About Medieval shields
Shield is personal protective equipment designed to guard against cold, hand, throwing weapons.
Steel Mastery offers this armor element divided into four groups:
- Ecu (heater)
- Fencing (dueling) shields
Note that there was no such edging with steel around edges in Middle Ages as it would have been considered an inadmissible luxury. Just as skin edging – there is no material, graphic, or written evidence to support that. These all are modern upgrades to extend equipment's life.
Ecu or french tartsche (also referred to as heater in English sources due to its characteristic shape) is a European medieval shield type. It evolved into such a form around XIIth century end, which can be seen in the Richard I and prince John’s big seals. Term “heater” is a neologism created by Victorian antiquaries considering its form similarity to iron’s sole. Smaller in size than kite shield, it was more manageable while could be used both on horseback or on foot.
Since XVth century, it has turned into highly specialized jousting equipment often containing a bouche (fr.) – a "mouth" (notch in which lance passes through). When plate armor began to cover body more and more, heater became, accordingly, smaller and smaller so by the middle of XIVth it was practically not used outside tournaments.
Ecu were usually made of thin wood covered with leather. However, metal or other durable materials were also often used like wood over a metal base (steel or iron). It could be enhanced by strips of metal or horn plates.
While heater is not in use, you can put it over your back using a belt called “guige”. Some heaters had additional gesso, canvas, and/or parchment layers included. Edward the Black Prince’s shield found in his tomb in Canterbury Cathedral is a great example.
Almost all classes of warriors in Medieval Europe from knights to ordinary soldiers used ecu. Why? Well, they were comparatively cheap while easy to manufacture. Moreover, they were much lighter than others of such type (s.a. kite ones), therefore, easy to carry during both mounted and on-foot combat. Heater gave reliable protection as it had rather large surface area.
Coincidently, ecu's form is also its drawback as owner’s legs remain almost completely unprotected. Thus, we suggest using plate armor leg protection https://steel-mastery.com/metal-leg-protection to deal with this problem.
Considering ecu’s large front surface together with convenient shape, owner's coat of arms was mostly placed on it.
American researcher Dr. Bashford Dean traced seven forms of ecu evolution:
- Triangular, rather high but lower than almond-shaped kite one (1200-1250)
- Triangular, significantly smaller in height (1250-1280)
- Small Triangular Shield (1280–1310)
- Larger in size with distinct ogival shape (with convex lateral sides – so-called brazier shape, 1300–1350)
- Ogival shape, slightly higher plus narrower than previous one, umbon appears (1350-1400).
- Retains previous full-face shape but becomes curved – lower/upper edges are bent outward, umbon becomes more prominent (1380-1420)
- Lower end becomes wider, as a result, it loses its triangular shape, becomes more trapezoidal, lower end is still curved outward while it isn’t noticeable for upper edge, umbon remains (1430-1450).
By Dr. Dean’s classification, Steel Mastery offers third and fourth forms, however, we can produce any other five, if you wish so.
Shield used among Italic peoples in antiquity and later by ancient Rome army was called scutum. Gladiator who used large scutum was called scutarius. Well, that sounds very alike "écuyer" – squire in French. That is how armor created a squire who began to carry it for the knight he served.
Shield of Edward the Black Prince
Tripartite social order of the Middle Ages (clerics, knights, peasants, workers) from Li Livres dou
Scheme of fixing belts
Ecu usually had an "elbow" mount – one belt was worn on the forearm while second was held by the palm. To free hands for horse control and weapons use, ecu was hanged on the neck by strap while held only with palm.
Knight (tartsche) shields
Pavise (medieval shied) with a slot, type 1
Pavise (medieval sh...
Medieval shield with cut, type 3
Medieval shield wit...
Tartsche is an ecu evolvement. Large shields became unnecessary with strong plate armor advent plus knights' necessity to free their left hand for horse control. So a new cavalry shield form appeared – tartsche.
The first such naming mention is found in so-called "Saxon Chronicle" (Kronika von Sassen) of 1270, referring to knights armed with “tartsches and weapons”.
First cavalry tartsches images were encountered only in the middle of XVth century on the effigy of Gero Thietmar, Klosterkirche St. Marien und St. Cyprian (Nienburg)
There are several versions of its naming origin:
- Italian: from "terga" – meaning back or "tergum tauricum" (bull’s skin); or from "targa" – could be "tergum tauricum", "adarga", or "daraka" adaptation.
