The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Mail shirt
  • Mail shirt
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • mid 15th century
  • Iron
  • Length: 71.1 cm
    Diameter: 0.991 cm, of links
    Weight: 9.015 kg
  • A4
  • European Armoury I
Commentary
History
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • It is almost certain that this example, rather than having been made as a sleeveless coat, once had either elbow-length or long sleeves. As full mail shirts fell increasingly out of use in the later fifteenth century, many older hauberks and haubergeons (long and short mail coats) had their sleeves removed. Sleeves of mail were worn with full plate armour throughout the 16th century and even into the 17th century. The plate armour itself by this time had become thick enough to make a layer of mail behind it obsolete, but mail was still required to cover the gaps or ‘chinks’ in the armour at the underarms and inner elbows. Wearing separate sleeves provided the secondary coverage which was required, without bringing with it the significant additional weight of a full shirt of mail. While some forms of armour could be quite heavy, especially as key elements became thick enough to be bullet-proof in the 1500s, it was never heavier than it absolutely had to be. Contrary to common modern misconceptions, armour makers and wearers were both more than aware of the need to avoid excessive weight, which would slow down and tire the wearer.

    Once having been a mail shirt of more modest quality, its links made of iron rather than steel, it would have been an ideal candidate to cannibalise for separate mail sleeves and other small elements.