The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Mail sleeve
  • Mail sleeve
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • 15th century - 16th century
  • Copper alloy
  • Length: 90 cm, overall
    Diameter: 0.549 cm, rings
    Weight: 1.94 kg
  • A10
  • European Armoury III
Commentary
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • As early as the middle of the 14th century, when body armour made up of solid plates was becoming more common, many fighting men began to realise that it might no longer be necessary to wear a full shirt of mail under their plate armour. The total weight of the armour could be reduced by wearing mail sleeves and a skirt under the plate armour, instead of a complete mail coat. These pieces served the continuing requirement for supplementary defences for the inner arms and groin, protecting the gaps or ‘chinks’ in the plates.

    However, this pair of mail sleeves were probably intended only for parade or ceremonial use and not for war. Unusually, all of the links making up these pieces, in alternating rows of solid and riveted construction, are made of soft copper alloy rather than ferrous metal. While bare yellow copper alloy was used to decorate the borders, in the main body of each piece the links were once tinned so that they glittered like polished silver. Such mail would have been the perfect complement to a highly-decorated parade armour, which made a powerful visual impact but which offered little in the way of real protection.