Battle weary

20 July 2011

Research published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B shows that soldiers wearing armour in Medieval times used more than twice the amount of energy than their peers who went without heavy protection.  The new research is the first clear experimental evidence that wearing Medieval armour may have limited a soldier’s performance, and could help historians better understand the outcomes of crucial medieval European battles such as the Battle of Agincourt.

“We found that carrying this kind of load spread across the body requires a lot more energy than carrying the same weight in a backpack,” said lead researcher, Dr Graham Askew from the University of Leeds Faculty of Biological Sciences. “This is because, in a suit of armour, the limbs are loaded with weight, which means it takes more effort to swing them with each stride. If you’re wearing a backpack, the weight is all in one place and swinging the limbs is easier.”

The research team included academics from the Universities of Leeds, Milan and Auckland along with experts from the Royal Armouries in Leeds, UK. Researchers worked with highly skilled fight interpreters from the Royal Armouries Museum, who wore exact replicas of four different types of European armour. They undertook a range of walking and running exercises, during which their oxygen usage and breathing patterns were measured, providing researchers with a picture of how much energy was being used by the participants.

“Being wrapped in a tight shell of armour may have made soldiers feel safe,” says co-investigator Dr Federico Formenti from the University of Auckland. “But you feel breathless as soon as you begin to move around in Medieval armour and this would likely limit a soldier’s resistance to fight.”