The Knight and the Blast Furnace

A History of the Metallurgy of Armour in the Middle Ages & the Early Modern Period


The suit of armour distinguishes the European Middle Ages & Renaissance from all other periods and cultures. Unlike flexible defences, popular everywhere else in the world, the rigid, articulated, exoskeleton of a "suit of armour" was a more extravagant and less adaptable means of personal protection. It required greater metallurgical resources to make, but offered far better protection against available weapons. This book tells the story from its invention in 14th century Lombardy, which depended on the production of the necessary steel, until its eventual decline in the 17th century, principally because of the development of another military technology, the gun. The metallurgy of 600 armours has been analysed, and their probable effectiveness in battle is assessed by means of mechanical tests.


EUR €325.00USD $405.00

Biographical Note

Alan R. Williams, Ph.D. (1974) in History of Science, University of Manchester, is Visiting Research Fellow, Engineering Department, Reading University. He has published extensively on the metallurgy of armour and weapons, and is the co-author of The Royal Armoury at Greenwich (1995).

Review Quotes

"Das technologisch ausgerichtete Werk präsentiert eine Fülle neuen Materials zur Geschichte der europäischen Rüstungsindustrie - im umfassenden Sinne des Wortes." M.M., Deutsches Archiv für Erforschung des Mittelalters, 2004. "Devoted students of armor will definitely want to seek out this book and its references..." Steven A. Walton, Sixteenth Century Journal, 2004. "...richly illustrated work offers a detailed discussion of the scientific aspect of medieval arms production as well as taking a comparative view of countries across Europe." K. Stöber, Annual Bulletin of Historical Literature. "...the study represents an enormous amount of labor, and the findings are of substantial importance to scholars...The author deserves considerable credit for undertaking a vast amount of research and assembling much significant information…an important book that holds useful information for the patient and diligent reader." William Caferro, Speculum, 2004.

Table of contents

Foreword by Claude Blair Acknowledgements SECTION ONE IRON 1.1 The earliest ironmaking 1.2 Swords 1.3 Hardening of steel SECTION TWO MAIL 2.1 Mail 2.2 Armour of the later Roman Empire and the early Middle Ages SECTION THREE KNIGHTS 3.1 The birth of the knight 3.2 Infantry and crossbows SECTION FOUR ITALY 4.1 The triumph of an industry 4.2 The flourishing of an industry - The Metallurgy of Italian armour 4.3 The metallurgy of Italian armour before 1510 4.4 The eclipse of an industry - Italian armour after 1510 4.5 The metallurgy of Italian armour after 1510 SECTION FIVE GERMANY 5.1 "German" armour up to 1450 5.2 The metallurgy of "German" armour up to 1450 5.3 Augsburg armour 5.4 The metallurgy of Augsburg armour from the later 15th century onwards 5.5 Innsbruck armour 5.6 The metallurgy of Innsbruck armour 5.7 Landshut armour 5.8 The metallurgy of Landshut armour 5.9 Nurnberg armour 5.10 The metallurgy of Nurnberg armour 5.11 The metallurgy of Nurnberg tournament armours of the late 15th century SECTION SIX THE REST OF EUROPE 6.1 Miscellaneous "German" armour 6.2 Flanders 6.3 The metallurgy of Flemish armour 6.4 England 6.5 The metallurgy of armour (presumed to have been) made in England 6.6 Spain 6.7 France 6.8 Sweden 6.9 North Germany and The Netherlands SECTION SEVEN GUNS 7.1 The invention of guns 7.2 The earliest guns in Europe 7.3 Guns in 15th century warfare 7.4 Handguns in the 16th century SECTION EIGHT PRODUCTION 8.1 Furnaces and blooms 8.2 Hardening armour 8.3 The mass-production of armour SECTION NINE PROTECTION 9.1 Thickness of armour 9.2 Attack on armour 9.3 Effectiveness of armour according to contemporary evidence 9.4 Estimating the effectiveness of armour 9.5 Conclusion - Did it work? Index


All those interested in the history of arms and armour, the history of metallurgy in the Middle Ages & Renaissance, as well as military and economic historians.