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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: March 2020

1 - A Tale of Two Suits of Armor

Summary

Twice with this cunning arm he put to flight

Our company and both my brothers slew:

The elder first, his body-armour quite

Fragmented and his valiant heart shot through;

The second perished in the second fight.

As, routed from the battlefield he flew,

A blow upon his back the weapon cast

And through his breast the deadly ball then passed.

—Ludovico Ariosto, Orlando Furioso

Two German suits of armor stand next to each other in the “Arms and Armor” Collection at the Saint Louis Art Museum in St. Louis, Missouri. To the left stands a full-body suit of armor; to the right hangs a three-quarter suit of armor. They are both crafted from steel and secured by leather fittings. The full-body field armor, standing at sixty-eight inches tall, was crafted by Wilhelm von Worms the Elder (1497–1537) between 1510 and 1525. Weighing almost forty-one pounds, Wilhelm's armor is by no means light, and it bears all the markings of a suit that was meant for battle. The mitten gauntlets could flex at the wrist and ball into a fist. The steel plates linking the fingers protect them from being broken or sliced by glancing blows while allowing the wearer to grip swords, spears, lances, flails, and horse reins. Taken in consideration with the curved hook on the upper right armpit, a lance bracket, and the full leg and foot coverings, the mitten fingers on the gauntlets tell us that this armor was designed with the medieval activities and weaponry of knights in mind.

The three-quarter suit of armor, which extends from knees to helmet, was made sometime around or after 1625. Despite the fact that it is sixteen inches shorter than Wilhelm's suit, it weighs four pounds more. It also has dozens of overlapping metal plates that provide greater flexibility in the legs, shoulders, and hands. Unlike the mitten gauntlets of the older suit of armor, this suit has gloved gauntlets with independently articulating fingers. The 1625 armor has no jousting hook, and the upper leg coverings can be removed with the loosening of brass wing nuts. War had changed since Wilhelm's day, and armor had to change with it.

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