The Norwegian King’s Mirror

Author: Unknown
Place of Composition: Northern Norway
Date of Composition: Middle of the thirteenth century according to Lawson’s introduction
Source of Text: C.R. Unger, P.A. Munch, and Rudolph Keyser, Speculum regale. Konungs-skuggsjá. Konge-speilet. (Christiania: Trykt hos C.C. Werner & Comp., 1848) ch. XXXVII, XXXVIII pp. 86-88 http://hdl.handle.net/2027/hvd.32044009775602 Transcribed by Sean Manning, December 2014.
Source of Translation: Laurence Marcellus Larson, The King’s Mirror (Speculum regale-Konungs skuggsjá). Scandinavian Monographs 3. New York: The American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1917. Available on the Internet Archive https://archive.org/details/kingsmirrorspecu00konuuoft/ and transcribed by Medium Aevum. I have changed his translation of a few common nouns.

This anonymous didactic text (framed as an old man giving advice to a young man who wishes to become one of the king’s followers) has a beautiful description of how to arm in the Frankish style of the late 12th to late 13th century, with various quilted, leather, and iron armour worn over and under a complete suit of mail. Most of these additional defences were hidden by the mail and surcoat so they appear in writing long before they can be seen in paintings and sculptures.

The latest edition of this text is Ludvig Holm-Olsen (ed.). Konungs Skuggsjá. 2nd edition. Oslo: Norsk Historisk Kjeldeskrift-institutt, 1983.

Ch. XXX: … (page 66) En klaeðabúnaði þínum skaltu áðr hafa svá háttat, at þú sér klaeddr öllum góðum gangvera2, þeim sem þú hefir vildastan3 til, ver4 hosaðr ok skúaðr; eigi skaltu ok kyrtilslauss vera; [þvílika yfirhöfn ok5, sem þú hefir vildasta til. Vel þér þau klaeði jafnan til hosna, er brúnuð sé at lit; þat þykki ok eigi illa bera, at maðr hafi svart skinn til hosna, en ekki önnur klaeði nema skarlat sé.Kyrtil máttu ok hafa með brúnuðum lit, eða með groenum eða rauðum, ok þó góð klaeði ok saemilig. En línklaeði þin þá skaltu láta gera af góðu lérepti ok þó lítil efni í; ger stutta skyrtu þína ok öll línklaeði létt vel. Aetla jafnan góðum mun styttri þína en kyrtil, þvíat engi maðr haefeskr má sik prúðan fá gört af hör eða hampi. (page 181) …Your costume you should plan beforehand in such a way that you come fully dressed in good apparel, the smartest that you have, and wearing fine trousers hose and shoes. You must not come without your coat; and also wear a mantle, the best that you have. For trousers hose always select cloth of a brown dye. It seems quite proper also to wear trousers hose of black fur leather, but not of any other sort of cloth, unless it be scarlet. Your coat (kyrtil) should be of brown colour or green or red, and all such clothes are good and proper. Your linen should be made of good linen stuff (af góðu lérepti), but with little cloth used; your shirt (skyrtu) should be short, and all your linen rather light. Your shirt should be cut somewhat shorter than your coat; for no man of taste can deck himself out in flax or hemp.

Like the Goodman of Paris and the moralists collected by Stella Mary Newton, the author does not approve of people who let their linens dangle out of their other clothes. Reenactors take note!

