Dover Book

Text Box with description of Book

  Oh, my! Whew. Talk about condensing A LOT of information into 68 pages. Then the 71 color plates follow, so we get some fun relief and beautiful art to enjoy after our literary labors. A couple personal points here. First, since I review a very wide variety of books for this site, often the non-fictional ones take me into unknown territory. As I read, in the back of my mind I am thinking (as I am taking profuse notes), gosh, will I remember any of this? But I have found in the past ten years since I have seriously embarked upon this book review project, which now contains probably at least 700 books, that, first, I have become a very good reader. And I have also found that, long after I've completed a challenging book, I realize I've retained more than I ever imagined I would. I apply that knowledge to other books and it soon is part of my mental library, ready to search and retrieve when needed.
  The other point is, I have this thing for the Medieval era, and what preceded it. I find ancient history fascinating, and, I dunno, maybe it's because I have become such a fan of King Arthur, but I also have a thing for knights and armour, and I will spell it the English way because Meyrick was English and it is spelled that way throughout the book. Then I did this absolutely awesome coloring book by A.G. Smith called Knights and Armor a couple years ago, and that clinched it. I did a great deal of research and became more enchanted with it as I went along. By the time I finished the book, I realized I had created some very beautiful art. But spiritually, the whole war scenario—endless on this planet, hasn't it been?—is so repugnant to my sense of morals and ethics. Reading about these gory conflicts in a novel is bad enough, but reading the historical reality of them is, well, distressing. People slaughtering people. For what? Nothing that's worth a human life. And here we are in 2022, on the edge of self-destruction, and except for the weapons being much more lethal, we haven't changed a bit. We are every bit as barbaric as the Egyptians and Greeks and Romans, Viking, Celts, Normans . . . .
  But nevertheless, this is an excellent book and I gained an immense amount of knowledge on the history of armour and some history in general. Just trying to keep all the terms straight was a challenge, plus Meyrick covers peoples that I had never heard of. I want to make it clear that this particular book from Dover is only a tiny part of the whole. A reviewer at Goodreads commented that the text had little to do with the pictures. The original set is in three volumes which comes to over a thousand pages. If you want the books, I saw it online for close to six thousand dollars. But you can download all three digital volumes for FREE at Internet Archive, and that's what I did. Here they are if you are interested. The original title was A critical inquiry into antient armour : as it existed in Europe, but particularly in England, from the Norman conquest to the reign of King Charles II, with a glossary of military terms of the middle ages.
Volume I
Volume II
Volume III
  Here is info on the Norman Conquest, and King Charles II. The Norman Conquest was from 1066 to 1071, and King Charles reigned in England from 1660 to 1685. The last illustration in this volume is from 1650. The Introduction included here and the 71 color plates come from the second edition published in 1842. The original edition was published in 1824, according to Wikipedia. And finally, the original volumes Internet Archive used to digitize them for the public are at the Cleveland Museum of Art , Ingalls Library and Museum Archives, right near me here in Northeast Ohio.
  And so, the only text included in the Dover edition is the Introduction that indeed says little about Medieval armour. It goes way back in history, armour having its beginnings actually in Asia. Meyrick points out that the Egyptians' habits were more Asiatic than African, so he begins with those peoples and so will I.
  First just a bit about Meyrick. From the Wikipedia page above, "Sir Samuel Rush Meyrick, KH (16 August 1783-2 April 1848) was an English collector and scholar of arms and armour. He lived at Goodrich Court, Goodrich, Herefordshire, and introduced systematic principles to the study of his subject." In 1803, he eloped with Mary Parry and was cut from his father's will, who left everything to Samuel's son Llewellyn. He apparently did just fine on his own, and was the owner of many of the pieces he describes. Throughout the Introduction he mentions Goodrich Court, and I had no idea what that was. Wikipedia points out that it was his home, after he was unable to acquire Goodrich Castle. His wife died in 1818, and apparently he did not remarry. He spent his time building his collection and left it all to his cousin Augustus Meyrick, who donated some objects to the British Museum and sold most of it to private collectors. Below is a picture of Goodrich Court and Goodrich Castle.

