As ever, dear readers, welcome.
People wearing impressionistic medieval armor turn up all over the internet these days.
When it comes to combat, however, something always seems to be missing
and this is where an attachment to the real medieval world and internet productions comes loose. In the real medieval world, not protecting your head could lead to unfortunate consequences…
The week of 21 August, 1485, for instance, was a very bad one for Richard III, (1452-1485), briefly King of England (1483-1485).
Challenged for his claim to the throne by Henry Tudor (1457-1509),
he faced his opponent at Bosworth Field
only to find that the Stanley family, supposedly allies, first hung back—and then, much to what I imagine was Richard’s horror, joined forces with Henry Tudor.
(a Graham Turner, capturing Richard’s dawning awareness of what was going wrong)
Richard was then killed in the fighting which followed—and that wasn’t the end of his bad week.
(another Graham Turner)
Henry ordered that his body be publically displayed so that everyone would know who was the king and who was dead, then the body was hastily dumped, probably naked, into a hole dug in the grounds of the Priory of the Grey Friars in Leicester. (For more on the priory, see: https://storyofleicester.info/faith-belief/grey-friars/ )
When Henry VIII (1491-1547) began the process of restructuring the English branch of the Church by emptying monasteries, nunneries, and other Church properties, then selling them off,
the Priory was knocked down and disappeared for nearly 500 years, leaving Richard to be the subject of one of Shakespeare’s first hits,
which depicted a twisted monster, juicily played by everyone from the original Richard, Richard Burbage (c.1567-1619),
to David Garrick (1717-1779),
to Laurence Olivier (1907-1989).
By 2012, the site of the Priory had been covered by a car park,
In which, upon excavation, was found what was first posited to be Richard’s grave, and then confirmed when DNA from the bones was matched with those of living descendants.
When those bones were examined, it appeared that Richard had received a number of wounds to his torso, most of them posthumous and slight, but what probably killed him were two to the head,
one, perhaps with a sword,
the other with a polearm, like one of these.
Such a wound in such a place suggests that, surprisingly, for a man with the ability to afford the finest Italian or German armor,
Richard wasn’t wearing a helmet when he was fatally attacked. (For more on Richard’s wounds, see this excellent piece at the University of Leicester website: https://le.ac.uk/richard-iii/identification/osteology/injuries/how-richard-iii-died )
I doubt that this was carelessness—Richard was an experienced warrior in his early 30s. When it was rumored, during the Battle of Hastings in 1066, that Duke William had been killed, he unstrapped his helmet in mid-battle and rode among his men to prove that he was still alive,
but, over 400 years later, bright-patterned and easily recognized heraldry, on shields, banners, and horse trappers, had made such potentially dangerous self-identification unnecessary.
Thus, Richard would have had no need to doff his helmet to make himself known to his faltering followers.
Might we presume, then, that perhaps earlier blows had so damaged his helmet that he’d been forced to discard it?
This, or some other plausible explanation might tell us why Richard had lost his helmet at Bosworth, but what can we say about certain medieval-ish warriors in a number of popular films and television productions who always seem to appear totally fearless—and helmet-less–in battle?
Aragorn, for example, faces an army of orcs like this–
And there’s a whole list of characters from A Game of Thrones—
Brienne of Tarth,
and Jon Snow.
This strikes me as especially odd when people in that series seem always to be talking about “sigils” which identify “houses”,
which is just like the heraldry which we see in the time of Richard III.
We even see Robb with such a sigil on his shield (but still no helmet)—
And I sense that this will also hold true for the latest series, “Rings of Power”, with its Galadriel looking more like Brienne of Tarth of A Game of Thrones
than the Lady of Lorien.
This is not to criticize the new series—I have only seen a trailer or two and some stills—but the consequences in the real medieval world without a helmet could be deadly, as in the case of Richard III, or nearly so in the case of the young Prince Henry (1386-1422), son of Henry IV and, after his father’s death in 1413, Henry V.
Henry was with his father at the Battle of Shrewsbury, 21 July, 1403, when he was hit in the face by an arrow. It’s highly doubtful that he was helmetless—at 16, he was seasoned enough that Henry IV had trusted him with command of part of the royal army—but perhaps had raised his visor
at what he had thought was a safe moment. (This is a slightly later helmet, but it gives you the idea. By the way, if you read that saluting is derived from this, just shake your head: the gesture actually comes from the move to take off your hat and bow to a superior officer.)
The arrow sank deep in and it was only the genius of the surgeon/goldsmith, John Bradmore, who, with a combination of early antisepsis—the use of wine to wash out the wound and honey to prevent infection—along with an extractor of his own invention—
which saved the life of the prince. (For more on Prince Hal and his terrible wound, see “Too Narrow Escapes”—a Doubtfulsea posting from 5 July, 2017.)
In his days in A Game of Thrones, Jon Snow suffers enough wounds to kill at least three people—and, in fact, is once actually killed, but brought back to life—
and yet, true to television and film, his head is always bare.
I wonder what, seeing that, and even admiring his seemingly endless luck, Richard III might have told him?
Thanks for reading, as ever.
Keep your visor down,
And know that, as always, there’s
Perhaps Galadriel has overheard me and is choosing a better helmet?