A new design of shield became popular in western Europe from the end of the tenth century and became widespread during the eleventh. The kite shield may well derive from Byzantine styles, but it suited the increasing tendency of French and German warriors to fight from horseback, as well as providing good infantry protection. It appears to have been adopted earlier on the Continent than in Britain and Scandinavia. As a rough guide, we would suggest that higher-status French and German warriors should use kite shields from c.1000, and higher-status English and Viking warriors from c.1050. Lower-status warriors have a choice between round and kite shields.
For the battle of Hastings, any warrior wearing chainmail armour should really carry a kite shield. Unarmoured warriors have a bit more choice, but we would strongly encourage Normans to carry kite shields regardless of status.
Construction of kite shields
Kite shields should look like a full ice-cream cone, reaching a point at the bottom and with a rounded top. They may be curved to fit around the body or be flat. The top of the shield should be around the warrior’s waist when the point is rested on the ground.
The shield may have two vertical straps for the arm so that the arm is held horizontally over the belly when fighting, (sometimes with horizontal straps to form a rectangle), or two straps at a 45 degree angle, or straps forming an X. The arm should not be vertical down the shield. Padding may be attached to kite shields behind the arm, to soften the impact of blows.
Kite shields may have a small steel boss, even though the design made them redundant. Including bosses may have been a matter of taste, or simply a hang-over (that shields "should" have bosses).
Later development of the kite shield
Kite shields evolved over the course of the twelfth century and higher-status warriors (knights or well-equipped serjeants) would expect to have the most modern kit. In the mid-twelfth century the ‘flat-top’ kite shield was very popular, a design curved to give a better fit around the body. At the end of the twelfth century shields grew smaller, turning into the ‘heater’ design which served well into the fourteenth century. The round shield remained in use until at least 1200 – though not by fashion-conscious aristocratic warriors.