Cloth Armor vs Daggers and Swords

Many aspects of how, exactly, historical armors worked remain unknown.  In today's blog we investigate the protective potential of quilted linen armor that has been reproduced based on existing historical records.  This armor is an experimental swatch made by HEMA practitioner and historical clothing and armor afficionado Charles Lin.  The armor swatch consists of 24 layers of finely woven linen, loosely quilted to allow the layers to slide past each other.  Although there are written records of such armor, we know relatively little of what kind of protection it was supposed to provide, especially against the weapons and fighting techniques of the day.
Dagger threat
16th century dagger training
In earlier examples it is often assumed that these garments were intended to be worn beneath maille, but by the 16th century jackets that appear to be made of something like this quilted armor seem to have been worn on their own.  For example, the portrait below of Agnolo Doni from ~1505 portrays the subject in a garment from this period that appears to be thick and quilted, much like the sample used in today's video.  
Agnolo Doni
Portrait by Raffaello Sanzio
There has been substantial speculation that such garments may have protected against attacks with bladed weapons, especially from the thrusts from daggers or rapiers that condotierri of the time were rather famous for experiencing.  In our experience, modern practitioners of Historical European Martial Arts, who commonly wear similar padded armor while fighting with various training swords, and are therefore comfortable relying on padded armor for protection, are often unsure of how much protection such garments provide against sharp weapons.  
In a previous video we tested our Leeds Castle Sword against two layers of a heavy modern HEMA jacket (a SPES model), and found that the sword easily thrust and hewed through it.  Today's results are somewhat different and may be due to the historical structure and materials of the armor swatch.
In the video that follows we put some of this armor to the test by stabbing and cutting it with reproduction weapons from the same period.  These include the Arms and Armor Serenissima Rapier, Calliano Sword, 14th century Dagger, Italian Bill, and a custom rondel dagger that, as of the date of this post, is available for purchase.  The armor swatch was placed atop a bag of sand to provide resistance to thrusts, while also allowing the blade to penetrate as deeply as it was able.  The results were somewhat surprising.  
divider swords

Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography.  He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.

Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985.

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