The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Mail shirt
  • Mail shirt
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • Germany
  • 16th century
  • Low-carbon steel and copper alloy
  • Length: 63.5 cm
    Diameter: 0.506 cm, links
    Weight: 7.966 kg
  • A7
  • European Armoury I
Commentary
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • The fine mail of this piece would usually indicate a piece of a very high quality. However, it is important to note that this shirt appears to have been composed of recycled pieces from other mail garments, all of which were constructed using very small links, generally less than 5mm in their outside diameter. The composite nature of this shirt is revealed by the varying quality of the links themselves. In some areas they are extremely well made, while in other areas they are quite poor. In a homogeneous mail shirt, this would not be the case.

    The smallness of the links suggests that this garment was made in the 16th century, although a late 15th-century date for some of the constituent pieces is not impossible. As well as military uses, finely-woven mail was worn in civilian life in the Renaissance, for duelling and as protection against clandestine attacks. Such ‘privy’ (secret) coats could be covered with textile or just worn under other garments, making it difficult to see that the wearer was armoured. Alternatively some swaggering duellists, especially in Italy, wore mail coats quite openly as a provocative statement.