Journal Issue No. 5 - September 2005

What's in a name?
The name is from the Greek Word "octo" for "eight". October was the eighth month in the Roman calendar until a monthless winter period (summer in the southern hemisphere) was divided between January and February.

A Tale of Two Armours
The Frazier Museum adds two reproduction harnesses to their collection

Following the lead of the Royal Armouries Museum in the UK with whom they are affiliated, the Frazier Historical Arms Museum in Louisville Kentucky has commissioned two suits of reproduction armour to be used in their interpretive program. When the suits are delivered, the Frazier will be one of two museums in the US to sponsor fully armoured demos of sword fighting and armouring the knight in their interpretive programs. Jeff Hedgecock of Historic Enterprises has been awarded the commission for the two harnesses, and in this interview he tells us a bit more about the armours themselves and the process involved in their manufacture.

Two full harnesses of armour- that's quite a commission! Can you tell us a bit more about how it came about?
It's one of those "someone knew someone who knew someone" things. Gwen had made several outfits for interpreters at the Higgins Armory & Museum. When the Frazier started looking for someone to build outfits for their interpreters, they called the Higgins and they recommended Gwen. We built 6 outfits for the Frazier's interpreters, some of which incorporated armour pieces. Shortly thereafter some of the Frazier Board traveled to the UK to see how the Armouries' interpretation was done. They saw the armoured combat interpretation and came back to the States eager to bring what they had seen at the Armouries back to the Frazier. Inquiries were made with several US armourers, and I made the short list. Ultimately, I was offered the project, and of course I accepted.

Do you know who else was on the list?
I believe it was a choice between Robert MacPherson and me. Currently Mac and I are the only two armourers in the US who do historically accurate full harnesses in spring steel, and the museum wanted spring. They needed harnesses that would withstand the rigors of daily use including being struck by other weapons without denting. Weight was an issue, as was care, so they were pretty set on having spring. John Waller of the Royal Armouries had seen me joust in spring steel armour of my own making in Leeds. We take strikes directly on the armour, and he saw how it was holding up, so that fact may have tipped the odds in my favor. I think a number of factors contributed to us getting the job- the body of my armouring work, Gwen's work with historical clothing, seeing my armour being put to use and the fact that we're able to provide everything needed for the harnesses- hose, shoes, shirt, arming coat, historical helmet liner, flat ring riveted maille elements--everything. We're the only company in the US who can offer that comprehensive service, so the museum wouldn't have to find several different artisans to make all the components. In the end it's hard to know why these things go the way they do sometimes. I was just grateful for the opportunity.

So tell us about the armours you are building.
"B2" armour from the Sanctuary of the Madonna della Grazie church in Mantua, Italy. Photo: L. Boccia
I'm building an Italian armour circa 1470, and a German armour of about 1480. The Italian is a copy of the B2 from the Sanctuary of the Madonna della Grazie church in Mantua, Italy. It was published in books by Leonello Boccia & Claude Blair. This "Milanese" armour is a copy of an extant armour, just adjusted for the size of the wearer.

The German armour is quite a bit different in its origins because it's being taken from a wooden sculpture rather than an existing harness. We're copying the harness worn by St. Florian in a statue which is part of an altarpiece in St. Wolfgang's Church in Pfarrkirche, Germany. It was carved by the famous artist Michael Pacher circa 1480.

Why these two armours?
Part of the goal in having two different armours is to show the contrast between styles. They're such radically different styles that the differences are very apparent, even to someone who doesn't know much about armour. The differences provide talking points in the interpretation, and allow the interpreter to discuss the positive and negative aspects of each style of harness with the public.

So once the client decides on the style, where do you start building the armour? What's the process?

Vambraces: formed and articulated, ready for heat treating.
Photo: J. Hedgecock

The process began with a visit to my shop by the interpreters who will wear and use the armours. Head of Interpretation Barrett Cooper is getting the Milanese armour, and Interpreter Tony Dingman the German. They flew out, and we spent two days getting the information needed to build the armour-- pages of measurements, dozens of photos, tracings and plaster leg casts for the greaves. We decided to start with the Milanese harness for Barrett. Ultimately, he got this suit because his shape compliments the shape of the armour better, and Tony's measurements worked better for the German.

Once I had all this information, the next step is to turn all the measurements into flat patterns for the plates, starting with the cuirass, then moving on to the cuisses and vambraces. Once I had patterns for the plates, the patterns are traced onto the steel. The whole harness is made of 1050 spring steel, but each plate is made of a different thicknesses ranging from .035" to .062" in. At this time I also cut a plate for the skull of the helmet from .083", also in 1050 spring steel, and plates for the greaves.

