How did Medieval Soldiers on the March Protect Their Arms/Armor from the Elements?

Apr 2017
1,396
U.S.A.
#1
How did medieval soldiers on the march protect their metal arms/armor from the elements (especially rain)? Did they store it away in under leather tarps on the baggage train when it was raining? What if they were expecting battle?
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,616
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#2
Observe the picture of my avatar, it can give you a clue ... they were used to wear a surcoat [a coat on the armor] not only to protect it from the rain, but also from the sun. During the Crusades in quite sunny countries the color of the surcoat tent to be white, just to reflect the light of the sun [more than for religious / symbolic reasons ...].

About protecting the metal armor from the sun ... imagine to ride your horse slowly in a hot sunny day, approaching a battlefield ... the metal would become scorching and difficult to keep on wearing.
 
Aug 2015
2,359
uk
#3
I guess it's a case of common sense; a knight would wear his armour if he thought he might need it. So when you're at home in your castle, you keep it to one side, but if you're out on crusade or on the march, you would wear it, with your squire taking care of some of the bits and pieces.

Don't forget that whilst armour was heavy, it wasn't have as cumbersome as some people would suggest. And whilst it was heavy, these were strong individuals used to wearing it; and with careful use of straps and belts, the weight could be evey distributed to make it easier. Just like with seemingly heavy, awkward looking weapons, this was equipment - often very expensive equipment - designed to keep you alive. So it had to be relatively eaay to wear and to use in order to keep the owner alive, and to make sure people kept buying armour from the blacksmiths.

As for cooling, as has been mentioned cloth covering the metal armour would help to prevent the knight from cooking in hot, sunny weather, but even so the wearer must have been drenched in sweat. But at least he was still alive to sweat!
 

Shtajerc

Ad Honorem
Jul 2014
6,698
Lower Styria, Slovenia
#4
Swords, knives and daggers are pretty good protected in a leather (or other material) sheath as long as the climate is not too humid, which Europe isn't exactly.

Now, I don't know, that's why I'm asking - how obsessed would knights and soldiers be with their weapons and equipment being highly polished and completely spotless? Carbon steel takes a patina pretty quickly and this patina helps protecting it from the nasty red rust corrossion. Moisture will cause pitting, be it from humidity and rain or just sweat, the question is how much do you mind something that is pretty much impossible to prevent and doesn't affect performance as long as it's not too severe. Squires can buff away some of the spotting and such after a finished battle or before putting it back in storage, when it might get smeared with some sort of oil or grease (do we have any sources mentioning anything like this?). Because if you don't use some sort of wax, oil or similar, you just won't prevent patina and pitting from forming on those old steels. Even if you wipe it with a clean cloth 24/7. Even fat from your fingerprints can leave spots overnight. So you might want force a protective patina with some sort of etching to make it uniform. Think of it as something like gun blueing. This is just my thinking and I would be very happy if you guys prove me wrong or confirm it as I am interested in what the practice was back then.
 
Aug 2015
2,359
uk
#5
Knights want to look good. They also want their weapons to work tl maximum effectiveness. This is why you pay a squire to sort out this kind of stuff. I understand that putting it in a barrell with sand and rolling it around - a kind of medieval washing machine - was an effective way to clean it.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,616
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#6
Swords, knives and daggers are pretty good protected in a leather (or other material) sheath as long as the climate is not too humid, which Europe isn't exactly.

Now, I don't know, that's why I'm asking - how obsessed would knights and soldiers be with their weapons and equipment being highly polished and completely spotless? Carbon steel takes a patina pretty quickly and this patina helps protecting it from the nasty red rust corrossion. Moisture will cause pitting, be it from humidity and rain or just sweat, the question is how much do you mind something that is pretty much impossible to prevent and doesn't affect performance as long as it's not too severe. Squires can buff away some of the spotting and such after a finished battle or before putting it back in storage, when it might get smeared with some sort of oil or grease (do we have any sources mentioning anything like this?). Because if you don't use some sort of wax, oil or similar, you just won't prevent patina and pitting from forming on those old steels. Even if you wipe it with a clean cloth 24/7. Even fat from your fingerprints can leave spots overnight. So you might want force a protective patina with some sort of etching to make it uniform. Think of it as something like gun blueing. This is just my thinking and I would be very happy if you guys prove me wrong or confirm it as I am interested in what the practice was back then.
The Rule of the Temple, for example, said that the Knights had to have a white cloak. The color of that cloak was symbolic [as the Rule explains], so that they washed it [obviously where it was possible to]. For the rest of the cloths, the Rule gives not a few indications, but there are no details about how they took care of the armor [this is probably due to the matter of fact that the original Rule had written for a new Order where warriors entered ... they needed a Rule to become brothers of a religious order, more than knights of an order of warriors, since they were already warriors]. Among other notes, the horses [3 for a knight, with a squire] and the armor weren't personal in the Order: the Master had the possibility to give the horses and the armor of a knight to an other knight and the deprived knight had to show humility accepting this.

