The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Mail shirt
  • Mail shirt
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • Augsburg, Germany
  • late 14th century or early 15th century
  • Low-carbon steel and copper alloy
  • Length: 73.7 cm
    Diameter: 1.11 cm, rings
    Weight: 4.479 kg
  • A1
  • Not on display
Commentary
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Mail (from the Latin macula, meaning ‘web’ or ‘net’) was one of the most important armour materials available in pre-modern Europe. It may have been known to the ancient Celts as early as the third century B.C., and was later adopted by the Romans. By the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire in the fifth century A.D., mail was a standard form of armour throughout Europe, for those who could afford it. It remained an integral aspect of most forms of armour until the 17th century.

    Contrary to popular belief, mail was never replaced by plate armour. Rather the protection it provided was augmented and built upon with layers of plate and padded textile. The comparatively large, heavy construction of the links that make up this mail shirt suggest that it is reasonably early in date, that is, not later than the beginning of the 15th century. Beyond that point, it appears that newly-made mail was increasingly constructed using smaller, finer links. However, it is perfectly reasonable to suggest that a late medieval mail shirt like this one might have remained in service for quite a long time. Mail was worn not just by fully armoured knights, but also by archers, gunners, and lower-ranking infantrymen. A good coat of mail could thus have been handed down from its original owner, changing hands many times and continuing to be worn as long as it was thought useful.