databas cerddi guto'r glyn

Plate armour

By Guto’r Glyn’s day the technology of armour-making had progressed to the extent that full ‘suits’ of plate armour were available, protecting every part of the body.[1] A number of the different components of such armour are named in Guto’s poem to request a sallet (a kind of helmet) from Wiliam Rodn of Holt on behalf of Dafydd Bromffild of Bersham:

Dyn traws fûm yn dwyn tros fôr 
Dur Melan i dir Maelor, 
Clòs harnais, fyclau seirnial, 
Cwmplid a welid o Iâl, 
Curas a pholrwn cywrain, 
Garbras a dwy fwmbras fain, 
Dwy gawntled a gorsied gên 
A besgus rhag pob asgen, 
A phâr cadarn lèg-harnais 
A’r traed fal chwarterau’r ais, 
A phob metel o Felan 
O dri thwyts rhwng dŵr a thân. 
I was a strong man bearing
Milanese steel oversea to the land of Maelor,
a close, complete harness that could be seen from Yale,
buckles of gear,
cuirass and exquisite pouldron,
gardbrace and two thin vambraces,
two gauntlets and a jaw’s gorget
and protective armpit armour against any harm,
and a solid pair of leg-harnesses
and the feet like the ribs’ quarters,
and every metal from Milan
from three touches between water and fire.

(poem 73.1-12)

Nine different components of the armour are named:[2]
curas (‘cuirass’), to protect the upper body (line 5);
polrwn (‘pauldron’), to protect the shoulder (5);
garbras (‘gardbrace’), a reinforcing plate attached to the pauldron (6);[3]
fwmbras (‘vambrace’), to protect the arm (6);
gawntled (‘gauntlet’), to protect the hand and wrist (7);
gorsied (‘gorget’), to protect the neck (7);
besgus (‘besague’ or ‘besagew’), a plate worn over the armpit (8);
lèg-harnais (‘leg-harness), to protect the leg (9);
jointed armour or sabatons worn on the traed (‘feet’) (10).

The same passage (line 3) also mentions the byclau (‘buckles’) used to join different plates together, and refers to the entire ‘suit’ of armour as a harnais ‘harness’. Guto refers to the manufacture of the individual plates in line 12, O dri thwyts rhwng dŵr a thân ‘from three touches between water and fire’. This suggests that he may have been aware of the use of water to cool heated steel in order to harden it (a process known as ‘quenching’).[4]

Though armour was produced across Europe, the most important centres of manufacture were in southern Germany and in northern Italy (notably Milan and Brescia). Poets referred quite frequently to Melan (Milan) in connection with steel, weapons or armour, and Guto does so twice in the passage quoted above (lines 2 and 11). The word Melan was not always used literally, however, and could also refer more loosely to items made of (good-quality) steel.[5]

Other poems by Guto also refer to armour. A curas (‘cuirass’) is mentioned in his praise poem celebrating the knighting of Sir Roger Kynaston of Knockin:

Gwarae â’i wayw a’i guras 
Y bu’r gŵr a bwrw ei gas. 
The warrior played with his spear and cuirass
and toppled his foe.

(poem 79.47-8)

It is impossible to be sure as to exactly what kind of armour Guto has in mind here. Although curas could refer specifically to plate armour defences for the upper body comprising a breastplate and backplate, it seems it could also refer to the breastplate alone, and might even have been used more generally to refer to different varieties of body armour (as was the case for the English word ‘cuirass’).[6]

Guto refers in three other poems to a breastplate, namely a piece of plate armour which covered the front of the body from the chest down to the waist. The term brestblad, a borrowing from the English ‘breastplate’, is used by Guto in a satirical poem (poem 67.25), and the shorter form brest is used with similar meaning in his poem for Thomas ap Watkin, Bras Domas mewn brest ymwan ‘Stout Thomas in a breastplate for battle’ (poem 4.67) and in his poem to request a brigandine (poem 98.44). The latter poem also mentions a r(h)est, namely a lance-rest attached to the breastplate and used to help support a couched lance and prevent it from rebounding on impact.[7] Another lance-rest is mentioned in Guto’s poem in praise of Matthew Gough of Maelor:

Pan fu ymgyrchu gorchest 
Ym min Rhôn a’i wayw mewn rhest, 
When there was a trial of strength in battle
on the outskirts of Rouen, with his spear in its rest on his armour,

(poem 3.15-16)

Guto uses other, more general terms for armour, namely llurig (poem 41.46) and pais (e.g. poem 63.19, poem 73.46, poem 98.25), each of which could denote various types of armour for the upper body.[8] The word mael(y)s also had more than one meaning, see mail armour.


[1]: C. Blair, European Armour circa 1066 to circa 1700 (London, 1958), 77-111, and K. DeVries and R.D. Smith, Medieval Military Technology (2nd edition, Toronto, 2012), 78-85.
[2]: See the definitions of the Welsh terms in Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (Caerdydd, 1950-2002) and Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (2nd edition, Caerdydd, 2003- ), and the diagram and vocabulary in D. Edge and J.M. Paddock, Arms and Armor of the Medieval Knight (London, 1996), 113 and 183-9.
[3]: Blair, European Armour, 97, 113, and Edge and Paddock, Arms and Armour, 184.
[4]: M. Pfaffenbichler, Medieval Craftsmen: Armourers (London, 1992), 62-4.
[5]: Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, s.v. melan¹, malen¹. For Guto’s references to Melan (and, perhaps, Brescia), see poem 1.27, 31, poem 3.25, poem 73.2, 11.
[6]: Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru s.v. curas, and ‘The Oxford English Dictionary’, s.v. cuirass.
[7]: Blair, European Armour, 61, and DeVries and Smith, Medieval Military Technology, 77.
[8]: Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, s.v. llurig, llurug and pais¹ (e).
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