Heavy metal hardens battle

Jul 20, 2011
Wearing armor has been shown to use more than double the energy required to walk and run. Credit: Courtesy of the University of Leeds

The French may have had a better chance at the Battle of Agincourt had they not been weighed down by heavy body armour, say researchers.

A study published today in shows that carrying armour in would have been using more than twice the amount of energy had they not been wearing it. This is the first clear of the limitations of wearing Medieval armour on a soldier's performance.

During warfare in the 15th century, soldiers wore steel plate armour, typically weighing 30-50kg. It is thought this may have been a contributing factor in whether an army won or lost a battle.

"We found that carrying this kind of load spread across the body requires a lot more energy than carrying the same weight in a backpack," says lead researcher, Dr Graham Askew from the University of Leeds Faculty of Biological Sciences. "This is because, in a suit of armour, the limbs are loaded with weight, which means it takes more effort to swing them with each stride. If you're wearing a backpack, the weight is all in one place and swinging the limbs is easier."

The research team included academics from the Universities of Leeds, Milan and Auckland along with experts from the Royal Armouries in Leeds, UK. Researchers worked with highly skilled fight interpreters from the Royal Armouries Museum, who wore exact replicas of four different types of European armour. They undertook a range of walking and running exercises, during which their oxygen usage was measured through respirometry masks, providing researchers with a picture of how much energy was being used by the participants.

The study also showed that the armour had a clear impact on the soldier's breathing. Rather than taking deep breaths when they were exerting themselves - as they would have done had they not been wearing armour - the interpreters took a greater number of shallower breaths.

"Being wrapped in a tight shell of armour may have made soldiers feel safe," says co-investigator Dr Federico Formenti from the University of Auckland. "But you feel breathless as soon as you begin to move around in Medieval armour and this would likely limit a soldier's resistance to fight."

Video footage of armour-clad interpreter on treadmill. Credit: Courtesy of the University of Leeds

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not rated yet Jul 20, 2011
That just seems obvious but I'd like to see what the results would be like if we brought a real knight back to life and tested him. If you are training and wearing armour for your entire life, I'd think your body would learn to compensate to some extent, probably reducing the impact of the armour by quite a bit.
not rated yet Jul 20, 2011
Hmmm...Some sites say the armour weighed 50-60 pounds - not 30-50kg

Additionally the soldiers wearing plate armour are usually mounted (and the ones fighting at Agincourt only dismounted for the last stretch. Drudinging with that armour through knee high mud might have been the major problem in that battle)

50kg would have been exceedingly heavy for a foot soldier - especially if he had to carry other supplies as well.
1 / 5 (1) Jul 20, 2011
There are also the questions of reduced vision and reduced range of motion, both of which are pretty significant when the fighting is hand-to-hand.
not rated yet Jul 21, 2011
This is hardly ground breaking research. The reports from the day said exactly the same thing. And despite claims the ground at Agincourt consists mainly of sloping ground with good drainage. The mud claim was, it is suggested; a fabricated excuse to explain the French defeat at the hands of the English archers.

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