Medieval knights riding a horse.
Medieval knights riding a horse.

Knighthood in medieval times meant fighting in the service of one's lord as well as practicing the code of chivalry. A particularly violent period of history, as part of the feudal system, medieval knights fought for a thousand years from 500 to 1500 A.D.. They were best known for their suits of armor, which evolved as their best protection on the battlefield. Being mostly of noble or land-owning lineage, knights were known to wear the fashion of the day when not performing military service.

Under the Armor

Under his armor, a knight wore linen undergarments and woolen hose. Over top of these, he wore a cod piece made of loose but hardened leather. A wealthier knight then would don a linen tunic; a poorer one likely wore a woolen version. Over all this, the knight would put on a surcoat, a long top featuring short sleeves and slits on the sides to allow for easy mount of a horse. Surcoats were embroidered with the knight's insignia and generally made of linen or silk. These undergarments were important for protecting the knight's skin from his own armor.

The Evolution of Armor

Armor began as using hardened pieces of leather fashioned to the knight's clothing for added protection when in battle. Leather armor still was vulnerable to attacks by blade or arrow, so knights adapted by using chainmail armor. Chainmail is made of small metallic rings assembled together. It was fairly flexible and could be fashioned to the knight's clothing to protect just about any body part. Still, chainmail could not protect from a sword's thrust or a well-aimed arrow. For these reasons, plate mail came to be used, making for the suit of armor seen today. Plate mail was composed of metal plates to cover and protect the knight. Chainmail still was used for areas of the body such as joints that required movement. Like the armor, the knight's helmet evolved from leather caps to chainmail coverage and into the full-face knight's helmet known today.

The Suit of Armor

Sabatons were the first part of an armored suit for a knight to get dressed with, as an armor for the feet with iron plates on the boots. Next, he would don greaves, a plate armor to cover his calves and ankles. A poleyn plate would cover each of his kneecaps. Plates known as cuisses covered the thigh. Spurs were worn as knights were horsemen. Besagues shielded the armpit. A rerebrace covered each upper arm, and a vambrace covered his lower. Gauntlets protected the knight's hands in battle. A knight's breastplate and backplate were held together by an armament called faulds, which also protected the other areas of his upper body. The knight's helmet consisted of a visor to allow for better visibility and a chainmail bascinet to protect his neck.

Off-duty Wear

Knights weren't always pillaging, crusading or heading into battle on behalf of their lords. Off duty, a knight would have looked like a land-owning gentleman of the period. He would have worn linens and silks fashioned with embroidery and the dyes popular in that particular era. Caps and surcoats were in and out of fashion, and footwear gradually became padded for comfort. Robes and cloaks became common wear for men of this station toward the end of the era.