The recreation of a nasal / 'bretèche' / 'nesebant'

Saturday, November 19, 2016


This summer I recreated a mid 14th century helmet with a nasal piece, this is its story.



Prologue


Our decision to attend the 2016 re-enactment of the battle of Wisby of 1361 meant I had a big deadline to come up with a whole new suit of armour. As it was my wish to partake in the battle on horseback I could no longer use my old 14th century armour of a foot soldier (which had not been updated since 2004 anyway and shamed me to hell). Luckily I was able to buy several good pieces of armour second hand (thanks Jan!), so I could focus on making the few still missing items myself.
This also gave me the opportunity to recreate a piece that was particularly special to me because I discovered it over ten years ago: a nasal of a bascinet helmet. This piece, which had been excavated at the market square of the town of Amersfoort by its archaeological service in 1991, was published in the book 'Nering en vermaak' with the subscript that its original purpose was unknown. I recognized it for what it was, contacted the archaeologists in 2005, took photos and measurements and was asked to write a small article:

Brokamp, B. (2005), Een raadsel opgelost; vondst blijkt onderdeel wapenuitrusting. In: Oudheidkundige Vereniging Flehite, Kroniek: Tijdschrift Historisch Amersfoort, jaargang 7, nr. 4, pp. 2-3. Amersfoort: Museum Flehite.

When Doug Strong asked me in 2011 if he could use one of my photos in his to be published volumes on surviving plate armour 1250-1430, I photoshopped one to look good and send it to him. This photo has mysteriously made it onto pinterest a year ago, with a wrong dating (1330-1380). We know from the archaeological publication that the cattle drinking pond in which it was found was filled in around 1375 with rubbish from the market square (such as the nasal).


Left: The photo I took of the Amersfoort nasal in 2005. Right: My photoshop clean-up of that photo in 2011.

The Amersfoort nasal did not consist of steel plate of X mm, but was made out of a thick slab, slightly hollowed out at the backside. This made it very sturdy and not likely to get bend easily when hit by a weapon.


About nasals


In the late 13th century it was common practice for knights to wear an iron or steel skullcap in combination with a maille hood (which was separate or part of a maille shirt) and an all enclosing helm over these two. The helm offered good protection against lances and arrows but could be taken off to be better able to do close combat with swords and such (and be still protected by the skullcap).
This skullcap, known as bascinet in English and French and as huve/hube in Dutch and German (meaning cap), evolved in the early 14th century into a helmet that came further down the sides and back of the head. Also the maille hood was dispensed with, instead a maille curtain was attached to the bascinet. In the Holy Roman Empire armourers started experimenting with lengthening this maille curtain in a triangular shape upwards over the nose, where it could be temporarily attached to the brow of the helmet. By 1330 this flap of maille was replaced by an iron or steel plate counterpart, a nasal piece, which stayed in use as late as 1370, judging by its depiction in funerary art until that time.

Left: A Bildindex picture of the effigy of Rudolf I von Hogenberg (+1336) in Rottenburg am Neckar.
Right: A Bildindex picture of the effigy of Gunter von Schwarzburg (+1349) in Frankfurt am Main.



According to the late 19th century armour historian Boeheim this nasal piece was called a bretèche. I assume he meant in France, but he does not state a source (!!!) or further explanation in his Handbuch der Waffenkunde. A Flemish manuscript about the story of Gawain, written in 1350, does tell us the probable Dutch / German name: a nesebant (noseband).

Mettien heifti tswaert verheven
Ende gheraectene weder metter hant,
Ende cloofde hem helm ende nesebant,
Ende sloech hem in al toten tanden,
Doe trac hijt uut met beden handen,

Which I translate as:

"At once he lifted the sword
And hit (him) again with (the force of) the hand,
And cleaved his helm and noseband,
And smashed him in all unto the teeth,
Then he pulled it out with both hands,"

As you can see here, the sword cut through a helm and through a noseband. You could argue that this noseband might be a part of the helm but why then mention them separately? The logical explanation would be that the noseband belonged to a smaller helmet underneath the helm. Around this time helms were still carried on top of bascinets, as you can find in depictions in contemporary art but also in a description of the armour of men at arms in the year 1351 in the Limburger Chronicle.