Cuisses: Rough formed and articulated, ready for heat treating.
Photo: J. Hedgecock

When the plates were all cut, I started raising the helmet bowl and rough forming the cuirass and limbs. The timing of production worked out so I would be demoing armouring in Leeds in April, so I brought the limb pieces with me to form and fit while I was there. ("Heavy Metal" - Journal Issue No. 3 - June 2005) Not long after my return, Barrett flew out for a fitting. Over the course of two days I fitted the plates, made adjustments and took pictures. I got his harness to the point where I was happy with fit and I could proceed with pauldrons, gauntlets, fauld and tassets, etc.

Since then I've been making the rest of the pieces and forming. Forming is probably the single biggest part of the job, but I'm nearing the end of it now.

Do you have help with this?

No. Historically, an armourer would have had an army of apprentices and journeymen working under him, and they would have done most of the work, with the master jumping in and out of the process to make sure things were going the way he wanted them to. He probably wouldn't do much of the actual work until the final forming and fitting stage. I'm working alone in my shop these days and am doing all the work myself patterning to finishing.

Do you have a preference for either style or are they both equally attractive to you?
Personally, I love 15th C. Italian armour, even though it is extraordinarily difficult to do well. The forms are deceptively simple; the large expanses of smooth curves seem to magnify the smallest imperfection or asymmetry. There's no fluting to break up a bad curve or hide a bump, so every single thing shows up. Italian armour has to be perfect, or it looks bad. It's obvious when it's not done well because there's nowhere to hide anything.

Statue of St. Florian by Michael Pacher, circa1480. St.Wolfgang's Church, Pfarrkirche, Germany.
Photo: Church File photo.

German armour has a lot of design details like fluting, piercework and cusped edges which break up the surfaces. If there is an imperfection in the shape of the plate these details tend to draw your eye away from flaws. That's not to say German armour is easier, because fluting isn't easy, nor are rolled edges. German armours are usually made up of more plates. One of the challenges is to get all of the plates to fit cleanly and move against each other smoothly. More plates means that each plate occupies a smaller space, therefore there are more of them. Generally, it's more difficult to work on smaller plates that have to fit together rather than fewer larger plates. Overall, I find German armour to be more "fiddly". It's sculptural in a completely different way than Italian. Each style is beautiful in its own way, and presents its own set of challenges.

How long will it take to make these two armours?
I'm allowing a year for each harness, but we're building them concurrently, so I hope to come in under 2 years for the whole project.

Cuirass with fauld and tassets, ready for heat treating.
Photo: J. Hedgecock

How close to completion are you?
The Italian is days away from heat treating, then there will be several days of grinding and more heat treating. Once that's done there's fiddling with the fit, then the strapping and final finishing. It's hard to say exactly how long it will take, but I'd like to think I'm in the home stretch. I will begin rough forming the German as soon as the Milanese is delivered.

Is it easier to work from an extant piece or a sculpture?

Both have their own set of issues. The challenge of working from an extant piece is you want to make it look like the extant piece as much as possible. Because it was a real functioning piece of armour, you can be pretty confident that it's mechanically correct. Because it's in a museum somewhere, you can get loads of pictures, detail shots, measurements, in some cases you can even go and examine the thing in person. I've travelled to Scotland twice this year to examine the "Avant" harness, which is part of the collection of the Glasgow city museums. Being able to handle an armour and examine it up close brings you light years closer to understanding how it really works. It's one thing to intellectualize or speculate how it should work, and quite another to hold the thing in your hands and -see- how it works. It's quite humbling as well, knowing the armourers who made it were working without many of the tools we take for granted today. Having that kind of opportunity is quite extrordinary.

Jeffrey Hedgecock discusses the "Avant" armour with curator of Arms and Armour Dr. Tobias Capwell.
Photo: G. Nowrick

When you're working from a sculpture, you have to keep in mind that the sculpture is not necessarily carved with reality in mind and the artist may have taken liberties with the design. An artist may never have worn or studied armour, and he or she may not really understand how armour is supposed to work. I have to know what has been accurately represented and what hasn't. That's where knowledge of real armour comes in. Even if I'm able to get great photos and measurements, the fact is that sculpture is an artistic interpretation of armour, not a functioning object like an extant piece. A real piece fit a real person at one time, whereas sculpture has to serve the function of art.

