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What did a Crusader Wear?

During the first and second crusades, a man at arms would have been dressed head-to-toe in mail, linked iron rings woven together to provide defense against the cutting edge of a broadsword.

Medieval swords, it should be noted, were not necessarily sharp; the mass of the sword, and the momentum of the horse and rider together made for a significant amount of force all concentrated behind the narrow edge of the sword. Medieval swords were generally more for crushing and breaking bones than they were for cutting.

Under his armour the knight wore bries–medieval underwear–and padded garments called the chausses (for the legs) and aketon or gambeson for the body. This gambeson or aketon was a quilted coat that was very thick, something like a heavy quilt or blanket.

Over this coat the knight wore his mail hauberk or haubergeon. It had sleeves that ran down to the elbow or wrist, depending upon the fashion of the time. The shirt was long, until the 15th century, when mail as the main armour was finally replaced by iron and steel plates. The mail shirt was slipped over the head and he wriggled into it with ease. A hauberk weighed between twenty five and forty pounds, but when belted could be fought in easily and allowed for the very smooth movements needed for fighting from horseback.

Over the mail shirt the knight would then wear a surcoat printed or embroidered with his arms, a colorful shield that identified him, his family and members of his lands who fought with him. The surcoat, and the mantling on helmets was an important development during the 11th and 12th centuries because it was during this same time that the knight’s iron cap was replaced with a fully-enclosed “pot” helmet, and identification of a man in full armour bame difficult. Surcoats were worn both to keep the desert sun off of the metal armour and to provide  a way to identify each man. Sometimes when on crusade knights took up a simple white surcoat bearing a cross to remind both themselves and the Saracens of their Holy mission.

Over the surcoat was placed the long knight’s belt. Belted loosely around his waist, it helped to support the weight of the mail short on his hips so that it didn’t rest on his shoulders alone. Worn thus, the whole armour was relatively comfortable.

For the legs the knight sometimes wrapped blankets around the knees to protect them from chafing. Over the cloth chausses he buckled on another set of mail defenses that covered the legs, also called chausses. Spurs were worn to insure that the horse would move when necessary, since the horse was the knight’s most important weapon.

The head was protected first by a cloth cap and roll that both padded the iron helmet and kept the iron links out of the knight’s hair. Next came the mail camail, a sort of hood with an opening for the face that protected the vulnerable neck from sword cuts. Crusaders generally wore great helmets of iron that weighed from 4 – 10 pounds with a narrow slot for the eyes called an “occularium.” This metal defense for the head meant that it was very hard for others to cut through to his head or to wound him with arrows, but it also made breathing in the desert and communication between knights difficult.

Because of the sun and the need to identify each knight cloth ‘lambequin’s’ were added to keep the sun off of the helmet. These colorful cloths danced around as the knight rode.

A set of mail mittens on his hand, and the knight was ready for battle.


© 1998 Brian R. Price
Editor / Producer
February 22. 1998