MIDIEVAL WEAPONS AND COMBAT – The Shield (MIDDLE AGES BATTLE HISTORY DOCUMENTARY)
Presenter Mike Loades takes us on a fascinating tour of medieval arms and armour, and demonstrates their central role in key events in British history.
As an expert who trains people how to use medieval weapons, Mike is in a unique position to show us how these weapons were made and used and their impact on British society.
Using a well-known battle as the focus for each programme, and talking to modern-day experts, Mike shows us the properties of each weapon and how effective it would have been in battle. We learn about much more than the weapons themselves as the series draws in themes of technology, religion, geography and even music.
There is evidence that the shield, in various forms, has been used for over 4,000 years. Although mainly a defensive weapon, the shield can also be used to strike an opponent and was used entirely for this purpose in certain judicial courts in Germany during the late Middle Ages.
Some shields are very large, almost as big as a warrior, and were specifically designed to form an interlocking shield wall. At the Battle of Edington in 878, Alfred, King of Wessex, used this tactic successfully against the Vikings, who were unable to penetrate the rows of shields. In fact, the tactics used by Alfred are very similar to those employed by modern-day police forces when using riot shields today.
In this programme we meet a modern-day shield maker to learn how Anglo-Saxon shields would have been constructed using lindenwood (wood from the lime tree) and rawhide (cow skin). Steve Etheridge makes a shield using authentic techniques that include making glue from cheese. At the Royal Military College of Science, Mike Loades tests the effectiveness of three different shields against arrows and axes.
The Normans, by contrast, used kite shields — teardrop-shaped shields used on horseback — the shape of which gave protection against arrows on turning away from an attack. These shields are seen clearly on the Bayeux Tapestry.
The very smallest were called buckler shields, which were made from steel and used from the 13th century onwards. They were held in the same hand as the sword, to disguise the intended movement, and were also used for hitting an opponent. In Tudor times it was fashionable for young men to wear a ‘sword and buckler’ as part of their everyday dress, as a status symbol.
A number of modern-day experts test out ideas about shields, and a musicologist explains the military commands that were blown on a horn. Using 100 inexperienced volunteers, Mike has the challenge of creating an effective shield wall as a cohesive and responsive unit.