Wars in Medieval Europe were brutal. It was almost impossible to come out of a battle alive without having proper armor. It was one such piece of armor that protected the arms of knights and other foot soldiers. On the other hand, bracers were used to protect the archers from bowstring injuries.
What is a Medieval Vambrace and Bracer?
A medieval vambrace was a type of armor piece that protected the forearm of knights during battle. Often worn as a part of the armor suit, it also accompanied a gauntlet that protected the hand and wrist.
Although the design of the vambrace kept evolving throughout the middle ages, it was typically comprised of a long, cylindrical piece that extended from the elbow to the wrist.
Medieval Vambraces were made from metals such as steel or boiled leather.
A Bracer was a defensive arm piece that protected the forearm of archers from the string of a bow, as well as the blows of a sword or other melee weapons. The bracer stretched from the wrist to just below the elbow and sometimes higher up the arm.
Archers generally preferred leather bracers because of their light weight and flexibility which allowed them to use a broader range.
On the contrary, metal bracers were heavier and provided protection from blows, making them more acceptable for use by foot soldiers.
Difference between Bracer and Vambrace?
Here are some of the major differences between Medieval Vambrace and Bracer:
- Coverage: A bracer generally covered only the inner part of the forearm, where the bowstring would come into contact with the arm. Vambraces, however, provided more extensive coverage, encompassing both the inner and outer parts of the forearm and often extending from the wrist to the elbow.
- Users and Social Status: Bracers were commonly associated with archers, who had a lower social rank than knights and other noble fighters. Vambraces, on the other hand, were a type of armor worn by knights and men-at-arms, who had a higher social status. As a result, the vambrace was a sign of status and nobility, but the bracer was a more functional device worn by a certain group of soldiers.
- Embellishments: Bracers were typically fashioned more simply, with practicality being the primary concern. Some archers may have engraved their bracers with modest etchings or patterns, although these were rarely as ornate as those found on vambraces. Vambraces were often more ornamental and contained exquisite embellishments, such as engravings, embossing, or even plating, as part of a knight’s or noble warrior’s armor.
History of the Vambrace and Bracer
The vambrace, which is worn on the lower arm, evolved from the mail hauberk, a coat of interlocking rings that encircled the body and arms. By the 14th century, the use of plate armor became more widespread, and the vambrace evolved into a two-piece design with an upper and lower plate joined by hinges or straps.
Due to a lack of concrete historical record, the origins of the Bracer can probably be traced back to the early civilizations where archers were a vital part of the army.
Nonetheless, archery lost its importance in Europe throughout the Middle Ages. Archers were the army’s lowest-paid soldiers, and many were peasants. The bow and arrow were far less expensive than the equipment of a soldier-at-arms, which included a sword and armor. Bracers were originally composed of leather, but by the 15th century, they also had been reinforced with metal plates.
Famous Vambraces and Bracers
Many iconic warriors used vambraces and bracers during war. Here are some of the famous ones:
- Saint George’s Vambraces – These were claimed to have been worn by Saint George, England’s patron saint, during his famous fight with the dragon. They are presently kept in Leeds, UK, at the Royal Armouries Museum.
- The Lyle Vambraces – Made in the 16th century, these beautifully etched are presently housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
- The Greenwich Armour – Made for Henry VIII in the 1540s, this spectacular set of armor, which includes vambraces and other parts, is currently on exhibit at the Royal Armouries Museum in London.
- The Mary Rose Bracer – This leather bracer was discovered amid the wreckage of the Mary Rose, a Tudor ship that sunk in 1545. The Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth, UK, presently houses it.
- The Stirling Castle Bracers were discovered in a ditch outside Stirling Castle in Scotland and are thought to date back to the 14th century. They are presently housed in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
In Medieval Europe, vambrace and bracer were pieces of armor worn in battle. They evolved from the mail hauberk, whereas the bracer dates back to early civilizations. Knights and men-at-arms used them to protect their forearms, while archers wore bracers to protect their arms from bowstring wounds. They were composed of metal or boiled leather and covered both the inner and outer forearms, whereas bracers were made of leather and only covered the inner forearm. They were more ornate and embellished, whilst bracers were simpler.