The Cavalry is an important military unit that began to be utilized in early medieval Europe. By the High Middle Ages, the cavalry had evolved into the knightly class and had become the most significant portion of a medieval army, making or breaking a battle with its action.
Whereas the weapons and armor used by the cavalry at the beginning of the medieval period were rather simple, by the High Middle Ages, a number of innovations such as the use of specially designed shields had become common among cavalry troops. It was in this period that new shields types such as the kite shield and heater shield evolved.
The earliest type of shields used by the European cavalry were round shields. This remained true from the beginning of the medieval period until the 10th century. The round shield was originally the shield used by the infantry in antiquity and it was passed on to the cavalry as mounted troops became more important militarily.
The basic round shield was constructed from multiple planks of wood glued together and given a circular shape. The wood used in round shields was of a non-splitting type, such as fir, poplar, or linden wood. Metal rims, iron bands, and rivets such as iron nails were frequently used on wooden round shields to reinforce them and make them more durable.
A mounted warrior typically held the round shield in his left hand, using it to deflect incoming missiles and also as a defense in hand-to-hand combat.
Kite shields became popular among European cavalry units from the 10th century onwards. Normans, in particular, became notable for the widespread use of kite shields in their military exploits. The kite shield was a lot larger than the round shield. It was usually in a kite-like shape or in the case of a flat top, in a triangular shape.
The shield was long enough to reach the foot of the warrior. The most notable advantage of a kite shield was that for a cavalry soldier, the shield effectively guarded him from the head to toe. This proved vital for the safety of the mounted soldier during the initial assault when he had to face the incoming barrage of missiles as well as during melee situations.
Although significantly larger in size, the kite shield was constructed to be durable without being exceptionally heavy. This type of shield remained in the use of European cavalries until the 13th century.
The Heater shield was a type of shield that came into widespread use among European cavalry units from the late 12th century onwards. The heater shield was essentially a trimming down of the kite shield. It was made from wood and overlaid with leather for extra durability.
As mounted cavalry troops came to use plate armor for body protection, they no longer needed the exceptionally long kite shield to protect their lower body. This led to the creation of the heater shield which was smaller, light-weight, and easier to wield on the battlefield.
Another notable advantage of a heater shield was that it was inexpensive to produce, so as the knightly class declined and professional cavalry units came to be used in Europe, the heater shield became more widely used.