Jacks and Gambesons

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Completion Rating
This article's completion rating is 2 out of 5. Article structure and content is subject to change as data is still being collected.

Leather or cloth jack

A leather or cloth jack is constructed from one or two layers of leather or cloth in the same shape as a mail shirt and is designed to protect the wearers clothing from the mail shirt, offer a degree of water proofing and to help to distribute the energy of any blows against the mail shirts.

…worn under mail

Discussion
We have no Viking Age evidence of any padding being worn under the mail shirt. Many people point to the late C4th Roman document ‘De Rebus Bellicis’ and its reference to a ‘thoracomachus’ [BISHOP & COULSTON 2006]:p.63. The thoracomachus is described as “it is made of thick cloth, covered with leather (or with a separate leather garment over it) for waterproofing” [LEGIO 2004]:Subarmalis 2004.
Mail would be more effective over a leather jerkin but there is no evidence until the middle ages. [POLLINGTON 2006]:p.152
It is possible that the jack was attached to the mail shirt. Arguments for this come from manuscript evidence. Manuscripts often show a line around the hem and cuffs that could be interpreted as either a leather edging or an attached jack. On the Bayeux Tapestry fallen warriors can be seen being stripped of their armour, that appears to be removed in one go leaving the warrior naked underneath.

…worn as armour

Art
Again we have no evidence of any type of armour being worn in Britain other than mail shirts. Some manuscripts have been interpreted as possible leather armour [CAMERON 1998].
Literature

  • Sturlinson in the Heimskringla mentions the gift of 13 body armours of reindeer hide. [HARRISON 1993]:p.48

Archaeology
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Padded jack (gambeson)

A padded jack or gambeson is constructed from two layers of leather or cloth with stuffing in between. The shape of the jack follows that of the mail shirt. Pre c.1100AD the padding is sown in vertical tubes. After c.1100 diamond patterns appear.
Literature
The word Gambeson only seems to arrive in the English language in the C13th.
The use of padded armour by the Byzantine army is well documented [HARRISON 1993]

…worn under mail

Art

Literature
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Archaeology
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…worn as armour

Art

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Archaeology
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Cuir Bouilli

A term used for leather that has been moulded into shape and then hardened. It usually leaves a black finish to the leather. Possible methods include treating with oil, hot wax or boiling water. [CAMERON 1998]:p.52 Literature'
The case for leather armour not being used is made by Owen-Crocker when she failed to find any reference to its use in her search for Anglo-Saxon skin garments and the documentary evidence [OWEN-CROCKER 1998].
Archaeology
Cameron makes an argument that the Anglo-Saxons had the theoretical technology to create Cuir Bouilli but that no archaeological finds of its use exist. [CAMERON 2000]:p.25-33.
Discussion
There are no Roman leather cuirass finds but they are depicted in images. It is not known how they were made. [BISHOP & COULSTON 2006]

References

Bishop, M. C., and Coulston, J.C.N. (2006) Roman Military Equipment. From the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome. Second Edition. [BISHOP & COULSTON 2006] ^ 1 2 *
Cameron, Esther A. (ed.) (1998) Leather and fur: aspects of early medieval trade and technology. [CAMERON 1998] ^ 1 2 *
Cameron, Esther A. (2000) Sheaths and Scabbards in England AD400-1100. British Archaeological Reports: BAR 301 [CAMERON 2000] ^ *
Harrison, Mark (1993) Viking Hersier. Osprey: Warrior 3 [HARRISON 1993] ^ 1 2 *
Legio XX (2004) Online Handbook - Subarmalis. 8 8 2004. [Accessed: 2012] (Available Online) [LEGIO 2004] ^ *
Owen-Crocker, Gale R. (1998) The Search for Anglo-Saxon Skin Garments In Cameron, Esther A. (ed.) (1998) Leather and fur: aspects of early medieval trade and technology. [OWEN-CROCKER 1998] ^ *
Pollington, Stephen (2006) The English Warrior from the Earliest Times Till 1066. Anglo-Saxon Books [POLLINGTON 2006] ^ *
Wilson, David M. (1985) The Bayeux Tapestry. [WILSON 1985] ^ 1 2 *