In either case, sometimes you can run into a client who has has a completely different body shape than the style or fashionable ideal of the armour they've chosen. When that happens, the armour you make can be mechanically brilliant and work flawlessly but still have a less than pleasing shape. It's pretty difficult to be happy with things in that situation. On the other hand, when you get a client who's body shape is perfect for the armour style they've chosen, and the resulting armour looks just like the piece you're copying, it's fantastic,. When that happens it's just like winning the lottery both from an engineering point of view as well as an artistic view.

What does a suit of armour like this cost?
It's difficult to discuss hard numbers because each armour has its own price based on the requirements of the harness. It's impossible to give you a "standard" price because each harness is unique. The only thing I can tell you is that a full harness of spring steel starts at about $20K, and they go up from there. But you should remember that a harness takes a year to make, so $20K for a year's work really isn't unreasonable, especially when we're talking about something as specialized as this. For example, you could easily spend twice that on a dune buggy that takes 6-8 weeks to build. With armour, every single thing except the rivets are custom built by hand. With a dune buggy, there's a lot of custom fabrication, but a lot of things come as stock parts which can be assembled. You don't have that with armour.

What will you think about this project when it's all over and done with?
When we're done with this project the Frazier will have two of the best suits of fully functional replica armour in the States. Thousands and thousands of people will see them in use during the course of a year. Some of those people will be kids whose imaginations will be sparked by seeing knights in armour. They may be inspired to become armourers, historians, armour scholars, actors or even knights. I will have made the suits that created that spark, and that's an accomplishment to be very pleased with.


The Holidays of Autumn
Michaelmas and All Hallow's Eve

The period between mid September and the beginning of November mark some of the great feast days of the medieval calendar. September 29 is Michaelmas, followed by the feast of All Saints (1 November:) and All Souls (2 November). All Saints day is prefaced by the unofficial celebration of All Hallows Eve (Hallowe'en/October 31),

During the Middle Ages Michaelmas (pronounced "MICKel-mus.") or the Feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael was a great religious feast day. Many popular traditions grew up around the day, which coincided with the harvest in much of western Europe. Before and after the arrival of Christianity, early November was when people in Western and Northern Europe finished the last of their harvesting and butchered any stock which would not be over wintered. November became known as the "blood month" when meat was smoked, salted and cured for consumption during the long winter ahead. Great feasts were held during this time to celebrate the harvest. In England it was the custom to eat a goose on Michaelmas, which was supposed to protect against financial need for the next year. In Ireland, finding a ring hidden in a Michaelmas pie meant that one would soon be married. According to an old Irish folk tale, blackberries were supposed to have been harvested and used up by this date. Superstition told that when Satan was kicked out of Heaven, he landed in a bramble patch -- and returns each year to curse and spit on the fruits of the plant he landed on, rendering them inedible thereafter.

Michaelmas is one of the 4 "Quarter Days" in the Church, days which fall around the Equinoxes or Solstices of the old Roman and pre-Christian calendar. Quarter Days mark the beginnings of new natural seasons of Spring (Lady Day (the Feast of the Annunciation) on March 25), Summer (the Feast of St. John on June 24), Fall (Michaelmas, September 29) and Winter (Christmas on December 25) . In medieval times Quarter Days marked units of time for legal purposes, such as settling debts. The agricultural year, consisting of 4 unequal sections, began and ended at Michaelmas, by which time the last of the harvest should have been in. Cold season crops such as wheat and rye were sown from Michaelmas to Christmas. Michaelmas marked the start of the fiscal year for tradesmen.

The next Church holiday is Hallowmas (short for Middle English Alholowmesse, from Old English ealra halgena mæsse, literally, all saints' mass) which follows on November 1 and All Souls on November 2. These feast days fall in the same time interval as the Celtic (or at least Irish) holy days of Samhain. This is not necessarily unusual, as many pre-Christian holidays were adapted in the early years of the Church.

According to the pre-Christian calendar, the day before Samhain is the last day of summer (or the old year) and the day after Samhain is the first day of winter (or of the new year). Being "between" seasons or years, Samhain was considered a very magical time, when the dead walked among the living and the veils between past, present and future were lifted in prophecy and divination. The dead were honoured and feasted, not as the dead, but as the living spirits of loved ones.

The Catholic holidays of All Saints and All Souls Day segued nicely into the existing traditions, as these days are also specifically concerned with honouring the dead. The Vigil of All Hallows (Hallowe'en) became a day of remembering the dead who are neither in Purgatory or Heaven, but are damned to the fires of Hell. Many rituals became attached to Hallowtide, when the Church celebrated with masses for the dead. Torchlight processions and vigils were held, bonfires were lit and churchbells were rung at midnight to comfort the lost souls. In some parts of Europe, the dead were believed to leave Purgatory around the time of All Souls Day and revisit their homes to seek the prayers of their families.

