Mail shirt 15th century
Crotch length body with long sleeves. Opens in the front. Sleeves with elbow bends and tapers in the upper arm and forearm. Arms joined to the body with a row of cross-linked rings at the armpit. There are 13 rings connecting the mail sections at this join. Tailored in the back to the shoulders with expansion from the shoulder to the shoulder blades and taper back to the waist. Small extension to the center back that can be pulled up and connected to the short section at the bottom of the left side to form a brayette. There is some expansion leading to this extension that allows the mail to fit to the buttocks. Right sleeve with a narrow cuff formed of 5 rows of much finer mail formed of round wire with wedge rivets also forming a pent roof. Formed of large mostly flat slightly oval rings, secured by wedge rivets with pent roof form at the overlaps. Rings tapering in size somewhat in size from the chest to the wrists and skirt. Some old repairs, assembly or modifications with smaller riveted links. Some minor areas of repair with modern butted links. Left forearm appears to be patched with a forearm from another shirt or sleeve as the wrists don't match and there seems to be one almost full row of butted rings. The repair is formed of nearly identical rings with correct taper, so was from an appropriate piece, not just a random swatch. Tailoring in the back of the body consists of 9 expansions on each side at the shoulder which then lead to 9 contractions back to the waist. There appears to be one spurious expansion as well. Below the waist, just right of center, there is a single line of 8 expansions which would allow the piece to fit to the buttocks. The shoulder expansions add a ring every even row. The contractions remove one every other even row, then the below waist expansions are also every other even row.
The style of the rings indicates a date in the first half of the 15th century. Many of the surviving shirts with brayette extensions are dated to the second half of the 15th century. All of these are associated with German manufacture, the ones which have identification rings are from Nuremberg.
Old rectangular brass collection tag at the neck marked 25.135.56. This style of tag and numbering scheme resembles those used by the Met. Unfortunately, this number is associated with a mid 16th c. close helmet, not a shirt of mail. So either the tag has changed items, or it comes from a different institution with a similar numbering scheme.
The pictures of the shirt on the mannequin body show the tailoring in the back of the shirt and approximate how it might hang. The shoulders and arms do not have proper support, so the arms should likely hang higher. The picture of the shirt with a cape and sword shows how the shirt was displayed in a previous collection.
Objectively the rings appear "large," and "flat." They appear to be much larger than those often found on separate sleeves and the outside face does appear flat except at the area of the rivet overlap. The back (inside) is much more rounded, so the rings really aren't flat, they are more "D" shaped. Actual measurements of a ring at the edge of the front opening near the top: Outside diameter 10mm x 10.6mm. Inside diameter 6.1mm x 7.5mm. Thickness 0.9mm rising to 2.1mm at the point of the rivet. Measurements of a ring on the lower edge at the right side: Outside diameter 9.7mm x 11mm, inside diameter 5.6mm x 8.0mm, thickness .07mm. Measurements of a ring at the cuff on the right sleeve: outside diameter 8.4mm x 8.8mm, inside diameter 5.8mm x 6.3mm, wire diameter 1.1mm.
Tom Biliter assembled a list of the known similar shirts. They include: Palazzo Venezia in Rome, Two in the RA (III.1354 III.1320), One at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (25.188.9-no photos), One at Musee de l'Armee GPO 2749, One at the DHM (possibly inv. num 5070 if a Pinterest note is accurate), one at the GNM W2944, Churburg CH T11, Philadelphia Museum of Art (item number unknown, no photos), and an item seen on FB post by Le Feru des sciences (not sure of collection). This appears to be another previously unpublished one. It appears that the normal pattern for these is a tapered section in the rear connected to an additional tapered and fitted piece at the front. The DHM example appears to be just like this one - it does not include a front triangle. It may be possible that both have lost this additional section, there may have been a separate cod piece, or they may have been designed to be used this way. Investigation of this piece shows that the width and length of the straight portion of the extension matches exactly the size of the recess in the center of the left side. If the flap is pulled up to fit in this recess, the result is that the straight edge at the front blends into a slight dip at the center back.
Weight: 15 pounds 13.8 ounces (7195g).
Provenance: unnamed 1993 to 2023, Bill Scollard (1933-2018). I have a copy of a receipt from William Scollard that indicates that the shirt (or a shirt sold in 1993) came from the Bashford Dean collection.
If you have any questions, please send them to Wade Allen
This site last updated Mon Apr 03 14:25:43 EDT 2023