Aventail: A Flexible Curtain of Mail for Medieval Helmets
An aventail is a type of armor that was used in the Middle Ages to protect the head and neck of a warrior. It was a flexible curtain of mail, made of interlocking metal rings, that was attached to the skull of a helmet and extended to cover the throat, neck and shoulders. Part or all of the face, with spaces to allow vision, could also be covered by the aventail.
The word aventail comes from the Anglo-French aventaille, which is an alteration of ventaille, meaning “vent” or “opening”. This refers to the fact that the aventail allowed air to circulate around the wearer’s head and face, unlike a full mail hood (coif) that covered the entire head.
The earliest aventails were riveted directly to the edge of the helmet, but in the 1320s in Western Europe, a detachable version replaced this type. The detachable aventail was attached to a leather band, which was in turn attached to the lower border of the helmet by a series of pierced rivets, called vervelles. Holes in the leather band were passed over the vervelles, and a waxed cord was passed through the holes in the vervelles to secure it.
Aventails were most commonly seen on bascinets, a type of helmet with a pointed or rounded top and a visor. They served as a replacement for a complete mail hood, which was cumbersome and hot. Aventails provided more flexibility and ventilation for the wearer, while still offering protection from cuts and thrusts. Some aventails were decorated with edging in brass or bronze links (sometimes gilded), or with a zig-zag lower edge (vandyked).
By the mid 14th century, the aventail had replaced the mail coif completely. By the dawn of the 15th century, however, the plate armored neck guard of the Great Bascinet replaced the aventail. The advent of firearms and more advanced plate armor made mail armor obsolete.
Aventails are an example of how medieval armor evolved over time to adapt to changing warfare and technology. They are also a testament to the skill and craftsmanship of medieval armorers who created these intricate and functional pieces of protection.
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One of the advantages of aventails was that they could be easily removed or replaced if they were damaged or worn out. They also allowed the wearer to customize their helmet according to their preference or situation. For example, some knights preferred to wear a visor over their aventail to protect their eyes and face, while others preferred to leave their face exposed for better vision and communication. Some aventails had slits or holes for the eyes and mouth, while others covered the entire face except for a narrow slit for vision.
Aventails were not only used by knights and soldiers, but also by other people who needed protection for their head and neck. For example, some clerics and monks wore aventails under their hoods or hats to show their humility and devotion. Some merchants and travelers wore aventails to protect themselves from robbers and bandits. Some women wore aventails as a fashion accessory or a sign of status.
Aventails are still used today by some historical reenactors and enthusiasts who want to recreate the look and feel of medieval armor. They are also studied by historians and archaeologists who want to learn more about the culture and technology of the Middle Ages. Aventails are a fascinating piece of medieval history that reveal a lot about the people who wore them and the world they lived in.