Ecclesiastical celebrations could be complimented by secular activities such as great feasting, travel or guising (mumming). Guising, the practice of wearing fancy dress or disguise, and "mumming", involving costumed parading, singing and dancing, had been part of May Day, Christmas and New Years Eve customs in Britain and other parts of Europe since medieval times. An important AllHallow's Tournament occurs near the end of Sir Thomas Mallory's fifteenth century prose romance Le Morte D'Arthur.

By the fourteenth century a custom called 'souling' had developed in England in which the poor would go from house to house asking for soul-cakes, calling

A Soul Cake, a Soul Cake,
have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake!


Soul, soul, an apple or two,
If you haven't an apple, a pear will do,
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for the Man Who made us all.

The better-off would give out small cakes or loaves in exchange for prayers for their dead relatives. Shakespeare uses the phrase 'to speak pulling like a beggar at Hallowmass'. Souling continued up until the twentieth century in some parts of Britain, though the ritual became increasingly secularized and was eventually relegated to children. Souling almost certainly forms the basis for American 'Trick or Treating'.

During the mid sixteenth century the Protestant Reformation put a stop to All Souls Day rituals in England --or at least drove them underground. The Protestants denied the Catholic belief in purgatory and the idea that living humans could help dead souls get to heaven through their deeds. Thus, any Hallowmass activity connected to these beliefs, such as the ringing of church bells at midnight, was forbidden. But such edicts could not stop people from being genuinely concerned for the fate of their dead friends and relatives. All Hallows Eve rituals, which were once centred around the Church, became private family or community rituals. In eighteenth century Derbyshire people made bonfires on the common to 'light the souls out of Purgatory'. In nineteenth century Lancashire Catholic families still assembled at midnight on hilltops to say prayers for the dead. Legends about witches meeting at midnight on Halloween most likely have their roots in sightings by Protestants of Catholics engaging in forbidden Christian religious practices.

The ubiquitous Halloween Jack-o-Lantern is an Irish tradition which may or may not extend back to the Middle Ages. The term 'Jack of the Lantern' first appeared in print in 1750 and referred to a night watchman or a man carrying a lantern. Previous to print, it was used to describe a strange light flickering over the marshes of Ireland. If approached, the light advanced and was always out of reach. The mysterious occurrence is also known as will o' the wisp and ignis fatuus, Gaelic for foolish fire. However, its legendary status reaches far back into Irish folklore with a story of a stingy drunkard named Jack.

As the story goes, Stingy Jack was a miserable old drunk who liked to play tricks on everyone: family, friends, his mother and even the Devil himself. Jack had the misfortune to run into the Devil in a pub, some say on Halloween night. Jack had too much to drink and was about to fall into the Devil's hands, but managed to trick the Devil by offering his soul in exchange for one last drink. The Devil turned himself into a sixpence to pay the bartender, but Jack quickly pocketed him in his purse. Because Jack had a silver cross in his purse, the Devil could not change himself back. Jack would not let the Devil go until he promised not to claim his soul for ten years. The Devil agreed and ten years later Jack came across the Devil while walking on a country road. The Devil wanted to collect, but Jack, thinking quickly, said "I'll go, but before I go, will you get me an apple from that tree?" The Devil, thinking he had nothing to lose, jumped on Jack's shoulders to obtain the apple. Jack pulled out his knife and carved a cross in the trunk of the tree. This left the Devil in the air, unable to obtain Jack or his soul. Jack made him promise to never again ask for his soul. Seeing no way out, the Devil agreed. No one knows how the Devil ever managed to get back down!

When Jack finally died years later, he was not admitted to Heaven, because of his life of drinking , parsimony and deceit. When he applied for entrance to Hell, the Devil turned him away because he agreed never to take Jack's soul. "But where can I go?", asked Jack. "Back where you came from!", replied the Devil. The way back was windy and dark. Jack pleaded with the Devil to at least provide him a light to find his way. The Devil, as a final gesture, threw a live coal at Jack straight from the fire of Hell. To light his way and to keep it from blowing out in the wind, Jack put it in a turnip he was eating.

Ever since, Jack has been doomed to wander in darkness with his lantern until "Judgment Day." Jack of the lantern (Jack o' Lantern) became known as the symbol of a damned soul.

