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Medieval Shields

Medieval life and Times

Definition of Medieval Shields
Medieval Shields were developed to shield, or protect, a knight or soldier from the direct blows from the weapons of their enemies. Shields used during the Medieval times of the Middle Ages were also used as bludgeoning weapons.


Medieval Coat of Arms

Description of Medieval Shields
The use of the shield as an actual weapon was practised by knights at the Pell. Shields were designed to become both vehicles of defence to attack by the addition a sharp iron or bronze spike protruding from the center. Training at the Pell demanded hours of practise to increase the skills, strength and agility of the Medieval knights in relation to their swords and shields. Medieval shields were decorated with symbols which were used as a means to recognise the knight, both when they were jousting at tournaments and on the battlefield. This form of recognition was necessary as a knights armor included a visor which completely covered the face of the knight. The decoration and colors on a shield, or shield symbols, allowed knights to be easily recognised.

Different Types of Medieval Shields
There were many different types of medieval shields. The styles of the different Medieval shields changed as different types of body protection were developed with new ideas and technology. The different types of Medieval shields are as follows:

  • Kite shields - The kite shields were featured in the Bayeux tapestry. Rounded at the top of the shield and tapered at the bottom providing body cover as chain mail was the only protection in the early Middle Ages
  • Heater Shields - The 'heater' shields, strongly associated with jousting knights. These were smaller as they complimented full suits of armor and were suited to horseback
  • The Buckler - The Buckler was a a small round, metal shield which could be hung from a belt. This type of shield was reserved for hand-to-hand combat
  • The Pavise ( Wall Shields)  - The Pavise was the shield used by Crossbow men. This type of tall shield provided protection when reloading his crossbow
  • The Targe (or Target shields) were the traditional Scottish round shield
  • The Bouche - the 'bouche' which was designed to be used with the lance

Construction of Medieval Shields
Medieval shield construction started with the type of materials that would be required for a particular type of shield. These were chosen according to the style of combat and armor worn by the owner to determine the weight and style of the shields. Medieval shield construction used the following materials:

  • Hide or animal skins (leather)
  • Bark
  • Wood
  • Metal
  • Leather-covered wood
  • Wicker or basket work

Medieval shield construction might also include a strap called a guige that allowed it to be slung over the knight's back when not in use or on horseback.

Medieval Shield Symbols
Medieval shield symbols included a knight's coat of arms, a heraldic design. Different symbols were originally used to decorate the clothing, or surcoat, worn over the knight's armor for recognition purposes. Fast recognition was necessary on the battlefield - colors, shield designs and shield symbols such as various animals. The Escutcheon (also called scutcheon) is the term used in heraldry for the shield displayed in a coat of arms.

Medieval Shield Symbols - Colors
The colors used with Medieval shield symbols were:

  • Yellow (Or)
  • White (Argent)
  • Red ( Gules)
  • Blue (Azure)
  • Black (Sable)
  • Green (Vert)

Medieval Shield Symbols - Designs
The designs used with Medieval shield symbols were plants and animals depicted on the field of the shield. The field of the shield could be divided into different sections called "honourable ordinaries".

  • Diagonal Cross ( Saltire)
  • Horizontal Stripe (Fess)
  • Vertical Stripe (Pale)
  • Diagonal Stripe ( Bend)
  • Angled Stripe - (Chevron)
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