Imagine yourself standing on a battlefield, armoured, with a sword in one hand and a shield in the other. What do you perceive to be the most crucial piece of equipment? Of course, a helmet! Medieval helmets not only protected the warrior’s head from lethal blows, but they also represented his position and identity.
Medieval Helmet History
The evolution of medieval helmets was driven by constantly changing warfare tactics, metallurgical improvements, and cultural traditions. Helmets of the early Middle Ages were primarily simple, practical designs constructed of leather or iron. The Spangenhelm was the most prevalent helmet of the time, consisting of many metal plates bonded together to form a cap that covered the top of the head. Its design provided adequate protection while allowing the user to see and hear.
The emergence of knights in the 12th century brought the famous helmet with a visor – The Bascinet. Only the face was visible because this helmet covered the entire head and neck. It was a common pick for knights who needed to be protected while maintaining visibility and mobility. By the 14th century, the Great Helm had become the preferred helmet for knights competing in jousting contests. This helmet covered the entire head and had tiny slots for the eyes and breathing holes to provide maximum protection but restricted visibility.
Meanwhile, infantry soldiers and archers wore helmets with wide brims to shield the face, and neck and sallets with pointed shapes to deflect attacks.
Types of Medieval Helmets
Let’s look more in-depth at the most prominent types of medieval helmets:
1. The Great Helm
Often known as the heaume, The Great Helm was a fashionable knightly helmet in the late 12th century. This helmet was meant to cover the entire head and neck with a flat or rounded top and tiny slots for the eyes and breathing holes. It comprised numerous metal pieces soldered together to form a strong and protective helmet. The Great Helm was frequently used in jousting events, where utmost protection was required.
2. The Bascinet
The Bascinet was a kind of helmet popular among knights in the early 12th century. It completely encircled the head and neck, leaving just the face uncovered. It featured a pointed top and subsequently evolved into a visor that could be raised or lowered. The Bascinet was a popular helmet because it provided adequate protection while enabling the wearer to move around freely.
3. The Frog-mouth helm
Also known as the Stechhelm, was a jousting helmet used in the late medieval period. Its peculiar design featuring a projecting visor that resembled a frog’s mouth earned it the name of The Frog-mouth helm. This visor was intended to block blows during jousting competitions while giving the user exceptional visibility.
The Armet was a helmet prevalent among knights in the mid-15th century. It included a visor that could be raised and lowered to cover the whole head and neck. The Armet was a more complicated helmet than the Bascinet, featuring a hinged visor and added cheek and chin protection. It was created to give optimum protection while allowing the user to be visible and mobile.
5. The Spangenhelm
The Spangenhelm was a basic helmet style that arose in the early medieval period. It was made out of numerous riveted metal plates that formed a cap that covered the top of the head. Its design provided adequate protection while allowing the user to see and hear. For foot troops and archers, the Spangenhelm was a popular helmet.
6. The Norman Helmet
The Nasal Helmet was popular among infantry troops throughout the early medieval period. It sometimes had a chainmail curtain to protect the neck and a projecting nasal guard for defending the face. The Norman helmet was a popular option for foot soldiers since it provided adequate protection while enabling them to move freely.
7. The Kettle Helm
The Kettle Helm was a helmet design that first appeared in the early 13th century and was widely used by foot warriors. It featured a wide brim to protect the face and neck and frequently had a nasal guard for further security. The Kettle Helm was popular for foot soldiers since it provided adequate protection while enabling the wearer to move and see.
How were Medieval Helmets made?
The metal used was mainly iron or steel, but other metals like brass or bronze were occasionally used for decoration.
Leather was also utilised to manufacture some helmets, mainly as liners or straps to keep the helmet in place. It was particularly beneficial for helmets with a metal or chainmail veil to protect the neck and shoulders.
To improve comfort and absorb impact, padding was employed. It was constructed of many materials, including wool, linen, and horsehair.
Visors were added, which shielded the face and eyes and could be raised or lowered depending on the circumstances.
Famous Medieval Helmets
The medieval era yielded some of history’s most legendary helmets, which remarkable heroes and historical figures wore.
The mythical King of England and commander of the Third Crusade, Richard the Lionheart, donned a helmet ornamented with a golden lion, representing his courage and might.
The French heroine and military commander Joan of Arc was famed for wearing the Armet. This helmet was made from a close-fitting skull cap with a hinged visor, providing good face and head protection.
William Wallace, the Scottish hero and commander of the fight against the English invasion, was famed for wearing a nasal helm.
Medieval helmets were protective gear and symbols of identity and works of art. Helmet evolution was influenced by shifting battle tactics, metallurgical advancements, and cultural customs. The simple knight’s helmet with a visor to the extravagant Great Helm covering the entire head were all types of medieval helmets. The most typically utilised materials were metal and leather, with cushioning added for comfort and shock absorption. Visors were also an essential component of helmets. Richard, the Lionheart’s helmet, adorned with a golden lion, is one of history’s most iconic helmets.