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Gambeson - padded armour

The word ‘gambeson’ may well derive from the Greek ‘kavadion’, a padded garment worn as an armour in itself in the Byzantine world and the middle East. In the twelfth century, padded armour was also worn on its own as protection by lower-status soldiers.

The gambeson should have sleeves to at least the elbow or (more usually) to the wrist, which may include openings at the armpit or elbow to allow greater movement. The neck should be round and quite close fitting. It may split full length at the front and fixed with a series of leather ties, which should be threaded through leather patches to avoid the material tearing or fraying. The last tie should be just below the wearer’s bottom giving an effective rear split.

To keep it light while still offering some protection, the gambeson should be stuffed with cotton 'tow' (the stuff quilts are filled with). The outermost layer should be linen. Stitchwork or patterning should be in vertical lines forming tubes 2-4” wide for stand-alone gambesons.

Note that gambesons worn on their own always seem to have been in vertical tubes, and not diamond-pattern stitching.

Images of gambesons

The surviving arms of Edward of Woodstock ('the Black Prince', 1330-76), preserved in Canterbury Cathedral, including an akheton, constructed in the same way as a gambeson.

Canterbury cathedral - Black Prince's arms.jpg