You need an arming coat to wear with your 15th century harness! Here it is!
Buy our full-size paper pattern with complete instructions and historical notes for 15th century men's arming coat extant examples and period illustrations. Fits chests 34"-54" and waists 28"-50". All Sizes in one envelope. Historical notes and embellishment suggestions included.
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light weight to coat weight wool, medium weight linen or silk
light linen for lining
silk, wool or cotton batting for padding
alternately, layers of linen may be used instead of padding
Outer Material: 3 yds 45" or 2½ yds 60" wide
Lining (optional): 3 yds 45” or 2½ yds 60” wide
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Below is an excerpt from the historical notes you will receive as part of this pattern:
15th Century Jacks & Arming Doublets by Robert P. Davis
Soldiers have always worn garments to protect themselves against their foes. This was true even after the development of plate armour to its highest form - the 15th century 'white harness.'
In 15th-century Europe, there were two different types of Jack worn - that worn as padding for outer metal armour, and that worn as the main body armour itself. Paintings and manuscript illustrations show examples of both, though the incidence is strongly weighted toward the latter.
The jack worn as armour - hereafter referred to as the 'padded jack' - was usually made of between ten and thirty layers of linen or wool.
Lighter jacks were prescribed for wear with other armours; the ordinance of St. Maximin de Treves, published in October of 1473, specifically states that an archer must be protected by
"[...] a brigandine, or a sleeveless mail shirt under a ten layer jack."
This type of jack is also seen worn under other steel body protection. The archer depicted on Memling's Reliquary of St Ursula wears a shirt of maille under a jack with a breastplate over all. (See Figure 1.)
With an outer layer of a sturdy fabric like canvas, the thicker padded jacks provided excellent protection from arrows and other weapons. The Ordinances of Louis XI, ca. 1480, prescribe 25 to 30 layers of cloth with a leather outer layer if possible. This ordinance claims
"[N]ever have been seen half a dozen men killed by stabs or arrow wounds in such Jacks, particularly if they be troops accustomed to fighting."
Interestingly, the proof of such garments has been demonstrated by modern testing. Arrows were defeated by a thirty-layer jack without a leather outer layer, as were slashing cuts from a variety of European swords. Stabbing tests did not prove the Ordinance, as most of the swords tested penetrated the jack sufficiently to inflict significant injury.
This is not to say all jacks were layered, even when worn as the main article of defense. Dominic Mancini wrote about Richard III's archers in 1483:
"Indeed, the common soldiery have more comfortable tunics that reach down below the loins and are stuffed with tow or some other material. They say that the softer the tunic the better do they withstand the blows of arrows and swords, and besides that in summer they are lighter and in the winter they are more serviceable than iron."
There are two extant jacks in Continental collections, one in Lübeck and one in Stendal. Both are remarkably similar (see Figure 2). They are constructed of cotton batting sandwiched between layers of heavy linen or hemp canvas. On one of these jacks, we finally are shown some methods of closure.
The Stendal jack uses three pairs of eyelets, presumably for points, to close the breast: one at the neck, the other over the sternum, and the third at the waist. From the waist to the hem are eight regularly-spaced eyelets. It is unknown whether these are to be fastened with points or spiral-laced.
Neither example has sleeves or collar. Whether this is intentional is unknown; both jacks are in a fragmentary state and show signs of much patching and repair.
There are two predominant varieties of quilting on 15th-century jacks: vertical channels and squares. The extant jacks referenced above use vertical channels, as does the jack worn by Memling's St Ursula archer (see Figure 1).
The St Ursula Reliquary gives us the useful variant of quilted squares, as seen on a plainly-equipped footsoldier (see Figure 3).
Regardless of whether the jack is layered or padded, the quilting seams are sewn in the same manner: the quilting seams are sewn through all layers at the same time.
Most jacks have a large amount of padding at the shoulder. Often referred to as 'ball-top sleeves', they are seen on both military garments - jacks - and civilian doublets. On the jack, the ball-tops serve a valuable purpose, as they provide protection to the point of the shoulder.
