The Medieval Shield: Weaponry Or Art?

For a knight or soldier during the Middle Ages, a shield not only offered solid protection from those brutal blows from their adversaries, but this piece also served as a weapon.  As part of their training, men practiced for hours to build strength and agility with swords and shields.  The shields were nicely decorated with symbols that identified knights and soldiers in battle and tournaments.  Because medieval armor included a visor that covered the knight’s face, the shield symbol was important in identifying the knight in action.

Archer/Buckler Shield:

Archer Buckler Shield

As medieval body protection changed over time, so did the style of shield, thus resulting in several different shield offerings.  In the early Middle Ages, the primary protection was provided by the kite shield.  Rounded at the top and tapered at the bottom, this shield ensured body protection as chainmail.  For the jousting knights and the horse riders, there was the heater shield.  Closely resembling the kite shield, this shield also complimented a full suit of armor.  When it came to hand to hand combat, the buckle shield was the way to go!  As an easily accessible protective device, this small, round, metal shield could be hung from a belt.  For crossbow men, the Pavise (wall shield) was a tall shield securing protection while they were reloading their crossbows.  In the later Middle Ages, the bouche was developed, which was used with the lance.  And last, but not least, was the traditional Scottish round shield known as the Targe (target shield).  Indeed, medieval shields were diverse and there was one fit for every occasion.

In constructing medieval shields, many different materials were used.  Depending on the type of combat and armor worn, shield materials were selected accordingly.  Factors such as weight, accessibility, and style were considered.  The main materials used for construction were wood, metal, and animal hides.  In addition to the shield, a strap called a guige was also made to be slung over a knight’s back when a shield was not in use or to be worn on horseback.

Black Prince Shield:

Black Prince Shield

In regards to medieval shield symbols, there were different designs and colors to distinguish a knight.  Colors used for symbols were red, yellow, green, blue, black, and white.  Shields were decorated with heraldic design or a knight’s coat of arms.  These decorations were first seen on a knight’s clothing or surcoat work over the armor and then these designs were transferred to the shields for fast recognition.  Shield designs included plants and animals and the field of the shield was divided into separate sections called “honourable ordinaries”.  Not only were these shields a protection mechanism, but they were also artistic creations.

In present day, medieval shields exist as decorative pieces, as well as used for reenactments and role playing.  To see our shield collection, cruise on over to:

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