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The 'Jack' - Linen Armour for Historical and Fantasy Role Playing

Gussick

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The terms are really difficult to decipher. There are debates about aketon, jack, gambeson, etc. The big issue seems to be whether the references were to lighter padding worn under armor, stand-alone armor or some kind of padded armor to supplement mail.

The first "jack chain" like objects IIRC show up in the mid 14th over mail, and then reappear on the record in the 15th as you start to see better artwork showing detailed gambeson/jacks with supplemental chains over the arms. It can be pretty frustrating to try to recreate a light armor kit with any sense of certainty. The most I've been able to draw from period art is that there were a lot of variations in style. Suggesting these may have been tailored locally esp. for the mid 14th "Jacquerie" army.
 

WistfulD

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Yep. Also a big problem with English records is that many are written in legal French when the people who owned the items didn't speak it, so the nomenclature may be iffy
Yep, undoubtedly how words like cuirass made it into the English language armor nomenclature.
 

DavetheLost

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There was an account of a coat of jack with horn plates sewn inside that was so good at turning blows and so frustrated the attackers that when the man wearing it was finally brought down his angered opponents proceeded to hack it to pieces to vent their frustrations. I wish I could still remember where this account was documented. A lot of the "light" armor types in RPGs are not given enough credit.
 

Stupid Made Up Name

David
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I don't want to sound too Dan Howard, but "light" armour is a bit of a weird concept in itself. It descends to RPGs from their roots in ancients wargaming, where soldiers en masse get classified as light, medium or heavy (and perhaps extra heavy, super heavy) formations and given varying move rates and protection against casualties to match. This arrives in D&D as leather armour giving a 12" move rate and chainmail(*) a 9" move rate. Obviously a thief needs his high move rate amiright?

As gamers we commonly reduce things to numbers and I guess that jacks will have lower numbers than contemporary plate armour, but are they "lighter"? I expect a man armoured with a jack and sallet to have no leg armour, and that is genuinely something contemporary chroniclers call out as making soldiers more mobile - some battle accounts state that footmen kept in reserve had leg defences removed to move more quickly to where they were needed. Is the weight of the jack genuinely that much less than plate or mail covering an equivalent area? (If so, why not thicken it?) A pair of brigandines would certainly weight more than a back and breast, because overlapping is wasteful - is brigandine a "lighter" armour than steel plate?

There's a certain amount of raw number that a soldier's armour needs before it becomes useful at all. If the armoured parts aren't arrow-proof, why wear it at all? If you are a mobile soldier and intending to throw or shoot something and run away from less mobile melee-based enemies, missiles are what you concern yourself with. Why have an inadequate full body defence when you could have a partial armour covering the most important bits adequately? (See how plate declines in coverage as it needs to get thicker to resist more developed shot.)

What is light armour? (A measure of its effect on your purse? -joke)

(*) Ptui!
 

Dalillama

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What is light armour? (A measure of its effect on your purse? -joke)
At least partially, yes. Also actual weight; just because you can move about with 50 lbs of metal strapped to you doesn't mean it's effortless. If you're a skirmisher fighting a mobile battle that's a bigger deal than if you're a line grunt. That goes double for cavalry: horses that can carry a big person in heavy gear are slower and less nimble than lighter breeds, so scouts are going to want to carry less weight whenever possible. This feeds back into costs, too. A heavy destrier is expensive to buy and expensive to feed, they need grain to supplement their graze. Cavalry from harsher lands can't maintain them, that's why you never hear about the thundering charge of the Mongol cuirassers. Those little plains ponies could never take the load.
 

Gussick

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In my experience in living history jacks are not only lighter but much easier to put on. That said, jacks/gambesons did tend to be used with iron hats, jack chains, leg harness, gauntlets, etc. and those things quickly add up. So realistically I suppose a distinction needs to be made between simple gambeson with a few metal elements and actual half-harness incorporating a gambeson.
 

Gentleman Highwayman

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The best part of the jack is not only will no one stop you at the fancy ball for wearing one, but they'll compliment you on your styling attire--all while not having an AC of 10.
 

Stupid Made Up Name

David
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Also actual weight; just because you can move about with 50 lbs of metal strapped to you doesn't mean it's effortless. If you're a skirmisher fighting a mobile battle that's a bigger deal than if you're a line grunt.
...but, as I asked above, does that mean you wear thinner armour or less-covering armour?

[Also, I'm pretty sure there were heavily armoured Mongol lancers and armoured horses as well.]
In my experience in living history jacks are not only lighter but much easier to put on.
In my distant living history experience jacks were lighter, but do we know if living history jacks are made properly? IIRC, the French Ordonnances specify an armour made or 30 layers of old soft bedsheets and a stag's skin. I never wore anything like that. (I usually also wore a habergeon.) I've read of 16th century borderer jacks being doped with pitch, and the Burgundian ordinances mentioned waxed cloth, I think.

Wearing a cloth body armour with steel leg plate harness seems actively perverse. Is there pictorial evidence for this? Who would do this? "I'm portraying a mercenary who stole a thing and is a super quirky individual" always seems like thin rationalising at best.
 

Dalillama

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[Also, I'm pretty sure there were heavily armoured Mongol lancers and armoured horses as well.]
Depends on your values for heavily armoured. Wealthier Mongol warriors wore lamallar coats, which often were constructed of small plates or scales of horn or treated leather. Same goes for the horse armour. Lance and bow were standard weapons for basically all of them.
but, as I asked above, does that mean you wear thinner armour or less-covering armour?
Depends on local fashions. Also, there's more to armour styles than thicker or thinner, materials and construction are also relevant, as noted above. Some light cavalry went for breastplates or mail jackets with bare arms and legs, others strapped up in brigandine or lamellar or reinforced cloth.
 
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