Skip to content
IUScholarWorks Journals
23.10.15 Moffat (ed.), Medieval Arms and Armour

23.10.15 Moffat (ed.), Medieval Arms and Armour


Ralph Moffat, Curator of European Arms and Armour at Glasgow Museums and editor of this sourcebook, states that it is “born of a lifelong passion for medieval arms and armour.” This is clearly the case. And many other scholars are going to find this reference work a delight.

When I say “scholars” in this context, I mean anyone who is interested in understanding the military tools that held a central place in the lives of medieval rulers and their followers. Scholars of medieval arms and armour include academics trained in military, literary, art and gender history, but also (as the Boydell Press blurb says) crafters, martial artists, and living history practitioners. Members of the latter groups rarely if ever come out of specialized programs in academic institutions. Yet they have an intimate knowledge of materials and techniques that, historians working in material science apart, few more conventional academics have the opportunity to acquire. Similarly, those who have studied arms and armour in a living-history context have sometimes a very limited training in traditional academic disciplines.

So, scholars working on arms and armour constitute at best a scattered community using a variety of approaches to deal what is really a vast field. Moffat’s project is to create “a working vocabulary” or more than one, since this book is only volume one of a greater project. (Unfortunately, there is no hint how many volumes there will be.)

The book is organized into four sections, plus bibliography and index. First, there are thirty-three pages of prefatory material--lists of illustrations and documents, the preface proper, acknowledgements, “Using the Sourcebook” (how various problems in the history of armour can be approached), “English Pronunciation” (a guide to users unfamiliar with fourteenth-century English), and “Towards a Working Vocabulary” (see below). Secondly, Part I includes the introduction to the Source-Types, including both textual and material sources. It discusses the characteristics of the various sources, such as documents, armour, and weapons. Part II includes transcriptions and translations of many documents and excerpts of documents in which the arms are mentioned, such as wills, inventories, and challenges to single combat. Finally, the volume has an illustrated glossary.

This list of lists may seem to be disorganized, but there is a clear logic to Moffat’s work. The section title “Towards a Working Vocabulary” in the prefatory material could be the title of the whole book. He recognizes that the simplest and perhaps the most common use of the book will be to look up individual terms in the illustrated glossary. But many other uses are possible. Moffat has written this book to make it easy to connect terms to the different types of evidence for their appearance and the context in which they appear. Thus, if a researcher runs across the obscure term “gadelings,” Moffat not only defines it in the glossary as “knuckleduster-like spikes on a gauntlet” but directs the reader both to the passage in the Chronicle of Geoffrey le Baker where “gadelings” occurs in an account of a duel (rendered in the original Latin and in translation) and to figure 5, the effigy of the Black Prince, which shows spikes on his gauntlet. Inclusion of both original texts and translations in the Documents section makes the book far more valuable than if the source material had been presented only in one language. Some of the most difficult documents are inventories and similar lists. Without Moffat’s translations, or without the source material in the original languages, these documents might remain a closed book to many. Moffat’s presentation will open up this challenging material to a much wider audience.

The vast bibliography--reaching back to the nineteenth century--and the well-organized index make this sourcebook more useful than if the editor had not been so thorough. Moffat wants to reach as many arms and armour scholars as he can. One expects that many individual researchers will find this book a necessity, but also that many academic and public libraries will find it a valuable addition to their reference collections.