Fashion in the Age of Datini

Shields, Targets, and Pavises

This Trojan War romance shows the kit of the early 14th century, including triangular heater shields carried by horsemen and rectangular pavises carried by foot soldiers. Foundation Martin Bodmer, Bodmer 78 Historia Destructionis Troiae (Painted in Venice c. 1370) fol. 40r

The late 14th century was a peculiar time in the history of shields in Italy: the old three-cornered shields had mostly fallen out of use, but a variety of shields were used by footsoldiers and for jousting. I don’t know of anyone who has worked out a typology. In England, shield seems to refer to the type which a fully armed knight traditionally carried, pavise to long heavy shields rested on the ground to provide cover against bolts and arrows, and targe or target to hand-held shields shaped or constructed differently than the knightly shield. As the old triangular shields fell out of fashion, French and German speakers started to call the shields used in jousting targets.

This Arthurian Romance shows jousting targets with a notch to hold the lance and an outward bend at top and bottom or side to side to guide the lance as it hits. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, manuscript Nouvelle Acquisitions Français 5243 Guiron le Courtoise (painted in Milan around 1370/1380) fol. 22r

Most of the surviving shields from this period come from the Alps and southern Germany. Few lists of materials or descriptions of how shields should be made in late medieval Europe are known to me. Texts on making panels for painting are often helpful, since they were made similarly to shields and decorated by the same workers.

Jan Kohlmorgen examined 23 extant three-cornered shields dating roughly 1180 to 1422 (kohlmorgen-mittelalterlicher-ritterschild pp. 127-129). Of the 20 whose wood was identified, 17 (85%) were of linden (probably tilia x Europaea) and one each of poplar (populus sp.), alder (alnus sp.), and fig (ficus sp.) wood. It is good to know that the yellow poplar commonly sold in North America is liriodendron tulipifera not a populus sp. like Old World poplars. It has different properties.

The Paduan Bible Picture Book shows round targets or rotelle. In this period Italian rotella are characterized by four to six bosses on the face opposite the two or three pairs of arm straps on the back. They can be round or oval, flat, curved, or domed. British Library, Additional manuscript 15227 (painted in Padua around 1390/1400) fol. 78v

Wooden shields, pavises, and targets seem to fall into two families. One is made from planks glued side by side into a board which was shaved or carved to shape and then covered with rawhide, tanned leather, or linen cloth. This is good for curved or flat shields and was continually in use from the Iron Age to the 18th century. Another is made from thin laths bent over a form, glued several criss-cross layers thick, and then covered with rawhide, tanned leather, or linen cloth. This is good for domed shields and is best attested in the round rotelle of the 16th and 17th century. In both families, much of the strength comes from the hide or cloth stretched over the board and not the wood underneath.

Some shields had their faces reinforced with horn, antler, copper-alloy, iron, or steel. According to Enguerran de Monstrelet, the Seneschal of Hainault forbid the targets to be faced with iron or steel for a deed of arms in 1402.

More to come …

Source Texts

Theophilius ch. i.17-19 theophilius-de-diversis-artibus

Pseudo-Tallievent ch. 204

POUR FAIRE L'YMAGE SAINT GEORGE ET SA PUCELLE. Convient faire une grande terrasse de paste ou de legier boys comme celuy de quoy on fait les pavoiz

To make the image of saint George and his virgin. Make a large terrace of pastry or light wood (like that from which one makes pavises)."

Transcript c/o, text c/o James Prescot

Cennini cennini-libro-dell-arte

The Montpellier Liber Diversarum Artium clarke-ed-liber-diversarium-arcium

Calendar of Patent Rolls of Henry IV, vol. IV, p. 224 Westminister, 5 May 1410: Commission to Richard Isak, ‘sheldmaker,’ to take glue, horns, hides and timber called ‘lynde’ and other necessaries for making certain shields for the king’s use, and to take also men of his mistery. (thanks Randall Moffett for the reference)

French Treatise on Military Costume (1446)

Item, les escuz à quoy on jouste en France sont faiz de bois premièrement dun doy espès, et nervez tant dedans que dehors dun doy espès ou moins ; et sur ladicte nerveure par dehors est couvert de petites pièces larges et carrées du grant dun point deschiquier de tablier, qui sont faictes dos le plus dur que len peut trouver, et le plus comunément sont faictes de cornes de serf endroit la couronne, de lendroit proprement de quoy len fait les noiz aux arbalestres

Item: the shields with which they joust in France are made, first, from wood of the thickness of a finger, and reinforced (nervez) within and without for thickness of a finger or less; and the said reinforcement (nerveure) on the outside is covered with little pieces, the size and shape of the squares of a chess board, made of the hardest material they can find, and they are ordinarily made from stag horn taken near the crown, the very same material used to make nuts for crossbows.

Thanks Will McLean for the reference

Research Literature


Will McLean, "Shield Construction," Will's Commonplace Book (2009)

scott2978, "Medieval Shield Construction," The Armour Archive (2013)

Kristoffer, "Building a historical pavise," The Armour Archive (2016)

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