Gambeson and aketon desgin

Feb 2011
6,428
#1
Is there any difference in design between gambesons/aketons from regular clothing of the same thickness? For example, would thick winter clothing provide the same amount of protection as that of a gambeson? If not, what was the additional design for gambesons/aketons that allows it to have more protection than a winter coat?
 
Jan 2015
2,902
MD, USA
#2
Well, the idea of a "winter coat" didn't really exist when gambesons and acketons were in use, did it? People wore wool tunics and cloaks. Maybe multiple tunics in cold weather, or thicker tunics rather than lightweight ones, but the overgarment was a cloak. You don't really see sleeved "overcoats" develop until the Renaissance, as far as I know.

That's just in general--there was SOME kind of sleeved over-thingy in the 13th century, I'm forgetting its name. But I don't know if it was just an upper-class fashion or what. And I'm not sure it was strictly for cold weather.

All that said, the main difference was that clothing was most often wool, while the gambeson was typically linen. It was either 2 layers with a filling (linen tow or raw cotton, etc.), or just multiple layers of linen, up to 30. The whole thing was quilted with rows of stitching. The reconstructed layered ones I've seen are like plywood, they cheerfully stand up by themselves! No mistaking those for regular clothing, though they WILL keep you warm!

My own old gambeson is 2 layers of linen with cotton batting between. It's a little thin for a stand-alone defense worn by a common footman, but a little thick for one meant to be worn under mail by a knight or wealthier warrior. Still warm, though!

Matthew
 
Feb 2011
6,428
#3
The reconstructed layered ones I've seen are like plywood, they cheerfully stand up by themselves! No mistaking those for regular clothing, though they WILL keep you warm!
Do you mean as hard/unbendable as plywood, or simply the ability to resist weapons like plywood? Because if it's as hard as plywood, I imagine it would be difficult to move the joints for those with sleeves, ie:



All that said, the main difference was that clothing was most often wool, while the gambeson was typically linen.
If gambeson was typically linen, what else could it be for the outer layers? What makes linen different from other substitutes?

Thanks for the response.
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,472
Australia
#4
Aketons and gambesons are completely different items. The former is very lightly padded and is designed to be worn under armour. Some have cords, called "points" to attach armour to it (another word for this garment is "pourpoint").

A gambeson is standalone armour and is an inch or two thick. A jack is made the same way but is usually shorter. Layered quilted cloth armour is rigid like plywood but can be flexed, again like plywood. Sleeves were made thinner so they remained flexible. If you want to see a modern example of rigid textile armour then take a look at kendo arm guards.

Linen is made from flax, which has a higher tensile strength than wool or cotton. It makes the best armour. If you want to use wool to make armour, it needs to be felted.

Outer layers of textile armour were usually more expensive than the filler layers. They included silk, sendal, satin, camacas, damask, fustian, and fine leather.
 
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Feb 2011
6,428
#5
Layered cloth armour is rigid like plywood but can be flexed, again like plywood.
From the pictures (such as the one I've shown) and videos the gambeson doesn't seem to be rigid at all. Are most reproductions done wrongly? Plus, if it's rigid like plywood, I imagine it would be incredibly uncomfortable to wear.

Linen is made from flax, which has a higher tensile strength than wool or cotton. It makes the best armour. If you want to use wool to make armour, it needs to be felted.

Outer layers of textile armour were usually more expensive than the filler layers. They included silk, sendal, satin, camacas, damask, fustian, and fine leather.
If tensile strength determines armor durability, then shouldn't silk, hemp, and jute be the best material (albeit I imagine if you can afford silk, might as well use the money to buy non-organic armor).
 
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Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,472
Australia
#6
From the pictures (such as the one I've shown) and videos the gambeson doesn't seem to be rigid at all. Are most reproductions done wrongly? Plus, if it's rigid like plywood, I imagine it would be incredibly uncomfortable to wear.
Yes the pictures are wrong. When wearing textile armour you "float" inside it like a metal cuirass. Here is a photo of proper textile armour (kendo kote).

