Exploring the Medieval Armoury, Ralph Moffat

Exploring the Medieval Armoury 

Ralph Moffat reflects on completing the final volume of his detailed sourcebook on medieval arms and armour.  

They say good things come in threes. I truly hope you, dear reader, find this to be the case. I had not intended to write three books. My sourcebook for the study of medieval arms and armour was originally conceived as a single volume. It would contain original primary sources such as wills, inventories, and chronicle accounts, transcribed and translated, together with an extensive illustrated glossary to explain terms, covering the period c. 1400 to c. 1500. That was the plan.

However, it soon became clear that there was far, far, more material than could possibly fit in one book.  

The third (and final) volume of my work is at last complete. Splitting the work across three books had several benefits – not least giving me more time to complete my research!  

First, arms and armour scholarship has moved on even since the first volume came out in 2022. What were then obscure names for pieces of armour have since been identified. Colleagues in the field have kindly pointed out errors in the first that have been amended in the subsequent volumes: ‘one-foot’ and ‘two-foot’ crossbows being a good example. 

Second, I was able to look more closely at the language of arms and armour. Extended glossary entries cover the origin and etymology of many terms – sallet and armet, debunking the so-called ‘bodkin’ arrowhead to name a few. 

Third, the number of manuscripts made freely available online by archives and libraries has increased exponentially. In the recent past it took days of correspondence (before online translation programs for overseas collections) with expert archivists and librarians, permission seeking, and the ordering of new photography or purchase of – often poor-quality yet expensive – scans of microfiches, to secure images. Now so many can be read, and reread, in splendid high-res technicolour. This is invaluable to check for errors in my transcriptions. Recently it has been proven to me that a ‘wolf arrow’ is, in fact, a Welsh arrow: both targets might be considered dangerous mammals.  

Finally, more space means more images – including a many excellent examples from Glasgow Museums’ exceptional collection. As a museum curator, I must stress here that looking at images on the page will always take a distant second place to putting on some cotton gloves to handle real medieval objects – please do grab this opportunity whenever it arises.  

For me, the success of this whole project lies in the sourcebook’s utility. I really want it to be a go-to resource to medievalists of every kind: from scholars of military history, literature, language, economics, dress and material culture, to living history practitioners, and archive, library, and museum professionals. If they reach for these three volumes from their shelves, if only to check the meaning of an obscure term, then that is a victory. 

RALPH MOFFAT is the Curator of European Arms and Armour at Glasgow Museums. He is responsible for the care of, research, and dissemination of information on the people of this City’s collection.

You might also enjoy our 2022 interview with Ralph about this project.

Step inside the medieval armoury. Save 40% on selected titles on weapons and armour with code BB270 – offer ends 30 June 2024.

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