic Dress, c. 1400

From the tapestry of Jourdain de Blaye in Padua, c. 1400. Nice outfits. Some lovely hats, belts and fabric. The lettering on the hem of the red gown one back from center front on the left was probably embroidered. I don't know an easier way to do it. Click to enlarge.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Armor: 1410-1415

From England, France, Belgium and the Netherlands:

From Manuscript Miniatures. Some of these have deliberately exotic elements because of a setting that is supposed to be classical, mythical, historical, Asian, or more than one of the above. They should generally be pretty obvious.

From Effigies & Brasses. Bear in mind that these are biased towards people who could afford effigies or brasses,  a wealthier subset of the people who could afford full armor.

From Armour in Art

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Excerpt: A Ballad

The lady looked o'er her own castle-wall
To a bloody scene like writ by Mr. Martin
And said "The blood is like the medieval age
But where are the jokes about fartin'?"

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Broad-brimmed Felt Hats: 1380-1415

From the top: Jacob increasing his herd, Bible historiale (BNF Fr. 9, fol. 32v), beginning of the 15th century, Tristan and the shepherds, Tristan de LĂ©onois (BNF Fr. 97, fol. 136v), first quarter of the 15th century, July, in the Tres Riches Heures of the Duke of Berry, 1410s, Annunciation to the shepherds, fol. 52r Belles Heures of Jean de France, duc de Berry, 1405–1408/9, Illustrations of pilgrims bathing in the Jordan (fol. 129v), and traveling (fol. 142v) The Voyages of Jean de Mandeville and the Liber peregrinationis by Ricoldo de Montecroce (BNF Fr. 2810), c. 1410-1412, The Wife of Bath, The Ellesmere Chaucer, c. 1410, Gelre Herald, Gelre Armorial, Folio 122r, before 1396, St. Jerome, by Theodoricus of Prague, ca. 1380, St. Jerome ordained as cardinal Fol. 184r,  St. Jerome Extracting a Thorn, Fol. 186 v. Belles Heures de Duc du Berry.

As always, click to embiggen.

Broad-brimmed hats were popular with people who expected to spend a lot of time outdoors: shepherds, pilgrims and other travelers, and heralds. The conventional cardinal's hat also had a broad brim, perhaps because the owner was expected to take part in outdoor processions, perhaps because he was expected to travel on church business. The cardinal's hat gives an example of what an upscale broad-brimmed hat might look like.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Wax Tablets

I have completed upgrading two wax writing tablets to make them more like medieval tablets.

The first is a triptych, probably made by Gary Link. and purchased at Pennsic.  The second is a diptych sold by Historic Enterprises.

Tablets, Wood or Otherwise

The statutes of the Parisian tablet makers in the 13th century describe boxwood as the preferred medium for the tablet, although the wood of cedar, beech, ebony, brazilwood and cypress were also used, as well as ivory.

The wax cavity for the triptych had rounded corners, probably produced with a router.

I used a butter knife, heated in hot water, to push wax back from the corners of the tablets and squared them off with a wood chisel.

The process resulted in some splits in the wood. Even though I thought I had repaired the splits with glue, when I attempted to smooth the wax tablets by reheating them I lost a significant amount of the original wax, both through leakage through cracks in the wood, and because my oven racks were not perfectly level. Ultimately I got the best results by brushing on the hot wax and burnishing it smooth with a hot spoon. It does not need to be thick. If we had a hair dryer that would probably be useful.

The Historic Enterprises diptych was probably made from Sheesham or Shisham wood, often used in India.

Wax Medium 

Beeswax for writing tablets seems to have been mixed with resin, such as the terebinth resin added to medieval sealing wax.

Dammar resin is added to the wax for modern encaustic painting to add toughness, hardness and gloss, and to raise the melting point. A typical ratio for encaustic painting is one part Dammar resin to six parts beeswax, which yields wax that is harder than desirable for a writing tablet, hard to write on with a stylus and even harder to erase.

I have been unable to obtain terebinth resin, but I have experimented with mastic resin. Terebinth is produced by the terebinth tree, Pistacia terebinthus and Pistacia palaestina.  Mastic is produced by the mastic tree, Pistacia lentiscus. They are members of the same genus, and so closely related that Pistacia saportae is believed to be a hybrid between P. terebinthus and P. lentiscus.

Mastic and dammar have similar properties when used as a varnish or to temper wax, but less dammar needs to be added to the beeswax for the same hardness, and mastic is much more expensive.

