Leather armor gountlets from Dordrecht

28/02/2022

I was not aware, that by finishing the scabbard with the suspention system according to an extant piece from Burgos (more about it here) I stepped into the "Castilian waters" and there was no avoiding a contra action. Project "Kastílie 1312" is a czech reenacting group who focuses on Kastilian noble court from its quirky fashion up to the military features. (more about them on their fb page) And a noble man from this group contacted me for a special commision.

foto J.S.O. exhibition Lever van Leer, Dordrecht museum 2021
foto J.S.O. exhibition Lever van Leer, Dordrecht museum 2021

The commision was to make the hard leather hand protections following the extant pieces from Dordrecht (NL). The goal is to produce elegant and tight fighting gountlets with chainmail. The textile padding would be too bulky, so it seemed reasonable to the customer to use hardened leather. I was lucky enough to see the finger protections last summer in Leven van Leer exhibition behind the glass, and later thanks to great Deborah Paalman even to hold them in hand in Dordrecht museum´s depot. As they are also well descripted in published articles it was a good choice to reconstruct.

The Dordrecht´s originals are dated in between the years 1325 - 1400. They are made out of thick beef leather  (5mm thick leather from an adult piece - Volken & Rijkelijkhuizen 2017 pg. 58 - 60) There are two pieces found which are not from the same gountlet, and our interpretation is a combination of both pieces. The holes for stitching are in direction flesh - edge, as in the piece which was found intact (D-S2: find number 9701.892.004), but the shape and the incisions for the movement is taken from the second, less complete piece (D-S1: find number 2001.060.006).

According to C. Dobson´s analysis (2018, fig 30 - 32 pg.44) are the finger protections not made out of hardened leather (cuir bouilli) but only out of thick and hard leather. The hardening would not allow the joints to move without breakage. One of the fingers were found in the same context as a metal hand protection from a gountlet, both both above mentioned articles also work with an idea of the rest of the gountlet made in leather. That is why we chose not to use hardened leather but only 5mm thick hard leather which should serve its purpose just as well. (especially considering the chainmail inteded to go over it)

The wrist protection copies the shape of 14th century armor gountlets used for the metal versions, as the hardened leather pieces for other parts of the body do that too up to the point what the restraints of the material differences allow. (Dobson 2018).

I do not make leather gloves at all, as designing the cutting patterns is quite specialised job and some of the technical details are different from shoe and accesories making, so the customer provided me with the first soft layer of leather gloves, whitch were made for him to measure by other craftsman. I was in charge only of the hard leather pieces. After the inicial research I prepared and formed the segmets, and than we adjusted them in person according to the joints in person. The idea is, that the ends of the fingers reaching the lowest joints will be hidden under the wrist protection piece in order to protect them even with the fist closed around the weapon (the metal gountlets are again constructed in the same way)

"Codex Manesse", folio 359r
"Codex Manesse", folio 359r

The leather alone would be probably enough for training with blunt weapons, or sufficient for a "low cost armor". I am open to make such gountlets again, but I refuse to take responsible for your broken fingers, so I will not claim anything till it will be well tested :D According to the customer were the hand protections out of leather or whale bones mentined in 13 - 14th century literature sources also for France, Aragon and England.

We will have to wait some more time for the outcome of the testing, as I have not sewnt the pieces together with the soft glove just yet. As the chainmail layer should be attached with the same row of stitching as the leather part, and the chainmail will take some time to produce and fit to the glove. For these reasons I left this final part of the job to the chainmail maker.

I am very curious how it will turn out and looking forward to see it all in action, as this project seems to me well thought of by the customer and is aiming for high finish. Even though there is no data for these leather pieces to be connected with the chainmail pieces it makes sense to put it there. So we will see in half a year or so.