Goodrich Castle

Goodrich Court

  Anyways, back to the Egyptians—that section was several pages, and the larger and more well-known civilizations were even more. I took ample notes, of course, marking with arrows the parts I wanted to quote. Fortunately I can just copy and paste from Volume I linked above at Internet Archive. Except for kings and nobles, who wore metal armour, everyone else wore quilted linen. That was the first point I found fascinating. I never knew that, but it makes sense that when several layers of linen are folded over with quilting, it would indeed be difficult to penetrate with a spear. He goes on to describe the offensive weapons used (for each nation or tribe he covers), and we can see how everything evolved through the ages. As for the Egyptians, their shields were convex; the weapons were short swords and javelins; the troops in ships used daggers and they wore ornaments od torques and bracelets. The strength of the Egyptian army was the archers, on foot or in chariots. The center was several bodies of heavy infantry divided into regiments with numerous cavalry supported on foot. They also made use of mercenary troops, either allies or those whom they conquered. They also made use of the sling knife, falchion, axe or hatchet, battle-axe, pole axe, mace or club, and lisson, which was and still is, a curved stick.
  And it was at this point that I realized how much of life on the history of this planet has been wasted by people killing and mutilating each other. Throughout the Introduction, there are seven plates of engraved illustrations of the armor and weapons Meyrick describes. He was an excellent artist, by the way. I have scanned one of these, shown below.
  He then spends a number of pages on lesser peoples, often just a paragraph or two. Some of these include the Lybians, Ethiopians, Jews, Philistines, Phœnicians, Carthaginians, Arabians, Syrians, Medes and Persians, Sagartians, Parthians, and on and on. I also want to mention that often he spells words differently than we do now, such as "Lybians," so I am keeping his spelling.
  In the section on the Philistines, he mentions Goliath, the giant of Gath, and that his coat of armour weighed 189 lbs. troy weight. I looked that up and it came to 155lb, 8.320183oz, which is pretty heavy, even for a giant. In fact the weight of some of the armour mentioned throughout the text made it impossible for a warrior to get up if he (or she) fell down. I also want to mention that Meyrick was fluent in numerous languages, including Greek and Latin, of course, plus Hebrew and an ancient language whose symbols I had never seen, used in the Anglo-Saxon section. He frequently quotes Xenophon of Athens, "a Greek military leader, philosopher, and historian." And Herodotus. Wikipedia says: "Herodotus was the first writer to perform systematic investigation of historical events. He is referred to as 'The Father of History,' a title conferred on him by the ancient Roman orator Cicero." Here is a quote from the section on "Armour of the Medes and Persians." These quotes are all copied and pasted from Internet Archive, and some of them differ a bit from the Dover edition.

Xenophon tells us, the Persians had arms for close combat, a pectoral upon their breast, and a shield in the left hand; and, speaking of the army of Cyrus, says, many of them had handsome tunics and elegant pectorals, with helmets. Their horses for the chariots were armed with forehead-pieces, and had plates upon their flanks, so that the whole army glittered with brass, and appeared beautifully decked in scarlet robes. In another passage he tells us, that the arms of Cyrus and those of his companions, which formed a royal guard, were gilt, and differed in no one particular, excepting that his were brighter, having been more highly polished; shining like a mirror. They had scarlet or purple tunics, (which, as we have seen, they adopted from the Medes); a pectoral of brass; brazen helmets with white crests; swords and spears, the shafts of which were made of the cornel tree. Their horses were armed with forehead-pieces, breast-plates, and side-pieces, which last served to protect the thighs of the riders. Thus we see that the brazen thorax was derived from the linen pectoral, and that this change was first effected by the Persians. From this description we further learn, that the chamfrein, as it was called in Europe, or forehead-plate for the horse, the poitral, or breast-plate for that animal; and plates to protect his flanks and the thighs of his rider, as were adopted in Europe in the fifteenth century, had all their origin in Persia. Perhaps the armour to protect the flanks of the horses, and the thighs of the riders at the same time, were something like what are still worn in Persia, in the form of large triangular projecting flaps, attached to the side-plates of the horseman, which answer the same purpose. As these are composed of scales of iron, covered over with embroidered velvet, they seem of greater antiquity than the coat of mail worn with them.

  These people were often REALLY barbaric, (and we are becoming so, too, unfortunately). Here is a quote from the section on Scythian Armour.

Many of the Scythians, according to Herodotus, clothed themselves with the skins of men, as other nations did with those of beasts; and with the skins of the right hands of their enemies they made, coverings for their quivers. They likewise made cups of the sculls of those they had slain; a fact which is corroborated by the practice having been retained by their Gothic descendants.

  Of the Sarmatians:

They likewise, in battle, throw chains about every enemy they meet, and at the same time making their horses wheel about, throw down the person thus entangled. In order to make their body-armour, they collect the hoofs of horses, and, after purifying, cut them into slices, and polish the pieces so as to resemble the scales of a dragon, or pine cone when green. This scale-like composition they perforate and sew together with the nerves of horses and oxen, and the body-armour thus manufactured is not inferior to that of the Greeks, either in regard to elegance or strength, as it will sustain a blow given from a distance or at close quarters.

