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Watch Weapons That Made Britain online: Episode 5 Armour

The knight in armour is a classic and enduring image of the late medieval period. The development of armour is inextricably linked to the development of weapons an arms race in which measures and counter measures have been conceived, designed and produced, pushed ever forward by the threat of war. Although the Romans in their armadillo-like lorica segmentata proved that articulated metal plates provided exceptional protection, the later Saxon trend was towards maille, the woven iron fabric of individually riveted and interlinked rings. Maille was extremely flexible but relatively heavy, its weight generally carried by the shoulders. Its biggest drawback was its ineffectiveness against puncturing weapons such as spears, lances and arrows. During the 13th century, knights started to add metal plates for extra protection. The coat of plates that became fashionable was essentially a breastplate constructed of small steel sections riveted to a cloth covering. Then advances in iron working enabled larger pieces of sheet steel to be produced, and by the 14th century, knights appeared fully enclosed in harnesses of plate armour. The main centres of armour production were in Italy and Germany, each area producing different styles. By the 16th century, the Italians were making suits with smooth lines and fine decoration, whereas the Germans were constructing highly intricate harnesses that, like the highly fluted Maximilian style, were tantamount to wearable and working pieces of art, each set made to measure like a perfect suit.

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