Medieval chain mail was a special kind of armour which consisted of small metal rings joined together to form a closely linked protective mesh. The word chain mail was a combination of the English word chain referring to a series of metal rings and “maille”(The French Term) which meaning is (mesh of a net); going further back it’s origins come from the Latin word “macula”.
History of Chainmail
While the use of chain mail became popular during medieval times, it was also used before that and its history can be traced back to 4th century BC. Historically, it was inspired by previously existing scale armour which consisted of individual small metal plates attached to each other on a leather cloth. Throughout history, chain mail was used in many parts of the world including India, China, North Africa, and the Middle East etc.
Detail of French Medieval Chainmail 4-1 linkage Chain Mail in close up detail
How was Chainmail made?
Several methods were used for the manufacture of medieval chain mail and there were multiple patterns of linking the metal rings together. The most common pattern used for medieval chain mail was 4-to-1 which means that each ring was linked with four others. Chain mail was made by putting together alternating rows of riveted and solid rings. Subsequently, riveted rings began to be used exclusively.
Types of Chainmail – Chain mail Patterns
There were various types of medieval chain mails which depended on the patterns of forming chain mail sheets. The most common patterns in medieval Europe consisted of alternating rows and columns of mail which is thought to have been invented by the Celts in 4th century BC. Another type of chain mail was used in medieval Japan whose pattern was one of a repeating grid.
Medieval Ring Mail
While the term “chain mail” could be used for any metallic body armour, the special kind of medieval chain mail that made use of non-interlocking metal rings was called ring mail. These rings could be attached together in various ways, with the 4-to-1 pattern being the most common. This ring mail was quite popular in North East Asia during ancient and medieval times.
The English word chain and the French word maille combine to make the word “chain mail”
“Maille” is a French word that means a net of mesh
The origins of medieval chainmail can be traced back to ancient times in the 4th century
The favourite type of chainmail was to link each ring with four others (4-1 method)
Alternating rows and columns was the favourite way of making medieval chainmail
Detail of Medieval chainmail Hauberk worn by medieval soldiers and knight
Medieval Chainmail Armour
Medieval chain mail was sometimes also known as medieval chain armour. It also had other alternate names such as ring armour or simply mail. This medieval chain armour was particularly popular among the knights during the medieval times. Initially, the medieval chain armour only covered the body but eventually a hood was developed for the head as well.
Medieval Chainmail – Ring Armour
Medieval ring armour mainly consisted of a foundation garment which was mostly made of leather. During the medieval times, blacksmiths made chain mails and the main task was the linking between iron and steel rings. The ends of these links were commonly welded together for added durability. The use of chain mail continued after the medieval times but its form drastically altered with the passage of time.
Medieval Chainmail Advantages
Medieval chain mail was a primary device of defence and offered various advantages. The most immediate advantage was the protection against cuts made by the enemy blade. Besides, compared to actual armour or iron, chain mail took less material to make and was also flexible. Finally, an important advantage of medieval chain mail was that it was relatively cheap and thus could be afforded by the common people other than knights.
Early Medieval Chainmail with some plate armour worn in medieval turkey
Medieval Chainmail Disadvantages
The first and foremost disadvantage of a medieval chainmail was that it took a lot of time to make since every ring had to be assembled and linked with other rings. While it provided reliable protection against slashing weapons, it was not very effective against blunt force trauma unless there was an added protection by some other material such as padded gambeson. Besides, there were small holes in the armour which arrows of certain types could penetrate.
Medieval Chainmail Armour
Chain mail armour usually covered the upper body while legs remained vulnerable to attack. Thus it was more effective in direct man to man combat but not very effective against arrows. Medieval chainmail could get seriously warmed up depending on the weather and this could result in a disadvantage. For instance, the Norwegian army that invaded England had to leave their amour on their ships because of warm weather which heated up the Mail Armour and this resulted in vastly increased losses of soldiers during the battle.
Medieval Chainmail Summary
Medieval chainmail was popular clothing for protection during the battles. Chain mail had various types and designs which were prevalent in different parts of the world. It consisted of interlinked metal rings which would be arranged in various ways, although the most common way was an arrangement of rows and columns. Medieval chain mail provided reliable protection against sword attacks but remained vulnerable to arrows.
The French word “Maille” derived from the Latin word “Macula” means “mesh of a net."
Medieval chainmail has different names meaning the same thing, other common name are chain armour, ring armour, mail
Early medieval chainmail covered the body, later chainmail that also covered the head was also added
Chainmail was flexible and lighter than plate armour and protected against medieval slashing weapons
Chainmail was less expensive than plate armour and this is why it was used commonly by footsoldiers
Plate armour was better than chainmail against blunt force weapons such as warhammers
Chainmail was less effective against incoming arrows than plate armour
We hope you enjoyed this article on medieval chainmail. Chain mail was an important innovation in medieval armoury and was commonly used by most medieval soldiers. If you’d like to learn more about other medieval armour that gave protection to medieval soldiers such as chain mail please look at the links towards the bottom of this chainmail page which will take you to other medieval armoury pages with information about other types of Medieval armour.