Building your own Armour
Part 4: Helmets

Sir Michael de Lacy


The helmet is the single most important piece of armour you will have, and probably the most expensive as well. Before you purchase a helmet, make sure that it is appropriate for you, not only in aspects such as fit and safety, but also in regards to the historical time period of your persona.

The following is a description of several common helmet types with information on the time period and geographical range in which they were used.

Nordic Spectacle (5th - 10th century)

This type of helm is based upon a grave find at Gjermundbu Norway. The skull is constructed in a style known as 'spangenhelm' which consists of a series of metal (although horn and leather may also have been used) panels riveted to a framework of iron bands. The face is reinforced with a spectacle like guard which covers the eyes and nose. A mail hood was attached to the edges of the helm around the back, offering some protection to the back and sides of the head. For Rattan use, the back of the helm must of course be of steel, although hanging mail over it would give it a very period look. The addition of a removable bar grille in front would make this a good fighting helmet for Rattan.

"Norman" Conical (9th - 13th century)

This helm, based on a conical helm found in Moravia is an example of what has come to be known as the "Norman Conical". Helms of this type are depicted in many sources throughout the 9th to 13th centuries, including the famous Bayeux tapestry. This style probably originated in the Byzantine empire and was brought to Western Europe by Norman mercenaries in the 10th century. This example is a very high quality piece which was forged out of a single piece of iron, although many were made in the spangenhelm style. The early forms of the conical tended to have a pronounced central point, which in the 12th century was often given a forward tilt, like a phrygian cap. Another style used in the 12th and 13th century was the simple round shape, sometimes without the nasal. The helm was usually worn over a padded cap and a mail hood, or camail. Like the Nordic spectacle helm, this would need a metal back, sides and face grille to be Rattan legal.

Great Helm (13th to early 15th century)

The Great helm, developed from a squared off version of the 'Norman conical' which had been fitted with a solid face mask. This face mask was extended right the way around the helmet, and by the early 13th century, it covered the entire head, giving rise to the well known 'bucket helm'. This was the predominant knightly helm of the 13th century, and it continued to be used into the 15th, although by this time it had evolved into the 'frog mouthed' helmet, which was primarily used for tournament only. Some versions of the great helm were fitted with rounded tops and pivoting visors, but the flat topped variety remained very popular, probably on account of its cheapness to produce. The Great helm was worn over a mail coif, which was then often covered with a padded coif fitted with a roll of fabric around the brow, which, with the chinstrap, held the helmet securely in place. Towards the middle of the 13th century, the top of the mail coif was replaced by a close fitted steel cap, called a cervelle. This in time evolved into the bascinet, which replaced the Great helm in the 14th century.

The Great helm is ideal for Rattan use, as it covers the entire head, although the vision is somewhat limited when compared to other helmets.

Bascinet (14th to mid 15th century)

The Bascinet helmet was the predominant knightly helm of the 14th century, and was worn at such battles as Poitiers, Crecy and Agincourt. It developed from the cervelle, the metal skullcap worn under the Great helm in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. By the middle of the 14th century, the Great helm was largely relegated to tournament use, and a separate visor was fitted to the now enlarged cervelle helm, either by a central pivot, called in German a Klapvisor, or by a side pivot, as was common in France and England. Visors were often of a pointed type, known as a houndskull, or pig face, and in more rounded forms, more common in Germany. The Bascinet was usually fitted with a mail aventail, either attached directly to the helmet along the bottom rim, as in early examples, or attached by means of a removable strip of leather held in place by a staple and cord system.

The Bascinet helm is a good one for Rattan combat; when fitted with a period visor, they are as good as the Great helm (although the rounded shape of the Bascinet is much better at deflecting blows, as the knights of old obviously discovered the hard way). A barred visor can also be fitted, which gives much better visibility and breathing and it is even period! A Bohemian altarpiece painting shows a centrally mounted barred visor, very similar to those we use in the SCA.

Kettle Hat (late 12 century to 15th century)

The kettle hat was a very popular helmet which appeared at the end of the 12th century, popular primarily with foot soldiers. It is basically an adaptation of a round topped helmet, which is fitted with a broad brim. It was constructed both with a single forged skull, or with the spangenhelm construction. The kettle hat survived into the fifteenth century, when many of them took on a Sallet-ish appearance with the addition of vision slits in one of the brims, which had been lowered to cover most of the face. The kettle hat was replaced in the late fifteenth century by the Morion, which is basically a kettle hat with a crease.

The kettle hat can be modified for Rattan combat; sides, back and grille can be added (and covered with leather or mail for a period look), but the brim has a tendency to be dented and bent in combat, and should be reinforced.

Barbute (mid 14th century to 15th century)

The Barbute was developed in the late 14th century as a helmet for footsoldiers, and was widely used in Italy. It is probably a development of the Bascinet, usually designed to be worn without a mail aventail. The Barbute was common in Italy from the last quarter of the 14th century to the last quarter of the 15th century; the Sallet was the favoured in the North and West.

The barbute is characterized by its close fit to the shape of the skull and the nape of the neck, and its long sides, which come down almost to the shoulders. The early barbutes were open faced, and this style remained popular throughout the rest of this helmet's history, but another version, bearing a striking resemblance to ancient greek designs, was used in the 15th century, called the T-faced barbute by modern authors. The barbute is a good helmet for Rattan use, either with a narrow T-face, or with the addition of a bar grille.

Sallet (15th century to early 16th century)

The sallet was a very popular form of helmet used in all parts of western Europe, by all classes of soldiers and knights in the fifteenth century. It developed from the Italian celata, a helm very similar in form to the open barbute, in the early fourteenth century. The sallet was one of the most common form of helmet in Europe in the fifteenth century, from the simple open sallets used by billmen and archers, to the more elaborate visored versions used by knights and men-at-arms. Sallets tended to be closely shaped to the skull, with a long tail, either forged in one with the skull, or made of articulated lames. The sides tended to slope back at the sides rather sharply, much more than the barbute. As these helmets tended to leave the lower half of the face exposed, they were often worn with a bevor, which covered the throat and chin. Sallets can be used for Rattan combat with the addition of a bolt-on or hinged visor, or with the period visor, although these often have poor visibility. As with all helmets with visors, a mechanism for keeping the visor firmly locked in place must be devised to use them in Rattan combat.

Armet (15th century to mid 16th century)

The Armet was probably a development of the bascinet, and was widely used in the second half of the fifteenth century, and on into the sixteenth, used by knights and men-at-arms. It is a close fitting helmet with large cheek pieces that overlap and lock together at the chin, giving a snug fit and obviating the need for a chin strap. Like the bascinet, it often had a short collar of mail attached to the lower edge, and was sometimes worn with a wrapper, a reinforcing piece that covered the front of the helmet and the throat.