Lining in mail coifs

Textile in the context of the Battle of Visby finds is a neglected subject. As Bengt Thordeman in his book Armour from the battle of Wisby 1361 from 1939, mainly was, as the title say, mostly interested in the armours, the focus were on the metallic remains and the textile remains connected to them were only addressed shortly. This post will address the textiles in the context of the lining of mail coifs.

A lot of traces of textile can be found on the iron finds from the mass graves. This post is written as a part in getting more attention to the textile part of armours. An article will also be written sometime in the future and the hope is that someone with competence on archeological textile will receive funds for a larger study.

One of the best ways to preserve textiles in an archeological context is to have lots of metal close to the textiles. A thing that the mass graves have plenty of. Metal salt will pass from the metal onto the textile and over time create a metalized textile, kind of like a fossil. The textile is in fact gone but what is left is a piece of metal in the shape that the fabric once had. Very often in such good shape so threads can be counted, and weaving techniques can be identified. Such as an inprint of a twill pattern, very wooly in its look, on the outside of mail coifs. Most likely from the clothes on corpses that ended up in contact with the object in the dreadfully packed mass graves. So, the traces of textiles can tell us a lot of things about what kind of fabrics people wore during that summer day in 1361.

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Documentation photo from the excavations


Documentation photo from the excavations

These remains of fabric is very fragile. Looking at the documentation photos from the excavation there is obvious that a lot disappears in the process of conservation. The metal was boiled in a mix of paraffin wax to stop the metal from degrading. The paraffin wax has preserved the objects, so that they still hold together today.  And pretty much textiles are still to be seen on the waxy surface. As the find material was huge, parts of the material never got conserved. These objects have often fallen apart in smaller pieces in their crates. These insignificant piles of ‘lumps’ does however contain more remains of the textiles. Remains that is very fragile and small pieces of fragments fall off every time the wooly shaped remain touches another object in the crate, such as by when moving the pieces. So, this material would really need documentation before it disappears forever.


Textile on plate

Some of these remains are from lining on the inside of the mail coifs. When Tommy Hellman made his study in 1995 on ten mail coifs he observed:

“The fact that textile remains were also found in the hoods, which were not in immediate contact with the cranium, and in some cases appear to have been thrown loose in the grave, indicates that the lining was attached to the hood and did not consist of a separate, head-worn hood.”
“The fact that the hoods were lined in their entirety indicates several of the findings, in any case the lining has gone so far down that it protected the neck from contact with the chain mail.”
Hellman didn’t find any traces of additional filling and concluded that “the mail coifs of this type described here had a sewn-in lining, which in many cases consisted of a single layer of heavy fabric.”
(Text can be found here: It’s in Swedish.)

For me it is obvious that many of the mail coifs have been lined. I have looked in many crates in the deposit, lifting up looking at pieces with remains of lining on the inside of the mail. I will here present a couple of examples of lining.

The un-conserved mail coif A11 have a lot of the lining preserved. This lining consists of 3 to 4 layers of plain weave. By analysing  the fragment in high magnification it could be concluded that the fabric was made from hair fibers, namely wool. It was also possible to observe a construction detail in the form of a gore that most likely was placed on the shoulder, at the place for the mail triangle described in the post Construction of mail coif with square collar.  (A piece from A11 could also be found here, on the homepage for the Battle of Visby exhibition in Stockholm)


Inside of mail coif A11 with several layers of fabric, as well as hair from the fallen.

Looking thru the crates I found a very interesting piece lying on the top of a pile ofbroken mail coifs pieces. This piece was partly covered by a lining and it was evident that it was the edge of the lining. Most likely this lining didn’t cover the whole collar and it was even possible to see the type of stitches used to fasten the lining to the iron mail.


Lining on part of a piece from a mail coif


Sketch of the stitches

These examples demonstrate what kind of information could be gained by studying the objects with a textile perspective. Hopefully this will be subject for further studies in the future.


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