I’ll bet you didn’t know what ‘barding’ meant either!!! I saw something on Antiques Roadshow about a headpiece for a horse and it caught my interest. In some ways, this also parallels my etymology series, after a fashion. So, without further ado…..
Barding (also spelled bard) is body armour for war horses. The practice of armoring horses was first extensively developed in antiquity in the eastern kingdoms of Parthia and Pahlava. After the conquests of Alexander the Great, it likely made its way into European military practices via the Seleucid Empire and later Byzantine Empire. Though its historical roots lie in antiquity in the regions of what was once the Persian Empire, barded horses have become a symbol of the late European Middle Ages chivalry and the era of knights.
During the Late Middle Ages, as armour protection for knights became more effective, their mounts became targets. This vulnerability was exploited by the Scots at the Battle of Bannockburn in the 14th century, when horses were killed by the infantry, and by the English at the Battle of Crécy in the same century where long-bowmen shot horses and the then-dismounted French knights were killed by heavy infantry. Barding developed as a response to such events.
Examples of armour for horses could be found as far back as classical antiquity. Cataphracts, with scale armour for both rider and horse, are believed by many historians to have influenced the later European knights, via contact with the Byzantine Empire.
There are a number of bits and pieces that make up the barding. The chanfron (also spelled chaffron, chamfron, champion, chamfron, chamfrein, champron, and shaffron) was designed to protect the horse’s face. Sometimes this included hinged cheek plates. A decorative feature common to many chanfrons is a rondel with a small spike.
The chanfron was known as early as ancient Greece, but vanished from use in Europe until the twelfth century when metal plates replaced boiled leather as protection for war horses. The basic design of the chanfron remained stable until it became obsolete in the seventeenth century, although late examples are often notable for engraved decoration. A chanfron extended from the horse’s ears to its muzzle. Flanges often covered the eyes. In an open chanfron, the eyes received no protection. Hinged extensions to cover the jowls were commonly used for jousting tournaments.
The criniere (also known as manefaire or crinet) was a set of segmented plates that protected the horse’s neck. In full barding this consisted of two combinations of articulated lames that pivoted on loose rivets. One set of lames covered the mane and the other covered the neck. These connected to the peytral and the chanfron.
Light barding used only the upper lames. Three straps held the crinet in place around the neck. It is thought that thin metal was used for these plates, perhaps 0.8 mm. Mail armour was often affixed to the crinet and wrapped about the horse’s neck for additional protection.
The croupiere (also crupiere bacul or crupper) protected the horse’s hind quarters. It could be made from any combination of leather, mail, or plate armour.
The flanchards, used to protect the flank, attached to the side of the saddle, then around the front or rear of the horse and back to the saddle again. These appear to have been metal plates riveted to leather or in some cases cuir bouilli armour (which is boiled or treated leather sealed with beeswax or the like).
They sometimes had openings designed to allow the rider to use spurs.
Barding was often used in conjunction with cloth covers known as caparisons. These coverings sometimes covered the entire horse from nose to tail and extended to the ground. It is unclear from period illustrations how much metal defensive covering was used in conjunction. Textile covers may also be called barding.
Another commonly included feature of barding was protection for the reins, so they could not be cut. This could be metal plates riveted to them or chainmail linked around them.
The full bard is a “complete ensemble of horse armour,” created for Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, by master armourers from Augsburg and Innsbruck like Lorenz Helmschmied and Konrad Seusenhofer. The development of the full bard was also connected with the development of Maximilian armour and the Landsknecht (all three arose from the time Maximilian was in Burgundian Netherlands), as both human and equine combatants required more and more protection. But the full bard was expensive and only the richest knights could afford it.
A cataphract was a cavalryman in full armour riding an (partially or fully) armoured horse. This type of cavalry originated from central Asia and was adopted by the eastern satrapies of the ancient Persian Empire. The Seleucid cataphract used scale armour for its flexibility and effective protection against archers and also because unlike regular metal types, it was not too heavy for the horses.