 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,472
Australia
#7
If tensile strength determines armor durability, then shouldn't silk, hemp, and jute be the best material (albeit I imagine if you can afford silk, might as well use the money to buy non-organic armor).
Hemp should be better than flax for armour. No idea why it wasn't used. Silk is no good for armour; it quickly loses tensile strength when it is exposed to moisture, sunlight, and mechanical processing (spinning and weaving).
 
Feb 2011
6,428
#8
Is there any videos showing this lack of elasticity(wrist protectors isn't really what I had in mind)? It's hard for me to imagine a gambeson in which the comfort would be more akin to wearing plywood, since from everything I've seen the clothing seems pretty elastic, similar to wearing a thick bikers jacket or thick winter coat.
Such as,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODS7ksbBRuE
 
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Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,472
Australia
#9
Physical European examples.

Two of them are in the Holstentor Museum in Lübeck
A partial example is in a museum in Stendal - the chest section is still intact.
One is in the Musée des beaux-arts in Chartres
One is in the parish church of Rothwell, near Leeds

There are Indian examples in the V&A museum and the Royal Armouries.
 
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Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,472
Australia
#10
Textual examples

Companion of Hernan Cortez
The armour which they use in war are certain loose garments like doublets made of quilted cotton, a finger and a half thick, and sometimes two fingers; they are very strong. Over them they wear a doublet and hose all one garment, which are corded behind. This garment is made of thick cloth and is covered with a layer of feathers of different colours, making a fine effect… for neither arrows nor darts pierce them, but are thrown back without making any wound, and even with swords it is difficult to penetrate through them.

Aguado, History of Venezuela
Out of sacking or light linen cloths they make a kind of surcoat that they call 'escaupil'. These fall below the knee, and sometimes to the calf. They are all stuffed with cotton, to the thickness of three fingers. The layers of cotton are quilted between folds of linen and sewed with rough thread…

Giovanni Michiel, late Ambassador to Queen Mary and King Philip, to the Venetian Senate, on the 13th May 1557.
...but what they usually wear are certain canvas doublets, quilted with many layers, each of which is two inches or more in thickness; and these doublets are considered the most secure defence against the shock of arrows.

Ordinances of Louis XI of France (1461-1483)
And first they must have for the said Jacks, 30, or at least 25 folds of cloth and a stag's skin; those of 30, with the stag's skin, being the best cloth that has been worn and rendered flexible, is best for this purpose, and these Jacks should be made in four quarters. The sleeves should be as strong as the body, with the exception of the leather, and the arm-hole of the sleeve must be large, which arm-hole should be placed near the collar, not on the bone of the shoulder, that it may be broad under the armpit and full under the arm, sufficiently ample and large on the sides below. The collar should be like the rest of the Jack, but not too high behind, to allow room for the sallet. This Jack should be laced in front, and under the opening must be a hanging piece [porte piece] of the same strength as the Jack itself. Thus the Jack will be secure and easy, provided that there be a doublet [pourpoint] without sleeves or collar, of two folds of cloth, that shall be only four fingers broad on the shoulder; to which doublet shall be attached the chausess. Thus shall the wearer float, as it were, within his jack and be at his ease; for never have been seen half a dozen men killed by stabs or arrow wounds in such Jacks, particularly if they be troops accustomed to fighting.

Dominic Mancini (1483): writing about the archers in Richard III's army
They do not wear any metal armour on their breast nor any other part of their body, except for the better sort who have breastplates and suits of armour. Indeed, the common soldiery have more comfortable doublets that reach down below the loins and are stuffed with tow or some other material. They say that the softer the garment the better do they withstand the blows of arrows and swords, and besides that in summer they are lighter and in the winter they are more serviceable than iron.

Howard Household Accounts (mid 1400s):
I took to the doublet maker, to make me a doublet of fence; for every four quarters: 18 folds thick of white fustian, and 4 folds of linen cloth, and a fold of black fustian to put without.

Regulations made by the Armourers of London. 15 Edward 11. A.D. 1322. Letter-Book E. fol. cxxxiii.
That an aketon and a gambeson covered with sendale, or with cloth of silk, shall be stuffed with new cotton cloth, and with cadaz, and with old sendales, and in no other manner. And that white aketons shall be stuffed with old woven cloth, and with cotton, and made of new woven cloth within and without.
("Sendale" or "cendal" is a light, gauzy silk)
 
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