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Depiction of a 13th-century gambeson (Morgan Bible, fol. 10r) Morgan Bible 10r detail.jpg
Depiction of a 13th-century gambeson (Morgan Bible, fol. 10r)
Sultanate of Bagirmi horseman in full padded armor suit Rytter fra Bagirmi.jpg
Sultanate of Bagirmi horseman in full padded armor suit
Edward Clinton, Lord High Admiral, in an arming doublet, 1562 Edward Fiennes de Clinton, Earl of Lincoln.jpg
Edward Clinton, Lord High Admiral, in an arming doublet, 1562
Men's Gambeson, c. 1660-1670. Collection Centraal Museum, Utrecht. Kolder, ca. 1660-1670.jpg
Men's Gambeson, c. 1660–1670. Collection Centraal Museum, Utrecht.

A gambeson (also aketon, padded jack or arming doublet) is a padded defensive jacket, worn as armor separately, or combined with mail or plate armor. Gambesons were produced with a sewing technique called quilting. They were usually constructed of linen or wool; the stuffing varied, and could be for example scrap cloth or horse hair. During the 14th century, illustrations usually show buttons or laces up the front.


An arming doublet (also called aketon) worn under armor, particularly plate armor of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Europe, contains arming points for attaching plates. Fifteenth century examples may include goussets sewn into the elbows and armpits to protect the wearer in locations not covered by plate. German gothic armor arming doublets were generally shorter than Italian white armor doublets, which could extend to the upper thigh. In late fifteenth century Italy this also became a civilian fashion. Men who were not knights wore arming doublets, probably because the garment suggested status and chivalry. [1]


The term gambeson is a loan from Old French gambeson, gambaison, originally wambais, formed after the Middle High German term wambeis "doublet", in turn from Old High German wamba "stomach" (cognate to womb ). [2]

The term aketon, originally medieval French alcottonem, might be a loan from Arabic al-qutn "cotton" (definite article - "the cotton").

In medieval Norse, the garment was known as vápntreyja, literally "weapon shirt", or panzari/panzer. [3] Treyja is a loan from (Middle) Low German. [4] Panzari/panzer is probably also a loan from (Middle) Low German, though the word has its likely origin in Italian, and is related to Latin pantex 'abdomen', [5] cognate with English paunch. [6]


Quilted leather open jackets and trousers were worn by Scythian horsemen before the 4th century BC, as can be seen on Scythian gold ornaments crafted by Greek goldsmiths. The European gambeson can be traced at least to the late 10th century, but it is likely to have been in use in various forms for longer than that. In Europe, its use became widespread in the 13th century, and peaked in the 14th and 15th centuries.

The gambeson was used both as a complete armor unto itself and underneath mail and plate in order to cushion the body and prevent chafing. It was very insulating and thus uncomfortable, but its protection was vital for the soldier.

Although they are thought to have been used in Europe much earlier, gambesons underwent a revolution from their first proven use in the late 11th and early 12th centuries as an item of armor that simply facilitated the wearing of mail to an item of independent armor popular amongst infantry. Although quilted armor survived into the English Civil War in England as a poor man's cuirass, and as an item to be worn beneath the few remaining suits of full plate, it was increasingly replaced by the 'buff coat' – a leather jacket of rough suede.

There are two distinctive designs of gambeson: those designed to be worn beneath another armor, and those designed to be worn as independent armor. The latter tend to be thicker and higher in the collar, and faced with other materials, such as leather, or heavy canvas. This variant is usually referred to as padded jack and made of several (some say around 18, [7] some even 30 [8] ) layers of cotton, linen or wool. These jacks were known to stop even heavy arrows [8] and their design of multiple layers bears a striking resemblance to modern day body armor, which substituted at first silk, ballistic nylon and later Kevlar as fabric.

For common soldiers who could not afford mail or plate armor, the gambeson, combined with a helmet as the only additional protection, remained a common sight on European battlefields during the entire Middle Ages, and its decline – paralleling that of plate armor – came only with the Renaissance, as the use of firearms became more widespread, until by the 18th century it was no longer in military use.

While the use of linen has been shown in archaeological evidence, the use of cotton – and cotton-based canvas – is disputed since large amounts of cotton cloth were not widely available in northern Europe at this time. It is quite probable that Egypt (and Asia-Minor generally) still produced cotton well after the 7th and 8th centuries and knowledge (and samples) of this cloth was brought to Europe by the returning Crusaders; however, the logistics and expense of equipping a town militia or army with large amounts of cotton-based garments is doubtful, when flax-based textiles (linen) were in widespread use.

Linothorax was a type of armor similar to gambeson used by ancient Greeks. Meanwhile, the Mesoamericans were known to make use of quilted cotton armor called Ichcahuipilli before the arrival of the Spaniards. Another example is the bullet resistant Myeonje baegab that was created in the Joseon Dynasty in an attempt to confront the effects of Western rifles.