Jacks were also worn as protective garments to practice the art of defense. From the household accounts of Sir John Howard, 1464:
"And the xxiiij. Janever, I toke to the dobelete maker to make me a dobelete of fense, fore hevery for qwarter xviij folde theke of wyte fostyen, and iiij fold of lenen klothe, and a folde of blake fostyen to pote wethe howete; and fore hevery bake quarter xvj. folde of wyte fostyen, and iiij. of lenen klothe, and j. of blake, for the kewferenge; and fore the sleves j. folde of blake fostyen, and vj. of wyte, and ij. of lenen klothe"
"I took to the doublet maker to make me a doublet of fence, for every quarter 18 folds thick of white fustian, and 4 fold of linen cloth, and a fold of black fustian to put with it; and for every back quarter 16 folds of white fustian, and 4 of linen cloth, and 1 of black, for the covering; and for the sleeves 1 fold of black fustian, and 4 of white, and 2 of linen cloth."
If jacks were worn as basic torso armour, under a simple breastplate, over a hauberk of mail, alone or in a combination of the three, men-at-arms who wore white harness did not require such a bulky garment. The arming doublet - a basic garment worn on the torso beneath the large sections of plate that provided protection from blows - was the solution.
Hastings MS. [f.122b] gives a very detailed description of how an arming doublet was constructed:
"He shall have no shirt upon him except for a doublet of fustian lined with satin, cut full of holes. The doublet must be strongly built; the points must be set at the break in the arm in the front and back. To lace the gussets of mail must be sewn onto the doublet also at the break in the arm and at the underarm. The arming points must be made of fine twine like that with which men make strings for crossbows. These points must have tips for lacing."
The points referred to in the Hastings manuscript are how the various pieces of armour were attached to the doublet. The mail - called 'voiders' - was attached to the doublet to cover vulnerable areas such as the posterior and armpits. Many arming doublets also had eyelets around the bottom hem used for attaching a short mail skirt which covered small areas around the joint of the hip. See Figure 4.
The executioner from Dieric Bouts the Elder's "The Execution of the Innocent Count" circa 1460 gives great detail of an arming doublet. Note the sequence of eyes around the bottom hem of the skirts: a multiplicity of points for the attachment of a voider skirt of maille. See Figure 5. The Trajan Tapestry, held by the Bern Historical Museum, depicts typical upper-class white harness ca. 1450. Copied from paintings by Roger van der Weyden unfortunately no longer extant, the tapestry shows a wealth of detail. Of most interest is the executioner in the lower right of the tapestry. Like Bouts's executioner, he is stripped to doublet and hose for his unpleasant task, which permits us to see the short sleeves of the doublet as well as the series of eyelets around the bottom hem. This executioner also has a set of points above the ring, presumably for the attachment of his leg harness. See Figure 6.
Together, the arming doublet and jack comprise the best solutions for a warrior's 'on-duty' clothing in the latter half of the 15th century. Ensuring comfort as well as proper fit of the white harness, the arming doublet permits ease of movement while armed. Providing overall protection as well as padding under plate harness, the jack was inexpensive protection for the common soldier.
"On a MS Collection of Ordinances of Chivalry in the Fifteenth Century, Belonging to Lord Hastings", Archaeologica LVII (1900), as quoted in Chaucer's World, Compiled by Edith Rickert, Edited by Clair C. Olson and Martin M. Crow (New York: Columbia University Press, 1948) NRA 24681 Howard, The Howard Household Accounts, 12th cent.-20th cent., National Register of Archives, United Kingdom.
Gillingham, John. Wars of the Roses: Peace and Conflict in Fifteenth-century England. (London: Phoenix Press, 2001).
Vaughan, Richard. Charles the Bold: the last Valois Duke of Burgundy. (Woodbridge, Suffolk, U.K: The Boydell Press, 2002).
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This information © 2009 Robert P. Davis, Kass McGann and Reconstructing History