Development of the 14th Century Spaulder 3

The Development of the 14th C. Spaulder

Shoulder defenses in 14th Century Italy

I do not have as much information available to me for the continent as the abundant information I have for England, so my sections on Italy and Germany will have to remain admittedly incomplete.28 What I do have, though, is telling as to the styles and development prevalent in these areas. Military development in Italy made effective use of infantry and crossbowmen, two factors which are believed to be prime motivators for the development of rigid defenses.29

In the case of Italy, it has generally been asserted that they frequently opted to forego shoulder defenses.30 While this is often the case in the artistic references I’ve found, artistic references for shoulder defenses exist nonetheless though the form of some is regarded with skepticism by scholars. None of these, however, clearly denote a spaulder of the form seen in England. Nearly all the examples take the essential form of what appears to be a roundel or cup to the front or outside of the shoulder, though it seems likely that many examples are epaulettes affixed to a coat of plates, either of iron, leather, or even possibly latten. While it is assumed that most rerebraces and spaulders were integrated into one continuous piece (at least in England, if the effigies are accurately interpreted), not a single one of the surviving arms from this time period, many of them Italian, appears to have ever been attached to an integral shoulder defense,31 let alone spaulder, of which I can find none of in Italy in the popular configuration. A great many examples of Italian armour I came across indeed show a lack of visible shoulder protection altogether, but there is rigid armour protruding from the sleeves of their maille shirts in many cases (Figure 35 being the only one included here, because of visible shoulder protection). Perhaps they are wearing some sort of cuir bouille or other rigid defense under their maille.32

It will quickly be observed that, in many examples below, there is extensive use of cuir bouille, its carved and tooled surface being a give-away. I have heard it speculated that the defenses were generally lighter in Italy (particularly Naples, in Southern Italy) because of the climate, though I cannot cite that in any particular work.33 Surcoats over coats-of-plates appear to have been used until possibly the 1350s, thereafter being replaced by shorter, form fitting jupons (or Italian equivalent); and subsequently over globose breastplates, possibly of the multi-piece coat-of-plates descendant known as a corrazina though this was by no means universal.

Figure 27 shows the effigy of Filippo dei Desideri of 1315 (Museo Civico, Bologna). His equipment includes a coat-of-plates with what appears to be epaulettes.34 This is a common configuration to coats-of-plates throughout the century, and will be seen in other examples both here and in Germany.

Figures 28 and 29 come from wall paintings in Lombardy (Church of Sant’Abbondio, Como). The shoulder defenses are cap-like circles on the outside of the shoulder with depending strips of what is presumably leather or fabric. It is unclear if they are attached to a defense such as the coat of plates, making them epaulettes, or by some other method. Their overall appearance is matched in their skirts. While it has been supposed that this is artistic license (believed to be influenced by Byzantine art and intended to reinforce the “classical” Roman identity),24 they are not unique. Figures 38, 39, and 40, dating from notably later, also feature these defenses.


Figures 30, 31, and 32, from Southern Italy, are strikingly similar to one another. They each feature roundels at the elbow and front of the shoulder, and rerebraces of cuir bouille. As with many of these depictions, it is difficult to discern the exact nature of the shoulder defense. It is tempting to put these into the epaulette category, as the scalloped edges are consistent with iron epaulettes of that shape known to exist.28 What casts this in doubt is the very plain nature of the elbow defenses, which seem more in keeping with the undecorated types of iron defenses typically seen. However, the fact that the elbow plates, in all cases, are clearly laced on seems to indicate support for epaulettes attached to a coat of plates, which feature no such painstaking detail. The laced on elbows can also be seen in Figures 33, 34, 37.

Figure 30 is of Carluccio Vulcano of 1345 (Church of S. Domenico Maggiore, Naples); Figures 31 and 32 are effigies of the Barrile family of about 1350 (Church of S. Lorenzo Maggiore, Naples).


Figures 33 and 34 continue the trend seen previously and are also from the 1350’s time period and located in Naples.

Figure 33, an unidentified effigy (Church of S. Lorenzo Maggiore, Naples), has sculpted zoomorphic animal heads on his shoulders which afford some protection to the front, presumably cuir bouille, as well as cuir bouille rerebraces and the unadorned discs laced to his elbows. How these shoulder defenses attach or are categorized is difficult to discern.

Figure 34, that of Perotto Cabano (Church of S. Chiara, Naples), has cuir bouille rerebraces that go all the way up to protect the shoulder, and the same laced on discs at the elbow.

Figure 35 depicts Lorenzo di Niccolo Acciaiuoli (Certosa di Valdema, Florence) of 1353, and he appears to be considerably more heavily armed than his southern counterparts. The only visible shoulder protection, though, is in the form of what might be either an epaulette or roundel.


Figure 36 is from the Court of Justice manuscript of Romagna of 1356 (currently in the Nationalbibliothek, Vienna). This figure wears the only item I’ve found in Italy that hints at a spaulder form similar to that of the English, and it appears to be partially obscured by his sleeve.

Figure 37 returns us to Southern Italy with the effigy of Niccola Merlotto of 1358 (Church of S. Chiara, Naples). His shoulders appear to be protected by an unadorned cap which is presumably an epaulette with a cuir bouille rerebrace similar to others of this region at this time, and also feature laced on elbow plates.


My final examples for Italy come from an altar piece in Pistoia Cathedral and date from 1376.

Figures 38 and 39 show similar details to one another, with small disc like shapes protecting the outside of the shoulder. In the case of Figure 38, it shows the characteristic surface embellishment of cuir bouille on the figures both to the far left and right, with a strap visible encircling the arm of the figure on the right (though it cannot be seen clearly here). It is difficult to tell if these are defenses separate from the body armour, or epaulettes, and if so, whether they are iron or leather. Figure 39 appears to almost certainly be an epaulette and elbow of plain iron.

Figure 40 shows the styles in Figures 28 and 29 revisted, but in great detail. While probably ornamental, the strips depending from the shoulders (and matching skirts) on these figures appears to be an interesting and viable stylistic design.


Shoulder defenses, at least the visible ones, of 14th C. Italy are shown to be mostly simple shapes of either iron or cuir bouille. Perhaps the famous Churburg #13 arms were matched with defenses similar to these.37 Shoulder defenses in Germany were simpler still, as seen on the next page.

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I would welcome any advisements as to reading materials that would shed better light on both Italian and German shoulder defenses late in the century.

Nicolle, page 214

Edge & Paddock, page 80; Blair, page 65

Blair, page 65

Speculation on my part.

If any specific documentation can be sent my way, it would be appreciated.

Nicolle, page 233

Nicolle, page 241

Thordeman, page 112

Speculation on my part.