databas cerddi guto'r glyn

The brigandine

A brigandine was a jacket of cloth, canvas or leather reinforced internally with small iron plates. Often it was covered over with some finer material, the different layers being secured by numerous rivets whose heads formed striking, decorative patterns.[1] It could be a relatively cheap form of armour, though some ‘luxury’ examples were produced as well. The lightness and flexibility of the brigandine made it a popular form of armour with soldiers from all social classes.

Evidence for the use of such armour amongst the Welsh gentry is provided by Guto’s poem to request a brigandine (brigawn) from Sieffrai Cyffin of Oswestry on behalf of Dafydd Llwyd of Abertanad. The requested item is described as a pais ‘tunic’ (poem 98 lines 33, 37, 40-2, 57) and a pâr ‘pair’ (34, 35), as well as a brigawn dur o Byrgwyn draw (‘steel brigandine from Burgundy yonder’, 36).[2]

One particularly interesting detail is that Guto also mentions a breastplate (brest) with a lance-rest:

Brest dur o Baris dirion 
Ac ar y frest rest o Rôn. 
a steel breastplate from gracious Paris
and on the breastplate a rest from Rouen.

(poem 98.43-4)

This suggests that the brigandine was of a type that had one or two large plates over the chest, providing a suitably solid attachment point for the lance-rest.[3]

The brigandine’s ‘doubled’ layers are apparently described later in the poem:

Dyblwyd ar waith y dabler 
Dyblig o’r sirig a’r sêr; 
a covering made from the silk and the stars
was doubled in the form of the backgammon table;

(poem 98.47-8)

The comparison with a tabler, a term used for an early form of backgammon or the board on which it was played (see board games), suggests Guto was familiar with hinged boards which could be folded closed for storage, like the one found in the wreck of King Henry VIII’s warship, the Mary Rose.[4] He may also have had in mind a comparison between the ordered arrangement of the brigandine’s small plates and the pattern on the board.

The same lines quoted above suggest that the brigandine had a luxurious outer layer of sirig ‘silk, damask’, whilst the ‘stars’ (sêr) probably represent the numerous rivet-heads which formed a decorative pattern (some brigandines even had gilded rivet-heads).[5] The rivets (hoelion) are directly mentioned in lines 55-6: Metel teg, metelwyd hon / Mal helm â mil o hoelion ‘Fair metal, it was metalled / like a helmet with a thousand rivets.’

The brigandine’s small iron plates are mentioned in several lines. One passage seems to refer to their neat, overlapping arrangement:

Dulliwyd am ŵr o’r dellt mân 
Dulliad tros dillad Trystan, 
Pob dulliad, caead cuall, 
Mal llong dros emyl y llall. 
an array made from small laths
was arranged on a man over Tristan’s clothes,
every array, swift covering,
like a ship over the rim of the next.

(poem 98.49-52)

Elsewhere in the poem the plates are described as grisiau teg ‘fair stairs’ (53), plu gosawg ‘a goshawk’s feathers’, (59), cen gleisiad ‘a young salmon’s scales’ (60), teils dur ... / tebyg i’r to cerrig hen ‘steel tiles similar to the old stone roof’ (63-4), ysglodion gwynion ‘white shavings’ (61), ysglatys o’r wisg g’letaf ‘slates on the hardest clothing’ (62) and peithynau ‘shingles, tiles’ (70). Guto extends the comparison with tiles by referring to taelwriaeth ... / ... teiler gwych ‘a brilliant tiler’s tailoring’ (65-6) and in the same couplet refers to the brigandine as metel eurych, / taeliwr a gof ‘the metal of a goldsmith, a tailor and a blacksmith’. The inclusion of the goldsmith reinforces the idea that this is a very fine garment.

The brigandine’s quality is further suggested by Guto’s mention of Milan (Melan), one of the most important centres of armour production:

Grisiau teg mal gwres y tân 
Gyda’r maels mal gwydr Melan. 
Fair stairs like the heat of the fire
are with the mail like steel from Milan.

(poem 98.53-54)

Despite being compared to Milan steel, earlier in the poem the brigandine is said to have come from Byrgwyn ‘Burgundy’ (line 36) whilst the brest (‘breastplate’) is from Paris and the lance-rest from Rôn (Rouen) (43-4)! Whilst Guto may be using poetic licence in referring to these different places, it not impossible that the brigandine had been adapted by adding a breastplate and lance-rest made elsewhere.

Another interesting detail in the couplet quoted above (line 54) is the mention of maels (‘mail’). This could be interpreted as a reference to the brigandine itself, since mael(s), like ‘mail’, seems to have had a wide range of meanings (see mail armour). It is, however, also possible that Guto was referring to mail armour as we generally understand it today, i.e. armour of interlinked rings. This could have been worn with the brigandine or underneath it - perhaps an entire mail shirt, or separate pieces of mail such as a collar, sleeves and ‘skirt’.[6]

The reference to the brigandine as a neuadd ‘hall’ (68) calls to mind Guto’s architectural comparisons in other poems, especially his request poem for a sallet. He says that the brigandine is rhag ymladd ‘for fighting’ (68) and refers more specifically to the protection it provides by describing it as pais rhag gwayw Sais a’i saeth ‘a tunic against an Englishman’s spear and arrow’ (40).


[1]: A.W. Boardman, The Medieval Soldier in the Wars of the Roses (Stroud, 1998), 140-1, and D. Edge and J.M. Paddock, Arms and Armour of the Medieval Knight (London, 1996), 118-120.
[2]: For pâr ‘pair’ cf. the English ‘pair of brigandines’ and also ‘pair of plates’, see ‘The Oxford English Dictionary’,, s.v. brigandine and plate 9(a).
[3]: C. Ffoulkes, The Armourer and his Craft (London, 1912), 50, and Edge and Paddock, Arms and Armour, 120, 161.
[4]: D. Childs, The Warship Mary Rose: the Life and Times of King Henry VIII’s Flagship (London, 2007), 87-8; there is a fourteenth-century illustration of a similar board in the Codex Manesse, fol. 262v
[5: Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (Caerdydd, 1950-2002), s.v. sirig, serig²; C. Blair, European Armour circa 1066 to circa 1700 (London, 1958), 79, and Edge and Paddock, Arms and Armour, 120.
[6]: Blair, European Armour, 40, and C. Gravett, English Medieval Knight 1400-1500 (Oxford, 2001), 8-9, 60.
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