THE KITCHEN ARMOURY:
CUIR BOUILLI ON THE ELECTRIC STOVE

PART SEVEN: THE FULL PICTURE

INTRODUCTION

My period of interest in re-constructing armour is the first half of the fourteenth century, in particular the years around 1320-40. My interest in cuir bouilli armour was sparked by Charles Ffoulkes1, the keeper of the armour in the Tower of London early last century. His book "The Armourer and His Craft" was the first book on armouring I read. In his chapter on "The Use of Leather" he says:

"Towards the end of the twelfth century we find the material known as "cuir-bouilli" or "cuerbully" mentioned as being used for the armour of man and horse. The hide of the animal was cut thick, boiled in oil or in water, and, when soft, moulded to the required shape. When cold it became exceedingly hard and would withstand nearly as much battle wear as metal. It had the advantage... also of being much lighter than metal."

This fascinated me as I have worked with leather on and off for many years, and given that I didn't have a lot of surplus money, I set off to explore using cuir bouilli for armour. This is the result.

HISTORICAL RESEARCH

Ashdown2 attempts to provide some structure to investigate the rapidly evolving armour of the fourteenth century by dividing it into stylistic periods. In the chapter on 'The Studded and Splinted Armour Period 1335-1360' he says:

"The defensive and also offensive equipment of knight and soldier underwent many and sudden changes as exigencies suggested and keen was the contest between the three styles then prevailing, viz., chain mail, cuir-bouilli, and plate. From accredited sources of information we glean that the partisans of chain mail passed through this stirring period relying almost entirely if not wholly upon its efficacy; the believers in cuir-bouilli clothed themselves in fanciful garments of that material reinforced by a substratum of banded or other mail; while the advocates of plate essayed various departures of a more or less cumbrous character... There were other experimenters who believed in a judicious mixture of all three kinds of defence..." p.146-7

Norman and Pottinger3 suggest:

"All these additional defences were expensive, and for the first forty years of the fourteenth century it is quite common for monuments, particularly in the north of England, to show knights wearing very out of date equipment, principally mail with only a few plate reinforces [sic]. In this age of experiments there was a wide variety of armour to choose from, and some knights clearly preferred mobility to the protection given by an increasing weight of steel."

Ffoulkes4 lists some contemporary references to the use of cuir bouilli armour, noting:

"These brassards of cuir-bouilli seem to have been common in the fourteenth century; their popularity being doubtless due to their lightness and cheapness compared with metal."

Ashdown (op cit, pg 155) notes that as late as the second half of the fourteenth century:

"Coudières, if worn, were invariably of cuir-bouilli, and of a pattern which is almost stereotyped, and shown in figure 191, the genouillières being of similar design."

Finally, Oakeshott5 says:

"Another thing to remember about medieval armour is that, until the fifteenth century, only vague differences in style existed among the nations of Europe. For this reason, if we want to find out how an English baron would have armed himself at, say, the battle of Lewes in 1264, the pictures in a Swedish or Spanish manuscript would tell us what we want to know as well as the sculptures in a German or a French cathedral. After 1350, ..., distinct national styles emerged,..."

DESIGN

I have therefore drawn from a wide variety of sources in designing my armour. Eventually chain mail will be added to cover gaps, such as arm-pits, much in the way it is used slightly later with plate armour. I have yet to make a decision regarding the chest protection as I have yet to find evidence that early chest-plates were purely of cuir bouilli, but then again, I haven't found anything stating they were not constructed of it. Ffoulkes again (page 98):

"The reason for this dearth of examples of leather armour in collections at the present day is two-fold. Much of the discarded armour of this nature would be used for various domestic purposes, such as jugs, horse-furniture, and such-like uses, and also much would be thrown away as useless, for leather unless carefully kept and oiled tends to crack and warp out of shape."

SOME MODELS OF TYPE


Sir William FitzRalph
1320 (Kelly's brass)

Sir John de Creke
1325 (Ashdown)

Sir John D'Abernoun Jr
1327 (Kelly's brass)

#3 and 4 - Warriors of 1325. #5 Warrior of 1327.
#6 Warrior of 1330. (L & F Funken6)

OUTCOME

Bare Armour

The image at the left shows my cuir bouilli armour: completed as at 16 October 2006. Modelled by the armourer and user.

The full cuir bouillied list (from top):

  • Helmet face-plate
  • Shoulder roundels
  • Couters and roundels
  • Mitten gauntlet
  • Cuisses, with padded cuisses underneath
  • Poleyns, lames/genouillières
  • Demi-greaves

At this stage no arm or chest armour has been made. The main reason is that I made my gambeson out of very thick padding (3 cm/1 " wool carpet-underlay) and heavy 10oz canvas as I originally built it as 'stand alone' armour. I wear modern chest protection under the gambeson and have reinforced the front opening with a strip of 3 mm/7 oz bark-tanned leather. As a consequence, I need to replace my gambeson with a more lightly padded one before trying to shape arm and chest armour over it. Whether the chest armour will be of cuir bouilli or not remains to be determined (see discussion under "Design" above).

Completed Armour

Completed armour being painted in stages at November 29 2006 - modelled by 'Ms Pinny' which means helmet sits rather low onto shoulders!

  • You can see one of the couters in place as the elbow roundels aren't on.
  • The leg armour is fully painted, and you can see how it attaches around the leg as 'Ms Pinny' has none!
  • In position, the padded cuisses come below the knee avoiding bunching under the poleyns.
  • Note how the demi-greaves overlap the boots.
  • The gauntlet has also been painted.

The painting is complete, note how the elbow roundels protect the upper-inner part of the elbow joint.

Add a red linen surcoat - longer in the back than in the front, as common in the period 1325-30 - side three-quarter view. (The belt is a dress belt instead of the sword-belt as that wasn't finished at that stage.)

November 30, 2006: full kit plus heater shield ready for first outing.

PAINTING OF ARMOUR

  • For those interested, see an article on colour choices and the rationale for painting armour.
  • Note: the yellow parts were later re-painted with a more ochre-toned yellow because the pure yellow, which looks fine on the shield, looks blue-toned on cuir bouilli. The sword-belt to the right is in the new colour.

FOOTNOTES

1 "The Armourer and His Craft"; Ffoulkes, Charles; Methven & Co, London; 1912; reissued by Benjamin Blom Inc, Bronx, New York, 1967; ISBN 0-486-25851-3; pg 97.

2 "An Illustrated History of Arms & Armour"; Ashdown, Charles Henry; Wordsworth Editions Ltd, Hertfordshire; 1988; ISBN 1-85326-914-X; Chapter X 'The Cyclas Period 1325-1335', and Chapter IX 'The Studded and Splinted Armour Period 1335-1360'

3 "English Weapons and Warfare 449 - 1660"; Norman, AVB and Don Pottinger; Arms and Armour Press; London; 1966; pg 86.

4 Ffoulkes, op cit, pgs 100 ff.

5 "A Knight and His Armour"; Oakeshott, Ewart; Revised Second Edition, 1999, 1961; Dufour Editions, ISBN 0-8023-1329-9; pg 19.

6 "Arms and Uniforms, The Age of Chivalry Part 2"; Lilane and Fred Funcken; Ward Lock, London; 1981 (or Part 1, 1980 - uncertain)


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Created by Sue Leader - August 8 2007