The fear of souls like Jack's venturing back to the warmth of their previous homes on Halloween spawned a custom that is carried on today. Originally, Irish villagers, concerned about the possibility of visits from past occupants, would dress in costume to frighten away ghosts. They also left food outside the door to appease the spirits and carved or painted faces on turnips, potatoes, rutabagas, or beets to place in windows or doors in order to chase away ghosts with the symbol of a damned soul.

Did you know?

Football is an autumn pastime because in the Middle Ages fall was when animals that would not be over wintered were slaughtered; therefore this was the time of year when the bladders of slaughtered pigs were available to make footballs.

La Cuisine Médiévale

This month's recipe features the humble turnip, in honour of Jack's "Turnip-o-lantern". The turnip is common root vegetable, sometimes used in medieval recipes as a substitute for pears; the greens were also very popular for salads and in pottages. It is a relative of the radish native to the eastern Mediterranean. Turnips have been under cultivation for about 4,000 years in Eurasia and like the parsnip was a very important staple food before the introduction of the potato.

Vegetables such as the turnip were eaten daily in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, but were in many ways considered an inferior to meat dishes, to the point that vegetable dishes are hardly ever mentioned in Medieval cookbooks. Farm and market records, pantry inventories and gardening books all point to considerable vegetable consumption, and it can be deduced that vegetables were an important food item in the diet of nearly all Medieval people. For example, Le Menagier de Paris (a 14th century home manual written by an elderly bridegroom for his young wife) mentions many different flowers, vegetables, herbs, and fruits that are to be contained within their domestic garden. The list of vegetables features beet, leek, cabbage, parsley, bean, pea, spinach, lettuce, pumpkin, turnip, radish, & parsnip. The simplicity and fundamental nature of vegetable preparation often meant that precious vellum or parchment wasn't wasted on recording the recipes; some cookbooks go so far as to point out that the ability to prepare vegetables is common knowledge and further instructions are not necessary.

Turnips were added to or formed the basis for pottages, compotes and pickled dishes. A recipe in The 14th century French cookbook Le Viandier de Taillevant gives further credence to the idea that vegetables were common fare: "154. D'autres menuz potaiges...: Other Lesser Pottages, such as stewed chard, cabbage, turnip greens, leeks, veal in Yellow Sauce, and plain shallot pottage, peas, frenched beans, mashed beans, sieved beans or beans in their shell, pork offal, brewet of pork tripe -- women are experts with these and anyone knows how to do them."

The following recipe comes from the 15th C. Cookbook by Platina called "De Honesta Voluptatae et Valetudine", or "On Right Pleasure and Good Health". A sinfully rich dish of turnips and melted cheese, Armoured Turnips would as welcome at the family Thanksgiving feast as at a medieval feast.

Armoured Turnips

Cut up turnips that have been either boiled or cooked in the ashes. Likewise do the same with rich cheese, not too ripe. These should be smaller morsels than the turnips, though. In a pan greased with butter or liquamen, make a layer of cheese first, then a layer of turnips, and so on, all the while pouring in spice and some butter from time to time. This dish is quickly cooked and should be eaten quickly, too.
~ Platina, "Cookery", Book 8

     1 lb parboiled turnips peeled and either sliced or cubed.

     1/4 lb. of a soft, mild, meltable cheese such as mozarella,
       Brie, Camembert, Fontina, etc. coarsely grated, cut into
       smallchunks or sliced. A combination of cheeses is fine.

     Butter or margarine

     douce powder

Preheat oven to 350*. Butter a baking pan. Place turnips in a slightly overlapping layer in the bottom of the pan, cover with a layer of cheese, dot with butter, and sprinkle lightly with pouder douce. Repeat until you run out of ingredients, but end with cheese. Dot with butter. Place pan in an oven until brown and bubbly and serve while very hot. Serves 4-6.  


Cut bushes to hedge, fence meadow and redge.
Maids little and great pick clean seed wheat;
Glails lustily thwack less plough-seed lack;
Lay dry up and round, for barley, thy ground;
Who soweth in rain hath weed for his pain;
Keep crows, good son, see fencing be done.
Where water doth stand sow pease or dredge;
Fat pease-fed swine for drover is fine.
Ciss, have an eye to boar in stye;
Friend, ringle thy hog for fear of a dog.
Now gather up fruit of every suit;
Make verjuice and perry, sow kernell and berry;
Of verjuice be sure, poor cattle to cure(1)

Tusser, Thomas. Five hundreth pointes of good husbandrie London, 1586.

All contents ©2005 by Gwen Nowrick & Historic Enterprises, all rights reserved.

Page created by Jenn Reed.