Scotlands History

Medieval arms and armour

Throughout the medieval age an arms race was under way. Opposing sides would try to develop new and better weapons and more effective means of protection and defence. In the end knights in armour became useless on the battlefield as a skilled longbow man could kill them in the saddle.

Foot soldiers would have worn leather armour or chain mail and padded cloth jackets or ‘jacks’. The jack was stuffed with sheep’s wool to create padded ‘armour’ that offered some defence against arrows and swords. Infantry wore metal helmets to protect their heads. Most Scots foot soldiers fought with long spears and sharp axes.

Bows developed throughout the medieval age with crossbows and the longbow appearing on the battlefield. Archers and crossbowmen could quickly rain down a lethal hail of arrows from a great distance.

Knights and men-at-arms wore chain mail - either the more expensive and stronger riveted mail or the cheaper ring mail. This offered a great deal of protection but left a man vulnerable to sharp piercing blades and arrows. Knights wore plate armour, gauntlets and helmets - ‘great helms’ or later ‘bacinet’ helms - for added protection. Armour was specially made and fitted, and could be incredibly expensive.

Knights and men-at-arms fought with lances, battle-axes, war hammers, single-handed swords and daggers.

We can see medieval warriors in the detailed stone carving of West Highland grave slabs and tomb effigies of knights. These were often very accurately carved - depicting weapons, chainmail, helms, shields and even the leather straps and buckles that fastened plate armour.

  • A photo of a medieval knight in metal helmet and chainmail

Click on the image to view a larger version.