Forget about any of the remarkable knights in shining armor from Game of Thrones. Whether they are the Viper, the Mountain, or even Ser Arthur Dayne of Tower of Joy fame, they probably couldn’t compare to Jean II Le Maingre, or “Boucicaut,” a French knight renowned for his impeccable and agile swordsmanship. Traveling across the known world in his heavy armor, he defeated some of the most famous warriors of the age and was never felled in combat.
Hold on, though – agile? Were knights, whether fictional or real, able to move with the grace and mobility so often depicted in epic televisual dramas? A team of historians and scientists has spent a fair amount of time trying to see how accurate this notion is, and for their latest study, they’ve turned to Boucicaut, using genuine armor and a willing participant to see if his feats were more myth than truth.
As is clearly shown in this utterly surreal video, despite the fact that Boucicaut’s armor – as gleaned from 15th-century documents – was definitely heavy and in some ways restrictive, it did allow for a complete range of movement including, remarkably, somersaults, cartwheels, and backflips.
So, in short, it seems as if the myth of clunky, overly heavy armor has been officially busted. Writing in Historical Methods: A Journal of Quantitative and Interdisciplinary History, the team note that many historians are already aware of this, but this is one of few scientific studies conducted on the matter.
Using 3D visualization techniques and biomechanical modeling of the movement of the humans within the armor, the researchers noted that – as expected – energy expenditure did rise while wearing the armor, but the freedom of movement still available more than makes up for this.
Gif in text: Woah. Medievalists via YouTube
The problem with the armor is, of course, that it weighs down its wearers. However, in addition to this, the small gaps in the helmet make breathing in fresh oxygen from the environment much more difficult. In fact, after placing a poor volunteer on a treadmill in Boucicaut’s armor, they noted that even by just walking, the user had to breathe in 66 percent more oxygen as a result of both these things.
“The wearers of [Boucicaut’s] armor would have been disadvantaged in genuine conflict situations when confronted with opponents wearing lighter gear,” the team, led by Daniel Jacquet, a medievalist at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Art and Knowledge in Pre-Modern Europe, write in their study. “But when confronting opponents equipped with similar gear, as in normative single combats, both combatants would have been limited to equal proportions.”
Boucicaut, then, despite his heavy armor, was clearly agile and skilled enough – so much so that he made it all the way to the famous Battle of Agincourt, after spending 37 years in battle (from the age of 12, no less), undefeated. The team note that he must have been incredibly strong – a separate study suggests that, while running, wearers used 1.9 times more energy than they would unprotected. This rose to 2.3 times while walking.
Ever seen a knight do star jumps? Le Figaro via YouTube
The team want to try out different armors on different volunteers for their follow-up studies, so there’s no doubt more backflipping knight videos are due sometime soon. Boucicaut, by the way, was captured at that climactic battle by the English, and he died six years later in Yorkshire. Now there’s a death nowhere near violent enough to feature in Game of Thrones.