Ch. XXXVII: … Breiðir skildir eru á skipi góðir til hlifðar ok allskyns brynjur en þó eru panzarar höfuðvápn til hlífðar skipum görvir af blautum léreptum ok vel svörtuðum; góðir hjálmar ok hangandi stálhúfur. Mörg vápn eru þau enn önnur, er nýta má á skipi, ok þykki mér eigi nauðsyn af fleirum at telja en nú hefi ek uppnefnt. Wide shields and chain mail of every sort are good defensive weapons on shipboard; the chief protection, however, is the gambison (panzarar) made of soft linen thoroughly blackened, good helmets (góðir hjálmar), and low caps of steel. There are many other weapons that can be used in naval fights, but it seems needless to discuss more than those which I have now enumerated.
Ch. XXXVIII: Sonr. Með því at vér höfum þá ræðu í munni, er helzt lærir þat, hversu maðr skal við sókn eða vörn búask móti úvinum sínum, þá synisk mér svá sem enn þurfi nökkut at ræða um þat, hversu á landi skal berjask, annattveggja á hestum eða borgir at verja eða til at sækja, ok ef yðr sýnisk þar nökkut um at ræða, þá vil ek gjarna til hlýða. Son. Since we now have before us a discussion which teaches chiefly how a man must prepare himself to meet his enemies in attack and defense, it seems to me that it would be well to say something about how one has to fight on land, on horse or on foot, and in attacking and defending castles. Therefore, if you feel disposed to say anything about such matters, I shall be glad to listen.
Faðir. Sá maðr er á hesti skal berjask, þá verðr hann þess vel gæta, er fyrr hofum vér sagt, at vera vel lærðr til allrar vigkæni á hesti. En þenna umbúnað þarf hann um hest sinn at búa: hann þarf at vera vel skúaðr ok ramliga; svá þarf hann ok um söðul sinn at búa ramliga, at hann sé sterkr ok hábogaðr ok búinn með sterkum gjörðum ok öllu öðru söðulreiði, ok [öruggr suzingull yfir miðjan söðul, ok svá brjóstgjörð fyrir framan. Hest þarf svá at búa, bæði fyrir framan söðul ok aptan, at ekki sé hann hættr fyrir vápnum, hvárki fyrir spjótum eða höggum eðe öðrum vápnaburð; þarf hann ok kovertúr gott at hafa, gört sem panzari, af blautum léreptum ok vel svörtuðum, þvíat þat er gott við öllum vápnum til varnar, með hverjum hætti sem þat er utat, ok siðan þar yfir góða hest- brynju. Með þessum umbúnaði þarf vel hest at hylija bæði um höfuð ok um lend ok brjóst ok um kvið, ok allan hest, svá at eirgi megi maðr með falsamligum vápnum at hestinum komask, þóat maðruinn sé á fæti. Með sterku beizli þarf hestr búinn at vera, þat sem örugt sé til halds, bæði upp at halda með, ef þarf, ok svá um at kasta, ef þess þarf hann við. En utan yfir beizli ok’um alt höfuð hestsins ok um háls framan til söðuls, þá skal vera grima gör á panzara lund af stirðu lérepti, svá at engi maðr megi at komask at taka beizl hans eða hest hans meðengarri list. Father. The man who is to fight on horseback needs to make sure, as we have already stated, that he is thoroughly trained in all the arts of mounted warfare. For his horse he will need to provide this equipment he must keep him carefully and firmly shod; he must also make sure that the saddle is strong, made with high bows, and provided with strong girths and other saddlegear, including a durable surcingle across the middle and a breast strap in front. The horse should be protected in such a way both in front of the saddle and behind it that he will not be exposed to weapons, spear thrust or stroke, or any other form of attack. He should also have a good shabrack coverture[1] made like a gambison of soft and thoroughly blackened linen cloth, for this is a good protection against all kinds of weapons. It may be decorated as one likes, and over the shabrack coverture there should be a good harness of mail. With this equipment every part of the horse should be covered, head, loins, breast, belly, and the entire beast, so that no man, even if on foot, shall be able to reach him with deadly weapons. The horse should have a strong bridle, one that can be gripped firmly and used to rein him in or throw him when necessary. Over the bridle and about the entire head of the horse and around the neck back to the saddle, there should be a harness mask (grima) made like a gambison of firm linen cloth, so that no man shall be able to take away the bridle or the horse by stealth.