See also

Related Research Articles

Quilting process of sewing layers of fabric together to make a padded material

Quilting is the process of sewing two or more layers of fabric together to make a thicker padded material, usually to create a quilt or quilted garment. Typically, quilting is done with three layers: the top fabric or quilt top, batting or insulating material and backing material, but many different styles are adopted.

Cuirass personal armour for the front of the torso

A cuirass is a piece of armor that is formed of a single or multiple pieces of metal or other rigid material which covers the torso. The use of the term "cuirass" generally refers to both the chest plate and the back piece together. Whereas a chest plate only protects the front and a back plate only protects the back, a cuirass protects both the front and the back.

Waistcoat Garment for the upper body, usually sleeveless, extending to near the waist

A waistcoat, or vest, is a sleeveless upper-body garment. It is usually worn over a dress shirt and necktie and below a coat as a part of most men's formal wear. It is also sported as the third piece in the traditional three-piece male lounge suit. Any given vest can be simple or ornate, or for leisure or luxury. Historically, the vest can be worn either in the place of or underneath a larger coat dependent upon the weather, wearer, and setting.

Plate armour Body armour made of shaped metal plates

Plate armour is a historical type of personal body armour made from bronze, iron or steel plates, culminating in the iconic suit of armour entirely encasing the wearer. While there are early predecessors such as the Roman-era lorica segmentata, full plate armour developed in Europe during the Late Middle Ages, especially in the context of the Hundred Years' War, from the coat of plates worn over mail suits during the 14th century.

Chemise loose-fitting, straight-hanging shirtlike underwear with or without sleeve

A chemise or shift is a classic smock, or a modern type of women's undergarment or dress. Historically, a chemise was a simple garment worn next to the skin to protect clothing from sweat and body oils, the precursor to the modern shirts commonly worn in Western nations.

Brigandine Armoured sleeveless jackets used by infantry in the Middle Ages

A brigandine is a form of body armour from the Middle Ages. It is a garment, generally heavy cloth, canvas or leather, lined with small oblong steel plates riveted to the fabric.

Breastplate personal armor

A breastplate or chestplate is a device worn over the torso to protect it from injury, as an item of religious significance, or as an item of status. A breastplate is sometimes worn by mythological beings as a distinctive item of clothing.

Doublet (clothing) garment worn by men from the 15th to the 17th century

A doublet is a man's snug-fitting jacket that is shaped and fitted to the man's body which was worn in Spain and was spread to Western Europe from the late Middle Ages up to the mid-17th century. The doublet was hip length or waist length and worn over the shirt or drawers. Until the end of the 15th century, the doublet was usually worn under another layer of clothing such as a gown, mantle, overtunic or jerkin when in public.

Ring armour

Ring armour is an assumed type of personal armour constructed as series of metallic rings sewn to a fabric or leather foundation. No actual examples of this type of armour are known from collections or archaeological excavations in Europe. It is sometimes called ringmail or ring mail. In the Victorian era the term "mail" was used fancifully for any form of metallic body armour. Modern historians reserve the term "mail" for armour formed of an interlinked mesh of metal rings.

Linothorax ancient Greek body armour made of layers of glued linen

The linothorax is a type of upper body armor used throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. The term linothorax is a modern term based on the Greek λινοθώραξ, which means "wearing a breastplate of linen"; however, the actual ancient term for this type of armor is unclear. The term thorax was the word for breastplate during this era and was traditionally made of metal in most contexts. The linothorax were made of linen glued in layers with animal fat, and eventually adopted by many armies.

Bases (fashion) skirts worn with armor

Bases are the cloth military skirts, generally richly embroidered, worn over the armour of later men-at-arms such as French gendarmes in the late 15th to early 16th century, as well as the plate armour skirt later developed in imitation of cloth bases for supplemental upper-leg protection, worn by men-at-arms for foot combat.

1400–1500 in European fashion costume in the years 1400-1500

Fashion in 15th-century Europe was characterized by a series of extremes and extravagances, from the voluminous robes called houppelandes with their sweeping floor-length sleeves to the revealing doublets and hose of Renaissance Italy. Hats, hoods, and other headdresses assumed increasing importance, and were draped, jewelled, and feathered.

1300–1400 in European fashion costume in the period 1300-1400

Fashion in fourteenth-century Europe was marked by the beginning of a period of experimentation with different forms of clothing. Costume historian James Laver suggests that the mid-14th century marks the emergence of recognizable "fashion" in clothing, in which Fernand Braudel concurs. The draped garments and straight seams of previous centuries were replaced by curved seams and the beginnings of tailoring, which allowed clothing to more closely fit the human form. Also, the use of lacing and buttons allowed a more snug fit to clothing.

