There were great advancements made in knight helmet design during medieval times and this was due to the improved skills of Armourers and other skilled Smiths and the discovery of new metals and manufacturing techniques.
Norman Knights from the 11 century wore a simple spangenhelm construction conical shaped open helmet called the ‘Nasal Helmet’ this was a very popular helmet and variations of it were worn by knights and infantry soldiers throughout the medieval period.
Norman knights came from the Normandy area of modern day France (Francia).
The Normans were descendants of the Vikings who had been gifted the Duchy of Normandy from the king of the Franks ‘Charles III’ of West Francia as a peace treaty to Viking leader Rollo.
As the medieval period progressed armourers recognised the need for helmets that protected the whole head due to the development of more advanced weaponry such as the metal bodkin arrowhead.
Spangenhelm type helmets with side protection and then full face masks started to become more common on the battlefield.
During the 11th century helmets that protected the whole head became more commonplace, in the times of the Crusades the flat topped great helm was a very popular helmet also commonly reffered to as a the crusader helmet.
The Crusades lasted for almost 200 years from 1095 – 1291 and throughout this period the Great Helm was commonly worn by Crusader Knights
Earlier spangenhelm helmets were designed in a conical shape which helped lessen the impact of a weapons blows as they would more easily glance off the target area. However the flat Helm due to its shape would take the full force of a weapons blows.
With a need for protection for the whole head, the great helm was in widespread use by the end of the 12th century. In fact, almost every knight and man-at-arms wore this helmet including the Knights Templar, the Great Helm evolved over the course of 300 years.
Known for its ability to protect its wearer from attacks from all kinds of weapons such as swords, spears, and lances, it played a crucial role in being a part of a knight’s armor. That said, since it was made out of steel, it had to be worn before one went into battle.
However historians believe there is enough evidence to prove that knights wore secondary helmets such as a cerveillier underneath, together with padded headgear and a mail coif.
An improved Great Helm was introduced called the Sugarloaf Helm, it incorporated a superior shaped design similar to earlier Spangehelm.
A knights choice of helmet now became a trade off between the full head protection offered by the Great Helm against the better movement, breathability and vision offered by an open type helmet such as the spangenhelm, this was often decided by the type of warfare.
The solution to this problem was partially remedied by the introduction of helmets with visors.
The Bascinet helmet would become one of the most popular helmets during the medieval period, it could be worn as an open helmet without a visor (often by infantry) or with a retractable visor which made it both an open and closed helmet (popular with knights). The Bascinet was a Popular Helmet from the early 1400’s.
The Bascinet was also known as the Hounskull or Pigface Helmet. There were many variations of the Bascinet Helmet throughout medieval Europe.
The Hounskull was actually the name for the Visor which attached to the Bascinet, the Bascinet itself was quite a plain looking helmet. The Bascinet also commonly had a rounded visor and was called the ‘Great Bascinet’. Bascinet helmets could be with or without additional neck plates.
The Bascinet helmet was one of the most popular combat helmets during the medieval period, however it was replaced during the late medieval period (mid 15th century) by another combat helmet called the Sallet, most of Europe moved over to the Sallet from the Bascinet, it was especially popular in Germany where it was commonly manufactured.
The sallet helmet was popular with knights and infantry soldiers in the late medieval period around the middle of the 15th century, there were many variations of the Sallet across Europe and the Sallet could be an open helmet, a closed helmet or a visored helmet.
One variant of the Sallet the ‘Gothic Sallet’ was worn with a bevor to potect the neck and had a movable visor. The Sallet helmet offered good visibility and movement for the knights head.
The Sallet was particulary popular in Germany and Italy.
A wide variation of helmets were worn at medieval tournaments by knights including the Bascinet and Great Helm.
Knights commonly wore some variation of the Closed Helm During Jousting matches.
However as far as strange looking tournament helmets go the Frog-Mouth German Helm was a clear winner.
An important feature of helmets during this period was the presence of crests on helmets that identified their ancestry and were considered rather fanciful in design. In some cases, simple feather plumes were used to denote the same. These type of helmet were commonly worn in medieval tournaments.
Infantry soldiers in a tournament melee (free-for-all tournament battles) could wear many types of helmet such as the sallet, bascinet, spangenhelm, kettle hat and more. In the early medieval period tournaments, the melee was the main sport of the occasion
Armourers and other skilled Smiths made Knights helmets, the same craftsmen who were responsible for a number of developments that took place in the advancement of weapons such as armor, swords, and shields.
Knights’ helmets served their purpose of protecting the head of their wearer. In some cases, the shape of these helmets served to intimidate their opponents while also being considered a form of style as they were decorated with paint and lacquer.
Closed knights helmets were often very hot inside and it was hard to breath especially in the heat of battle, whilst all the senses were restricted in a closed helmet the open helmets did not protect the knights as well as the closed ones. Visiored helmets in some respects helped in this, however open helmets still offered some advantages over closed and visored choices.
One more disadvantage included the necessity for the use of a mechanical device to take off or put on these helmets.
These Knights’ helmets made from metals began to decline after 1670 in military combat and especially after the use of rifles as firearms and the discontinuation of the use of bows, arrows, and spears among other weapons popular in the Middle Ages.