I experimented with a mixture of mastic and beeswax, in the proportion of the above recipe. Mastic has a higher melting point than beeswax, so I melted it first on a pan with a digital thermometer, and then mixed in beeswax. The result, as expected, was harder than untempered beeswax, with a higher melting point. It seemed somewhat softer than a typical recipe for contemporary encaustic medium which uses one part dammar resin to six parts beeswax, but a dammar based recipe could achieve similar hardness by adding more beeswax.

Wax for wax tablets would probably use a higher proportion of beeswax than sealing wax. Artists' encaustic medium would serve well as sealing wax, but I believe from my experiments that three parts beeswax mixed with two parts encaustic medium would serve better for a writing tablet. This is based on my experiments with the Enkaustikos brand of wax medium.

A well stocked art supply store can provide encaustic medium, either premixed with pigment or not. I mixed this with yellow refined beeswax. Alternatively, you could buy Dammar resin, beeswax, and pigments as separate ingredients, and mix them. Dammar resin has a higher melting point than commercial encaustic medium, so the mixing process is tricky.

The wax used for the Historic Enterprises diptych is strange stuff; it is softer than natural beeswax, and smears easily. I used a heated plasterers spatula to remove it and replace it with tempered beeswax.

The Historic Enterprises diptych is thick, coarse and robust compared to extant tablets. It works best as a tablet for a young child, whose parents might well prefer robustness and sturdiness over the delicacy and finish they would want for their own use.


Black wax tinted with some form of carbon black seems to have been the most popular choice for wax tablets, but red, green and yellow appear in iconography and written sources. Yellow was probably simply natural beeswax without any pigment.

Red and green tints in sealing wax were produced with vermillion and verdigris but other pigments may have been used for wax tablets. Vermillion and verdigris are highly toxic and/or unstable. They provide vibrant colors, but these may not be optimal for a writing surface.

Cadmium red, a 20th c. pigment, produces a similar range of hues to vermillion, also called China red or Cinnabar. Cadmium red is also toxic, but not as extremely as vermillion.

Venetian red produces less saturated and brilliant hues than vermillion, not necessarily a bad thing for a writing surface.

Green earth is less saturated and intense than verdigris, but more stable, less toxic, and frequently used in in medieval painting. A wax tablet tinted with green earth  provides a pleasant writing surface.


There were several ways to keep multiple wax tablets together. They could be housed in a leather holster, like playing cards in a box. They could be joined by a single rivet at the top and open like a fan. They could be bound by a strip of parchment or leather glued to one side of the tablets like perfect binding.

Alternatively, they could be bound with linen or other cord or thread, similar to the Coptic binding used since the second century to bind codices of papyrus, vellum or paper. This doesn't seem to have been the most popular method for binding medieval wax tablets, but the wood panels of both my sets of tablets was already drilled with pairs of holes close to the spine on each tablet, originally to bind the tablets with leather thongs, a method not seen in surviving medieval tablets.

However, some surviving medieval tablets do have holes in those locations, so I used waxed hemp cord to bind the tablets together in a way inspired by Coptic binding. It seems to work well.


I modified the Historic Enterprises bone stylus to more closely resemble the size and shape of surviving styli, shortening it and reducing the size of the broad end.


As usual,  Karen Larsdatter provides many examples of tablets and styli in both contemporary art and extant artifacts. Her link to the wax tablets in Torun, Poland are currently broken. They can currently be seen here, here, here, here, here and here.  Randy Asplund has more on tablets and styli.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Reproduction Gauntlets: 1380-1415

These gauntlets are partly inspired by the carving of St. George in Dijon above, commissioned in 1390. The metacarpal and cuff plates, knuckle plates, and copper alloy decoration at the wrists are by Robert MacPherson, the leather gloves by Karl Robinson, and the thumb and finger scales and final assembly by Jeff Wasson. The reproduction gauntlets were photographed by Jeff Wasson.

Dmitry Nelson has collected a gallery of images of gauntlets that have partially survived from before 1361 to middle of the 15th century. Most are from 1380-1415. Some of the oldest pieces may have been old when they were buried at Visby in 1361: the losing side seems have died in armor that was far behind the contemporary state of the art.

Here are some images of medieval gloves or mittens, either fitted in gauntlets or for civilian use:

Churburg Gauntlets
A closer view
Yet another view
Gauntlets of the Black Prince
Another view
Civilian Gloves:
The gloves of Emperor Frederick II, worn at his coronation in 1220
15th century mitten in the Museum of London, showing the thumb inset, also here,here, and here.
A 15th century glove
Medieval gloves and mittens from archaeological finds.
"Glove of Henry VI" However, Alison Weir believes the glove does not predate the 16th century.