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Pierce & King County Libraries
Medieval armor was not anywhere near as heavy as is popularly believed today, nor that rare. Despite looking weighty, medieval plate armor was not a cumbersome impediment to combat. Designed to protect but not prevent fighting, covering the entire body from neck to toe, a suit of steel plate armor weighed between 33-55 pounds– far less than a modern firefighter’s equipment and comparable to a modern soldier’s gear. Furthermore, by the late Middle Ages, plate was not an exceptionally rare accessory for a soldier to use in battle. In fact, an estimated 60%-70% of French armies during the 15th century fought on foot wearing full plate armor, as did the English engaged in the War of the Roses.
The reasons for this weight misconception proliferating in modern culture are threefold. First, suits of armor that have survived in good enough condition to be preserved in museums are those that were of particularly high-quality. Secondly, the 1944 cinematic masterpiece “Henry V” by Laurence Olivier espoused this myth against the advice of the film’s historical advisers, cementing the notion in our imaginations. And finally, “tournament armor” was indeed exceptionally heavy and highly ornate; consequently, it is tournament armor that is commonly displayed in museums rather than combat armor. These suits weighed in excess of 110 pounds and had to be locked into place to prevent the rider from collapsing under the mass.