En þenna umbúnað þarf maðrinn sjálfr at hafa: góðar hosur ok linar, görvar at blautu lérepti ok vel svörtuðu, ok taki þær alt til brókabeltis; en utan yfir þær góðar brynhosur svá hávar, at maðr megi gyrða þær um sik tvíföldum sveip; en utan yfir þat þá þarf hann at hafa góðar brynbrækr, görvar með lérepti, at þeim hætti sem fyrr hefi ek sagt; en þar um utan þarf hann at hafa góðar knébjagir, görvar með þykku járni ok með stálhörðum nöddum. En upp ifrá þarf hann at hafa næst sér blautan panzara, þabb er eigi taki lengra en á mitt lær, en þar næst þarf hann at hafa góða brjóstbjörg, görva af góðu jarni, þá er taki millim geirvartna ok brókabeltis, en yfir þat góða brynju, en yfir brynju góðan panzara, görvan með sama hætti sem áðr var sagt, ok þó ermalausum. Tvau sevrð þarf hann at hafa, annat þat ert hann er gyrðr með, en annat þat er hangir við söðulboga, ok góðan brynknif. Hjálm góðan þarf hann á höfði at hafa görvan af góðu stáli ok búinn með allri andlitsbjörg, en góðan skjöld ok þykkvan á hálsi, ok þó búinn með gregligum skjaldarfetli, en siðan góða glafju ok hvassa af góðu stáli ok vel skepta. Eigi þykki mér þurfa fleira um at ræða þeirra manna umbúnadð, er á hesti skulu berjask. þó eru fleiri vápn, er nta mááhesti, ef vill, sem annathvárt er hornbogi eða lásbogi veykr, svá at maðr megi val uppdraga, þóat hann á hesti siti, ok enn eru fleiri vápn, ef hafa vill. The rider himself should be equipped in this wise: he should wear good soft breeches good soft hose made of soft and thoroughly blackened linen cloth, which should reach up to the trousers breech belt; outside these, good mail hose (brynhosur) which should come up high enough to be girded on with a double strap[2]; over these he must have good trousers armour-breeches (brynbrækr, from brók “breech” + bryn “armour”) made of linen cloth of the sort that I have already described; finally, over these he should have good knee-pieces made of thick iron and rivets hard as steel. Above and next to the body he should wear a soft gambison, which need not come lower than to the middle of the thigh. Over this he must have a strong breastplate made of good iron covering the body from the nipples to the trousers breech belt (brókabeltis); outside this, a well-made hauberk and over the hauberk a firm gambison made in the manner which I have already described but without sleeves. He must have a dirk and two swords, one girded on and another hanging from the pommel of the saddle. On his head he must have a dependable helmet made of good steel and provided with a visor. He must also have a strong, thick shield fastened to a durable shoulder belt and, in addition, a good sharp spear with a firm shaft and pointed with fine steel. Now it seems needless to speak further about the equipment of men who fight on horseback; there are, however, other weapons which a mounted warrior may use, if he wishes; among these are the “horn bow” and the weaker crossbow, which a man can easily draw even when on horseback, and certain other weapons, too, if he should want them.

[1] The rule of the çuparii (jupon-makers) of Venice from 1219 lists çubas and çubetos and coopertoria as three things which they make (link to Latin text), the rule of the armourers of Paris from 1296 specifies how quilted covertures for horses are to be made, and in 1302 Raoul de Nestle owned une couvertures a cheval pourpointée “one set of quilted covertures for a horse.” ← Back to source ←

[2] “Double” clothing was normally lined (“double thick” not “double wide”), and the late 13th/early 14th century leather from Schleswig include a number of straps made by sewing two layers of thin leather together along their edges (Christiane Schnack. Mittelalterliche Lederfunde aus Schleswig – Futterale, Riemen, Taschen und andere Objekte. Ausgrabung Schild 1971-1975. Ausgrabungen in Schleswig – Berichte und Studien, Band 13. Wachholz Verlag: Neumünster, 1998). ← Back to source ←

Edited 2019-01-26: Changed the translation of a few items of clothing, and added a note about the coverture made like a gambeson

Edited 2019-02-04: Started to adjust the translation based on conversation with Håvard Kongsrud.

← Back to Armour in Texts ←

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