Chainmail | Renaissance Clothing and Medieval Costumes

What Is Chainmail, And Was It Used In The Renaissance?

Mail armor, also called chainmail and sometimes spelled maille, is a specific type of armor made of small linked metal rings.  These rings form a mesh that is much like cloth, and which is effective against many of the weapons and fighting techniques used during the Middle Ages.  By the Renaissance, chainmail was becoming much less popular, due to changes in the way war was conducted.

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Chainmail dates from the first millenium BCE, although no one knows who first invented and used it.  Throughout the medieval period, it was one of the most popular forms of armor.  In the thirteenth century, some forms of chainmail covered the entire body!  However, by the fourteenth century, plate armor became more popular than chain, because it provided better full body protection.

Since plate was more expensive than chainmail, many soldiers stuck with the older form of armor, however.  Chainmail persisted as part of armor up through the sixteenth century, although it was usually supplemental to plate.  This was particularly true after the advent of cannons, which chainmail is not good protection against.

In period, the majority of chainmail would have been made from wrought iron, with some later forms being made from wrought steel.  Drawing wire and making mail was a labor intensive process, since each ring was made and riveted shut by hand.  Riveting kept the rings from popping open when the armor was hit by a blow or an arrow.  Most modern chainmail is not riveted, because of the additional work required.

Modern chainmail can be made from a number of different materials, from old fashioned wrought steel to aluminum, stainless steel, titanium, and even gold.  Gold and silver chainmail is usually used in jewelry, instead of armor.  These expensive metals provide a striking look when used in conjunction with semi precious stones and gems.

If you want to buy chainmail, the type you'll need will depend on what you need it for.  Chainmail jewelry can be chosen according to the wearer's personal preference.  However, armor has to hold up to a lot of use.  Reenactors who are using chainmail armor in live fighting should pay attention to their group's rules for armor.  Usually, mild or stainless steel is preferred for these uses, because of its durability.  Stainless steel is much more expensive, but will not rust.

Aluminum and other lightweight modern materials may not be able to prevent as much damage as steel.  That's why they're best used for decorative, costuming, and theatrical purposes instead of combat.  If you're surprised by the cost of chainmail, remember that it's all still made by hand, one ring at a time.  That means that you should be suspicious of chainmail that's very cheap - it may not be as well made as mail that has a slightly higher price.  Learn all you can about the way chainmail is made and the going rate to get the best armor you can.