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A chainmail vest or hauberk was discovered by chance in Longford, Ireland.  Source: sytilin / Adobe Stock

‘Norman’ Chain Armor Hope Thwarted By Museum Investigation

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A chain mail vest that was thought to be dated from the Norman conquest of Ireland in the 12th century has now been thoroughly examined by the National Museum of Ireland who have concluded that it is much more modern, and likely only dates back to the 19th century.

In 1169 AD, Norman invaders arrived in County Wexford, Ireland. Eight centuries later, a complete, “hauberk” (chainmail vest) was discovered in County Longford. Due to the history of the area, it was thought it could date to when the Normans arrived there in 1172. This hope has now been proven wrong.

A “hauberk” was a coat of upper body armor that was often referred to as a “byrnie.” Made of chain mail, the wearable metal material was much more flexible compared with the stiffer and heavier plate  armor.

It was an almost perfectly preserved hauberk, albeit somewhat diminutive, that was recently retrieved from a shed at an undisclosed location in Ireland, where it had lain for a couple of years as the finder did not realize it could be an historic item.

According to a report in  RTE, in August last year, the finder thought to take it to the Granard Knights & Conquests heritage week, just in case it was of interest. Here is where hopes were raised that this could be an important item, with the speculation that it could be a rare example from the 12th century.

Although hopes were high, the tourist attraction wanted to have their suspicions checked, and sent the metal garment to the National Museum of Ireland for verification and to see if it might be exhibited there.

The chainmail vest or hauberk at the Granard Knights & Conquests Heritage Center, Longford. (Longford Leader)

The chainmail vest or hauberk at the Granard Knights & Conquests Heritage Center, Longford. ( Longford Leader )

Early Doubts Cast on the Chain Mail

From the off there were certain doubts about the armor. Surely such a rare find was unlikely, but fluke finds do happen all the time.

Ancient Origins reader, Alastair, soon pointed out some interesting observations in the comments of the article when the find was first made. Alastair noted that Normans actually wore long sleeved and knee length Bynies or Hauberks. Which as you can see contrasts with the item found at Longford. He also notes that during the 1th century, links used in making armor were usually square or rectangular, not round and made from drawing wire. Through his observations and knowledge, he concluded that the style of this vest was far more likely to originate from the 14th century or later. This conclusion has now been validated by the National Museum of Ireland’s investigation.

Sad Truth Revealed By the National Museum Investigation

The Museum team of experts has conducted a thorough examination or the object over the last six months. X-ray fluorescent scans were performed on the armor, and comparisons were made with items in the Museums own collection plus through consultations with the Royal Armouries in the UK and an Irish armor and weapons expert. According to Shannonside website , these examinations led the team to the following findings:

‘It found manganese levels in the artifact were characteristic of 19th century steel manufacture, while the rings and tailoring of the garment were not consistent with medieval mail armor making.’

With these findings, their ultimate conclusion was that the garment was a replica made from the mid-nineteenth century onwards.

Of course, this is a disappointing conclusion for the finders, the Museum and the staff at the Granard Knights & Conquests, who had understandably been excited when the item turned up during heritage week. Everyone involved would have loved this to have been the real deal.

Tourism and Education Officer for Granard Knights & Conquests, Deirdre Orme, had told RTE that the hauberk is an “absolutely amazing discovery,” and the team were “completely blown away” as it fitted in so well with what they were doing at the center which focuses on the Norman history of the area.

However, General Manager of Granard Knights & Conquests, Mr Bartle D’Arcy, commented at the time that for the finder to have discovered the almost whole, original Norman hauberk. “is just beyond belief.” And in this respect, it turns out he was right.

A modern replica of Norman chainmail armor. ( sytilin / Adobe Stock)

A modern replica of Norman chainmail armor. (  sytilin / Adobe Stock)

Why the Hauberk Could Have been Norman

The excitement about the find was not at all unfounded. the Normans first arrived in  Ireland in 1172, and this is why the archaeologists at the National Museum of Ireland associated the discovery with the story of Richard De Tuite, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, who in 1199 AD built a timber-frame castle and motte nearby. And so this armor could have been part of a key time in the history of Ireland.

