The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Mail shirt
  • Mail shirt
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • Germany
  • 2nd quarter of 15th century
  • Medium-carbon steel and copper alloy
  • Length: 71.1 cm
    Diameter: 0.405 cm, of links
    Weight: 8.84 kg
  • Maker's mark: '+ernart couwein'
  • A2
  • Not on display
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Without question the finest mail shirt in the Wallace Collection, this ‘haubergeon’ is finely tailored to the body of the wearer and constructed of tough medium-carbon steel links. This is an important detail, since it shows that the piece was a high-quality example, so much so that its maker signed it using a special copper alloy link stamped with his name. Although steel mail is mentioned in inventories from the middle of the fourteenth century, it probably became more common as steel making technology improved in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The high quality of this example is also suggested by its very skilful tailoring, and by its ornamental borders, made up of rows of yellow copper alloy links.

    One of the numerous reasons mail was so widely used over such a long period (in Europe, over 2000 years, from approximately the 3rd century B.C. to the 17th century A.D.) was that mail garments could easily be repaired, re-built or recycled. Even if it was badly torn by an unusually powerful attack, the damage could be quickly repaired and the garment put back into service. Old mail pieces could be sold second-hand, remaining in use for a century or more after their original making. Garments which went out of fashion could be cut-up and made into something new. For example, it was common for medieval mail shirts to be cut up into sets of separate mail sleeves and skirts (usually called ‘paunces’) to be worn with later full plate armour. For this reason, quite apart from their great age, complete mail shirts of a relatively early date are now exceptionally rare.