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One of the most popular images of the medieval period is the knight in shining armour, looking splendid and invulnerable. Developments in steel plate armour went hand in hand with advances in offensive weapons, as each tried to get the upper hand in what became a medieval arms race.
Earlier body armour included 'maille' (popularly known as chain mail), which was not like a chain at all, but made up from an interlocking web of metal rings. From the Bayeux Tapestry it is obvious that maille was standard issue to Norman soldiers and was favoured for its relative lightness and ease of mobility. It gave good protection from long range attack and from a 'glancing blow' but not from heavy close-range attack such as from an axe or a lance.
As weapons of attack became more lethal so armour had to improve too. The next stage in armour developments may have been the 'coat of plates' as shown in a carving from 1230 at Pershore Abbey in Worcestershire. This was used across the chest in addition to maille, and experiments show that although the wearer would have suffered a blow from an full-speed lance attack, it would not have been life threatening...