Being a knight during the Middle Ages was not as glamorous as what you see in films. True, there were probably damsels in distress to rescue and castles to storm, but knights were also in the heat of battle. As war raged across the land, knights constantly faced great danger and thus, proper protection was key if they were to survive. Not only did this include body armor, but head gear as well. And just as armor styles changed with the evolution of new materials, technology, and battle strategies, so did styles of medieval helmets.
Let’s rewind to the 10th century where one of the first medieval helmets entered the scene. It was known as the Norman Helmet and was distinguished by a conical shape with a nasal guard. It was typically comprised of four pieces of triangular metal which formed a ring and culminated at the apex. The true defining element of this piece was the nasal guard, which not only guarded the nose, but also covered a decent portion of the wearer’s face to the degree that they would be unrecognizable until the helmet was removed. The Norman Helmet had a respectable run through the early 12th century.
The next advancement in the line of medieval helmets emerged in the late 12th century with cylindrical helmets, one of the most popular being the Sugarloaf. The main advantage of this head gear was its coverage of the entire face, not just the nose. Ventilation holes were added in this form to allow a bit of breathing room and eye cutouts provided limited visibility. The conical top also aided in defense by effectively deflecting opponents’ blows. While this style had its downsides, it was still progress in the right direction and enjoyed widespread use through the 13th century.
As the 14th century approached, medieval helmets saw even more improvement in their design. One of the major components that was added was a movable visor. This development meant full visual field and easier and expanded breathing. Plus there was also the option to go into battle fully visored or visorless, depending on what the situation called for. Among the visored helmets, one of the most popular was the bascinet. Constructed from chain mail and iron plate, this was a piece worn by wealthier knights and was esteemed as being quite fashionable. The bascinet and other visored head armor reached their peak in the 14th century, but proved they had the lasting power to stick around into the Late Middle Ages.
As the Middle Ages came to a close in the 15th and 16th centuries, medieval helmets transitioned from being a mere piece of armor to becoming status symbols and artistic creations. It was common for crests, coats of arms, and other insignia to appear on these helmets. Not only were these designs lavish to behold, they also served as a form of identification for knightly order.
While serving their own purposes for knights in battle, medieval helmets also paved the way for head gear of future eras, leaving a lasting legacy and proving some things never go out of style!