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To See a Good Armor

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To See a Good Armor



The Armorer's Craft In Shakespeare's Day



Hartmann Schopper. Panoplia omnium illiberalium mechanicarum aut sedentariarum artium genera continens. Frankfurt, 1568

Jan van der Straet. Nova reperta. Engraving, ca. 1600

I have known when there was no music with him but the drum and the fife, and now had he rather hear the tabor and the pipe; I have known when he would have walked ten mile afoot to see a good armor, and now will he lie ten nights awake, carving the fashion of a new doublet.

Much Ado About Nothing (Act II, scene 3)

 

By Shakespeare’s day, the medieval craft of armor-making had become a modern industry. Governments engaged contractors who promised to deliver the equipment, and the contractors tapped a network of smaller suppliers to make up the thousands of orders it took to supply an army. The iron came from continual-production blast furnaces that melted iron ore to extract the metal. The iron was hammered into flat sheets by water-powered triphammers, manned by low-paid laborers. At the end of the process, the armor was finished with water-powered grinding and polishing wheels.

 

Despite these advances, the central stage of armor production remained very much a craft. The armorer trained for about seven years as an apprentice, learning the subtle art of shaping steel to accommodate the complex shapes and motions of the human body. The final product had to be strong enough to resist battlefield damage, flexible enough to allow almost total freedom of movement, and stylish enough to meet the tastes of fashion-conscious Elizabethans.

 

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