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SPANISH KNIGHTS, 12th-13th CENTURIES

An extract from Armies of Feudal Europe 1066-1300
by Ian Heath

[Based on Siege of Jerusalem, Las Huelgas Apocalypse
by Beatus of Liébana
]
[Based on Las Cantigas de Santa Maria
& see Conquesta de Mallorca]
63 & 64.      SPANISH KNIGHTS, 12th-13th CENTURIES

Spanish knights were different enough from those of the rest of Western Europe to justify the inclusion of two examples here. To begin with their armour was often gilded and otherwise decorated because, since the Spanish courts spent much of their time 'on the road', extravagances and luxuries were more often applied to dress and equipment - ie, those things they could carry with them - than to home or furnishings: El Cid's gear, for example, is described in the contemporary 'Carmen' as including a gold-inlaid sword and shield and a highly-polished, silver-plated helmet with an electron diadem. Other sources mention jewelled shields, swords and helmets. Not that such decoration was exactly unique to Spain (as early as c. 1130 St Bernard of Clairvaux, writing of knights in general, mentions reins and spurs embellished in gold, silver and precious stones); it was simply more commonplace. By the mid-13th century Castilian knights at least wert expected to dress in bright colours such as red, green and crocus yellow, and to wear a sword (their symbol of rank) wherever they went. Scarlet was reserved for the king.

Figure 63, from the same source as 68, wears full mail armour including chausses (huesos). His round, red-tasselled leather shield, as well as the continued overarm use of the lance (which was still often thrown at this date), are the obvious results of Andalusian influence. Overarm thrusting with the lance continues to feature even in late-13th century sources, while circular shields remained popular through our the 11th and 12th centuries and were still in use even in the 13th century, during which, however, they gradually dropped out of general favour. 63a shows the enarmes of a somewhat heavier convex round shield carried by no less a person than King Jaime I of Aragon (1223-76) on his marble tomb effigy.

Figure 64 depicts a more typical knight of the 13th century, from Alfonso X of Castile's 'Cantigas de Santa Maria' ('Songs in Praise of St Mary' - see note 77-78). There are three principal characteristics to be noted, these being the almost straight-sided shield with a rounded base, a design apparently unique to Spain; the short-sleeved surcoat, with the shield device repeated on the sleeves (note also the floral, Berber-style decoration of the body of the surcoat); and the round-topped bascinet helmet with or without nasal, generally (but by no means exclusively) worn in place of the barrel-helm in Spain and also carrying the shield device. In fact heavier armour was only slowly adopted in Spain compared to the rest or Western Europe, Probably the hot climate was partly responsible for this, but undoubtedly the principal reason was the need to remain relatively lightly-equipped in order to meet their Andalusian and Berber foes on equal terms.



65-66 SPANISH TOWN MILITIAMEN, 12th-13th CENTURIES by Ian Heath