... mit iren gekroneten helmen, darunder hatten si ire kleine ponthuben.

Which I translate as:

"... with their crowned helms, and underneath these they had their small pointy bascinets."

The noseband has the added advantage that it helps to stabilize the helm on top, which might explain why we see the bascinet with noseband often depicted on funerary monuments of knights but not so much in depictions of foot soldiers (who would not have worn a helm on their bascinet). Taking this thought further, I would best justify using such a setup within Deventer Burgerscap if my alter ego, merchant Johan Crulling, was a mounted man at arms. Luckily he is mentioned in the Deventer accountbooks of 1366 and 1369 in lists where he and others of Deventers upper class are compensated for keeping a horse to serve the town with in times of war. They were the cavalry department of the town militia.


List of 1366 of Deventer citizens that were compensated for keeping horses and serving the town as cavalry


Reconstruction


In 2009 I made a simple small bascinet of 1.5 mm thick mild steel, but I never got round to furnishing it with a liner and maille. This was the perfect victim to install a new noseband on, which is what I did

The bascinet that I made in 2009, photo taken prior to installing the vervelles (tubes for attaching the maille).
I made the noseband out of a thick slab of steel: a bit of hammering and a lot of stock removal. Of course I kept a picture of the original noseband nearby, printed on a 1 on 1 scale, for instant reference.
Time to create the latch to keep the noseband in place on the bascinet.

Noseband and latch finished.
Left: Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, c. 1370, photo by Roel Renmans. Right: Gunter of Schwarzburg effigy again (+ 1349), photo by me (2005).


Both the bascinet on the left and on the right in the above picture were a general inspiration for this project and for the method of fastening the noseband to the bascinet brow. The DHM bascinet probably had a visor instead of a noseband, but the latch system was likely nearly the same. I have not yet seen convincing evidence of a turning pin system. There is a bascinet in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg that seems to show this, but this pin is so flimsy that I guess it is a later addition by some collector or curator.
These days many bascinets are made way too large, because 95 % are not custom made for clients (or if they are, the producer still does a shitty job) and because of the whole current thing of 'medieval battle as a sport where you beat each other up' it is necessary to have a really thick layer of padding to prevent concussions. I wanted to keep my bascinet snug like the originals and depictions in art, and keep the ability to wear a helm over it. As you can see, in also keeping the measurements of the original noseband, the proportions of both together are still good. While if I had a too large bascinet, the noseband would have dwarfed next to it or I would have had to alter its shape. In the next photo you can see the size of my old bascinet, bought in 2001, next to the size of my new one with noseband. I could literally put the new one inside the old one.

Making the liner for the bascinet, and comparing my old and new bascinet (the latter with the new liner installed)
Left: Making a pattern for the maille liner from an old bedsheet and the pattern for the leather strap in paper. Right: The nearly finished liner which is waiting for the maille to go on top before I could see where to cut off the lower edge so they would line up.
Left: The way too large piece of maille that I had bought from India and needed to be cut short a lot, and triangles added up along the face opening of the bascinet. Right: the leather strap for attaching the maille and maille liner (that is why there are two rows of holes).
Here I am over halfway tailoring the maille. Left: Effigy of Gottfried von Arnsberg (+1372) in Cologne, whose length of maille I tried to copy. Right: Effigy of Lodewijk van Lichtervelde (+1375) in Koolskamp, whose small protruding chin and leather band running across the brow I used as inspiration.


Due to the fact that the organisation of the Battle of Wisby event asked me to portray the Danish king Waldemar I decided to make a crown that would go on top of the bascinet. As I still wanted to put a great helm on top, it needed to lie flat against the helmet surface. Also as I wanted to be able to take it off, I needed to give it 'loops' that could temporarily attach it to the vervelles. To cover the two frontal loops I opted for the leather band to run across the brow, like in the Lichtervelde effigy.

The end result, while me being King Waldemar at the battle of Wisby. Photo by Vera Bos.
Here I am wearing the bascinet underneath the helm, it worked fine.

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