Apart from rust, the armor is almost flawless. (Granard Knights & Conquests)

Apart from rust, the armor is almost flawless. ( Granard Knights & Conquests )

Changing The Face Of Ireland Forever

The history if Ireland is greatly composed with stories of ancient invasions. The native  Fir Bolg  were defeated by the Tuatha De Dannan and they themselves were banished to the mounds to exist only as faeries. However, none of the mythological invasions were so near genocidal as were the real life Norman invasions. For while several waves of giants and semi-divine armies have attacked Ireland in ancient legends, none of them aimed to eradicate Irish culture so much as did the Normans, backed by forces of  Rome

According to the  New World Encyclopedia  the Norman invasion of Ireland led to “the eventual entry of the Lordship of Ireland into the Angevin Empire.” This meant the Normans had the blessing of the Pope, which was a way to punish the island’s Christianity that had failed to conform to Rome's strict rules of worship. The immediate consequences were the end of the ancient linage of Irish High Kings and all of the timeworn ways of living and dying, and the onset of English rule in Ireland, which continued until 1922. The Norman hauberk is an artifact from the first days of these cataclysmic changes that would entirely change the destiny of the Emerald Isle.

Although this find now will not be contributing to the evidence of the history of the Norman invasion in the area, it still represented a thrilling chase for all involved, who will surely remain ever hopeful for further potential pieces of history to turn up at their door.

Top image: A chainmail vest or hauberk was discovered by chance in Longford, Ireland.  Source:  sytilin / Adobe Stock

By Ashley Cowie

Comments

Gary Manners's picture

Dear Alastair. The article has been updated with the latest development, and your observations have been both included and validated by the National Museum of Ireland. Thank you.

Gary

Gary Manners's picture

Oh, sorry Alistair, I didn’t mean to say that the Normans were still n charge now, only they were at the time in question (Anglo-Normans perhaps, but Normans were at the top.) I will one day have my own DNA tested (I’m from England) to see which lineage I come from (I’m sure it’s not royal, but wll be interesting to see if it’s Angle, Saxon, Norman, Roman even, or whatever). Yes, the current royalty is from the German House of Hanover, then there is the Greek/Danish blood from Prince Philip who passed away this year. Unlikely to be much Norman there, but you never know, the Norsemen did tend to travel! Anyway, I will keep an eye out for further reports on the mail vest find to see what the experts find out. Thanks.

Gary

Dear Gary;

I totally agree about the dates on the Norman Control of England. And your comment on their continued hold up until today was quite funny. Though of course the ruling house currently are from Hanover, I believe. Still,  I’m sure quite a few members of the House of Lords have Norman roots.

I had totally forgotten it took the Normans over 100 years of consolidation in Britain,to get around to invading Ireland. Thanks for considering my other points though. It just seemed a bit rash of them to be making such a firm claim when the typology is off. I don’t doubt that it’s possible for it to be that old, just unlikely. I hope some much better pictures become available soon, and an expert opinion from The Royal l Armories in Leeds would be much more definitive.

Alastair

Gary Manners's picture

Dear Alistair. Thank you for providing some information which adds to the story we have here. I agree that perhaps the surety of the origin of this find has been overstated and I have adjusted the article accordingly. The people concerned are making their assertions based on the history of the area, but the item does need to be checked out fully by experts in order to verify or dispel these beliefs. There are a couple of things that need clearing up. The Normans were in control in England a little longer than you assert, and did land on the shores of Ireland at the time that is stated in the article. This was under Henry II, (Henry Plantagenet), born in Normandy, made Duke of Normandy by King Louis VII, so although it is a little more complicated, one would say, it is still the Normans who are in charge at the time in question. Your points regarding the age of the shirt based on the style could be completely valid, so we can wait to find out more, although if it does turn out to be a modern replica, everyone will be sorely disappointed. Let’s hope it’s at least 16th century! Thanks!

Gary

This is a very exciting find. Certainly intact mail garments tun up only very rarely. However, I am completely confused as to why this is being identified as from the Norman period. Which by the way isn’t 800 years ago. Almost 1000 years ago, in fact. But anyone who knows the history of mail armor knows that the Normans wore long sleeved and knee length Byrnies or Hauberks. The technique of drawing wire was not widespread in Northern Europe in the 11th Century. Links were generally of square or rectangular cross section as they were chiseled out of sheet then coiled into links and riveted shut. 
 

In contrast, this is a short sleeved and hip length haubergeon. Much more characteristic of the 14th Century or later. The picture is not very detailed, but I see no evidence of riveting, I can see that the links are of round section and of even contour, indicating that it was drawn wire. It also doesn’t seem very well tailored. Such simple mail shirts were common for hundreds of years as primary or secondary armor for lightly armed skirmishers and borderers. With Ireland's long history of inter clan warfare and invasion, it’s far more likely to be from the 16th Century or even later. Considering it was found in a drainage area, one would expect it to be far more rusted away unless it is fairly recent. It might even be modern. Quite a few modern re-enactors have shirts like that. A proper analysis by an armor expert needs to be done before anyone starts making claims as strong as those touted in the article.

Alastair

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