Fantasy Literature: Mail and Armor

Did you know that ring mail never existed (according to Wikipedia)? It’s a myth fabricated by gamers or someone. Actually, I think I read once that it was a result of misinterpretation of artists’ renderings of chain mail from the Middle Ages. Actually, to be very precise, I’ve also heard it said that chain mail really shouldn’t be called chain mail, just mail, because that’s all there was. Of course, us AD&D players of yesteryear all “know” that armor comes in many varieties: There’s leather, studded leather, ring mail, scale mail, chain mail, splint mail, banded mail, and plate mail, not to mention field plate and full plate. Apparently, a good number of those never really existed: ring mail and possibly banded mail … or are just names for the same basic thing: splint mail and plate mail. For myself, I never quite understood the difference between field plate and full plate … I mean, aren’t they both basically a full suit of armor? I was also kind of unclear on splint mail and banded mail. Fortunately, since banded mail might not even really exist (Wikipedia) and splint mail is the same as plate mail, I don’t have much to worry about.

 

But is that true? Why shouldn’t I worry? All those armors listed above are common fare in most roleplaying games and many fantasy stories. I could write a story in which most everyone was decked out in chain mail or plate, but, at a certain point, wouldn’t that be kind of boring. Ring mail never existed. So what? I’m a writer of fantasy literature, high fantasy if you will. My story world is richer because I opt to include ring mail and all the other types of armor listed. I also read somewhere that the weight of armor is reasonably well-distributed across the body so it’s not as heavy as many people make it out to be. A knight really doesn’t need a winch or whatever to mount his horse. He probably can’t go swimming in it still, but he can move around a battlefield with relative ease. He can even run in it. I think that bit of detail I will keep for the armor in my worlds. It’s good to remember and know. But I feel I have free license to add in ring mail and banded mail and even, if I desire, to create some entirely original armor of my own design. That could be cool. It’s fantasy, after all. There are no limits except the ones you impose.

 

So, what do you think? Should a writer limit him/herself to just the types of armor that actually existed? Or should he/she exercise some poetic license?

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