The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
  • Helm
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • England or Flanders
  • c. 1410- c. 1450
  • Medium-carbon steel, air-cooled
  • Height: 34.6 cm
    Length: 40 cm, top
    Length: 28 cm, bottom
    Weight: 7.4 kg
  • A186
  • European Armoury I
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • For over two hundred years after they first appeared at the very end of the eleventh century, jousts were run using the same armour and weapons used for war. This nominally friendly or at least civil practice was however just as dangerous as real battle, and from the early fourteenth century (if not earlier), efforts began to be made to develop specialised ‘safety’ armour to be used only for non-lethal sporting jousts.

    In battle, the most effective way for a mounted knight to disable his similarly equipped opponents was to avoid the armour entirely and strike an opponent through the eyes, killing him instantly or at least significantly injuring him. The ability consistently to strike opponents in the upper face in mounted charges with the couched spear was a difficult skill requiring continual practice, which was provided by the joust. Special jousting armour was developed to allow such lethal skills to be honed in relative safety. From the late fourteenth century we find documentary references to the hastiludia pacifica (‘joust of peace’), clearly differentiated from the hastiludia de guerre (‘joust of war’), the older, more dangerous form of the game.

    This helm, designed for the joust of peace, is quite an early example of its type. Made of steel up to 6mm thick, it is over twice the weight of a war helmet. Its so-called ‘frog-mouthed’ design is characterised by the prow-like face-plate, drawn out well in front of the face so that lances break harmlessly against it, like waves against the bow of a ship. The projecting lip makes it much more difficult for an incoming lance to accidentally enter the eye-slot or ‘sight’. If the rider was knocked backwards by the force of his opponent’s blow, the projecting lip of his helm, angling upwards, offered instantaneous and complete protection from splinters or lance-points skating up into his face.

    Helms such as this are often very difficult to date, the ‘frog-mouthed’ design being so successful that they remained in use for well over a century. The relative plainness of the form and construction suggests that this example was made in the first half of the fifteenth century.