The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Mail shirt
  • Mail shirt
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • Germany
  • mid 15th century
    1450 - 1600
  • Low-carbon steel, hardened by quenching after construction
  • Length: 68.5 cm
    Diameter: 1.11 cm, links
    Weight: 9.015 kg
  • A3
  • European Armoury I
Commentary
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Mail shirts with long sleeves like this one were more difficult to construct than those with short or elbow-length sleeves. A long sleeve had to be tapered down to the wrist, so that the wearer was carrying no more weight than was absolutely necessary. Such a tapered sleeve also had to have a built-in, shaped elbow, without which the arm inside would not be able to bend.

    This fine shirt demonstrates who such skilful tailoring was accomplished, by adding or dropping the number of links in a particular row, the mail could be made to expand or contract in its form. Also built into this example is a standing collar, closed with a metal hook, so that the garment also protects the vulnerable throat.

    Long-sleeve mail shirts such as this one could be worn under the plate armour of the knight or man-at-arms, a practice more common through the first half of the fifteenth century, or on their own by more lightly armed troops. As late as the end of the sixteenth century, certain classes of light cavalrymen were still wearing mail shirts like this as a standard part of their equipment. While it could not protect its wearer from the firearms which had been becoming more and more common since the early fifteenth century, mail continued, as it always had done, to be an effective counter to attacks delivered with bladed weapons.

    Interestingly, the maker of this mail shirt, built it using low-carbon steel links, which he then attempted to harden by heating and quenching the piece after construction.