Buff coat thick leather coat, often sleeveless, worn alone or under armor

The European buff coat was an item of leather clothing worn by cavalry and officers during the 17th century, it also saw limited use by some infantry. It was often worn under armour. It was derived from the simple leather jerkins worn by huntsmen and soldiers during the Tudor period, these in turn deriving from the arming doublet worn under full plate armour.

Coat of plates form of segmented torso armour, consisting of overlapping metal plates riveted inside a cloth or leather garment

A coat of plates is a form of segmented torso armour consisting of overlapping metal plates riveted inside a cloth or leather garment. The coat of plates is considered part of the era of transitional armour and was normally worn as part of a full knightly harness. The coat saw its introduction in Europe among the warring elite in the 1180s or 1220s and was well established by the 1250s. It was in very common usage by the 1290s. By the 1350s it was universal among infantry militias as well. After about 1340, the plates covering the chest were combined to form an early breastplate, replacing the coat of plates. After 1370, the breastplate covered the entire torso. Different forms of the coat of plates, known as the brigandine and jack of plates, remained in use until the late 16th century.

Japanese armour armour originating from Japan

Scholars agree that Japanese armour first appeared in the 4th century, with the discovery of the cuirass and basic helmets in graves. It is thought they originated from China via Korea. During the Heian period (794-1185), the Japanese cuirass evolved into the more familiar style of body armour worn by the samurai known as the dou or dō, with the use of leather straps (nerigawa), and lacquer for weatherproofing. Leather and/or iron scales were also used to construct samurai armours, with leather and eventually silk lace used to connect the individual scales (kozane) of these cuirasses. In the 16th century, Japan began trading with Europe, during what would become known as the Nanban trade. Samurai acquired European types of armour, which they modified and combined with domestic armour, as it provided better protection from the newly introduced matchlock muskets. When a united Japan entered the peaceful Edo period, samurai continued to use both plate and lamellar armour as a symbol of their status. Lightweight, portable, and secret hidden armours became popular, since personal protection was still needed against civil unrest.

The Medieval period in England is usually classified as the time between the fall of the Roman Empire to the beginning of the Renaissance, roughly the years AD 410–1485. For various peoples living in England, the Anglo-Saxons, Anglo-Danes, Normans and Britons, clothing in the medieval era differed widely for men and women as well as for different classes in the social hierarchy. The general styles of Early medieval European dress were shared in England. In the later part of the period men's clothing changed much more rapidly than women's styles. Clothes were very expensive and both the men and women of lower social classes continued to wear them until the garments were in such disrepair that they needed to be replaced entirely. Sumptuary laws also divided social classes by regulating the colours and styles these various ranks were permitted to wear. In the early Middle Ages, clothing was typically simple and, particularly in the case of lower-class peoples, served only basic utilitarian functions such as modesty and protection from the elements. As time went on the advent of more advanced textile techniques and increased international relations, clothing gradually got more and more intricate and elegant, even with those under the wealthy classes, up into the renaissance.

<i>Tatami</i> (Japanese armour)

Tatami (畳具足), or tatami gusoku and gusoku, was a type of lightweight portable folding Japanese armour worn during the feudal era of Japan by the samurai class and their foot soldiers (ashigaru). The Tatami dō or the tatami katabira were the main components of a full suit of tatami armour.

Caraco womans short jacket with wide skirts, of the 18th century

A caraco is a style of woman's jacket that was fashionable from the mid-18th to early 19th centuries. Caracos were thigh-length and opened in front, with tight three-quarter or long sleeves. Like gowns of the period, the back of the caraco could be fitted to the waist or could hang in pleats from the shoulder in the style of a sack back. Caracos were generally made of printed linen or cotton.

Arming points are reinforced places on a gambeson where pieces of armor may be laced on.


  1. Breiding, Dirk H. "Fashion in European Armor, 1400–1500". Department of Arms and Armor, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  2. "Gambeson". Merriam-Webster.
  3. Heggstad, Leiv; Hødnebø, Finn; Simensen, Erik (2008) [1909]. Norrøn Ordbok. Oslo: Det norske samlaget. pp. 477, 703–704. ISBN   8252171508. OCLC   768091918.
  4. "trøye". Bokmålsordboka (in Norwegian). University of Bergen. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  5. "panser". Bokmålsordboka (in Norwegian). University of Bergen. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  6. "paunch". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. Retrieved 29 March 2020. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  7. Embleton, Gerry (2001). Medieval Military Costume: Europa Militaria Special. Crowood Press UK. p. 67. ISBN   978-1-86126-371-1.
  8. 1 2 Embleton, Gerry; Howe, John (1994). Söldnerleben im Mittelalter. Motorbuchverlag. p. 47.