  The section on Grecian Armour is, not surprisingly, one of the longest, along with the Romans. In discussing the early armour, Meyrick points out that it was made of the skins of "quadrupeds,"—dogs, otters, bulls, foxes, lions . . . . "These skins were always worn with the hair on; and to render their appearance more terrible, the teeth of the animal were frequently placed grinning on their enemies, a custom that had been retained by the Mexicans.
  Losing a shield was a disgrace, by the way. And, here's another quote about Grecian warfare!

At a later period the Greeks had a method of casting from their slings, or fire-balls, and from their machines, made of combustibles, fitted to an iron head, which, being armed with a pike, stuck fast into its object, while it set the same on fire.

  The next big section is that of the Romans.

The Romans were a nation of warriors. Every citizen was obliged to enlist when the public service required, nor could any one enjoy an office who had not served ten campaigns. Various alterations were subsequently made. In the purer times of the republic the cavalry were chosen from the equites or knights, and the infantry from the next class, slaves and the lowest order being excluded. But Marius made a great alteration in the military system. After that period the cavalry was composed, not merely of Roman equites, but of horsemen raised from Italy and the other provinces; and the infantry consisted for the most part of the poorer citizens, or mercenary soldiers, which is justly reckoned one of the principal causes of the ruin of the republic. Under the Emperors indeed, the Roman armies were chiefly formed of foreigners, the Celtiberians of Spain having been the first hired for pay.

  It is in this section that the weight of the armour is again mentioned, specifically the lorica, a type of body armour of which even the Emperor in his old age complained. Often these war "costumes" were made to look "fearsome," to make their enemies think they were more powerful. HAHAHA! Can you imagine modern soldiers wearing feathers to look more threatening??

These soldiers wear a brass helmet, on the top of which is fastened a small coronet, or circle of iron, with three feathers, red and black in the middle, a foot and a half in length, which, towering so far above the head, make those who wear them appear big and terrible to their enemies: they have, moreover, protections for their legs and thighs. The ordinary soldiers wear on their breasts a plate twelve inches each way; but those who are worth 10,000 drachmae (or .£150) estate have, instead of this, a lorica. The principes and triarii have the same weapons, except that the latter, instead of javelins, used a kind of half pike.

  And here's another: This quote is attributed to Claudian, in the sixth consulship of Honorius:

As in steel put on horses, and concealed in brass
Are seen the hoofed feet. From what nation, he asked,
Have these steel-clad men come ? What land gives birth To horses clothed in metal ? Whether Lcmnius, the inventor,
Has given the neighing power to iron, and to warlike images Hath given life.

  Note: this quote, copied from the edition at Internet Archive is re-worded in the Dover edition. Anyways, whew, again. You get the idea. It is really intriguing reading and chilling just the same, to think of all this violence that has gone on here on our once beautiful Planet Earth. We should learn from history, but we have not, have we? Anyways, Meyrick then covers European armour and people, such as the Celtiberians, Germans, Scandinavians, Anglo-Saxons and more, ending with the Britons.
  Below are two images I scanned from my book. The first is Plate IV: Grecian Armour, and of course, Meyrick explains in the text what each object is. The second is Plate 59: Two suits of Armour; In the possession of Sir Samuel Meyrick, K.H., A.D. 1550.

Plate 59: Two suits of Armour

Plate IV: Grecian Armour

  The ones below, however, are taken from the Book with CD-ROM I have of Meyrick's artworks, which contains all of the same color plates as in this book, but not the black and white engravings, plus in addition, it contains some illuminated letters of the alphabet. You will notice that the one I scanned has a little picture of helmets to embellish the description of the picture, which the ones on the CD-ROM do not have. Each picture has a different embellishment. However, to save the time of scanning, which is a pain to get the picture just right in order to make a clean copy, I opted to do the rest simply by copying the pictures on the CD-ROM. Here is the link for that: Full-Color Knights & Armour.

#002 Norman knight and archers, 1066
#013 Knight armed with a martel, 1220

#013 Knight armed with a martel, 1220

#002 Norman knight and archers, 1066

#026 Soldier and knight, 1295
#053 Charles VII, King of France and Joan of Arc, Maid of Orleans, 1430

#053 Charles VII, King of France and Joan of Arc, Maid of Orleans, 1430

#026 Soldier and knight, 1295

#067 Sir Thomas Peyton, 1484
#075 Black armour, 1534

#075 Black armour, 1534

#067 Sir Thomas Peyton, 1484

#078 Long-bellied armour, 1545
#086 Federigo Oricono, 1558

#086 Federigo Oricono, 1558

#078 Long-bellied armour, 1545

#087 Embossed armour, 1565

#087 Embossed armour, 1565

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