A gambeson (or aketon or padded jack or arming doublet) is a padded defensive jacket, worn as armour separately, or combined with mail or plate armour. Gambeson were produced with a sewing technique called quilting. 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 armour, particularly plate armour of fifteenth and sixteenth century Europe contains arming points for attaching plates and fifteenth century examples may include goussets sewn into the elbows and armpits to protect the wearer in locations not covered by plate. German gothic armour arming doublets were generally shorter than Italian white armour 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.
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.)
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 vapntreyiu, lit. "arming shirt" or pannzar/pannzarum, another loan word from middle high German.
Also known as: Aketon, acton, arming coat, auqueton, gambeson, hacketon, haqueton, pannzar, vapntreiyu, wambais, wambesium, wambuis or wambs.
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 armour unto itself and underneath mail and plate in order to cushion the body and prevent chafing. It was very insulatory 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 armour that simply facilitated the wearing of mail to an item of independent armour popular amongst infantry. Although quilted armour 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.
Full article ▸