It is overwhelming to see medieval knights in the movies, loaded with their heavy plate armor and fighting to the death in some crude battle. Canned in kilos of steel, they could at best move around like clumsy robots, right? Well, it’s time to abandon this distressing vision, because these armors were made to provide ample freedom of movement.
A multidisciplinary team from the Université de Geneve was able to demonstrate this experimentally. To do so, they made a 26.18 kg replica (excluding the helmet) quite faithful to 15th century plate armors. The wearer had to reproduce the exercise routine of the French Marshal Jean Le Maingre, alias Boucicault (1366-1421), as recorded in a medieval manuscript that has survived to the present day.
To stay fit for battle, the Gallic marshal, very famous in his time, ran long distances, climbed stairs on his inner side using only his arms, performed all kinds of pirouettes and capers, danced, climbed… all with his heavy armor on.
Researchers reproduced these exercises for several weeks and found that the equipment ensured all kinds of movements in an agile and elastic manner. Actually, the drawback of these armors was the decrease in oxygen availability and the fatigue as a result of wearing them for a long time.
As Pietro Monte, master-at-arms, stated, the armor had to meet three requirements: it had to be light, offer protection and allow freedom of movement, conditions that seemed to be met, at least by the model studied…
Below, you can see how “comfortable” medieval armors were:
Askew, G.N., Formenti, F., Minetti, A.E. (2011). Limitations imposed by wearing armour on Medieval soldiers’ locomotor performance. Proc. Royal Soc. B. 279, 640–644. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2011.0816
Jaquet, D., Mazure, A.B., Armand, S., Charbonnier, C., Ziltener, J-L., Kayser, B. (2016). Range of motion and energy cost of locomotion of the late medieval armoured fighter: A proof of concept of confronting the medieval technical literature with modern movement analysis. Hist. Methods 49, 169-186. https://doi.org/10.1080/01615440.2015.1112753