If you are someone who likes to engage in historical re-enactments or happen to be an armor enthusiast, there is no doubt you have been to conventions or Renaissance fairs where you have seen steel and leather armor for sale. As you stand there debating which type to add to your collection next, steel armor may appear to be the obvious choice. After all, it tends to be the more popular and effective style. However, like any upstanding consumer, it’s always best to gather all the facts to enable an informed purchasing decision. With this in mind, don’t overlook the value of leather armor, as well as its place in history. For your own enlightenment, here’s what you need to know to aid in your decision making process when you see leather armor for sale and wonder if it’s really worth it.
Leather armor has dabbled at various times in various places in armor history. There is much speculation and argument over its use beyond mere fantasy role playing. Amidst this back and forth battle, at least one thing can be said with certainty. Leather armor was present during the Middle Ages. In particular, this armor type was a strong presence in the early part of the period, but, of course, nothing lasts forever. By the Late Middle Ages, its presence faded. Still, leather armor had a good run.
For knights and soldiers, it was a staple of their wardrobe and a “go to”. This was because it was cost effective and didn’t require a wild goose chase to find it. In addition, leather armor didn’t require one to be a master armor artisan in order to make and maintain it. If the armor was damaged, a soldier was able to make repairs himself. Another advantage of leather armor was its lightweight nature and mobility. When entering the battlefield, a medieval fighter would not feel the bulkiness and inflexibility of some of the other armor types and thus, he was able to have maximum effectiveness against his opponents.
At the beginning stages of the evolution of leather armor, it was used as a stand alone material with no added components. As time went on, metal plates were added for extra reinforcement. While this proved to be effective for protection against cutting prowess, it didn’t deliver against punctures.
To remedy this, the next phase of improvement surfaced in the form of boiled leather, also known as “cuir bouilli”. The way this was done was through boiling leather in oil or molten wax. After letting the leather marinate for a bit, it was pulled out and shaped into various pieces, like breastplates, gauntlets, etc. Then it was left to dry and harden. When all was said and done, a soldier had a much more durable piece of leather that did achieve the goal of withstanding punctures. As with everything in life, there are drawbacks and the down side to boiled leather was that it didn’t possess longevity. It had the tendency to crack and rot, especially when exposed to inclimate weather. Fortunately, as stated above, leather was cheap and easy to fix, so it wasn’t the end of the world.
In the later years of leather armor, it shifted from being something worn on its own to being a base for other types of armor, such as chainmail or plate armor. It served as an inner layer for metal armor to provide greater protection and comfort as well. While leather armor eventually made an exit, there is no denying the foundation it laid for shaping the future of armor as we know it today.
In conclusion, leather armor is far from a thing of fiction. It is living, breathing, and in some ways, an inspiration. Was it perfect? Of course not, but then again, what is? So, the next time you see a booth with steel or leather armor for sale, be sure to give the latter some extra consideration.