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Historically Accurate Armor for Arthur?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Thomas Emerson

Cardboard and duct tape may not share obvious similarities with armor. For third-year Hampshire student Thomas Emerson 07F, using the former was the first step of a largely self-directed apprenticeship in building the latter much as it was done in medieval times.

"I've been studying armor since I was really young. Some of the first books I read were about King Arthur and Robin Hood. That got me into history, but also into armor," he says, noting that experimentation with the tape and board in elementary school eventually progressed to aluminum siding, and then plastics. "You can take something hard and flat, and turn it into something that moves on an organic form."

Emerson plans a career in filmmaking, ideally working with props. Studying filmmaking at Hampshire has drawn him even deeper into crafting armor. He is now building metal armor for a short film on King Arthur, focused on Arthur's final battle with his illegitimate son, Mordred.

Two months after learning the basics of metalworking, instructed by Lemelson Center machine shop assistant Don Dupuis, Emerson is proving to himself that his years of historical study and design experimentation can translate well.

Thomas Emerson

He is concentrating as much as possible on historical accuracy. Acknowledging the dearth of specific knowledge about traditional methods of armor making, he credits a few sources as crucial references: well-preserved armor from a battle in Wisby, Sweden, in 1361, illustrations from medieval manuscripts, and some existing writings provide insight that he draws on in his own designs.

For his film, he settled on a look that predates the industrial armor-manufacturing methods pioneered by the Milanese and Germans (which laid the foundations for the Renaissance) and incorporates styles used by the Saxons, Romans, and Celts as a symbol of Arthur's uniting the three cultures. The facemask Arthur will wear during the battle, and be buried in, is similarly multicultural.

"Arthur's funerary mask symbolized that his glory had fallen by the time of this last battle, and is based on the Roman tradition of an intricately hammered face plate combined with northern European effigies. It's supposed to look like an old effigy found on a crypt," says Emerson. "Arthur's armor is technically from the late 1200s to 1300s, where you start seeing people deviate from chain mail."

One thing that differs from some suits of armor that appear in films is that his won't be shiny. Real battle armor wouldn't have been, Emerson notes, as it would have just been dinged-up in combat.

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