Anyway, knights had a not little logistic problem in keeping clean their cloths and equipment: animals. Overall during a siege a camp was full of urine and excrement. Urine damages all, not only the hoofs of the horses ... so the aspect of a Medieval Knight after a long siege was well far from the romantic image we've got in mind ...
 

Shtajerc

Ad Honorem
Jul 2014
6,698
Lower Styria, Slovenia
#7
Knights want to look good. They also want their weapons to work tl maximum effectiveness. This is why you pay a squire to sort out this kind of stuff. I understand that putting it in a barrell with sand and rolling it around - a kind of medieval washing machine - was an effective way to clean it.
Wouldn't continuous sanding be to abrasive in the long run though? After years of such maintainance the metal would wear down some, I'd asume. I'd try to make a sort of toothpaste-like polish from ground chalk, plaster and similar.

The Rule of the Temple, for example, said that the Knights had to have a white cloak. The color of that cloak was symbolic [as the Rule explains], so that they washed it [obviously where it was possible to]. For the rest of the cloths, the Rule gives not a few indications, but there are no details about how they took care of the armor [this is probably due to the matter of fact that the original Rule had written for a new Order where warriors entered ... they needed a Rule to become brothers of a religious order, more than knights of an order of warriors, since they were already warriors]. Among other notes, the horses [3 for a knight, with a squire] and the armor weren't personal in the Order: the Master had the possibility to give the horses and the armor of a knight to an other knight and the deprived knight had to show humility accepting this.

Anyway, knights had a not little logistic problem in keeping clean their cloths and equipment: animals. Overall during a siege a camp was full of urine and excrement. Urine damages all, not only the hoofs of the horses ... so the aspect of a Medieval Knight after a long siege was well far from the romantic image we've got in mind ...
That's for sure - on campaigns and sieges they'd be literal dirtbags. Higiene wasn't their strongest suit back then as we can see from the spread of diseases, emptying night pots on the streets etc. Of course I don't imply they wouldn't wash themselves and their clothes. The former more often than in later periods.
 
Jan 2015
2,933
MD, USA
#8
It's very easy for a knight to keep his armor and weapons shiny and clean. "Boy! Clean this!" See? Done! Heck, even the squires had pages and servants and drudges for doing all the dirty work, no aristocrat over the age of 12 had to lift a finger to clean anything.

And yes, being shiny and impressive was one of the reasons to have armor in the first place. Appearance matters. Most cleaning wouldn't be abrasive, just wiping with oil (or grease or wax or whatever secret recipe was being used). Harsh abrasives would only be needed for something that had been badly neglected. It should be noted that a mirror polish is more resistant to corrosion than a satin finish, since there are fewer microscopic nooks and crannies (less surface area) for moisture to get into and take hold.

Some armor was indeed blackened or painted, though I think this is usually seen on munition armor, made for grunts. Not always--there is a GORGEOUS suit of Gothic armor in the Metropolitan Museum in NY that is glossy black. Very impressive and yummy. But that would take maintenance, too! But again, it's not that big a deal in an era where so much had to be maintained (horses, anyone?) but there were so many servants available to do the maintenance.

Matthew
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,616
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#9
A note.

Reenactors today have resurrected the usage of oil to protect the exposed parts of an armor from rain and rust. And they have discovered what Medieval squires and knights probably already discovered. Natural oil becomes rancid and it's annoying for reenactors and audience. A big part of the mineral oils damage the armor in the long term. Phenol is to be absolutely avoided in any liquid used on metal ... after some tries in Middle Ages like today they have noted that boiled linseed oil is perfect [even if it's natural, after boiling it changes its characteristics]. To boil it is essential if you want to put it on metal, not boiled linseed oil was used to preserve wooden structures [also today who has to preserve ancient wooden objects know that it's useful to use linseed oil].
 
Oct 2013
6,341
Planet Nine, Oregon
#10
A note.

Reenactors today have resurrected the usage of oil to protect the exposed parts of an armor from rain and rust. And they have discovered what Medieval squires and knights probably already discovered. Natural oil becomes rancid and it's annoying for reenactors and audience. A big part of the mineral oils damage the armor in the long term. Phenol is to be absolutely avoided in any liquid used on metal ... after some tries in Middle Ages like today they have noted that boiled linseed oil is perfect [even if it's natural, after boiling it changes its characteristics]. To boil it is essential if you want to put it on metal, not boiled linseed oil was used to preserve wooden structures [also today who has to preserve ancient wooden objects know that it's useful to use linseed oil].
I 've thought of using drying oils on armour generally; safflower on painted hide scale armour, and and poppy oils, as they are fairly clear when they dry. I've used them on bronze armour and weapons too. I've even used vitamin e oil in some tests. It works for quite a while, the oil itself oxidizing instead of the metal below. It is very useful on the hide armour, bringing the paint back to life, too. I use shellac also, on hide armour and bronze too, for longer storage.