- Slavic Eastern: indeed, German word “tartsche” could come from Polish words "tarcz" or "tarcza" – board.
- Germanic language group: from Anglo-Saxon "tiarga" or "targa" – means “edge”, possibly, of the shield.
Interestingly, tartsche usually depicted full owner’s emblem with a helmet, crest, or badge unlike just an emblem on ecu.
Just as ecu, early tartsches had an "elbow" mount with one belt on the forearm, second – held by the palm. Later, it was hanged on the neck by strap while held with the palm for better horse control.
Tartsche and triangular shield shapes differ so much that simple structure evolution can be ruled out. Tartsche didn’t have a simple clear triangular silhouette – its shape was subject to change.
There are two obligatory tartsche features:
- unlike previous ones, tartsches are not curved outward but concave inward (during XVth century, shield’s bending inward increased until upper/lower edges almost began to show forward);
- "speerruhe' – a cutout in upper right part served to support the spear.
Around 1380, tartsches got another distinctive – a sharp vertical rib in the field’s middle. As time passed, tartsches’ forms were becoming more diverse. Alongside middle rib, additional ones appear. Some had two or three ribs.
Upper/lower edges were becoming jagged, however, development of such fantastic forms was limited to the German zone of influence.
They were made from various wood types covered with thick strong leather.
Tartsches form differed around particular regions: in England and Northern France, tartsches with a rounded bottom were widespread, in Italy and Hungary they were made quadrangular or even square.
By the end of XIVth, they significantly lost in size whereas their silhouette was mostly getting closer to quadrangle.
Considering knightly armor development in late XVth century, tartsche was screwed to wearer’s breastplate. With due time, tartsche became a less and less necessary part of chivalry’s equipment, therefore, was worn only at tournaments or similar holiday events. But further steel armor development made it completely unnecessary – they disappeared in XVIth.
Tartsche, end of XVth century, Livrustkammaren, Stockholm
Pavise shield, late 14th - early 15th centuries
Pavise shield, late...
Pavise, also called pavis, pabys, or pavesen was a widely used protection equipment during late XIVth - early XVIth centuries. Mostly, pavise was a rectangle but sometimes its lower part could have an oval shape.
They were named pavise since it is claimed that they were first used in Pavia, Northern Italy. But they’ve existed since Ancient times as stationary defense for archers during siege. In the XVth century Europe, they were used by Italian soldiers called pavisiers. Large ones were carried by a “specialist” – pavise-bearer.
Pavesen was often supplied with support for comfortable fixation and sometimes spikes on lower edge to stick it into the ground. Pavise's construction was usually strengthened with a vertical ledge (a gutter inside) passed through its middle. Pavis' width was 40 - 70 cm, height – 1-1.5 m. It was made of lightweight wood covered with fabric or leather:
Pavesen were often painted with emblems bearing heraldic or religious content.
Depending on method of use, there were hand pabyses and standing ones. Standing pavises were mostly used by crossbowmen due to weapons reload time during sieges. Hand pavesen were often tapered downward and used both by infantry and knightly cavalry. Pavises were widely used by Hussites during the Hussite Wars.
Pabyses went out of use with firearms advent.
German pavise (Setzschild) was a tall infantry shield standing on the ground. Like pavise, this one didn’t serve as hand-to-hand combat element, but as shelter during skirmishes.
Hand (cavalry) pavises that became widespread at the end of XIVth - beginning of XVth century.
The main Grand Duchy of Lithuania law, Statute of the Grand Duchy of 1529, tells about widespread use of pavises by Grand Duchy cavalry. Despite the fact that we don’t have any surviving samples of the Grand Duchy pavises, iconography certainly indicates prevalence of this particular type among its knights.
Reconstruction sources: Grand Duchy of Lithuania seals:
Seal of Duke Kęstutis, 1387.
Seal of Duke Trojden of Masovia, 1341 Seal of Duke Ziemovit of Masovia, 1343.
Fencing (dueling) shields
This type is very popular among athletes who practice armored fencing – "attacking tartsche" on sports slang. It is a distant relative of XIVth century Italian "tarca".