Chain maille or chain mail or even simply mail was first used in the fifth centure BC and is accredited to the Celts although it may have been around for far longer. The word derives from the French word “mail” which in turn is derived from the Latin wors”macula” which means literally the mesh of a net.
The Celts used this for armour by making links probably from iron sewn onto their garments which helped deflect any potential wounds from weapons. it was used until the Middle Ages when it was superseded by the development of body armour. There are examples in museums around the world but I cannot imagine how a man working in a round house with poor lighting making such an intricate piece.*
Each piece of mail was fashioned specifically for whatever part of the body it was intended to protect. For the head there were the coif, aventail, mail fringe and a “bishop mantle”; for the torso, the shirt, hauberk, skirt and breeches; for the upper limbs, mail sleeves and mittens; for the lower limbs, chausses and sabatons.
Untill the 14th century, mail was the primary armour for the average soldier. The main use of chainmail was to stop the wearer from being cut by the opponents blade. Mail did nothing to stop the damage from the force of the blow however, and was usually worn over a thick, padded undergarment. From the 1320’s, shirts of mail, known as hauberks or bymies, were often provided with flared sleeves covering the middle of the forearms, and were long enough to reach past the wearer’s knees. Some of the larger hauberks often had sleeves that were extended to form mittens for the hands. This was also the period when a shorter type of hauberk, the haubergeon, began to be used more regularly, its lower edge stopped to just above the knees. Some haubergeons had a flap-like extension at the center of the edge of the base which could be pulled up between the legs and laced in front to form a breke of mail to protect the genitals.
As there were developments in the armouring world, mail began to have a subordinate role in relation to plate armour, first being used as a linking element for the various plates and then, in the 15th century, it was used to protect the more vulnerable parts of the body such as elbow, neck, and knee joints. Mail shirts retained defensive importance during the 16th century, with light horse and infantry armours, especially in conjunction with small pauldrons or spaulders and elbow lengths gauntlets which left part of the arms bare. After this time , the use of mail slowly diminished as better plate armour was developed for the arms and legs, although it was still in use as late as the 17th century in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The craft of making mail is quite separate and distinct from that of the process of manufacturing plate amour. Because so much mail was produced, we can assume the method of manufacturing must have been fast, allowing for division of the labour within the workshop. The most skilled task, the final linking of the rings, would have been done by the master craftsman, who would have been kept supplied with rings and rivets. The early stages in the production of mail, (the simple, labour intensive tasks) were left to apprentices and assistants.
No longer used in batter, modern-day chainmail is a beautiful, labour intensive art. Check out these beautiful pieces by some of the best chainmail artists.
LINKS: Tank Top- http://www.bestamericanarts.com/Kara-Chain-Maille-Tank-Top
Headwear – http://www. by-the-sword.com/acatog/Silver-Chainmail-Full_headdress-37-4120.html
Halter Top- http://www.polyspleasures.com/
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Many Thanks, M. Dennison