“KNIGHTS HAD TO BE HOISTED ONTO THEIR HORSES”
Not everything you’ve read about in the history books is entirely true...
Although they look incredibly heavy, 15th century suits of armour weigh in at around 14–23 kilograms. Despite this, they were not difficult to move about in or mount a horse while wearing. Knights had to remain as agile as possible in order to stay combat effective, or even just survive a melee. If armour really had been so heavy that a fallen knight could not have stood up again on his own, or been able to re-mount his horse, the smallest trip in battle would have been a death sentence.
While the metal plates had to be tough enough for ample protection, they also had to be light enough for prolonged action and a range of movement. A suit of plate armour could be comprised of around 18 main separate pieces, each protecting a different limb or vital organ. Importantly, each piece had to move flexibly with the wearer, and without restricting any movement such as a sword swing or even some light running.
One of the origins of the impossibly heavy armour is found in the 1944 film Henry V, produced by Laurence Olivier. This depicts knights being hoisted onto their mounts using cranes — a bizarre fiction with no historical evidence. By contrast, there are historical accounts of armoured soldiers performing almost acrobatic feats, including Bertrand du Guesclin, who is recorded leaping to and from his horse.
Modern-day soldiers, by comparison, regularly take more than 50 kilograms of armour, weaponry and equipment into combat, the majority of which is carried in their backpacks. With a suit of armour, the weight is spread mostly evenly over the wearer’s entire body, making it much easier to bear and balance while wearing. This means that far from being restricted by impossibly heavy armour, knights fighting centuries ago were arguably more light and agile than their 21st-century counterparts.
Armour grew progressively thicker in later centuries to protect against the threat of firearms