Q: What is a warrior’s most important possession?
A: His arms! Yes, we’re talking the physiological appendages. After all, how is he to wield his weapon without them?
Medieval armor-makers must have agreed because their creation of plate armor included special pieces to shield the warrior’s arms. These plates are called arm “bracers” or “vambraces.”
Before the 14th century, fighters protected their arms with a mail sleeve over a gambeson (a padded jacket). As mail was gradually replaced with plate armor, the arm bracer gripped fighting men’s attentions. Appearing in the early 14th century, arm bracers were commonly made from leather or steel. Leather bracers were sometimes fortified with strips of hardened hide or metal – the result was referred to as “splinted armor,” although “hardcore stripes of doom” was also a contender.
Since arm bracers only covered the section from the wrist to the elbow, they were sometimes worn with “couters,” armor made to specifically protect the elbow. Couters were originally just curved pieces of metal, but later became articulated joints. In the 1360s, the sliding vambrace was introduced, which could turn in the joint to allow a greater range of arm movement.
Arm bracers were attached to the couter with lames and rivets, creating an arm harness. At this point, the warrior’s whole arm was covered by one continuous piece! The top of the bracer was laced to the gambeson and then covered by the spaulder, a plate that protected the shoulder and upper arm. Throw away your jazzercise videos – with all those pieces, getting into gear is the only workout a knight needs!
Theoretical Knight’s Children’s Nursery Rhyme:
Bang-a-clang-clanger, three pieces of armor
And what do you think was there?
The bracer, the couter, the iron-hard spaulder
All ready for the Renaissance Faire!
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